Twenty years ago, four teenage boys left a baby behind in a crushed car after they caused the tragic accident that took the mother’s life. Ever since, they’ve guarded the secret that would’ve ruined their lives and destroyed their future careers. But when one of them succumbs to illness, a blackmailer makes contact, and the survivors realize that, somehow, someone else knows. Now, everything that matters to them is at stake.
Las Vegas billionaire Wendell Logan is pursuing the role of political kingmaker, and he’s selected his unsuspecting king: Alan Granger, governor of Pennsylvania. Granger confesses his closet skeleton to Logan, but the tycoon has invested too much time and money into Granger’s future presidential campaign to let him and his old friends endanger Logan’s power play.
It’s time to run.
Late February 1995
Jeanne Favreau kissed her eighteen-month-old son and put him in his crib for the night. Exhausted from her long day at Bolton Valley, she flopped into her own bed across the room. Sufficient snow on the popular ski resort’s slopes kept the snack bar busy on Saturdays. At least she had the next day off. She quickly fell asleep.
The baby cried, and Jeanne’s eyes snapped open. No light crept through the blinds. She turned on the nightstand lamp and glanced at the clock radio: 10:15. Crap! She stepped to the crib, where Timmy stood gripping the side rail and emitting unhappy squawks.
“What's the matter, sweetie?” Jeanne lifted him over the rail and held him to her shoulder while checking his diaper. Dry and empty. Then she felt his forehead. Hot.
Oh, Christ! Another ear infection? Probably. With a sigh, she carried Timmy into the bathroom and took the bottle of Tylenol suspension from the medicine cabinet. She closed the bathtub drain and turned on the water. She went into the small kitchen and deposited him into his highchair, where he rubbed his right ear with a fist.
“I know, Timmy. You don't feel good,” Jeanne cooed, “but Mommy will make it better.” She opened a cabinet drawer, got a spoon, and poured the liquid Tylenol into it. The pediatrician had said he could have a full teaspoon. Unfortunately, Jeanne had become experienced dealing with ear infections. After successfully getting her child to take the medicine, she picked him up and returned to the bathroom.
From the back seat of the Toyota Land Cruiser, I gazed out the window at the passing forest. Though clouds intermittently obscured the face of the half moon, enough light bathed the landscape to provide a contrast between the smooth, untrampled snow and the skeletal stands of hardwood trees rising above it.
My buddies and I had taken full advantage of the good conditions on the slopes, and with the end of the season looming, we wanted to double down and continue skiing into the evening under the lights. But our social director had another idea in mind.
Alan Granger chuckled as he piloted the SUV down the Bolton Valley access road. “Hot babes in a hot tub. Doesn't get any better than that. Didn't I tell you? Stick with the Grange if you want to party? Bring your swim trunks just in case? I'm definitely going to give that Tammy a call tomorrow.” Tall and lanky, with a shock of unruly dark brown hair, a handsome face, and a gregarious personality, Granger was well known in our high school as a chick magnet. And starring as a wide receiver on the football team hadn't hurt.
Bob Kretchman, sitting next to me, grunted and took a gulp from his beer can. With his intimidating size and ferocious tackling exploits for that same team, his nickname of “Crushman” had evolved naturally. He scratched his scalp through his blond crew cut. “Yeah, it was fun. But I can't see us taking this any further. They're college chicks, dude.”
“Get me one of those Buds, will you?” Granger said. As I reached into the Styrofoam cooler behind me, he continued, “What difference does a year make, Crush? In seven months, we'll be in college, too. So we lie a little to get laid. You know, like we usually do.” He laughed
I popped the can and handed it to our driver.
“What about you, Jimmy?” he asked me. “Going to give Green Bikini a call? You two seemed to be getting it on pretty good.”
I smiled, thinking of those luscious tits practically rubbing against me as we “got to know each other” in the spa’s swirling water. The girls, Pi Beta Phi sorority sisters, were sophomores at the University of Vermont, all from out of state. They were staying in the ski condo belonging to the parents of Granger’s date for the weekend. Unfortunately, the father and his wife were also there, so we had to confine the frolic to the public hot tub. But we’d all said we would like to get together again in the near future—hopefully to take our newfound “friendships” to the next level.
