Can a good person go too far to protect his family? That is the question underlying The Intruder -- a gripping tale of a family fighting for its life.
Having survived a childhood of beatings and psychological torture, successful Manhattan lawyer Jacob Schiff cherishes his stable family life with his wife, Dana, a psychiatric social worker, and their teenage son, Alex. But Jake sees it all unraveling when Dana's patient John Gates, a homeless man, starts stalking her and menacing the family. As Gates' behavior becomes even more bizarre and violent, Jake is driven to the breaking point and takes a fatal step that could destroy everything he cares about.
Written with lacerating authority, The Intruder is a classic, powerful thriller that thrusts Peter Blauner into the ranks of major contemporary authors.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Sold by:||SIMON & SCHUSTER|
|File size:||3 MB|
Read an Excerpt
Chapter OneAt first, there's only darkness. Then a slight stirring breeze and a dot of light from somewhere deep in the tunnel. The dot turns into a beam and the beam widens as the train approaches the station. The man in the Yankees cap and the MTA jacket stands near the edge of the platform, watching, considering. The growing metallic roar almost matches the scream in his head. The light washes over the tiled walls and focuses into a pair of headlights aimed up the tracks. The train will arrive in fifteen seconds. In five seconds, it will be too late for the driver to throw the emergency brake. The man in the Yankees cap moves closer to the edge, waiting for the sound to catch up to the light. Trying to decide if the right moment is coming.
In the Dispatch Office of the 241st Street station in the Bronx, the red light has stopped moving across the black model board. Somewhere between East Tremont Avenue and 174th Street, a train has stalled.
A husky supervisor named Mel Green puts a soft thick finger up to the red light and shakes his head. "I bet it's another flat-liner," he says.
"A flat-liner?" A bald-headed conductor from Trinidad named Ernest Bayard looks up from his poppy-seed bagel and his Shoppe-at-Home catalogue.
"You know, a twelve-nine, man under, one of them guys jumps in front of a moving train," says Mel, who has a squared-off haircut and wears a purple T-shirt that says IMPROVE YOUR IMAGE-BE SEEN WITH ME. "We been having a lot of those lately."
"I don't know. Don't they say April is the cruel month?"
Ernest shrugs and goes back to looking at the hibachi ads in the catalogue. A number 3 train passes like an apartment house sliding by sideways. New York faces in a blur. The dingy beige room rumbles. Two conductors play chess under a clock that says it's five after eight in the morning.
"Ray Burnham was telling me a story the other day," says Mel, adjusting the brown Everlast weight belt around his middle. "Big fat guy was sitting on the tracks at the Union Square station. Four train passes over him. Transit cop comes down and says, 'How you doing?' Guy looks up, says, 'Tell you the truth, I'm kinda nervous. It's only the third or fourth time I've done this.'"
"Man, that's a lotta bullshit, that's what that is." Ernest laughs and flips to the patio furniture ads as John Gates walks in, wearing his Yankees cap and MTA jacket.
The dust particles in the air suddenly seem to move a little faster and the scrambled eggs in the office microwave glow a little brighter. Another departing train shakes the room.
"Hey, John G.!" says Ernest. "No way nohow you sit in front of a four train and live, right?"
John G. stares at him blankly and says nothing. His left eye twitches.
"Well maybe he was lying down," Mel Green mutters.
"All I know is if I had one of those, I'd just pull the brake and close my eyes." Ernest turns halfway around in his seat and puts his hands in front of his face. "I don't need to see that shit in my dreams."
"Yo, Johnny, you all right?" Mel watches him.
John G. has raccoon circles around his eyes and a chin dusky with three days' beard. He's a pale skinny Irish guy in his mid-thirties with a gauntly handsome face and discreet tattoos on both arms. In another era, he might have been said to have the look of a merchant seaman. Now he just seems like someone who's spent too many nights hanging out on street corners.
"Yeah, I'm all right," he says.
Everyone's noticed him acting a little buggy lately. Staring into space, mumbling to himself in the motorman's cabin. There've even been some nervous jokes about him maybe going postal: showing up for duty with a Tec-9 machine gun. But no one wants to say anything to headquarters on Jay Street just yet. John G.'s always been a solid dude; he's made employee of the month three times in the last five years. Besides, the man's been broken. Give him some space.
"You sure you all don't want Ray Burnham to take the shift for you?" Mel asks. "You worked Kwanza for him, right?"
"Nah, it's okay ..." John G. stares at the general orders on the bulletin board like a man in a trance.
"Hey, John, you had two, didn't you?" Ernest the conductor looks over his shoulder.
"Two what?" John G.'s mouth goes slack. He still hasn't taken off his hat or his jacket.
