Manhunt, page 1part #10.50 of Michael Bennett Series
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Excerpt from Ambush copyright © 2018 by James Patterson
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My entire brood, plus Mary Catherine and my grandfather, gathered in the living room. We’d been told to expect a call from Brian between eight and eight fifteen. That gave us enough time to eat, clean up, and at least start the mountain of homework that nine kids get from one of the better Catholic schools in New York City.
We had the phone set on speaker and placed it in the middle of the group, which was getting a little antsy waiting for the call.
At exactly ten minutes after eight, the phone rang and some dull-voiced New York Department of Corrections bureaucrat told us that the call would last approximately ten minutes and that it would be monitored. Great.
My oldest son, Brian, had made a mistake. A big mistake—selling drugs. Now he was paying for that mistake, and so were we.
Tonight was Thanksgiving eve. Tomorrow we would embark on our annual tradition of viewing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and it would hurt not having Brian with us.
My late wife and I had begun this tradition even before we started adopting kids. She’d get off her shift at the hospital and I’d meet her near Rockefeller Center. When the kids were little, she loved the parade more than they did. It was one of many traditions I kept alive to honor her memory.
She even made the parade after chemo had wrecked her body, with a scarf wrapped around her head. The beauty still managed an excited smile at the sight of Bart Simpson or Snoopy floating by.
As soon as Brian came on the line, there was a ripple in our crowd. The last time I’d seen him, he was still recovering from a knife attack that was meant to send me a message.
Tonight, he sounded good. His voice was clear and still had that element of the kid to it. No parent can ever think of their child as a convicted felon, even if he’s sitting in a prison. Currently, Brian was temporarily housed at Bear Hill Correctional, in the town of Malone, in northern New York. It was considered safe. For now. Mary Catherine and I talked over each other while we asked him about the dorm and classes.
Brian said, “Well, I can’t start classes because I haven’t been officially designated at a specific prison. That will happen soon.”
All three of the boys spoke as a group. As usual, they took a few minutes to catch Brian up on sports. Football always seemed to be the same—the Jets look bad, the Patriots look good.
Then an interruption in the programming.
Chrissy, my youngest, started to cry. Wail is probably more accurate.
Mary Catherine immediately dropped to one knee and slipped an arm around the little girl’s shoulder.
Chrissy moaned, “I miss Brian.” She turned to the phone like there was a video feed and repeated, “I miss you, Brian. I want you to come home.”
There was a pause on the phone, then Brian’s voice came through a little shakier. I could tell he was holding back tears by the way he spoke, haltingly. “I can’t come home right now, Chrissy, but you can do something for me.”
“Go to the parade tomorrow and have fun. I mean, so much fun you can’t stand it. Then I want you to write me a letter about it and send it to me. Can you do that?”
Chrissy sniffled. “Yes. Yes, I can.”
I felt a tear run down my cheek. I have some great kids. I don’t care what kind of mistakes they might’ve made.
We were ready for our adventure.
It was a bright, cloudless day and Mary Catherine had bundled the kids up like we lived at the North Pole. It was cold, with a decent breeze, but not what most New Yorkers would consider brutal. My grandfather, Seamus, would call it “crisp.” It was too crisp for the old priest. He was snuggled comfortably in his quarters at Holy Name.
I wore an insulated Giants windbreaker and jeans. I admit, I looked at the kids occasionally and wished Mary Catherine had dressed me as well, but it wasn’t that bad.
I herded the whole group to our usual spot, across from Rockefeller Center at 49th Street and Sixth Avenue. It was a good spot, where we could see all the floats and m
I was afraid this might be the year that some of the older kids decided they’d rather sleep in than get up before dawn to make our way to Midtown. Maybe it was due to Chrissy’s tearful conversation with Brian, but everyone was up and appeared excited despite the early hour.
Now we had staked out our spot for the parade, and were waiting for the floats. It was perfect outside and I gave in to the overwhelming urge to lean over and kiss Mary Catherine.
