Driven: A NovelDriven: A Novel
W.G. Griffiths

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A spiritual-warfare thriller in the tradition of Frank Peretti---set in the streets of modern-day New York! Homicide detective Pierce is in hot pursuit of a serial killer with a penchant for crashing cars---and an unnerving ability to escape capture. But when his supernatural adversary is finally caught, will Pierce become the next victim? 368 pages, softcover from Warner Faith.
     

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1

Krogan saw the police lights reflecting hazily in the rearview mirror and was about to crush the gas pedal of the oversized, overpowered 4x4 when he considered it might be more fun to pull over. The proud owner of the monster truck sat in the passenger seat, sucking hard on the last of a fatty joint held by a small lobster-claw roach clip. Powerful speakers pounded bass notes through their flesh. The air conditioning, on full max, did nothing against the thick cloud of pot smoke that filled the cab.

The truck slid to a stop on the grass off the parkway's shoulder. A half-drained pint of gold tequila spilled out of the console. Krogan snatched the bottle off the floor with a gorilla-sized hand and drank the few remaining ounces. He then took another turn on the lobster claw as he revved the engine to the beat of hard music. The metallic clack on his window went almost unheard.

"Oh, yeah. The cop," Krogan said, his voice deep and raspy. Never one for conversation, he lowered the window and heaved the empty bottle of tequila through the billowing smoke, glancing left just long enough to confirm the result: the puny cop was out cold on his back, blood oozing from a new and deep gash over his left eye.

Krogan hit the gas pedal and then the brake and shifted into reverse. He backed the rear tires to within inches of the cop's face and, laughing, shifted into first and punched the gas again, covering his fallen prey with a sticky gush of wet grass and mud.

"It's time," he said, flicking a nontwist beer-bottle cap off with his thumb.

The vehicle's owner nodded, staring blearily through slitted, bloodshot eyes.

"Ever . . . " Krogan guzzled and belched. " . . . kill a whale . . . on a Sunday?"

The passenger grinned. "It's been a while—maybe two hundred years. Don't know about Sunday."

"With a truck?"

"Never tried with a truck."

"Then it's the aquarium."

Laughter. "Yeah. Fishing at the aquarium."

With a roar, the truck was on its way.

2

Bubblegum. Detective Gavin Pierce didn't have to look down to know he'd just stepped on a chewed-and-spewed glob of fresh, sun-cooked bubblegum. Compliments of Coney Island.

On any other day of the week, such an irritant would normally result in a few choice words. But this was Sunday, a day steeped in tradition. Gavin set Sundays apart to be with the most important person he knew: his mother's father, Antonio Palermo. Grampa. Every Sunday morning, Garvin traveled back to his old neighborhood to pick up Grampa for church. Today was extra special. Today was Grampa's birthday. The old man was eighty-two. Gavin could hardly believe it.

Gavin stood watchfully behind Grampa as a young girl wearing a green-and-yellow concession hat handed the old immigrant two Coney Island hot dogs. Grampa nodded a thank you and received a warm smile in return. He had the knack for that—for eliciting smiles from complete strangers. Smiles just like hers followed Grampa for as long as Garvin could remember. Upon occasion, Grampa could even crack Gavin's stone demeanor. Only Grampa.

Cradling the hot dogs with both hands, Grampa turned where he stood and paused before plotting out his way to the condiments counter just ten feet away. Gavin followed, allowing Grampa to fulfill the customary act of decorating the food. Gavin had switched from ketchup to mustard on his franks when he was a teen, but Grampa only remembered when Gavin had put ketchup on everything. Gavin was thirty-six, but today he would eat his hot dog with ketchup as he and Grampa took a walk down memory lane.

"You'd be having a dog for lunch even if I wasn't here, wouldn't you?" Gavin said as he received his. It looked and smelled enticing enough and for the sake of recapturing precious moments long past he would try to block out thoughts of the inevitable heartburn the deceptive little creature would surely bring. An antacid stand around here would be a gold mine, he thought as he watched someone pave a couple of hamburgers with mustard and onions. He briefly relocated himself protectively into the path of two laughing kids running toward them, then adjusted his position again when the threat to his fragile grandfather had passed.

Grampa had paused to answer Gavin's question, and Gavin reflexively leaned closer to hear over the popping balloons, game sirens, carnival music, and mechanical clatter of rides.

