“IMPRESSIVE AND PROVOCATIVE . . .VASTLY ENTERTAINING.”
–San Francisco Chronicle
It begins with a savage killing at a suburban Virginia juvenile detention center, but nothing is as it seems. Accused of murder and branded a cop-killer, Nathan Bailey becomes the target of a nationwide manhunt led by homicide Lieutenant Warren Michaels, himself a grieving father. What no one knows is that the real killer is a mob hitman, and that Nathan is his next target.
Alone and desperate, Nathan has nowhere to turn for help but a sharp-tongued radio talk show host who has already pronounced him guilty to her national audience. Thrilling, violent and achingly poignant, Nathan's Run will touch the heart of anyone who's ever faced seemingly impossible odds.
With a New Author’s Note
“FAST, INTRIGUING . . . A CLEVER PLOT WITH ENOUGH MENACE TO KEEP READERS ON THE EDGE OF THEIR SEATS.” –Boston Herald
“RACES TO A PULSE-POUNDING CONCLUSION.” –Kirkus Reviews
“SEE NATHAN RUN. BETTER, READ NATHAN’S RUN. IT’S SERIOUS FUN.”
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By JOHN GILSTRAP
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 1996 John Gilstrap
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe muffled whump of a distant mortar marked the beginning of the main event. Thousands of eyes tracked the skyrocket as it corkscrewed hundreds of feet into the air and disappeared into the night before erupting into a shower of red and gold glitter. An instant later, the concussion bursts detonated. People seated up front felt the noise in their chests and screamed their approval.
Warren Michaels smiled in the glare of the display. Today marked the thirty-seventh year in a row that he'd done the same thing on the same day of summer. Traditions were important in raising a happy family, he thought. Stretched out on the hood of his cruiser with his wife tucked next to him and his daughters perched above on the light bar, he felt true contentment for the first time in a long while.
"So, ladies, have you all had fun today?" Warren asked.
Monique only groaned, making Warren laugh. His wife hated heat, bugs, and loud noises. That she endured this ritual year after year only proved that she loved him.
"I think Brian would've really had fun today," Kathleen announced out of nowhere.
Monique squeezed Warren's hand and agreed. "I think so, too, sweetheart."
Warren drew his wife closer, and without a word, she responded with a gentle pat on his thigh.
The Michaels family had been on the go since nine that morning, when the celebration had begun with a reenactment of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the steps of the town hall, followed at ten by a huge parade.
Spanning three hours, and stretching nearly as many miles, the parade sponsored by Warren's hometown of Brookfield, Virginia, had grown dramatically over the years, robbing spectators from the nearby Washington, D.C. counterpart. People didn't mind sacrificing a little glitz, it seemed, in favor of down-home patriotism. The spectacle featured fire departments from three states, along with no fewer than eight high school bands.
On the heels of the parade came Old-Fashioned Fireman's Day. The competition among the fire companies was fierce, testing their skills in driving, hose handling, strength, and even aim. Younger spectators lived for the water target competition. The goal of the event was to knock down three targets with a water stream, a task that looked easier than it really was. Each team's aim was a little wild at first, drenching gleeful kids (and their parents) with hundreds of gallons of high-pressure water.
The carnival was next, running concurrently with the City-Wide Cook-Out. Even as the Tilt-a-Whirl set undigested lunches in motion, hundreds of barbecue grills were fired up in the baseball field. Families, friends, and strangers all mingled together in a patriotic cooking frenzy. At any given moment, parents had no idea where their children were, but it didn't matter. Bad things just didn't happen in Brookfield.
Only a dozen or so rockets into the display, Warren's pager vibrated in the pocket of his tennis shorts. Annoyed by the interruption, he brought the two-inch box—his leash, he called it—in front of his face where he could see it. The green luminescent display showed his office number, followed by "9-1-1," indicating that it was urgent.
"Nuts," he grumbled, pulling his arm from around his wife.
"What's the matter?"
"I don't know yet. I just got paged."
"Oh, no," Monique moaned, mostly out of sympathy for him. "Not tonight."
Warren swung his legs over the fender and slid to the ground, pausing to nod his approval of the latest starburst. "For Jed to call me during the fireworks, it can't be good."
Warren scooted quickly into the front seat, conscious of nearby spectators and the glare of the interior light. He removed his cell phone from its charger on the cruiser's center console, flipped it open, and punched a speed-dial button.
A harsh female voice answered on the third ring, "Braddock County Police. Is this an emergency?"
"Hi, Janice, it's Michaels. What's up?"
"Oh, Lieutenant," the call-taker gasped, "thank God you called. There's been a murder down at the JDC. Sergeant Hackner said to get you down there right away."
Warren swiveled his body and craned his neck to get a look at the latest skyrocket. "Look, I'm not on duty tonight. Isn't there someone else who can handle this?"
"I don't know, sir. Sergeant Hackner was very specific. He said he wanted you."
Warren sighed. What the hell, he thought, the mood had been broken anyway. With his curiosity piqued, he wouldn't be able to enjoy the rest of the fireworks, even if he stayed.
