Blake Wrightman died during the Vietnam War. Not on a Southeast Asian battlefield, but on an American college campus. He died the day the bomb he planted at an anti-war protest claimed a small boy’s life—and forced Blake Wrightman to vanish. Now, after twenty-years as “Charlie Ochs,” Cape Cod lobsterman, Blake finds out that the feds are closing in. But a vengeful G-man gives Charlie a choice: face the music or help smoke out the beautiful hardcore radical who seduced him into the anti-war movement back in the ...
Blake Wrightman died during the Vietnam War. Not on a Southeast Asian battlefield, but on an American college campus. He died the day the bomb he planted at an anti-war protest claimed a small boy’s life—and forced Blake Wrightman to vanish. Now, after twenty-years as “Charlie Ochs,” Cape Cod lobsterman, Blake finds out that the feds are closing in. But a vengeful G-man gives Charlie a choice: face the music or help smoke out the beautiful hardcore radical who seduced him into the anti-war movement back in the ’60s. So begins a long, strange trip for the former Blake Wrightman, as he revisits the scene of a deadly revolution that didn’t end with the Vietnam War—and is about to claim a few more casualties. . . .
Radical terrorists of the '60s, now fugitives, face the karmic consequences of their past mistakes in this suspenseful but uneven thriller by the author of Hard Rain. Implicated in a campus bombing that killed an innocent boy, protagonist Blake Wrightman took on the identity of Cape Cod lobsterman Charlie Ochs and lived in solitude for 20 years. But early in this tale, Charlie falls in love and marries Emily, who is pregnant with his child. On the couple's wedding night, two government agents collar Charlie and threaten to hold him accountable--unless he helps them nail his former accomplices. The next morning Charlie sets off on a perilous journey across the continent and deep into his own past. Abrahams adroitly juggles the initially unconnected stories of his large cast of characters, building tension steadily as he brings their paths closer together. But other elements are less convincing. The federal agent who contacts Charlie is dying of cancer and pursuing an unauthorized personal vendetta. The frequent '60s flashbacks are too pat and verge on caricature. And the novel's central ironic refrain--yesterday's radicals as today's materialists--is hardly fresh, though Abrahams certainly milks it: the kid who built the radicals' bomb now supplies SDI software to the Pentagon; the group's old leader now develops real estate and has appeared on Jeopardy! Still, expert pacing and an intriguing plot hold the reader's interest. (Aug.)
To protest the U.S. invasion of Cambodia in 1970, three students bombed their college ROTC building, unintentionally killing an 11-year-old boy, then going underground. Twenty-two years later, Charlie Ochs, a lobsterman living a solitary life, lowers his guard when he meets a lovely woman and embarks on a course that will lead to convergence with the other two fugitives. A government counterterrorism agent, who is out to get a William Kunstler-like lawyer, takes advantage of coincidences to drive the action in this topical suspense story by the author of Pressure Drop (Dutton, 1989). Abrahams creates fully dimensional characters (deftly sketching even minor figures), crisp and true dialog, and fine texture and atmosphere, weaving his protagonists' lives together with considerable skill. Just about as good as it gets. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/92.-- Michele Leber, Fairfax Cty. P.L., Va.
Peter Abrahams is the author of eleven novels, including Last of the Dixie Heroes, CryingWolf, A Perfect Crime, The Fan, and Lights Out, which was nominated for an Edgar Award for best novel. He lives on Cape Cod with his wife and four children. Visit his Web site at PeterAbrahams.com.
The boy was named Ronnie. The only surviving photograph shows him in his batting stance. What can we tell from it? That he hit from the left side. That he wore his hair long, in the style of the time. That he had a solid-looking body, and a reliable-looking face. That there was nothing particularly cute about him--Norman Rockwell would never have put him in the front of a picture. But Ronnie might have appeared in the background, diving into the old fishing hole. And he might have grown up to be quite handsome. Going beyond that would be pure speculation. How much character can be read in the face of an eleven-year-old boy?