"I like," the old man replied decisively, his words punctuated with the lilting accent of his Italian homeland. He took a dangerously large bite of his hot dog, drenched in mustard and buried in sauerkraut and relish.

Garvin looked at his own ketchup-flooded food and sighed imperceptibly before biting. Grampa was waiting for the big mmmm-mmm that always followed. Gavin obliged him. "They taste good Grampa, but they're no good for you."

Grampa laughed. "What do you eat that is so good for you?"

Gavin thought. "Fish. Fish is good for you."

"What? I eat plenty of fish," Grampa said, shrugging his shoulders.

"Baccala? That dried-up, salty leather? It's terrible for you."

Grampa shook his finger. "Only on holidays."

"Then what? Anchovies on your pizza?"

"Scungili," Grampa said with closed eyes and a smile, as if his hot dog had taken on a new flavor.

"Scungili's not fish. It's a snail. A big snail. A scavenger. It eats junk. It's a living garbage can."

"Like me," Grampa said, proudly tapping his chest, then winking at Gavin.

Gavin rolled his eyes and looked away, not wanting to encourage him. The old man did everything wrong. He never exercised, ate three eggs with sausage every morning and a liverwurst sandwich every night before bed, and drank coffee and wine like water. At least he'd given up those smelly crooked cigars.

"Here, you take another ride?" Grampa said, motioning toward a huge disk that held its occupants upright with centrifugal force as it rose from horizontal to vertical.

Gavin shook his head. "If I go on another ride I'll throw up. Especially that one."

The rides at Coney Island hadn't changed much since Gavin's childhood. The giant Ferris wheel was still there, as was the Cyclone, an all-wooden roller coaster that had once been the biggest and fastest of its kind. Now its questionable longevity made it scarier than when it had towered like the Swiss Alps in his little-boy eyes.

As they slowly walked past the Cyclone the ground vibrated and screams pierced the air, then were whipped away in a hairpin curve. Gavin's childhood ability to be tossed about in any direction and at any speed seemed to be long gone. Even the thought of another ride was making him queasy.

"I think it's time to go to the aquarium," he said.

"Huh?" Grampa said, cupping his ear.

"I said, let's go see the dolphins," Gavin yelled as the coaster rattled past again.

The New York Aquarium was in Coney Island, right next to the amusement park, and stopping by had always been tradition. The walruses and whales and other water creatures foreign to Gavin's everyday life had always intrigued him. Especially the dolphins, and there was a dolphin and sea lion show at four p.m., just an hour away. Gavin couldn't remember when he'd last seen a dolphin show with Grampa, but he did remember Grampa's astonished expression every time the dolphins had danced around on the water's surface with their tails. Gavin wanted to see that expression on Grampa's face again.

The walk to the aquarium was short in distance but long in time. Gavin didn't care. He had all day and was in no hurry for it to end, choosing instead to enjoy their stroll down the huge boardwalk that separated the business world from the beach world. It extended as far as he could see. The old decking had recently been replaced with new mahogany. After having had his own deck built with a much cheaper knotty cedar, Gavin wondered what it must have cost to redo the boardwalk.

Gavin was grateful for the overcast sky that kept the crowds away. There was, however, a small gathering around a middle-aged man handling a giant python. The man had a female assistant selling Polaroid pictures of anyone who would allow the man to arrange the snake on their shoulders.

"Grampa, are you afraid of snakes?" Gavin asked as they drew closer. The old man raised an eyebrow.

The circle of spectators opened to allow Gavin and Grampa in. Grampa's eyes widened; he said nothing but was obviously taken aback at the sight of the huge reptile, at least eight inches in diameter, draped over its master's shoulders. It didn't seem to mind the small top hat strapped to its brick-sized head.

The python's owner eyed Gavin. "What do you say, young man? Would you like to have a picture of Sinbad giving you a hug?

"I had something different in mind," Gavin said.

By the time Gavin and Grampa continued on their way to the aquarium, they were each staring at their own Polaroid. Gavin shook his head, wondering if there was anything Grampa wouldn't do if Gavin asked. The old man always argued a bit, but in the end he was a great sport. Gavin hoped there was a way to get Polaroids enlarged. If so, he would frame the picture of him and Grampa, arms over shoulders with the giant serpent draped comfortably across them.

