Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Sneak Peek: "Valley of the Shadow" Prologue



“There’s two guys—two kids in a car.” Jim’s voice was shaky. Out of breath. “I think they’ve just been shot. I saw another car tear off and . . .”

“Sir, where are you located?”

“I’m—I’m on the corner of Jefferson and West. Just a ways down on West. I think it was like a drive-by or something.”

“Are they conscious?”

“No. No, I think they may be dead.” Jim’s breath rasped over the phone. “Oh, man, there’s blood all over.”

“Sir, are these children?”

“No . . . I think they’re maybe teenagers.”

“Is the car unlocked? Can you get to them?”

“Uh . . . the window’s shattered. The driver side window.”

“Can you tell if they’re breathing?”

“No. I don’t think . . .” Something scraped against the cell phone. “I can’t tell. I don’t—he’s not breathing. The driver’s not breathing. Man, they’re just kids. They gotta be no more than seventeen or eighteen.”

“Sir, I have the police and paramedics on the way.”

“I’m checking . . .” Jim hurried to the other door. “I’m checking on the other side. The other kid.”

Jim fumbled with the door handle. He could hear a siren in the distance. The passenger door opened and the boy tumbled out, limp. Jim dropped the phone and caught him. Pulled him out of the car. Laid him on the cement. The boy’s head flopped and rolled. A cherry-red stain spread across his gray Nike T-shirt. Jim felt himself gag. He’d never touched a dead body before.

He picked up the cell phone. “I’m on the other side. I got the other kid. He nearly fell out when I opened the door.”

“Is he breathing?”

Jim bent and listened. He watched the bloody chest for movement. It was motionless. “No. I—he’s not breathing.”

“Sir, are you able to perform CPR?”


“I can walk you through it. Until the ambulance arrives. Are you able to perform CPR.”

“I, uh . . .” Jim stammered. He’d taken a course back in high school. That was twenty years ago already. “I—I can try.”

The operator walked him through the steps. Clear the airway. Administer mouth-to-mouth. The kid had been smoking; Jim could smell it. He pushed on the boy’s chest, not sure if he was pressing too hard or not enough. He prayed silently.

He glanced up into the car. The driver was slumped forward against the window. Blood was pooling on the seat. Dripping onto the floorboard.

Jim could only help one of them.

“Somebody help me!” His voice echoed down the street. Cars rolled by on Jefferson. But nobody turned down West. He was half a block down. Too far down. They couldn’t see him in the dark. No other pedestrians approached.

The siren grew closer. Jim worked through another set and breathed in two quick breaths.
His heart was pounding yet he found himself strangely calm.

“Jesus, please help me. Help this boy.”

Five minutes ago he had been sipping a beer at Frank’s Tap around the corner on Jefferson. He’d had his own problems to worry about then. They seemed like pretty big ones at the time, but he hadn’t been in the mood to pray. He’d been too angry.

A Chicago Metro Police car pulled hesitantly onto West, spotlight sweeping the street. Jim stood up and waved and the squad car rolled toward him. He went back to CPR. He could hear the car doors open and close. Two officers moved slowly. Cautiously.

Jim was careful not to make any sudden moves. They’d heard a report of gunfire and probably had their own weapons trained on him. He glanced up, squinting into the glare of flashlights. They lit up the sidewalk around him. Jim looked back down and gasped at the amount of blood.

He’d better explain. “I was coming out of the bar.” His breathing was labored. “Coming back to my car over there. I saw a black sedan pull away. It just tore off. Then I saw these two kids in the car here. I saw the window shattered. But I didn’t hear any shots. No gunshots.”

One of the officers knelt beside him. “I can take over.”

The other cop was shining his light into the driver-side window. “This one’s not breathing either.” He spoke into his shoulder radio, relaying information to the dispatcher. He described the scene, then opened the door and pulled the driver out.
Jim sat back and caught his breath. His forehead was dripping. He could hear more sirens now. Getting closer.

A second squad arrived and shortly after that, the ambulance. There was a flurry of lights and activity. A second ambulance was on its way. The medics unpacked their gear. They seemed to work without emotion, speaking to one another in tight, clinical phrases.
Jim’s head was swimming. He’d never been this close to death before. Well . . . except for once.

The second ambulance arrived. A row of spectators had gathered, watching from the shadows. Jim just shook his head. Sure, now there was plenty of help.

The medics unpacked more equipment. They had cut off the boy’s Nike shirt, exposing his chest. Jim could see a bullet wound up near the shoulder. One of the medics checked for an exit wound and set about packing gauze around it.

They had an oxygen mask on the boy now and a medic squeezed air into his lungs. The other listened with a stethoscope. He turned and reached for the portable defibrillator. Flipped a few switches, pulled out the paddles. “Charging,” he said to his partner.

The medic laid the paddles against the boy’s flesh. “Clear.”

Jim heard a click and soft hum. The boy’s body stiffened for a moment then fell limp again. The medic checked for a pulse. Finally, he nodded.

Jim’s eyes widened. He couldn’t contain himself and blurted out, “He’s alive?”

But they ignored him and continued giving the boy oxygen. Three cops gathered to help lift the boy onto a stretcher and wheel him to one of the waiting ambulances. Jim watched them go, then remembered the other kid. The driver. Had they been able to save him too?
Jim moved closer for a better look. But they had covered that boy with a sheet already. Jim felt his stomach tighten. The kid was just a faceless shape lying on the asphalt under a blue sheet. Jim couldn’t even recall what he looked like.

One of the officers pulled Jim aside. “Good thing you happened along when you did or they’d both be dead.”

Jim stared at the sheet.

The officer held a notepad. “Sir, I’m going to need to ask you a few questions.”

Jim nodded.

“Let’s start with your name.”

His name? Jim couldn’t take his eyes off the sheet. Or the body underneath it. Thoughts started peppering his mind like crows diving for corn. Swooping down and flitting away. What if he had pulled the driver out first? Would that kid have been in the ambulance now instead of under a sheet? Why had he even gone to the passenger’s door in the first place? For that matter, what if he had just stayed at the bar for another beer like Danny had wanted? Or what if he hadn’t gone to the bar at all? What if he’d stayed home with his wife instead? She had asked him to stay. She’d said they needed to talk. They had a big decision to make. But he’d just wanted some air. To clear his head and have a beer. There were so many tiny decisions that night. So many choices that led him here.

“Sir?” The officer’s voice broke into his thoughts. “Can I get your name?”

Jim blinked and nodded. “Uh . . . Jim,” he said. “Jim Malone.”