Ronnie awoke before dawn at the end of a warm May night. He checked the bedside clock. The time must have been between four-thirty and five. The bus for the all-star tournament left at six. Ronnie was too keyed up to sleep any longer. He switched on the light and donned his uniform: white pants that stopped high up the calf for the look he liked, sanitaries, navy blue stirrups, worn cleats, and the navy blue shirt that buttoned down the front and had "All-Stars" written on the front and his surname, "Pleasance," and number, "9," on the back. He put on his cap, picked up his bat, which was leaning against the wall, and took a few practice swings in front of the mirror. Boom. Kapow. That ball is going, going, it is . . . out of here, ladies and gentlemen! Ronnie Pleasance has done it again!
Then he realized he didn't have his mitt.
Ronnie's mitt was a Rawlings trapper with Willie "Stretch" McCovey's autograph on the inside. Ronnie had rubbed it with neatsfoot oil and smacked balls into the pocket so many times that it felt like part of him, a flypaper extension that stuck to every baseball that came near. He hunted for it in the pile of yesterday's clothes on the floor, in the closet, under the bed. Then he walked softly down the hall, past his parents' bedroom and downstairs, where he searched the rest of the house. No glove. Ronnie was getting a little nervous now, but he didn't panic. He was a methodical boy, not flashy, but determined: a born catcher, if he hadn't been left-handed. He tried to remember the last time he'd seen his mitt. Certainly he'd had it at practice the afternoon before. And after practice, what had he done? He'd walked to his father's office on campus. Sometimes they threw the ball around after work, but yesterday his father had been in a meeting. Ta-da. Ronnie suddenly pictured the mitt lying on the visitor's chair opposite his father's desk.
Ronnie, in his all-star uniform, left the house, closing the door quietly behind him, and walked into the predawn darkness. The town was quiet, the air mild. The darkness didn't bother Ronnie. He knew the neighborhood like an Indian scout. Besides, it was only a few hundred feet down the lane to the campus and onto the crushed-brick path. Perhaps because it was night and he was still a boy, he whistled. Ronnie went by the labs, the silent dorms, the chapel, and into the old wood building that housed his father's office.
The office was on the second floor. Ronnie climbed the stairs and opened the door. He switched on the light. There was his mitt, just as he'd thought. He put it on, smacked his fist into it a few times. Perhaps he glanced at the picture of his parents, walking under an archway of crossed swords on their wedding day. Then he turned, shut off the light, closed the door, and started down the stairs. The chapel bell began to strike five o'clock. The fourth ring was the last sound Ronnie heard.
That is a logical assumption, because the vibration dislodged the clapper from the bell in the stone campanile of the late-eighteenth-century chapel, preventing the fifth ring from sounding. Not long after, Ronnie was found at the foot of what remained of the stairs. Perhaps it was just an accidental result of the way he fell, but the Willie "Stretch" McCovey model first baseman's trapper was clutched to his chest. That's what gave them the idea to bury him with it.
The door opened and Svenson looked in. "They're coming back," he said.
So soon? thought Goodnow; and knew the verdict at once. He rose from the state-issue swivel chair of whatever midlevel bureaucrat whose office he had borrowed for the trial--rose slowly, but not slowly enough to keep the pain from reawakening. Lately, like a colicky baby, his pain rarely slept, and when it did, jerked awake at the slightest disturbance. This was physical pain, not metaphorical or spiritual, although some had advised him to fight it with spirits and metaphors--imaging, specifically. For a few weeks Goodnow had attended an imaging clinic, but all he'd been able to imagine was mutant cells, beaky, hairy, rampant, devouring his insides.
"You all right, Mr. Goodnow?" Svenson was watching him, perhaps with concern, perhaps not. It was impossible to tell with Svenson: those eyes, pale as a frozen lake, set deep in the harsh white landscape of his face.
Goodnow released his grip on the chair back. "Just fine," he replied, and tightened the knot on his tie. He could never seem to get it tight anymore, and the collars of his Brooks Brothers shirts grew bigger and bigger. "You've lost weight," said acquaintances he saw infrequently, who never added, "You look great." Goodnow followed the big man out of the office, down the corridor, into the courtroom.
