Rundown

Rundown

by Michael Cadnum

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Overview

Jennifer Thayer went for a run, threw herself down a hill, and then filed a false police report, claiming that she fought off a rapist. Now the police are reassuring and sympathetic, and hardly anyone questions Jennifer's story. Friends and family express their concern, and the press is interested. But Jennifer can't hide from the only person who knows what really happened-herself.

Awards:

New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age
An ALA Quick Pick

Deep, dark, and moving, this is a model tale of adolescent uneasiness. (Kirkus Reviews)

Readers will likely be both fascinated and repelled by the intricate web of deception woven by the 16-year-old narrator. (Publishers Weekly)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780613337250
Publisher: San Val, Incorporated
Publication date: 01/28/2001
Pages: 168
Product dimensions: 6.08(w) x 7.16(h) x 0.69(d)
Age Range: 13 - 17 Years

About the Author

Michael Cadnum is the award-winning author of more than a dozen books for adults and young adults, including the contemporary novels Rundown, Heat, and Edge (all Viking) and the historical novel In a Dark Wood (Orchard/Puffin). Michael Cadnum lives in Albany, California.

Read an Excerpt

Rundown


By Michael Cadnum

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1999 Michael Cadnum
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-1976-7


CHAPTER 1

One month before my sister's wedding I did a terrible thing.

I had picked the hour with care — twilight, a long summer sunset in Strawberry Canyon. A few joggers plodded ahead of me on the asphalt path that paralleled the road. I was loping along easily, able to keep this pace as long as I wanted. I reached the bend in the road and stopped, my hands on my hips.

I had selected the location with equal care, blackberry bushes dense beside the path, a stand of trees.

The view west of here was luminous blue, the setting sun mirrored off the Pacific, the sky filling with glow. You can take in a great view from the canyon, the gray buildings on the campus, steam from the ducts twisting free in the cool evening air. Until the last moment I told myself I didn't have to do this today, I didn't have to do it at all.

I let the joggers slog their way back down the path, determined to burn off their four hundred and eighty calories an hour, and cheating a little, getting help from the downhill slope. One of the guys caught my glance. I knew what he took in was easy on the eyes, a sixteen-year-old in shorts and an oversize gray Cal sweatshirt, sleeves scissored at the elbows, bra strap showing at one shoulder. I have a healthy appearance, even with my hair jammed under a watch cap, not dazzling like Cassandra, but okay.

I gave him a blank look and let my eyes show null interest, like the guy was so much empty space. But he was already past me, the white soles of his running shoes flashing down the growing dark. An animal, belly low to the road, flashed from dark to dark, one of the feral cats that haunt the hills, pets gone wild.

I began to be a little afraid.

The recent news had been jammed with stories about the South Bay rapist, seven assaults in sixteen days, his composite face on Channel Two news every night, and here I was, the cool air stealing up through the bay trees along the path, the blackberry vines black scribbles.

I didn't have to go through with this, I told myself, running in place, dancing a little to stay loose, not wanting to be stranded out here in the dark. It was filling up with night, the canyon, car headlights lancing up the road, giving me a faceful of glare.

In their passage the twilight was all the darker, and the game I was ready to play felt real.

I don't keep secrets from myself, so the state of my nerves surprised me. Something stirred the bush beside me — a random breeze or a sparrow in a hurry to find refuge.

I decided to get it over with.

I let my body do a stunt roll into the blackberries, holding my breath against the scratching of the thorns. And then I tumbled, not able to stop myself. I had anticipated most of this, and wanted it, the branches scrabbling, clinging, brambles snagging, breaking, but then my own weight carried me downward too fast, the wiry coils of thorns not strong enough to bear me. I pitched down, hard, into the dry creek.

Dust has a smell — dry, cloying, as it rises up around your body. The bad light showed berry stains on my hands, and long fine tears where the thorns had clung, the deepest points beading with blood.

I steeled myself and fought upward, clawing at the earth though the maze of brambles, snatching at cutting points, wrestling through the brush.

And through, out onto the path.

I hit the traffic sign there beside the road with the side of my hand. The sign gave a loud metallic bang, screw heads rattling. The sign was a vivid yellow diamond with a black arrow, letting motorists know a curve was just ahead. It vibrated for a long time, humming with the force of my blow, because I had hit it hard — it was part of my plan.

By then I was breathing audibly, gulping air, and I stepped back into the brambles for a second, because it wasn't a plan anymore. I heard someone.

I listened.

I was playing this just a little too well, the way Cassandra did in that play she wrote herself about having an abortion, weeping tears so you thought she was feeling something. You could sense the audience, heads together, amazed and anguished, wondering, Christ, how could someone so young have such compassion?

Someone was out there, trying not to make a sound.

CHAPTER 2

The campus of the University of California, Berkeley, is a landscape of venerable trees and austere multi-story buildings. Vent grills in the pavement give off hot air from somewhere underground, and so do big periscope-like pipes, fuming off a smell of old books and wall plaster, the entire institution breathing.