"Two twelve-nines. You know. Track pizzas." Mel's throwing him a lifeline, trying to drag him into the conversation. "Guys you ran over."
The clock on the wall makes a loud clicking sound. The two conductors stop playing chess and look over.
"Yeah, I think I had two." John G. swats absently at a stream of dust passing under a desk lamp. "I don't really remember ..."
Another train goes by.
"One was, like, three years ago," says Mel, trying to be helpful, "and the other was ..." His hand hangs in the air, waiting for his mouth to complete the thought.
An awkward silence fills the room as it dawns on everyone that this may not be a fit topic for discussion.
"And the other was just before the thing with your little girl," Mel says quickly, trying to finish the thought and move on to something else.
John G. stares at him for a long time without speaking. His eyes are like lightbulbs with the filaments burned out.
"I didn't go looking for them, Mel," he says quietly. "They jumped in front of my train."
"Hey." Mel throws up his hands. "No one said it was your fault, John G."
John G. carries his radio along the outdoor platform, heading for his train. The sky opens up above him like God's eyelid. Everything is strange now. The world is different, but all the people keep going on as if nothing has changed. The maintenance workers in orange-and-yellow vests clean out the garbage bins. A man with his body cut in half pulls himself along on a dolly with wheels. A young black guy in a business suit gets on board with a briefcase and a copy of the Haiti Observateur. Two pale white guys wearing Sikh turbans follow him. John G. is having trouble putting it all together in his mind. Less than a half hour ago, he was ready to jump in front of a train himself. But something inside him won't let him cross that threshold just yet.
By eight-fifteen, he's in the motorman's cabin, a space as dank and narrow as an old phone booth. He takes out the picture of his wife and daughter that he carries in his wallet and sets it on the ledge in front of him. Ernest, the conductor, gives the all-clear signal; he's about to close the doors. John G. pushes down on the metal handle, letting air into the brakes, and the train lurches forward, beginning the long trip through the heart of the city.
There's relief in the ritual and routine. Seeing the same faces, making the same stops. He's getting through life minute by minute these days-scrounging for reasons to keep going.
Most of the ride through the Bronx is aboveground, taking him over the rough topography of his childhood. Tar roofs. Wide streets. Spanish churches, gas stations, and lots filled with garbage and old tires. Some days it's like a roller-coaster ride. The rise up to Gun Hill Road, the steep drop before Pelham Parkway, the wild curve into Bronx Park East.
But just before the Third Avenue-149th Street station, the train suddenly plunges down and darkness swallows it like a mouth. He's in the long tunnel. Cheap fun-house lights flash by on the left. A baby cries in the car behind him. Though he's been making this trip every weekday for two years, that fast descent always fills him with dread.
As he snakes past Grand Concourse and then 135th Street, his worst impulses begin to crowd him. Go ahead, the voice in his head says. Hop off at 125th Street. Go smoke some crack on Lenox Avenue. Let the passengers fend for themselves. This train is out of service.
But it's not so easy to quit. As he pulls up to the next platform, he sees a tall, exhausted-looking Hispanic woman, done up in a red-and-white striped dress and lacquered hair, cradling a sickly child in her arms. A working mother bringing her daughter to the doctor or day care. Maybe a secretary on Wall Street or a receptionist.
He pictures her in a cramped Morningside Heights apartment, trying to put her makeup on with the baby screaming in the next room. Botanica candles on the windowsill, slipcovers on the couch, framed baby pictures on the bedroom dresser. The bathroom so clean and white you could go blind turning on the light in the middle of the night. If she's got a husband, he's probably off doing the early shift at the garage or the loading dock, with the pork sandwich she made for him in his lunch box. Not rich people, but not poor either. Just clinging to one another and dragging themselves into the future. And a life he should have had.
Grinding the train to a halt, John G. feels obliged to get her wherever she wants to go.
Pressure, pressure. Stay on schedule. His eyes are tired and his head is starting to ache. Just outside the Times Square station, he gets a red signal and a call from the master control tower. "You got a twelve-seven. You're being held because of a sick passenger in the train up ahead."
"How long's it going to be?"
"When we hear, you'll hear."
It's as useless talking to supervisors as trying to probe the mind of God.
God. For some reason, he finds himself thinking a lot about God this morning. Why does God do things? Why does God make trains stop? Why does God take the life of a child?
There's an angry pounding on the door of his cabin.
"Come on, boy! Give us some speed!"
He tries to radio back to the control tower, but all he gets is a blizzard of voices and static. No answers.
There's too little air in the cabin. He throws open the door, just so he can breathe. A car full of riders stares back at him. Men in dark suits. Women in running shoes and silk blouses. Young people on their way in the world, determining the value of the dollar, the price of doing business, the cost of living.