Gavin carefully examined the photo. The evolution of Grampa-Garvin photos had reached the late stages. Gavin's eyes were no longer belt height and Grampa's hand no longer reached down to rest on his shoulders. In fact, Gavin's hand was now resting low on Grampa's shoulder. His somber expression was in stark contrast to his grandfather's wide smile. People had always told Gavin he reminded them of Russell Crowe. He would take the comparison as a compliment, but couldn't see the resemblance.

With fifteen minutes to spare before the dolphin show, Gavin and Grampa walked over to the aquatheater holding tanks. The holding tanks were a complex of three adjoining tanks that flowed into each other. One of the tanks was where the dolphin show would take place, but the two others were used to house whatever other sea creatures the show featured. Before and after the show people gathered in front of several large, thick viewing windows, amazed at the size and beauty of some of the world's most exotic mammals. The dolphins in turn would swim over and stare at the people as if mutually interested in the strange creatures that waved and squished their faces against the glass.

"The window at the end isn't so crowded," Gavin said, pointing to the glass closest to the parking lot. As they walked over Gavin glanced through the nearby chain-link fence to see a traffic cop directing cars in and out of the parking lot entrance about one hundred yards away. A cop himself, he was glad not to be directing traffic in Brooklyn.

As Grampa walked up to the glass a dolphin greeted him. "They always smiling, Gavin. Just like you used to when you were a boy. My boy." He patted his grandson.

"That's because you always gave me something to smile about," Gavin said, putting his arm around the old man's shoulders.

"Nah," Grampa said, shaking his head slowly. "It wasn't me. It was you. You were always playing games and make believe that you were everything under the sun: cowboys and Indians, Superman and Batman. Always playing the good guys and bad guys.

"I'm still playing good guys and bad guys."

Grampa turned from the long-nosed admirer and looked at Gavin. "Except now you're not playing anymore. Your young dreams have come true."

Gavin hesitated before deciding not to correct the old man. He didn't want to soil their time with the realities of his world and how very little it resembled the dreams of his youth. If Grampa believed he was happy and fulfilled, Gavin would leave it that way. He would steer the conversation away from himself. "And your dreams Grampa—have your dreams come true?"

"My dreams?" Grampa laughed, pointing at himself. "When you're young it's all dreams; when you're old it's all memories."

Before Gavin could respond to Grampa's comment, a loudspeaker announced the dolphin show would begin in five minutes.

"Let's go, Grampa. The show's about to start," Gavin said, just as he had when he was twelve.

"I'll see you later, Smiley," Grampa said to the dolphin.

By the time they rounded the holding tanks they found all of the seats in the first few rows had been taken, mostly by what appeared to be a group on a field trip. No problem. Although Grampa's eyes weren't what they used to be, they were still good enough to enjoy the show from one of the upper rows of seating that rose on steel girders above the holding tanks. And from that distance Grampa probably wouldn't get splashed by the dolphins, a prank the playful mammals seemed to enjoy as much as the kids.

Gavin slowly led the way to an upper row, allowed Grampa to enter a row off to the left, then followed.

He followed the old man to the end of the row, where they sat. There really were no bad seats and these gave a good overall view. The sun had finally broken through the clouds and the solid, blue security wall next to them afforded some shade; the rest of the spectators would be fishing for their sunglasses. The wall also gave them privacy from the parking lot and disguised the fact that they were about thirty feet above the ground from where they had viewed the dolphins before the show.

When most of the seats were filled, a petite blonde woman wearing as staff uniform of dark-blue shorts and a light-blue shirt introduced herself to the crowd as Bonnie. Wearing a wireless headset microphone, she spoke briefly of the New York Aquarium's history. As she spoke, Gavin could see the dark figures of the dolphins and sea lions entering into the main pool. One of the dolphins shot out of the water and did a flip, to the immediate applause of the crowd.

"Oh! That's Darla," Bonnie said matter-of-factly. "As you can tell, she's very shy."

Gavin glanced at Grampa. When Gavin was a boy he had always been acutely aware of Grampa's watchful gaze—the clinical eye that determined whether or not Gavin was having fun. Now it was Gavin's turn. He was the one interested in Grampa's enjoying himself. He was watching the spirited dolphin with a boyishly wide smile and bright eyes, just as Gavin hoped he would. Just as Gavin had done some twenty-odd years earlier.

Suddenly Gavin's attention was caught by a voice yelling in the distance and the sound of a car skidding across pavement, followed by the loud roar of an engine with little or no muffler.

Bonnie's eyes shifted in the direction of the obnoxious roar, but she continued her well-rehearsed repertoire without hesitation. Her smile remained as she kicked a beach ball into the water for the dolphins.