"All right, Janice, but if Jed calls back in, you tell him that his lieutenant is not pleased. Also, you're going to have to send somebody to pick me up. My cruiser is completely blocked into Brookfield Park for the fireworks."
Using a county vehicle—even a take-home—for personal outings was a clear violation of procedure, for which there would be no repercussions. As it was, Warren grumped that he had to drive a cruiser at all. In neighboring jurisdictions, his position as the number-one guy in the detective division and number three in the department would have qualified him for an unmarked take-home without restriction. Braddock County's bean-counters had their own priorities, though, and ultimately, Warren had decided not to push the issue.
"Yes, sir," Janice acknowledged. "Where do you want to get picked up?"
Warren sighed again. Too many decisions on a night when he wanted to relax. "Get me at the corner of Braddock and Horner. It'll be a few minutes, though. I'm going to have to walk through this crowd to get there."
"Okay, sir, I'll tell them to wait on you," she said, as if there were really an option. "Do you want me to mark your cruiser out of service?" Obviously, Janice understood that Monique was going to have to drive the vehicle home; another blatant violation of procedure.
"Yeah," Warren grunted, "that's a good idea."
He clapped the phone closed and slid out of the car to break the news to the family.
Chapter TwoIt had been years since Warren had last entered the Juvenile Detention Center. Such a depressing place.
From the outside, the JDC—Warren still thought of it as a reform school—bore the earth tones that were the architectural signature of the early eighties. Trees and flowers adorned manicured gardens; there were no fences or barbed wire. The place easily could have been a medical building, or even a small elementary school. The last thing it looked like was a warehouse for violent children.
The interior, however, screamed institution. Clearly, there had been a time when the cinder block had been freshly painted and modern, but now the once-white walls were yellowed from cigarette smoke, age, and abuse. A bold navy-blue racing stripe eighteen inches wide ran around the interior perimeter, jutting up and down at odd angles. Intended to inject architectural excitement, the stripe now served as a continuous picture frame for all manner of graffiti. The tile floors were clean enough, waxed and buffed on a regular basis by some of the more trustworthy residents, but in the corners where the walls joined the floors, years' worth of dirt had accumulated, unnoticed.
As he passed through the lobby, Michaels clipped his gold badge to the waistband of his shorts. But for his rank, he would have felt self-conscious abut his casual dress. As it was, his Izod shirt with tennis shorts and shoes (no socks) communicated to his subordinates a certain full-time dedication to the job. He was escorted by two uniformed officers through the inner security door under the watchful eyes of Spencer Tracy's Father Flanagan. The caption along the bottom of the poster read, "There's no such thing as a bad boy."
Down a short hallway and to the right, Michaels encountered a knot of uniformed men and women, all busily moving about, but few with any apparent purpose. Especially useless, it seemed, were the personnel bearing the uniform of the Juvenile Detention Center. Prison guards, like mall security personnel, liked to think of themselves as part of the law enforcement community, and prized their association with real police officers. Warren thought of them as groupies. Though he could see no role for them in a criminal investigation, he recognized that they had to stick around to look after the remaining residents, who he assumed were locked behind the rows of closed wooden doors visible beyond the thick windows of the security station.
Everyone's attention was focused around a small doorway bearing the label Crisis Unit. He couldn't see inside the room itself, but the flash of camera strobes gave it away as the crime scene.
"Excuse me," Michaels said, gently touching the shoulder of a uniformed officer from behind.
The initial annoyance in the young officer's eyes disappeared as he recognized the man making the request. "Lieutenant Michaels coming through!" the officer announced to the others, causing the crowd to part.
Michaels smiled to the officer, noting the name emblazoned on his silver name tag. "Thanks, Officer Borsuch."
"You're welcome, sir." Michaels was the only white-shirt in the department who treated patrolmen as real people.
The scene was gruesome. A white male, maybe thirty and dressed in the uniform of a JDC guard, lay sprawled on the floor of the tiny room, surrounded by a pool of coagulating blood that encircled his body like a crimson aura. An upended cot had been tossed into the corner, its mattress, such as it was, still in place relative to the frame. Every surface had been splashed with gore—drips, smears and spatters extending high onto the walls. A child-size bloody footprint pointed out the door—just a partial, actually, a ball and five toes. Michaels's mind worked to re-create the enormous struggle that had gone on in here.
As Warren surveyed the scene, a cheerful and familiar voice boomed out of the din.
"Nice outfit there, Lieutenant," Jed Hackner said from behind, clapping his boss on the shoulder. Hackner and Michaels had been classmates through the academy, and back as far as junior high school. That one outranked the other spoke only of the limited availability of lieutenant slots, not of any lack of ability. Each man thought of the other as his closest friend.
"Yeah, well, imagine me thinking that just because I had the day off, I wouldn't have to work. You certainly are your usual dapper self this evening." Hackner had a reputation as the department's clotheshorse, preferring the latest styles from GQ over the clichéd rumpled look of most detectives.
