Excerpt: The Return of Caine O'Halloran


He could have driven home blindfolded.

The two-lane road twisted like a snarled fishing line, unreeling through the saw-tooth-forested mountains in sharp zigzags that defied compass reckoning. To make matters worse, the spring thaw had pitted the asphalt, creating a new season of dangerous dips and washouts. The low-slung black Ferrari, not built for back-country roads, thumped roughly over the scarred pavement.

Unfazed by danger, Caine O’Halloran coaxed the hell-on-wheels beast around the deadly narrow switchbacks with the same practiced skill and clever touch he’d used to coax last night’s redhead to climax.

The engine behind his head whined as the revs rose and fell; blaring from the four amplified stereo speakers Bruce Springsteen was advising “no surrender.” Caine’s fingers tapped out the driving rhythm of drums and acoustic guitar on the steering wheel.

Towering trees — Pacific silver fir, Western hemlock, and the majestic Douglas fir — screened both sides of the roadway, making it seem as if he were racing through a narrow green alley.

Those same trees were reflected in the lenses of Caine’s dark glasses. Although the sky overhead was the hue of tarnished silver, a few sunbeams managed to slant through the curtain of trees, laying shimmering stripes of light across the pavement.

The sound of moving water was everywhere as streams born in melting glaciers fed the rivers running to the sea. The scent of freshly cut fir rode the brisk spring wind.

When The Boss started singing about missing Bobby Jean, Caine leaned forward and punched a chrome button to zip through the song. He damn well wasn’t in any mood to reminisce about lost loves.

“‘Glory Days’,” he said approvingly when the CD player stopped on the familiar lyrics.

One night a few years ago, after he’d played it three times on the jukebox in a Minneapolis bar, a winsome coed from the University of Minnesota had informed him that it was really a song about faded dreams and lost opportunities.

Caine hadn’t believe that then, and he sure as hell didn’t now. To him it would always be The Boss’ tribute to athletes who possessed blazing speedballs that made other guys look like fools. Guys like Caine O’Halloran.

He sped past a runaway-truck escape ramp that looked like a ski jump, downshifted as he approached yet another twist in the road, then punched the gas. The Ferrari rocketed out of the turn like a moonshot.

Cornering in a Ferrari wasn’t for the faint of heart. The speedometer shot upward and the tachometer approached the redline as the speed of the Testarossa blurred the trees. The force of three hundred and eighty horses fully opened up pushed him back against the onyx leather seats. The engine’s shriek rivaled that of a fighter jet.

When he reached one of the few straight stretches on the highway, Caine floored the accelerator; straddling the white centerline, the car streaked toward an enormous truck loaded with logs.

The Peterbilt log truck was the same green as the fir trees flashing by the Ferrari’s tinted windows. Tall chrome stacks emitted billowy puffs of diesel exhaust, like smoke signals.

The strident warning of the air horn shattered the mountain stillness.

Once. Twice. A third time.

Smiling with grim determination, Caine refused to budge. The asphalt stretched between car and truck like a shiny black ribbon. All the time he remained as cool as if he were out for a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive in the country instead of barreling hell-bent-for-leather straight to his death.

No retreat; no surrender. The rock refrain pounded in his head; adrenaline raced through his blood like a drug.

The air horn, now a steady, impatient bleat, split the air.

Time took on the strange feel of an instant slow-motion replay as Caine became vividly aware of the staccato flash of white lines disappearing beneath the Ferrari’s wide radial tires, of the sun glancing off the chrome stack of the truck, of the driver’s red-and-black plaid shirt, of his orange-billed cap, of his grizzled gray beard and finally, as the truck came even closer, of the man’s expression: first disbelief, then fright, finally fury.

No retreat. No surrender.

Caine waited fatalistically for the bearded man to make his move.

At the last possible second, the truck veered; its right wheels went off the road, scattering gravel. Caine got a fleeting glimpse of a stocky, raised middle finger.

A moment later, a Bronco that had been following the Peterbilt passed Caine. The driver stared at the Ferrari in obvious disbelief.

Caine watched the trucks disappear in his rearview mirror. When he’d been seventeen, speeding around these hairpin curves in a fire-engine-red Trans Am convertible, emerging victorious from a game of chicken with the ubiquitous log trucks had always left him feeling vividly alive.

But after today’s near-death encounter, he felt strangely let down. And disappointed. As Springsteen’s gravelly voice began singing about “working on the highway,” a hangover Caine had nearly forgotten after crossing the Oregon-Washington state border and entering the Olympic Peninsula came crashing back.