Chrissy and Shawna crouched in close to us as Jane flirted with a couple of boys from Nebraska—after I’d spoken to them, of course. They were nice young men, in their first year at UN Kearney.
We could tell by the reaction of the crowd that the parade was coming our way. We sat through the first couple of marching bands and earthbound floats before we saw one of the stars of the parade: Snoopy, in his red scarf, ready for the Red Baron.
Of course, Eddie had the facts on the real Red Baron. He said, “You know, he was an ace in World War I for Germany. His name was Manfred von Richthofen. He had over eighty kills in dogfights.”
The kids tended to tune out some of Eddie’s trivia, but Mary Catherine and I showed interest in what he said. It was important to keep a brain like that fully engaged.
Like any NYPD officer, on or off duty, I keep my eyes open and always know where the nearest uniformed patrol officer is. Today I noticed a tall, young African American officer trying to politely corral people in our area, who ignored him and crept onto the street for a better photo.
I smiled, knowing how hard it is to get people to follow any kind of rules unless there is an immediate threat of arrest.
Then I heard it.
At first, I thought it was a garbage truck banging a dumpster as it emptied it. Then an engine revved down 49th Street, and I turned to look.
I barely had any time to react. A white Ford step-van truck barreled down the street directly toward us. It was gaining speed, though it must have had to slow down to get by the dump truck parked at the intersection of 49th and Sixth as a blockade.
Shawna was ten feet to my right, focused on Snoopy. She was directly in the path of the truck.
It was like I’d been shocked with electricity. I jumped from my spot and scooped up Shawna a split second before the truck rolled past us. I heard Mary Catherine shriek as I tumbled, with Shawna, on the far side of the truck.
The truck slammed into spectators just in front of us. One of the boys from Nebraska bounced off the hood with a sickening thud. He lay in a twisted heap on the rough asphalt. His University of Nebraska jacket was sprayed with a darker shade of red as blood poured from his mouth and ears.
The truck rolled onto the parade route until it collided with a sponsor vehicle splattered with a Kellogg’s logo. The impact sent a young woman in a purple pageant dress flying from the car and under the wheels of a float.
Screams started to rise around me, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the truck.
The driver made an agile exit from the crumpled driver’s door and stood right next to the truck. Over his face, he wore a red scarf with white starburst designs.
He shouted, “Hawqala!”
I stood in shock like just about everyone else near me. This was not something we were used to seeing on US soil.
Eddie and Jane, crouching on the sidewalk next to me, both stood and started to move away from me.
I grabbed Eddie’s wrist.
He looked back at me and said, “We’ve got to help them.”
Jane had paused right next to him as I said, “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
As I said it, the driver of the truck reached in his front jacket pocket and pulled something out. I couldn’t identify it exactly, but I knew it was a detonator.
I shouted as loud as I could, “Everyone down!” My family knew to lie flat on the sidewalk and cover their faces with their hands. A few people in the crowd listened to me as well. Most were still in shock or sobbing.
The driver hit the button on the detonator and immediately there was a blinding flash, and what sounded like a thunderclap echoed among all the buildings.
I couldn’t turn away as I watched from the pavement. The blast blew the roof of the truck straight into the air almost thirty feet. I felt it in my guts. A fireball rose from the truck.
The driver was dazed and stumbled away from the truck as the roof landed on the asphalt not far from him.
Now there was absolute pandemonium. It felt like every person on 49th Street was screaming. The blast had rocked the whole block.
The parade was coming to an abrupt stop. Parade vehicles bumped one another and the marching band behind the step van scattered. A teenager with a trumpet darted past me, looking for safety.
The driver pushed past spectators on the sidewalk near us and started to run back down 49th Street where he had driven the truck.
The ball of flame was still rising like one of the floats. Then I noticed a couple of the floats were rising in the air as well. The human anchors had followed instinct and run for their lives.
Snoopy was seventy-five feet in the air now.