"Pretty disgusting scene, huh?" Hackner said, noting Michaels's body language.
"What happened in here?"
Hackner pulled a notebook from his inside jacket pocket. Always a notebook, Michaels thought with amusement. Not a single note more than one hour old, yet Jed still needed to read his findings.
"From what we've put together so far, this is Richard W. Harris, age twenty-eight. He's been employed here for the past four and a half years as a child care supervisor."
"Is that the same as a guard?" Michaels interrupted.
"Yes," Hackner acknowledged with a smile. "But only to politically incorrect old people." At thirty-seven, Michaels was eight months Hackner's senior. Jed continued from his notes: "At seven o'clock, Mr. Harris had some kind of an altercation with one of the residents, a Nathan Bailey, and assigned the kid here to the Crisis Unit."
"And is a Crisis Unit something like solitary confinement?" Michaels interrupted again.
Hackner smiled broadly. "Yes, it is. Very similar indeed. From that point on, all we have is conjecture. But the bottom line is, we believe that Nathan Bailey killed Ricky Harris and then escaped. Bailey is on the loose as we speak. The coroner hasn't been here yet, but my examination of the body shows at least five stab wounds to the abdomen and chest."
"Care to conjecture a motive?"
Hackner shrugged. "My guess is he wanted to get out of this place. Wouldn't you?"
Michaels frowned. "I don't know that I'd kill for it. Do we have a murder weapon?"
"Sure do. It's still stuck in the body. Good eye, Lieutenant."
The brown wooden handle of a Buck knife protruded from the decedent's chest, just below his embroidered name. From Warren's angle to the body, the weapon was partially concealed. "Bite me," he growled.
Warren pointed to the security camera in the upper left rear corner of the room. "Have you checked the tape?" he asked. "Maybe we have a movie of this whole thing."
"Checked it, and no, we don't. The video system is down."
"Of course it is. Where did the knife come from?"
"How long has he been dead?"
"Can't tell for sure. My guess is about two hours."
Michaels's eyes bored into Hackner. "Two hours! How long did they sit on the body before they called us?"
"Apparently they called right away. Seems they only work one person at night. Harris was found by his relief when he came in at nine. It's nine-forty now."
"Where did all these people come from, if they only work one to a shift?" Michaels couldn't see across the room through all the spectators.
"I guess word travels fast. Everybody wants to be where the action is."
Michaels planted his fists on his hips and shook his head in disbelief. "So that means the kid has a two-hour head start on us, right?"
Hackner shrugged. "Not really. We've had people out looking for him for about fifteen minutes now."
Michaels glared again.
"Okay, okay," Hackner conceded. "He's got two hours on us. But we've got a call in to Old Man Peters for him to get his dogs up here, and we're in the process of setting up roadblocks at strategic points. You know, the whole drill."
Michaels sighed deeply. "Well, I guess it'll have to do, won't it? Hell, if we can't track down a kid, I guess we've got a problem. How old is he, anyway?"
Chapter ThreeTwelve-year-old Nathan Bailey tried to press his thin frame below the surface of the damp mulch and wedge in closer to the brick wall. Try as he might, he couldn't disappear entirely.
Despite the night's oppressive heat and stifling humidity, he couldn't stop shaking. Like the time two years ago—a whole lifetime ago—when he had an ear infection and a high fever; except this time, he didn't think he was sick. Just scared.
His efforts to blend in with the surroundings only made him more aware of how much he stood out. Everyone from the outside world wore shorts and T-shirts in the summer night, while he swam inside his ill-fitting orange coveralls, emblazoned across the back with the letters "JDC." The letters were supposed to arc across his shoulder blades, but in his case, they drooped above the small of his back. Ricky had told him on his first day that Medium was the smallest size available. It was a lie, of course. Ricky was such a jerk.
Nathan had no idea where he was. Once he was free of the JDC building, he'd just started running as fast as his bare feet would allow. At first the sticks and rocks had hurt as he ran over them, but once the fireworks started with all the explosions and lights, Nathan stopped feeling anything but his fear. He just kept running, with no idea where he was going. The only thing he knew for sure was that he was not going back there again.
Sharp explosions popped to his right.
Someone was shooting at him. Nathan jerked violently at the sound and reflexively clapped a hand over his mouth to keep from screaming out. His instinct was to bolt out of his hiding place, but a voice deep inside told him to stay put.
If they were shooting at you, you'd be dead now, he reasoned. His heart pounded in his temples.
By pressing the left side of his face further into the mulch and closing his right eye, Nathan could see through the bottom of the boxwood that served as his shield against the world. There were no gunmen. Just a bunch of kids, five of them about his age, setting off firecrackers in the street. Ladyfingers, it looked like. As Nathan watched, the tallest of the kids lit another pack and dropped it casually onto the curb, moving back a couple of steps for safety. Another extended ripple of explosions followed, sending sparks and paper dancing randomly along the pavement in the dark.
Excerpted from NATHAN'S RUN by JOHN GILSTRAP Copyright © 1996 by John Gilstrap. Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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