“The lighting helped,” I replied, “since I don't look ancient like the rest of you guys. But I don't think my face could pass for a college stud in the light of day.”
Tom Webster faced me from the front passenger seat. He twiddled his index fingers in his cheeks and grinned. “Mr. Dawson, she'd just think you're cute. Go for it, man. Sometimes you gotta go for the long ball.” The team's quarterback turned his broad shoulders back to the front and nudged the driver with his elbow.
“Amen to that,” Granger responded.
“Hey, Jim,” Kretchman added, “you can't always dance your way through the line. Somebody like me could be waiting for you, stop you in your tracks.”
I laughed at the ribbing, since I was used to it. They had been my friends since grade school. Though in good shape, able to hold my own in the weight room, and certainly not short in stature, I was the “little” kid among them and the youngest by four months. Not to mention my young-looking face. “Well,” I said, returning the linebacker's grin, “if there's a hole, I'll be sure to
“Good one, Jimmy!” Granger laughed and took a pull from his can.
“And,” I said, “you seem to have forgotten that ninety-five-yard touchdown run I made against Essex. The Burlington Free Press certainly thought it was noteworthy. Didn't the article say it was a school record? And how about those two—I repeat, two—kickoff returns for TDs against BFA? I can go long, too.” I gave him a light punch in the arm.
“Yeah, you're a legend in your own mind,” Granger said over his shoulder. “Anyway, those girls do open up some possibilities.”
The car came to a stop at the bottom of the hill before turning right onto US 2. The exit for I-89, the route we'd take back to Burlington, lay just a few miles ahead.
At eleven p.m., after bathing Timmy in tepid water, Jeanne checked his temperature again with the rectal thermometer. 103.6! His fever had risen a full degree. Listless and lethargic, Timmy was no longer crying. Not a good sign.
She placed him on the bed while she quickly dressed and put on her parka. Then she wrapped a blanket around Timmy, picked him up, and went out the trailer door. Along with her child, the decrepit singlewide was all she had left to remind her of her ex-boyfriend, who'd run off as soon as she revealed the positive pregnancy test.
She secured Timmy in the rear-facing infant car seat of her beat-up Yugo and then drove out of the trailer park. The medical center in Burlington, just twenty minutes or so to the west, was her destination. Richmond didn't have a hospital. But that's what my baby needs, and soon.
The heavy beat of Meat Loaf erupted from the Land Cruiser's CD player as snowflakes began to hit the windshield.
Granger turned on the wipers. “Where the hell did this come from?”
“Some freak snow flurry,” Webster said from the shotgun seat.
“More like a freakin' storm.”
I leaned forward to peer through the windshield. The headlights’ illumination reflected back at us from the fluffy crystals. We appeared to be the only car on the road, so playing Follow the Leader wouldn't help us pick our way through the wall of white. Roadside lights were non-existent.
“Better slow down,” I said. As Kretchman had implied in his metaphor, I was usually the cautious one. I preferred to call it the “voice of reason.”
As the car rounded a turn, Webster yelled, “Watch out!”
At the same moment, I saw it as well. A dim red glow penetrated the heavy snowfall directly in front of us. A car’s taillight.
Granger tromped on the brakes, but the SUV skidded on the slick asphalt. “Oh, Jesus!” he shouted, and we all watched helplessly, knowing a collision was unavoidable. The heavy Land Cruiser slammed into the rear of the much smaller car, sending it careening off the road and into a stout maple tree.
“Shit!” Granger regained control of the SUV, pulled onto the shoulder, and put the car in park but left the engine running. He scrambled out of the vehicle and headed toward the stricken
sedan, his open parka flapping.
The rest of us followed. Snow crunched beneath my boots as I hurried to the car. The initial shock of the collision became full-blown panic as I feared the worst. The Yugo’s right headlight had escaped damage and sent its beam onto the cornfield beyond the tree. The front of the driver's side of the car had received the full force of the impact. Snow continued to fall, its insulation imposing an eerie quiet. Except for our heavy breathing and the slight tick of the Yugo’s engine, no sound reached my ears.
We gathered around Granger and looked through the shattered driver's side window. Faint light from the moon revealed a young woman pinned to her seat by the steering column. She wasn’t moving.
“Are you all right?” Granger spoke through the window as he tried and failed to open the door. No response came from the woman who appeared to be, at best, unconscious. “Bob, give the door a try.”
While Kretchman put his bulk into the effort, I went around to the other side and opened the front passenger door. The dome light came on, illuminating the woman, and my fear became real.
The collision had driven the dashboard assembly, including the collapsible steering column, into her chest. Her unblinking eyes stared ahead as if expressing shock at the sudden catastrophe. Med school was still more than four years away for me, but I didn’t need medical training to diagnose the obvious.
Still, I felt for a pulse in her cool, lifeless wrist. “She’s dead,” I announced.
“Oh, my God!” Granger wailed. “What’re we going to do?” He banged his fist on the roof of the car. “Shit!”
From behind me, Webster said, “Look in the backseat, Jimmy.”
Though I’d thought my despair couldn’t get any worse, it climbed to a new level.
Webster opened the rear door, and I leaned in. The infant car seat lay askew but still restrained by the seat belt. The child in it was motionless, eyes closed. Oh, Jesus, no! I put my ear close to the baby’s mouth, and the sound of rhythmic breathing rewarded me. Thank God! I didn’t see any apparent injuries. Granger and Kretchman came around the car.
“I think the baby’s okay,” I said as I backed out and stood upright. “Call 9-1-1 on your car phone, Al.”
“Yeah… all right… good idea.” He started for his car then came back to us. “Oh, man. We should think about this first. I killed somebody, for Christ's sake! Vehicular homicide is what they call it.” He shook his head. “I'm in big trouble, guys.”
“It was an accident,” Kretchman offered. “Bad weather conditions, slippery road. That car came out of nowhere.”
“And it only had the one taillight,” Webster added. “We'll back you up, man.”
“Except they'll say I was going too fast for the conditions, since I rear-ended her. Slam dunk there. And I was drinking. Unlike you guys, I'm eighteen, so I'm screwed both ways. I'm not allowed to drink, but legally I'm an adult. I am totally fucked!”
I couldn’t argue with that assessment, and apparently, the others couldn’t either as indecision paralyzed all of us. I glanced at the baby. We had to do something for it and soon.
“Even if I can stay out of jail and my old man doesn't disown me, there goes law school. Think I could get into Georgetown or any other top school with this on my record?” Granger put his hands on the sides of his head. “Oh, man. What am I going to do?”
“So let's get the hell out of here,” Webster said. “You gotta make that call because of the
kid, but do it when we're on the road and keep it anonymous.”
“I think the cops can trace those calls,” Granger replied. “Can't take that chance. I need to find a pay phone.”
“What about the baby?” I asked. “We can't just leave it here. If something happens to—”
“Uh-oh, car coming,” Kretchman said.
I looked to the east. The trees lit up from an approaching car that had not yet rounded the curve. We watched as the car came into view and then reached our location. I held my breath, but it continued past us without even slowing.
Maybe the snow had obscured the driver's view. Maybe something else had distracted him. Maybe he had issues of his own and didn't want to get involved in our problem. Whatever—his appearance on the scene emphasized our precarious position.
“We better get going before a Good Samaritan or a state trooper comes by,” Granger said.
“The baby?” I asked again.
Granger looked at the sleeping infant. “He's got a warm blanket.” He reached in to tuck the wool fabric around the kid. “It's not that cold. Gotta be above freezing.” He gazed at the sky. “And the snow is letting up.” The panic in his eyes told me whose welfare he was really considering. “The kid'll be okay. He's not even crying, Jimmy. I'll call 9-1-1 as soon as we hit town. Twenty minutes, tops.” He headed to the Land Cruiser. “C'mon, guys, let's book.”
Kretchman must have sensed my hesitation. “Jimmy?”
I didn’t know what to say.
Webster grabbed my arm. “C’mon, man. I don’t like this any better than you do, but we’re all in big shit here. Al’s right. This is the only way out for us.”
It wasn't right to just up and bolt, leaving the mess behind us. Okay, it was Al's mess,
really. But Webster had a point. We were all involved. Even though I had only been a bystander, I wasn't innocent. I had been drinking, too, had even given the driver a beer. Because of us, a woman lay dead, and her baby had lost its mother. A terrible thing.
