If we survive, p.1

If We Survive, page 1


If We Survive

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If We Survive


  “A thriller that reads like a teenage version of 24 . . . an adrenalinepumping adventure.”


  “Action sequences that never let up . . . wrung for every possible drop of nervous sweat.”


  “. . . the adrenaline-charged action will keep you totally immersed. The original plot is full of twists and turns and unexpected treasures.”


  “[Klavan] is a solid storyteller with a keen eye for detail and vivid descriptive power.”


  “I’m buying everything Klavan is selling, from the excellent first person narrative, to the gut punching action; to the perfect doses of humor and wit . . . it’s all working for me.”


  “Charlie teaches lessons in Christian decency and patriotism, not by talking about those things . . . but through practicing them . . . Well done, Andrew Klavan.”


  “This is Young Adult fiction . . . but the unadulterated intelligence of a superb suspense novelist is very much in evidence throughout.”




  Crazy Dangerous


  The Last Thing I Remember

  The Long Way Home

  The Truth of the Matter

  The Final Hour





  © 2012 by Andrew Klavan

  All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, scanning, or other—except for brief quotations in critical reviews or articles, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

  Published in Nashville, Tennessee, by Thomas Nelson. Thomas Nelson is a registered trademark of Thomas Nelson, Inc.

  Thomas Nelson, Inc., titles may be purchased in bulk for educational, business, fund-raising, or sales promotional use. For information, please e-mail [email protected]

  Publisher’s Note: This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. All characters are fictional, and any similarity to people living or dead is purely coincidental.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Klavan, Andrew.

  If we survive / Andrew Klavan.

  p. cm.

  Summary: When revolutionaries seize control of a country in Central America where sixteen-year-old Will is serving at a mission, he and the other volunteers find themselves in a desperate race to escape the violence and return home.

  ISBN 978-1-59554-795-8 (hardcover)

  [1. Revolutions--Fiction. 2. Survival--Fiction. 3. Missions--Fiction. 4. Christian life--Fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ7.K67823If 2012


  Printed in the United States of America

  12 13 14 15 16 17 QG 6 5 4 3 2 1

  This book is for John and Julie Nolte.











































  We were in the cantina waiting for a bus when Mendoza walked in and shot the waiter dead. It happened just like that, that fast. One second we were sitting around our table in the corner, drinking our Cokes, making conversation, eager to go home, looking forward to seeing our families again, to seeing America again. The next second the whole world seemed to explode with a deafening blam!

  I jumped in my seat, shocked. I turned—and I saw the whole thing right in front of me, a sort of frozen tableau. There was Mendoza, in his rebel fatigues and red bandanna. His arm was extended. A wicked-looking pistol was in his hand. Smoke was still trailing upward out of the barrel.

  The waiter was in front of him. Carlos—that was his name. A tall, round-bellied man with an easy smile. He didn’t speak much English, but he liked to joke with us all the same, liked to flirt with the girls and nudge the guys as if to say, You see, my friend, this is how you talk to the ladies. This is how you charm them.

  For one second—one second that seemed to go on forever— Carlos remained where he was—captured in the moment of reeling backward—a look of terror and sadness stamped on his features.

  For that one second, that one endless second, we all seemed frozen, locked into that same terrible tableau. Pastor Ron, Jim, Nicki, Meredith, me. All of us motionless—frozen—as if we would never move again; all of us staring at the scene—our eyes wide, our mouths open.

  Then Carlos fell. He began to take a step back as if the impact of the bullet was going to blow him across the room. But then—no—he just collapsed, his legs folding under him like pieces of string. I had never seen a dead man before, but somehow I knew from the way he went down that it was over for him.

  The next second everything started moving again, moving very quickly. There was the sound of footsteps—a thunder of footsteps that seemed to come from all around us, shaking the floor and the walls. There were shouts from the street outside and then there were shouts in the cantina too. Deep, angry, threatening shouts. I heard a muttered curse from somewhere close to me. I heard a woman start to scream and then suddenly stop.

  I looked around me. Men—all of them dressed like Mendoza—all of them in fatigues with red bandannas tied around their heads—were charging through the cantina’s swinging doors. They were spreading out around the room, flooding the room, lining the walls, blocking the exits. Every one of them was holding a gun—the sort of machine gun you always see in action movies and on the TV news with the bullet magazine curling out the bottom of it.

  Two of the men posted themselves by the front door. Two others cut off the path to the back hall and the rear entrance. Another two blocked the stairway that led to the hotel rooms upstairs. They stood there with their machine guns raised to their chests and eyed the room, eyed all of us, with a look that said, Just try to get past us. Just try, and see what we do to you.