"Why is it like this every goddamn morning?" says one of them, a weak-chinned white guy in tortoise-shell rimmed glasses and a khaki poplin suit. He stands under the ad for Dr. Tusch, hemorrhoid M.D.
What does it say in the procedure book? John G. tries to remember. BE CAREFUL NOT TO IGNORE YOUR PASSENGERS. WHEN YOU IGNORE THEM, EVEN FOR A LITTLE WHILE, THEY THINK THAT YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN THEM. AND IF THEY THINK THAT YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN THEM, THAT IS WHEN THEY ARE GOING TO CAUSE YOU AND THE SYSTEM A PROBLEM.
"I'm sorry, sir," says John G. "It's beyond my control."
The weak-chinned guy turns to a friend of his, a young man with a face as pink and round as a baby's bottom. "See? They only get idiots to do these jobs."
John G. stands there with his eyelids throbbing. Should he take a swing at the guy? After all, he's got nothing left to lose. On the other hand, this job is the only thing between him and the abyss. Everything else that marked his place in the world is gone.
He struggles to decide for a few seconds and then goes back to the motorman's cabin.
Beyond my control. He looks at the picture of his family on the cabin ledge.
By the time he gets the train rolling again, it's seven minutes behind schedule. More pressure. His head feels as if it's filling up with helium. Pillars flash by like tiger stripes before his eyes. He forgets where he is for a few seconds and when he comes to again, the tracks are curving and Ernest, the conductor, is announcing the next stop is Fourteenth Street. John doesn't remember Thirty-fourth.
He looks down and sees the speedometer reading fifty-three, fifty-four, fifty-five. Brake shoes scream on rusty corroded tracks. The car rocks dangerously from side to side. Ghost stations, local stops, graffiti swirls, work crews. They all go rocketing by. His eyes barely have time to register them. There's too much going on. Some 120 yards outside the Fourteenth Street station, he sees the yellow signal. Then the green over yellow indicating the tracks are about to switch the train over to the local side. But something's wrong.
There's someone on the tracks beyond the switch.
He blows his horn but the figure doesn't move. A man waving his arms. Beckoning. Come on. Do it. Run me over. One part of John G.'s brain is denying it, telling him this isn't happening. He blinks and the man is gone. But when he blinks again, the man is back, waving him on with both arms. Blood rushes out of John G.'s heart and runs straight into his head. Stop. You're about to do it again.
The train comes hammering around the bend at sixty miles an hour, spraying the air with steel dust. There's no time to decide which of the visions is real: the beckoning man on the local tracks or the empty space. He just has to act. His eyes jiggle in his skull. Instead of slowing down to wait for the switch, he keeps going at maximum power onto the express side.
But then the darkness breaks and he sees he's made a terrible mistake. Another train is sitting directly in front of him at the station. The white-on-red number 3 on the last car grows like a bloodshot eye. He reaches for the emergency brake but it's too late. He's going to crash. A screech like a buzz saw cuts through his ears. Lights go out in the car behind him. Bodies whiplash against the sides. Voices cry out. In the nearing distance, he sees people backing away from the edge of the platform.
They're thinking subway crash. They're thinking bits of twisted metal, torn concrete, and body parts found among the debris. They're thinking last moments before life slips away amid terror and confusion.
But at the last possible second, he throws the brake and the mechanical track arm hits the trip cock on the undercarriage. Instead of stopping short, the train slows and bumps hard against the back of the number 3.
There's a jolt and the whole train shudders. John G. looks up and sees a shrunken old Asian woman staring at him from the back window of the 3 train. She looks less scared than sad, as if she somehow understands what's driven him to this point. The radio bleats.
"What the fuck happened there?!" asks the voice from the master control tower.
"There was someone down on the tracks," he says.
There's a pause and then static. In the car behind him, he hears people straightening themselves up and weeping in relief, trying to adjust to life at an angle. The voice on the radio comes back again.
"Eight-one-five, there's no report of anyone on the tracks," it says. "You been seeing things?"
John G. says nothing. He tries to picture the figure he saw on the local side, but there's no afterimage in his mind. Only black space. He knows now he can no longer control himself.
"Eight-one-five, you just missed killing about two thousand people," says the voice on the radio. "I hope you're happy."
He stumbles numb out of the cabin and looks around. The scene in the car is a low-budget disaster movie. No one looks seriously hurt, but some people are still on the floor crying.
Excerpted from The Intruder by Peter Blauner Copyright © 1997 by Peter Blauner. Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This
Loved it, loved it, loved it. Peter Blauner is better than Grisham, better than Cornwell.
Un-putdownable! My advice is to read this book.