There was always a university police car parked by Strawberry Creek, where a cute little bridge arched over a feeble pulse of water. But on this night, of all nights, I found only a few spots of grease and a rut worn in the ground near a redwood tree where the rover unit was supposed to park.

Hall lights streamed out from the buildings as after-hours students hurried through the doors. Assistant professors picking up some extra pay teaching summer classes down-geared their bikes as they pumped the slope toward the street. I was breathing shakily and felt a sweaty chill all over my body.

I could still change my mind.

But then a police unit purred along through the indistinct figures of people, taking its time the way only cops do, not going anywhere, wanting criminals and possible victims and taxpayers to see where they are, keeping an eye on the sole skateboarder taking a long, smooth ride into the night.

I had rehearsed this in my mind, but doing it felt like just another fantasy. I beat my hands on the top of the police car. This had been what I had visualized with the greatest intensity, my opening lines.

My first words were supposed to be a stammered communication. I had sent the phrases through a series of mental rewrites. Tried to rape sounded wrong, over-dramatic, and leading to a discussion of how far the attempt had gone. Mugged was out of the question, as though I was a business woman with a purse stuffed with cash.

I wanted the drama of attempted rape, without any lurid and embarrassing details, and I knew exactly how far I would take this. I knew how to fake out my few lines, and what would happen as they called my parents and my parents came and got me, telling me they were glad I was all right — all right meaning more than my father could put into words, relief making his voice breathy.

So I was surprised when the car door burst open, the cop already holding a transmitter attached to the dash with a coiling black cord. Later I would try to replay my first words, and I couldn't make them stick together.

I said something about an attacker, Strawberry Canyon, and I think I used the phrase, "I barely got away." The word barely would haunt me that night, slipping into sentences where it didn't belong.

"Are you hurt?" he was asking.

A mock-gold nameplate over his badge gave his name, but I couldn't register letters right then. I had planned something less hurried. I had a description worked up over recent days, based on news reports and posters stapled to trees all over the Bay Area.

The rectangular nameplate above his badge read Fountain, like an ad for sparkling drinking water, or some holy place. Officer Fountain was alight with excitement and reassurance, a rookie or a cop bored with rousting drunks from Sproul Plaza. I told him the attacker was about this tall, indicating a height with my throbbing hand, about six feet, a good five inches taller than me. "With a ski mask," I said, "and —"

I made a feeble gesture up and down my front. "A zipper jacket," Officer Fountain prompted.

I nodded.

"Dark blue?" he was asking, and I could hear the thrill under the terse justthe-facts note in his voice.

The cop talked into the side of his hand, a fit, muscular, woolly individual, stuffed into his uniform, proof what a pass to the staff gym can do. He had the back door of the police cruiser open, talking into his radio, using the tough monotone of cops and airline pilots, saying he had a possible two-sixty-one, subject at large.

"You sure you have no injuries to report?" asked Officer Fountain.

I was all set for a little paperwork and then a wait for my parents to get back from the opera fund-raiser. I'd sit red-eyed and brave in the university police headquarters, calling Bernice Heath, the housekeeper, and maybe letting her do a mommy hen act. Maybe this deep-chested Officer Fountain would hang around to hold my hand, literally, if I played the courage routine just so.

And then act two, Dad and Mom flushed with just-under-the-legal-limit bubbly, chattering about something like why do the organizers bother with paté, it's just flavored fat. Wide-eyed and worried, and wanting to be relieved. My parents would run smack into a big chunk of my life, little Jennifer, daughter number two, the one who isn't Cassandra.


I was content for the moment to sit in the back seat of the police unit, the radio crackling with university cops, their voices stepping on each other, the female dispatcher barely able to acknowledge each transmission with a hurried nine-oh-nine, cop code for "heard and understood."

Even as the officer drove me up Strawberry Canyon and I identified the crime scene, I didn't recognize the excitement for anything but routine police concern. I stayed in the car and directed the policeman's huge flashlight, beam turning the shrubbery silver.

"Not there," I said, not having any trouble sounding disturbed by what was happening. "Right there." A gap in the berry vines.

I had studied the police and chosen university law enforcement on purpose, keen to avoid falling into the hands of Oakland or Berkeley cops with their crime labs and reporters hanging around the desk sergeant. I had monitored cop calls on my dad's old Radio Shack shortwave.


But it was only as we left the crime scene and cruised down Bancroft Avenue that I had a sickening sensation.

The street was populated with people on their way to drink coffee and listen to Mozart in one of the music stores, and with one part of my mind I thought like any crime victim would have, envying all these normal, idle graduate students, an easy class schedule during the summer months, nothing to do but smoke French cigarettes and look intellectual.

In another frantic command post of my psyche I was aware than we were putting the campus behind us, traveling fast, the chrome of the window frame flashing off and on with the car's emergency blinkers.

We pulled off Martin Luther King, Jr., Way into the parking lot of a place that resembled a bargain-rate motel, an aluminum-framed, prefabricated assembly of offices, the city police department.