  No one tried.

  It was all over in a second. That fast, we were surrounded. Trapped.

  What happened next—the bloodshed, the tragedy, the sheer terror—
nearly defies belief.

  But I guess I’d better start at the beginning.


  There were five of us before the killing started. We had come to Costa Verdes to build a wall.

  It was a poor country. A jungle country. A small country set on that narrow, twisting bridge of land that links Mexico to Colombia: Central America. The village we were in—Santiago—was a nothing of a place. Just a church in a flagstone plaza. A three-story-tall cantina-slash-hotel. A narrow street of shops and market stalls. And houses— little cottages really—trailing away up the road and into the mountains.

  There were a lot of mountains in Costa Verdes. There were mountains everywhere, as far as the eye could see. They rose against the pale-blue sky in the morning, hunkered under black thunderclouds in the afternoon, and stood silhouetted beneath the stars at night. They were covered with forest, deep beryl green up close, blue-gray in the distance. And there was always mist rising out of the trees, spreading over the peaks and covering the horizon with an aura of mystery.

  As for the wall we were building here in the village, it was the wall of a school—the only school for miles around. Not only the kids in the village used it, but all the kids from the farms and plantations on the nearby slopes: two dozen kids, maybe more, and of all ages. The wall had been destroyed somehow—I wasn’t sure how exactly. Los volcanes, the natives kept telling us. The volcanoes. But that didn’t make any sense. The only volcano I could see was miles and miles in the distance. I could only just make out its strange, flattened top, only just distinguish the trail of smoke that sometimes drifted from its ragged crater to blend with the mist hanging all around it. I didn’t understand how “volcanoes” could have turned the school wall to rubble.

  But rubble is what it was when we got there. And the school hadn’t been much to begin with either. It was just a rectangular box made of cinder blocks with a long bench on each side for the kids to sit on, and a table and a blackboard up front for the teacher. Pretty pitiful when I compared it to my own school back home in California: Grove High, with its corridors and classrooms, its laboratories and library, its huge gym and football field and track and so on. Here in the Santiago cinder-block school, the kids barely had books to read and stuff to write with. Seriously: they used half pencils—pencils broken in half so there’d be enough to go around. They wrote on these little ragged notebooks, the blue covers nearly worn away, the pages full even at the borders because they had to use every inch of blank space they could find.

  That’s what it was like when they went to school, but they couldn’t go much now with the wall demolished and one of the benches upside down on the floor amid the debris. Three cinder-block walls and a pile of gravel where the fourth one used to be—that was their schoolhouse now. Los volcanes. Whatever. We came to rebuild the place.

  It was a church project. Or a church-slash-school project, to be more precise. The villagers here were too poor to buy the wall material themselves, and the local men were too busy working for their daily bread to take time to put the schoolhouse back together. So our church had taken up a collection for the cinder blocks and tools and mortar and so on, and then called for volunteers to come down here for a week or so during the summer break and slap the thing back up so the kids could get some kind of education. Grove High put up posters about the mission too, and Principal Hagen mentioned it during an assembly. In the end, some of us joined up in the name of Christian outreach and some of us came to get the Public Service credits we needed for graduation. Some of us had our own reasons too. Well, I guess all of us had our own reasons, when it comes down to it.

  So who were we?

  Well, let’s see, there was Pastor Ron, first of all. Ron Collins, the associate minister at our church. He was a small, thin guy, with a bland, friendly face, eyes blinking out from behind his thick dark-rimmed glasses. He was young, mild-mannered, enthusiastic. Maybe a little too enthusiastic sometimes, if you ask me. Trying too hard to make things exciting and interesting to his teenage traveling companions. You may know the type. Always wanting everyone to think everything was fun, fun, fun—and then getting sort of quietly disgruntled and annoyed when anyone thought it was not, not, not. But I don’t want to be unfair to him: he was a good guy, he really was. He always had time to listen to you and help you out if you had a problem. And his sermons were a lot more intelligent and interesting than the ones given by the head pastor, Pastor Francis. It’s just that Pastor Ron was sometimes a little bit . . . clueless, I guess you’d say.

  I’ll give you an example. Once, shortly after we arrived in the village, Pastor Ron saw a little kid threatening a bigger kid with a stick. The little kid had his back against a cottage wall. The big kid—a big, fat hulking monster of a guy—was hovering over him, his hands balled into fists and his face darkening like a rain cloud. The little guy was holding a stick in front of him with both hands. He was so scared, you could see the stick vibrating as his hands shook.