Goodnow and Svenson sat at the back. The court buzzed, like a theater before the curtain. Except for the jury, everyone was in place: the judge, a mediocrity whose appointment had been a bargaining chip in a budget negotiation during the Carter administration; the two prosecutors, who hadn't made a mistake that Goodnow saw, not after jury selection; the defendants, the Santa Clara Five, as they called themselves, whose lives would not be changed one way or the other; their supporters, stern as Puritans, ready to be outraged. All these were without interest to Goodnow. His eyes were on the defense table, where the lead counsel sat, head turned slightly toward a female assistant who whispered in his ear. It was a head that Rodin would have loved to sculpt: big, elongated, with prominent features and long silver hair swept back in two wings. Victor Hugo Klein looked like a hero of the Romantic Age, and a hero was what he had been to a lot of people for almost forty years, fighting the hegemonic brute that others called the good ol' U.S.A. Hugo Klein fought for the little guy--the little union guy, the little McCarthy victim guy, the little sixties radical guy, the little truculent feminist guy, the little tree-spiking eco-lover guy. The details of the cant changed, thought Goodnow, but Klein endured. That his biggest cases almost always seemed to end in long prison sentences diminished his reputation not at all. Everyone knew the system was rigged. Klein rose higher and higher on a stack of fist-clenching martyrs.
Klein smiled at something his assistant had said and turned to look around the courtroom. His glance swept over Goodnow, showing no recognition. Naturally not; Klein had been editor of the Law Review during Goodnow's first year. Goodnow, despite his hard work, had not made Law Review, graduating in the middle of his class. And after, he had not practiced but had disappeared into the shadows of his chosen field. It was not surprising that their paths had never crossed, that Klein did not know him. But Goodnow knew Klein, probably knew more about him than anyone on earth. Whole megabytes on the VAX were devoted to Hugo Klein.
The jury filed in, their faces without expression. "What's your guess?" Svenson murmured.
"I don't guess," Goodnow replied. "Besides, it's obvious."
"But they drilled that sucker."
Goodnow didn't argue. He was deciding not to recommend Svenson for further promotion when all at once he felt hot and his head began to pound. He rubbed his temples. Hair came away in clumps.
The judge put on his glasses. "Have you reached a verdict?"
The forewoman rose in the jury box. She was small boned and intense, with short, well-cut gray hair, and had once been an art professor at Stanford. Goodnow couldn't understand how the prosecution had allowed her to serve. In a quiet but clear voice, with the slightest underthrob of self-righteous defiance, she spoke the words Goodnow expected.
"Not guilty, Your Honor."
The spectators cheered, except for the friends and relatives of the dead trooper. The Santa Clara Five raised their fists. The judge pounded his gavel. Hugh Klein folded his hands as though in prayer, closed his eyes, sighed deeply; then rose and accepted congratulations like some maestro who had just transported everyone to perfect realms of beauty. Goodnow wanted to kill him.
The court cleared. The Santa Clara Five were taken away first, back to their various prisons. They were all serving life sentences for armed robbery and other crimes, but murder would not be one of them. They had shot the trooper, yes, but the art teacher had bought the argument that it was self-defense. Klein donned a black FDR-style cape and swept out.
Goodnow and Svenson sat alone. Goodnow had a vision of Klein carrying on for years after he himself was gone, of Klein rising over and over to accept congratulations, of his hair growing longer and more silvery, of his great head growing more distinguished. Klein's obituary would be long and fascinating; his own, brief and cryptic.
"I don't suppose it matters much," Svenson said.
Goodnow turned to him.
Svenson faltered a little under his gaze. "With them already in jail and whatnot."
At one time, even a few months ago, Goodnow would have said something cutting. But now he was silent. His energy had to be rigorously husbanded. He couldn't waste his cutting tools on Svenson. His time was limited--although the doctors were coy about its precise quantification.
"Months or years, Doctor?"