CHAPTER 3

Each cop wore a crisp khaki short-sleeved shirt and a toy-store badge, a bright nickel star, Berkeley Police in black.

They wore their handguns high on their hips, where it would be hard to get at the weapons without making an effort. A solicitous sergeant took down the number of my dad's cell phone, jotted my address, and made a solemn, silent oh of surprise when I spelled my last name, the one he had no doubt heard on the radio and seen in the gourmet section of the supermarket, my dad's idealized signature, Terry Thayer, on bottles of salad dressing.

Then they parked me in a side chair, after I said I didn't need to "talk to someone right away," meaning, I gathered, a counselor.

The police department hummed like a bank five minutes before closing, and I took some comfort in the fact that my case was not causing armed men and women to rush out into the night.

I was getting used to this, telling myself I had done fairly well, when I sensed someone close to me, leaning over me. I gave one of those you-startled-me laughs.

She gave me a down-turned smile of apology. "I'm Detective Margate," she said, "with the Sex Crimes Detail." She indicated a doorway in the distance with a movement of her head.

She led me into a small office with a window, a view of night sky and parking lot.

A man stood up as I entered, closing a folder, moving newspaper off a comfy-looking padded chair on wheels. She said, "This is Detective Ronert."

Detective Ronert smiled, kind, nonthreatening, plainly well schooled at victim psychology. He moved the chair into the corner.

"How are you feeling, Jennifer?" Detective Margate was asking. "Can we get you a glass of water?"

We kept quiet while Detective Ronert left, and I sat in the chair, putting my elbows on the padded arms. I liked being here in the corner, a wall on either side of me.

He came back with an incredibly small paper cup with pleats in it. All three of us waited while I drank the water, one mouthful. Detective Margate was a tall woman with dark, short hair and black eyebrows that gave her a piercing look, like a bird that kills small animals.

"We're here to help you through this," said Detective Margate, giving me a straight smile this time, no apology. "In any way we can."

"I want to go home."

She could turn the smile on, and turn it off. "We'll just ask you a couple of questions," she said. She touched the side of my neck gently, where a thorn slash stung. "What are these?"

"Blackberry bushes," I said. I meant that the marks were the effect of blackberry thorns in violent contact with my skin, but something about Detective Margate made my brain freeze.

"Does your hand hurt?" she asked.

The side of my hand was already sunrise-blue; I bruise easily. "Not very much."

"Can you open your fingers?"

I opened my hand, shut it.

She wiggled her fingers, a duchess giving a silent 'bye for now. She wore a dark chocolate-brown tweed jacket with blue houndstooth checks, a white blouse, and a dark navy blue skirt, the same sort of plainclothes look nuns wore when they used to drop by my dad's restaurant for his yearly donation of gourmet fare. I wiggled my fingers back at her.

She held out a forefinger, and I sat still, puzzled, while she pressed a knuckle against the cutoff sleeve of my sweatshirt. An ant trickled down off the cloth under her hand.

She leveled her bird-of-prey eyes at me. "Tell me what happened, Jennifer."

I watched the ant hesitating on the whorl of her pale knuckle. "Nothing happened."

She was about to ask, so I added quickly, "Nothing sexual."

"Let's start with what he did do," she said, then she lifted the ant to her lips, and blew, gently, the ant hanging on, but crumpling with effort, losing the fight. The ant vanished.

"He barely touched me," I said.

Detective Margate was writing on a sheet of paper on a clipboard, the white pen making a whisper across the page. She glanced up, and her dark brown eyes bore into me. "Where?"

I lifted my shoulder meaningfully, let it fall. "We need the camera," she told Detective Ronert. "Did he touch you anywhere else?"

"I want to go home," I said, "and forget it happened." Detective Ronert fumbled in a black canvas bag, unzipping compartments, prying off a lens cap.

Detective Margate's voice was soft without being gentle, a woman used to giving orders without having to repeat herself. "It's very important, Jennifer, that you tell us if he touched you in any intimate part of your body."

"He touched me on my shoulder. He grabbed me," I corrected myself.

She nodded reassuringly, but I could hear the questions stacking up. For a crazy instant I thought I might be in trouble for protecting myself from an assailant. "He caught me from behind, I turned around and hit him, and then he pushed me into the bushes."

I'm built, as Dad would say. I'm not fat, but I'm not slender. If I stop running for a couple of days I tend to put on four pounds. You could see the detective imagining me giving this criminal a fist to the face. And believing it.

She wrote for a few moments. "Was he wearing gloves?" she asked.

My mind did a racing data search, recalling what I knew about the series of attacks up and down Alameda County. "Leather gloves," I said. "Tight fitting."

She handed me a sheet, nice and crisp, not staple-punished and bent out of shape from being wrapped around a redwood tree. It was a police-artist composite, one of those ovals that look like a face without resembling a human. One of the victims had seen her attacker before he tugged the dark knit head-covering down over his features, AGE 25–35, WEIGHT 140–150, a white male, skinny for his height.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Rundown by Michael Cadnum. Copyright © 1999 Michael Cadnum. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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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