  Now, see, to me, it was pretty clear that the little kid was defending himself against the big kid in the only way he knew how. But Pastor Ron went hurrying over to the two of them and quickly pulled the stick out of his hands.

  “No, no, mi amigo,” Pastor Ron said in his flat, American-accented Spanish.

  He knelt down between the boys and put a hand on a shoulder of each. He began talking to them in the quiet, patient, friendly way he had. I don’t speak much Spanish myself, but I could make out some of what he was saying. He was telling the boys how wrong it was to do violence, and how it was especially dangerous to fight with sticks because you could take someone’s eye out and leave him blind. He said the boys had to learn to be friends and give up fighting . . . and so on.

  “Comprendez, amigos?” he asked. Do you understand, my friends?

  The boys nodded, their big round eyes staring into the friendly stranger’s face.

  “Bueno,” said Pastor Ron.

  He patted them on the shoulders and stood up. And looking very satisfied with himself, he walked off to our tents, carrying the stick with him.

  You can probably guess what happened then. In fact, I’m sure you can. The minute Pastor Ron ducked into our tent and was out of sight, the big kid—seeing the little kid had lost his only means of defense—hauled off and punched that poor little mite so hard, the boy literally left his feet before he thumped down to the ground in a cloud of brown dust. Man, that punch even made me see stars and hear the birdies sing, and I was standing nearly twenty yards away.

  Happy then, the big kid went tromping off down the road, leaving the little kid sitting in the dirt, sobbing and rubbing his eyes with his fists.

  That’s all I’m saying about Pastor Ron. Nice guy. Good intentions. Just a little clueless, that’s all.

  Then there was Nicki—Nicki Wilson. Or—as I sometimes called her secretly, in my own thoughts—High School Barbie. Which was maybe a little unfair. I mean, Nicki had a lot of sweetness to her, she really did. And she was glamorous: pretty in a sort of flashy way with wavy blond-brown hair and big, deep-blue eyes that could blink innocently at you and send your heart reeling. Her makeup was always perfect, even out there in the middle of nowhere. Her clothes likewise were always neat and elegant, even in the wilting heat of noon before the thunderstorms started. When she walked up the little dirt path to our worksite, the people of Santiago actually stopped and stared at her with awe, as if she were a visiting princess or something. The little girls in the village—they loved her especially. And she was great with them, always ready to sit down with them on a bench and show them how to decorate their clothes with ribbons and rhinestones she had with her or how to tie up their hair in different ways.

  So Nicki was sweet like that, but she was also just a little bit . . . what’s the word I want? Shallow, I guess. She was seventeen, had just finished eleventh grade, and had left her Public Service credits till the last minute. She had come on this mission to Costa Verdes, as I overheard her say once, because she jus
t couldn’t stand the horror of having to waste her senior year doing some dreary something-or-other in a homeless shelter when everyone knew twelfth grade was supposed to be one long party.

  She wasn’t a lot of help with the wall either. It was a hard job. We had to dig a huge pit for the old debris, clear the rubble away, and cover it over. Then we had to haul the cinder blocks up the hill from the plaza where the truck had left them. We had to reset the big footer in the foundation, mix the mortar in a wheelbarrow, and so forth. And Nicki—well, just being honest here: she had a tendency to dog it a little, if you know what I mean. She’d sort of delicately lay some mortar on top of one of the blocks, wrinkling her nose at the yucky stuff as if it were a dead animal and handling the trowel as if it were the ten-foot pole she didn’t want to touch it with. And then, the first second she thought she could get away with it, she’d heave a humongous sigh, blowing a stray curl off her pretty forehead, and she’d say, “I have to take a break! I’m just exhausted!”

  On top of that, she had absolutely zero appreciation for how blessed we Americans are—you know, how nice our homes are, even the small ones, how much we have, even when we think we don’t have that much. The people in Santiago—they had nothing. I mean, nothing. Their houses were clay boxes roofed in thatch. Most of them didn’t have electricity or running water. The dads worked in the fields all day and the moms literally had to do the laundry at the river, down on their knees, scrubbing the clothes in the water.

  “How could anyone live this way?” I once heard Nicki whisper under her breath. “You can’t even get online!”

  And okay, it was sort of weird—our cell phones didn’t work and the Internet was only available at the cantina. We were all suffering Facebook withdrawal. But it didn’t occur to Nicki that a whole lot of the world lives like that, you know. In fact, we in America, with all the stuff and gadgets and connections we have, we’re the exceptions, the lucky ones—oh, and by the way, most of us didn’t have a lot to do with making that happen.

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