But the engine noise was getting louder. Closer. Bonnie's voice over the loudspeakers could no longer be clearly heard. Outmatched by the competition, she stopped and stared disdainfully in the direction of the disturbance. People turned their heads toward the parking lot, but couldn't see beyond the aquatheater walls. They could only wait for someone else to take care of the problem.

Gavin expected to hear the engine stop and wheels lock up—perhaps some skidding—but no. There was no braking, just pure engine. Closer. Was something wrong with the driver?

Suddenly there came a crash. The entire crowd startled in their seats. At first Gavin thought the vehicle had hit a parked car but something sounded wrong—the engine was still roaring and there was an added clinking, scraping, grinding.

The fence? Apparently the vehicle had gone through the chain-link and was dragging it along. Gavin pictured sparks igniting off the pavement. He then heard and felt what he thought to be the fence's service gates ricocheting off the outer walls.

Still no braking. Full power ahead.

The impact felt like an explosion and jolted the entire seating area. Screams and gasps erupted from the spectators as the entire structure moved like one of the amusement park's rides. Before Gavin knew what was happening, the large safety wall next to them broke apart and fell away as if unhinged, revealing the parking lot below. In the next instant, the upper seating section they were in gave way, fell off on an angle, then caught itself briefly before slowly continuing its downward trajectory.

Gavin instinctively grabbed the seat to his left to keep from sliding. The collision must have somehow dislodged the main support posts for the arena seating. The entire upper section was moving in short, quick drops as it found temporary but inadequate support. The whole world was on a descending bumper jack.

Terrorism? The New York Aquarium?

"Gavin!" Grampa yelled as he began to fall away, his old fingers scrabbling and digging at his seat, but unable to anchor.

Gavin, one arm clasped around the back of the blue plastic seat next to him, grabbed a handful of Grampa's white shirt collar, his heart racing.

"I've got you," he cried. "I've got you."

The seats in the row in front of them bent inexorably downward. If only Grampa could find support.

"Bring your feet up, Grampa. Pull your feet up," he yelled.

Grampa's extra weight put a tremendous strain on Gavin's left arm and kept him from getting a better hold. The seat was holding on to ripped out of the floor as Grampa tried unsuccessfully to step onto the seat in front of him. Gavin needed to pull him up a little further, maybe just inches. Cutting pain from the seat top digging into his forearm was making him dizzy, but no matter what, he wasn't going to let go of Grampa. If he did, the old man would certainly fall either into or just outside the holding tank three stories below.

Others in the upper section were screaming and holding tightly to their own seats or whatever else they could find. Gavin couldn't even look at them; his entire focus was on Grampa. His heart sank further as he heard metal grating and bending. With a loud snap, their section fell again and clanged to a jarring halt, jerking people free from their grasp and leaving the structure at an even steeper angle. Bodies emptied out of seats into the holding tank like cereal falling from a box into a bowl.

Gavin couldn't tighten his grip. Grampa's face was redder than he had ever seen it. The old man was gagging, choking on his own shirt collar, trying in vain to reach Gavin's arm. Gavin, who had been trained to deal with emergency situations with a cool head, felt panic seize his pounding heart as he realized that in trying to keep Grampa from falling, he was actually strangling him. The old man weighed about 170, but maybe, if Gavin pulled him closer, he could grab him under his armpit. At least then Grampa could breathe and maybe step onto the front seat.

Gavin pulled with all his strength. It seemed to be working. Grampa was getting closer. Or . . . was his shirt stretching? Gavin cursed, held his breath, and pulled, fingers digging. "That's it! We got it!" he yelled.

The collar Gavin was holding ripped. "Grampa!" Gavin screamed as crumpled linen came away in his hand. For an instant everything seemed to stand still as the old man reached frantically for something, anything to hold on to. Then he disappeared over the edge.

"Grampa! No!" A wave of numbing fear went through Gavin. He refused to think the unthinkable. He had to get down there. He had to find Grampa. He must have fallen into the holding tanks below. Frantic, Gavin began to pull himself up the chairs, one after another, trying to get to the aisle, where there appeared to be some stability. Hand over hand he fought with the smooth and slippery plastic seats. His breathing came fast and shallow and by the time he reached the walkway he was soaked with sweat. He raced down the sharply tilted aisle toward the pool, taking three steps at a time, grabbing seat backs for balance. The further down he went the straighter the stairs became, until they were level.