Guilt was one thing. I’d have that regardless. Suffering real-world consequences was another matter. In the short term, I'd be grounded for sure. But I could imagine how this incident could forever mar my reputation. I'd be one of “those boys”—the drunken teenagers on a joyride who killed a woman. And Al, my buddy, was right. He would be in a shit-pot full of trouble, legal and otherwise, if this got out.
Self-defense and loyalty finally won the debate. We could do nothing for the woman now, and the baby would be fine, I told myself. I leaned in once more to check the baby and made sure the blanket was secured around his sleeping form. I closed the door and said, “Okay, let’s go,” then followed the others to the car.
Politics and the Everyman
What is the impact of politics on the average citizen? That question has assumed more importance in recent years and should, therefore, be discussed seriously.
Our democracy was established with the principle of one man, one vote. With the unfortunate history of racial and gender exceptions to that principle now behind us, the average Joe (including, of course, the average Josephine) can submit his vote in favor of what he thinks is best for him. Or what he thinks is best for the country, which, not surprisingly, usually amounts to the same thing, human nature being what it is.
Ah, but our country was also established as a representative democracy. So Joe’s vote, unless it contributes to relatively rare referendums, does not go directly to his government to effect change. Instead, that vote is used to elect others who will, in turn, make decisions that will affect Joe, again using the principle of one man, one vote, but now on a much smaller scale. At the federal level, there are only 535 individuals making these decisions for the millions of Joes in this country.
And that’s where U.S. citizens have a problem. For these representatives to be elected, money is needed to promote their candidacies for office. And for contested state and national elections especially – this means lots of money. Average Joe might have a candidate who supports his views and might, just might, vote in his favor when the time comes in Congress, but Joe can only contribute so much to his candidate’s cause. He has expenses that demand big chunks of his available cash, so any political contribution he makes will be tiny compared to other players in the democracy game.
There are Rich Joes who can afford to spend $1000 at a fundraiser dinner for the privilege of hearing a candidate speak as they hobnob with other wealthy types in their support for their politician. Average Joe can’t afford that, and his name would not even come up when the invitations are sent out, because he’s a nobody, not worthy of consideration. He’s just one nameless vote.
Then there are the Tycoon Joes who have even more money to contribute to their candidates. With recent Supreme Court decisions, there is essentially no limit to what a Tycoon Joe can contribute. In fact, a Tycoon Joe can essentially finance, by himself if he desires, an entire campaign. When the politician is elected, to whom do you think he would owe his allegiance (and vote!)? What Tycoon Joe wants, he has essentially paid for and will most likely get, regardless of the wishes of Average Joe.
It is this current state of affairs in our electoral process today that worries me, and I’ve made it a key element in my latest novel, Skeleton Run.
Campaign finance reform laws have poked around the edges of the problem, but loopholes have quickly sprung up to circumvent them. Unless something is done to change our present system in a material way, I fear that “plutocracy” will become a more apt description of our government than “democracy.”
Secrets. We all have at least one, and the person who says they don't is a liar. But it's not often that a secret includes a dead baby and blackmail.
I thought this was going to be a very political novel. I was wrong. Skeleton Run has politics in it, of course (why I chose to review it right before America's Independence Day), but it's not a political novel. It's a novel about much more than a sketchy politician and scams. It's about lies, life, death and skeletons in your closet...skeletons that might come up and bite you if left to lie too long.
Mr. DeBoer's writing is not flowery or overly technical, as some political writers tend to get. If I choose to read a novel for pleasure, the last thing I want is a writer who makes me have to go to the dictionary or whose work sounds like an article the Wall Street Journal!
The usual reasons for blackmail--crimes of passion, adultery, etc.--are not present here. In fact, the blackmailed party isn't even an adult when he commits his crime. That alone is singular.
The story flows pretty steadily, and only lags in small parts. Another rarity for a novel such as this, and a welcome change. Mr. DeBoer is knowledgeable about American politics, and the levels humans will sink to to get what they want. He shows us the dark side of the human soul in this book.
Will everyone like it? Probably not. Do I recommend it? Definitely. Very different and fun to read. It makes you think while thrilling you.
4/5--I will come back for more from this writer!
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/skeleton-run-john-deboer/1121723954?ean=2940151524681
Author page on RAP: http://redadeptpublishing.com/#!/DeBoer-John/c/12029071/offset=0&sort=normal