I was chasing a ghost. My wife Rowena’s white UCLA
sweatshirt and matching baseball cap floated in the moonlight, but
I could make out neither the exposed skin of her legs nor the
bouncing ponytail that had to be there. On the ground in front of
her, I did see a shimmering cone cast by the flashlight she’d
velcroed to her arm. She was younger, faster, and in better shape
than I was. Listening to her iPod, she glided along without
worrying about me. Experience told her I’d keep up.
We were out running earlier than usual. Even though court was
not back in session till ten, Rowena had an eight o’clock
meeting with the big boss, the D.A., to discuss trial strategy. I
myself had a call at nine with plenty to sort out before then. So
here we were running in the dark through the Stanford campus at
five-thirty – an hour-and-a-half earlier than usual –
on a cold February morning. For her it was training to defend her
title in next month’s Napa Valley Marathon. For me it was
time to think.
Rowena loped along toward the foothills, and I continued to
follow. We crossed under I-280 and turned on Arastradero Road. At
the first cross street a car squatted with its right turn signal
flashing, ready to head west like us. Waiting for it to pull on to
Arastradero, we danced up and down at the corner. I welcomed the
The car didn’t move, though, and I waved for it to turn.
It remained motionless. The driver was probably on his cellphone.
We ran across the intersection, lit up by the car’s high
beams like convicts in a prison break. After another hundred yards,
I heard the sound of rubber on asphalt approaching. A moment later
an engine growled, and I turned to see the car from the
intersection a few dozen yards behind us, traveling at least twenty
miles per hour over the speed limit. Then its front tires swerved
What the hell?
She couldn’t hear. Two long strides and I was up to her. I
pushed hard on Rowena’s left shoulder and heard a surprised
cry. I remember leaping to avoid the onrushing vehicle and I
remember the corner of the bumper smashing into my right leg. Then
I went flying.
I didn’t know how long I’d been there, dazed on the
path, but I was roused by a bright light shining in my eyes. As I
blinked, it swung away.
“A car hit you?” the voice of a woman asked. She
flashed a light toward me, and I could see she was straddling a
“Oh, my God,” she said.
I followed the beam and saw white bone sticking out below my
knee. That cleared my head.
“Rowena, where’s Rowena?” I shouted. All I
felt from my leg was a distant throbbing.
“Take it easy. You were with someone?”
I hoisted myself up and teetered for a moment. Groping for the
light around my left arm, I sliced open my index finger on
shattered plastic. I extended a hand, now dripping with blood, and
she slapped her small flashlight into it. I managed to walk to the
edge of the path. There in the beam was Rowena, motionless, her
head against a tree trunk at the bottom of a six-foot gully. Where
my push had sent her. Out of peril and back into it.
As I went into a head-first slide down to her, I heard our
rescuer call out that she was dialing 911.
Then I was cradling my wife’s head in my lap.
“Please God, not Rowena. Not Rowena, too.”
Excerpted from SMASHER: A Silicon Valley Thriller ©
Copyright 2011 by Keith Raffel. Reprinted with permission by
MIDNIGHT INK. All rights reserved.