As Gavin leaped the final six steps down to the main level, he was amazed by the scene below him in the pool. The water was gone. Dolphins were lying helpless on the concrete, flailing and writhing desperately, screaming in high-pitched frenzy. What had happened to the water? The car must somehow have penetrated the holding tanks. But how could a car—even a big car—do that? The tank was reinforced with a thick concrete wall.

Gavin couldn't think about the dolphins. He couldn't think about terrorists. He couldn’t think about the other people who ran screaming in every direction. He could only think of Grampa—of getting down into the tanks and finding him. He ran out through the aquatheater entrance and around to the holding area, cutting and darting through the obstacle course of confused people. A six-inch wave of water rolled over the pavement, engulfing the feet of and tripping baffled sightseers as they tried in vain to avoid it. Undaunted, Gavin continued to sprint through the water until he turned the last corner and came to where he and Grampa had watched the smiling dolphin such a short time ago.

There Gavin stopped. He couldn't believe his eyes. The viewing glass was gone. In its place was a black-and-chrome pickup truck with waist-high mud tires. The front of the vehicle, all the way to the windshield, had crashed through the viewing glass and its surrounding concrete. The driver's door was halfway open and the airbag was still semi-inflated, but there was no driver. Beer cans were strewn about the interior and the ground outside the door. Gavin's fears of terrorists were slightly mollified—the scene looked more like a drunk driver accident than terrorism.

The driver of the mangled truck had apparently been saved by the airbag. The passenger had not been as lucky. One of the supporting posts for the bleachers had been ripped from its moorings atop the holding tank and was now lodged through the windshield and . . . through the passenger. The man, without the benefit of an airbag or, apparently, the sense to use a seat belt, had obviously hit the windshield just as the steel post smashed through the glass and into the middle of his upper back.

As a cop Gavin had witnessed some gruesome scenes, but this one froze him where he stood. But only for an instant, as he took everything in. Then he was running again, past a dozen or so people on the ground—some still, most of them moaning. He heard sirens in the distance and hoped they were for here; at the moment his trained impulse to rush over and begin emergency measures was completely supplanted by powerful devotion to the man he dearly loved.

"Grampa! Grampa!" he called, his eyes darting around in panic. Where was he? He jumped up and grabbed the top of the pickup's tailgate, stepped onto the rear trailer hitch with his right foot, and hurdled himself into the extra-high truck bed. Then, using the cab roof as a springboard, he dove for the cracked rim of the holding tank like a basketball player going for the slam dunk. His fingers dug into jagged concrete as he pushed his feet against the tank's wall and pulled himself up.

He was stunned by what he saw. The fallen bleachers shadowed the tank, but the gloomy light was enough for him to see inside. Twenty feet below, a twelve-foot Beluga whale was laying in less than six inches of blood-reddened water, rocking back and forth in its death throes. Just to its right, close to the wall, were several people, some piled on top of others. One had struggled to his hands and knees in a daze, blood dripping down his forehead to feed the pink-tinged water. Others lay face down in the water, motionless.

Gavin peered past the arching whale. There! He could see black suspenders on a soiled white shirt. It had to be Grampa. His precious grandfather was face up and dangerously close to the confused whale's powerful tail.

Gavin straightened his arms, lifting himself slightly higher. "Grampa," he yelled, his voice echoing in the deep tank. He had to get down there. Pivoting on his waist to the inside of the wall, he pushed off. He hit the bottom hard, collapsing to the concrete on impact, sending a splash of cold, salty water into the side of the whale. He felt a sharp pain in his right knee as something gave, but ignored it, quickly rising. Cursing the pain that came with movement, he hobbled through the water and past the length of the whale. When he got to Grampa he immediately positioned himself between the old man and the thick tail of the dying animal.

Grampa looked bad, his face bloodied from a head gash, his shirt ripped open to reveal lacerations that had probably occurred from hitting the top of the wall as he fell. Gavin cried freely at the sight. The old man was still—too still. His breathing was undetectable. Gavin quickly felt for a pulse. Nothing. Wait . . . There it was—slow and faltering, but still a pulse. Grampa was alive. But for how long?

The reflection of flashing lights appeared on the water's red surface as the sirens crescendoed and ceased.

"Help! In the tank! We need help in the tank!"


 
Excerpted from:
Driven by W.G. Griffiths, copyright 2002.
Used by permission of Warner Books. All rights reserved.