Several Christmas tree ornaments as big as Volkswagens, with only three ropes apiece, made a colorful design as they passed the middle stories of Rockefeller Center.
I glanced around, but didn’t see any uniformed cops close. The one young patrolman I had seen keeping people in place was frantically trying to help a child who had been struck by the truck.
I had no radio to call for backup. I just had my badge and my off-duty pistol hidden in my waistband.
There had been plenty of cops early, but now I saw that some of them had been hurt in the explosion, others were trying to help victims. It was mayhem, and no one was chasing the perp. I was it. I had to do something.
When I stood up, my legs still a little shaky, I concentrated on the red scarf I’d seen around the driver’s face and neck as he fled the scene. The splash of color gave me something to focus on.
I looked around at my family, making sure everyone was still in one piece. They were on the ground and I said, “Stay put.”
I worked my way past panicked parade spectators until I was in the open street and could see the driver half a block ahead. I broke into a sprint, dodging tourists like a running back.
By this point, no one realized the man running from the scene was the driver. The people this far back on the street didn’t have a front row seat to the tragedy. No one tried to stop him. Everyone was scrambling for safety, if there was such a place.
I started to gain on the man because he hadn’t realized yet that he was being pursued. He had a loping gait as if one of his legs was injured. But he was also alert, checking each side and behind him as he hurried away.
I wasn’t a rookie chasing my first purse-snatcher in the Bronx. I didn’t feel the urge to yell, “Stop—police!” I was silent and hung back a little bit so he didn’t pick up on me.
He took the corner, then slowed. He looked around, as if he was expecting someone to meet him. I paused at the edge of a high-end fashion boutique and watched him for a moment. I still hadn’t drawn my pistol, to avoid attracting attention.
Finally, the truck driver decided his ride wasn’t here and started down the street again. He looked over his shoulder one time as he approached a packed diner, and surprised me by slipping inside.
I looked in the window as I came to the door of the diner. Every patron and server was glued to the TV in the corner of the room. News of the attack was mesmerizing. The room was silent as the news had just broken—the same TV parade footage was on loop as the newscaster started repeating the information he was receiving. No conversation, no clinking of silverware, nothing.
I immediately stepped to the cashier by the front door, held up my badge, and said in a low voice, “NYPD. Did you see where the man who just came in here went?”
The dark-haired you
Even though the attack had happened only a couple blocks away, a few minutes ago, watching it on TV made it feel like it was in another country.
I saw the hallway that led past the kitchen. There was a sign that said RESTROOM, so I presumed a back door was that way as well. So I hustled, squeezing past several tables crowded with extra patrons. Today was a big day for New York eateries.
Just as I started to pick up my pace, I heard something behind me and turned. The man I’d been chasing was lowering himself from an awkward position above the door. What the hell? It looked like it was out of the movies.
When he dropped to the floor and faced me, I realized he had led me into a trap.
The truck driver and I stared at each other for a moment. He had taken off the scarf, having used it to trick me. Pretty sharp.
He was about thirty, with neat, dark hair and blue eyes.
I reached for my pistol.
He reacted instantly and blocked my arm. That was from training. That’s not a natural move. Then he head-butted me. Hard. My brain rattled and vision blurred.
I stumbled back and kept reaching for my pistol. Just as I pulled it from under my Giants windbreaker, the man swatted it out of my hand. I heard it clatter onto the hard, wooden floor—then the man kicked it.
The gun spun as it slid across the floor and under a radiator.
The man nodded to me and sprinted away. He didn’t want to fight, he just wanted to escape.
I couldn’t let that happen.
I was dazed and unable to reach my pistol, but I had to do something. I just put one foot in front of the other and followed the man.
My head started to clear.
A moment later, I found myself in the kitchen. The cooks and busboys weren’t paying any attention to us. They were watching the news, just like everyone else, but on one of their smartphones. The back door wasn’t at the end of the hall, like I had expected, but through the kitchen.
by James Patterson / Literature & Fiction / Mystery Thriller / Young Adult have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes