San Francisco, 1970. The lure of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll has faded, upstaged by long-festering paranoia and simmering anger at blatant injustice
The third title in Pierre Ouellette’s crime thriller trilogy (after Bakersfield and Haight St.) takes up the story of James Stone, a former Bakersfield homicide cop turned record producer, as he struggles to discover and sign new talent as the so-called Summer of Love finally comes to a catastrophic close in the Bay Area. The lure of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll has faded, upstaged by long-festering paranoia and simmering anger at blatant injustice.
The winter of 1970 marks the start of a new era full of criminal and political mayhem brought on by agents like the Hells Angels and the radical Weather Underground. In the midst of it all, a deranged Vietnam vet named Carson embarks on a bombing spree that draws Stone back to his former calling. The San Francisco police tap him to pursue the bomber, who seems hell-bent on creating nothing less than total anarchy.
Stone soon discovers a trail of intrigue and corruption that stretches all the way from the local FBI office over the water to Fidel Castro’s Cuba. And the closer Stone gets to his prey, the more perilous his pursuit becomes as Carson burrows ever deeper into the escalating violence of the radical underground.
Pierre Ouellette lives in the Portland, Oregon Metro Area and is the author of seven previously published novels that span a diversity of subjects and settings. He served for two decades as the creative partner in an advertising and public relations agency focused on science and technology. Prior to that he was a professional guitarist and played in numerous pop bands and jazz ensembles, including Paul Revere and the Raiders, Jim Pepper and David Friesen.
Also by Pierre Ouellette
The Deus Machine
The Forever Man
Writing as Pierre Davis
A Breed Apart
Meet the Mad Bomber
Chapter 1. Chicago, Fall 1966
A Shot Away starts here:
A relentless beating. Not of the body but of the mind. No, not of the mind but of the spirit.
Matt Carson’s vision shrunk to a single tile of linoleum, scuffed, stained and dust-laden. His interrogators disappeared from view, but their voices carried on. Strident, indignant, salted with rage.
“So once again, you went to war of your own volition. Correct?”
“Not exactly,” Carson said. “I was drafted.”
“So why didn’t you resist? Why didn’t you refuse induction? What was wrong with you?”
“I don’t know. I never thought about it.”
“Never thought about it?” a second voice chimed in, a female voice a single beat away from hysteria. “How could you not think about it? How could you not notice the imperial slaughter of thousands of innocents?”
“I didn’t know about it.” When he’d received his draft notice, Carson had to look on a map to find Vietnam.
“And just what does that say about you?”
“It says I didn’t know,” Carson repeated.
“Wrong!” a third voice shouted. “It says you were ignorant. It says you ignored all the suffering. It says you went ahead like a good Nazi and did whatever you were told.”
“Did you ever kill anyone?” a fourth voice piped up.
The room sank into an earnest silence. None of them had ever killed anyone. Most had never even struck someone in anger. They were nearly all college students, children of upper and middle America. Not Carson. He came from more modest origins, from people still immersed in the biblical edict of the sweat of thy brow. Physical violence always dwelled close by. He was the ancient reluctant conscript. Weaponry naturally slid into hands used to clutching tools, just as issuing orders came naturally to those sitting behind desks.
Ultimately, the war broke him and snapped him. He came apart at Landing Zone Albany, when he loaded a mutilated soldier onto a chopper. The kid kept insisting that his girlfriend wouldn’t care if he was missing a couple of limbs. Carson knew better. If that was true, the guy wouldn’t be repeatedly going on about her steadfast devotion. Through the chop of the rotors and the sporadic gunfire, he could hear the subtext: Please tell me she won’t leave me. And he could not.
As the war slid ever deeper into anarchy, so did Carson. Unlike other returning combatants, who stoically healed as best they could, he became an open sore, raw and festering with bad intent. So began his silent war on all those who wore uniforms of any stripe, all those who insisted on order in the ranks, and all those who imposed their will from a privileged stratum high above.
Carson lifted his gaze up from the floor. The mechanical click of a relay broke the expectant silence. It triggered the quiet roar of a gas furnace in the far corner of the room where his inquisitors formed a semicircle around him, maybe a dozen or so. They all sat hunched forward on metal folding chairs that occasionally creaked as their weight shifted.
“Yeah, I killed someone. And then I killed someone else. And so on. Get the idea?”
He panned their faces, right to left. Most avoided eye contact. He was different, and they knew it. The Weatherman leadership had adopted this style of criticism/self-criticism created by the venerable Mao Tse-tung, whom they greatly admired. The target was stripped bare and rebuilt in the image of the faithful follower, a true disciple of the revolution. But Carson had a hardened casing that deflected any such attempt to penetrate it. In truth, they envied him. When subjected to this same ordeal, many of them had collapsed into tears. Others fled like wounded beasts, never to return. But Carson did neither, and this perplexed them. More ominously, they sensed a capacity for bedlam that far exceeded their own, one that he could willfully exercise with virtually no civilized restraint.
Yet they shared a critical bond with him, a deep loathing of the established order, of those who held common sway over their lives. The moral imperative that once united the nation was rapidly disintegrating, and they saw themselves at the vanguard of its dissolution. They understood implicitly that Carson might be a tool of necessity in the coming revolution.
“I shot them,” Carson continued. “And I blew them up. I had advanced training in munitions and explosives. I was good at it. I was good at my job. We all want to be good at our job now, don’t we?”
“But you had their blood on your hands,” a young woman ventured.
“Wrong. I had their blood all over me. I drowned in their blood and that’s why I’m here. I’m a ghost come back to find justice for those who died. All of them, our side and theirs. I’m to be the instrument of their revenge.” …