"Oh, I hate to say."
Svenson looked at his watch. "So," he said, probably thinking of his girlfriend, "catch the two-thirty flight?"
Slowly, very slowly, Goodnow rose. But not slowly enough. You hate to say, Doctor? I hate even to think about it.
They caught the two-thirty flight. It left at a quarter to four, flew toward the coming night, met it east of the Mississippi, and landed in full darkness.
"Need help with your bags, Mr. Goodnow?" Svenson asked.
"I can manage."
"See you tomorrow, then." Svenson hurried away.
Goodnow got into a taxi, gave the driver his address, and then, halfway there, had him turn around and go to the office instead. Soon he was sitting at his desk, terminal switched on, scrolling back through the life of Hugo Klein. The Klein file was his, had been his almost from his first day at the agency. He had asked for it. Not out of animus: it was just that he remembered Klein from his big-man-on-campus days. Surely not from animus. This had nothing to do with personalities. Klein was a danger to the national security, brilliant and mischievous, and protecting the national security was Goodnow's job. In the case of Klein, he had failed.
Goodnow stopped scrolling when he reached the time of the invasion of Cambodia. Goodnow had no interest in the invasion of Cambodia; it was a tiny echo of all that bombing that he cared about, an echo that had sounded in the life of Hugo Klein. A tiny echo to begin with, and now much fainter with the passage of time, but Goodnow had always believed that it carried the sound of complicity and guilt: the sole indication of Klein's vulnerability in a file spanning almost forty years. No one was completely invulnerable. How could you be? If you had a child, like Klein, you were vulnerable. If you had cells in your body, you were vulnerable.
Goodnow leaned close to the screen, studied the green paragraphs, sifted, collated, reinterpreted. Time passed. The metastasizing clock inside him ticked away, then rang its pain alarm. Goodnow swallowed a pill, and soon another. He lay his head on the desk, just for a moment, bowed down before the terminal.
Bunting, first to arrive in the morning, found Goodnow asleep at his desk. Bunting, younger than Goodnow, though not as young as Svenson, was Goodnow's boss. He leaned over Goodnow, looked at the screen. Then he stepped back and cleared his throat.
Goodnow, reading in his dreams--how often he seemed to do that now; this time it had been Treasure Island--awoke with a start. He took in Bunting's pink, freshly shaven face, smelled manly cologne, felt nauseated. Bunting's eyes, behind his Harold Lloyd-style glasses, were watching him closely. Goodnow's lips were cracked and dry. He licked them and said: "Just checking one of my files."
Bunting nodded toward the screen. "An old one," he said.
What was the implication of that little comment? That Bunting already considered him a figure from the past?
The alternative was that Bunting no longer cared about Klein. An impossibility. Goodnow touched a key. The screen went black.
"I meant what I told you last week," Bunting said.
"That you're welcome to all the time off you want. With full pay. You've earned it." He held up a pink hand. "Not that we don't need you. Of course we do."
"I don't want time off."
Bunting bit his lip. "Please think about it. At a time like this . . ." He stopped himself.
"At a time like this, what?"
"You should take care of yourself. That's all."
"I am," Goodnow said. Bunting went away.
Now Goodnow wanted to go home, loosen his belt, lie down on his side. But he remained seated at his desk, eyes fixed sightlessly on the blank screen. He knew he would be unable to get up slowly enough to keep the pain from stirring. He took a breath, not too deep, and tried imaging: hairy, beaky, rampant. He reached for the pills.
Hugo Klein relaxed in his study, a wood-trimmed, book-lined room in the stern of his cruiser, the Liberte. Klein lived on the Liberte--with the smell of the sea, the rhythm of the waves, and a view of the Golden Gate for his constant plea-sure--had lived there since his last divorce. It was a lot cheaper than a waterfront house and a lot more fun.
One of his assistants arrived with a bottle of champagne. They drank it. She couldn't stop talking about the verdict, which was fine with him. "God," she said, "what a rush."
And later: "You must be exhausted, Hugo. Do you want a massage?"