If Kitsap County's road engineers had wanted to seek
careers as Disney Imagineers, they might have served up
Banner Road as proof positive that their designs could
deliver the requisite thrill. The ups and downs of the
Bactriancamel-on-'roids roadway were only matched by its
highs and lows. The stomach-in-throat feeling that came with motion
and speed was delivered there every day without fail.
Truth be told, the roller-coaster effect owed more to the
topography of that stretch of the south county, which chases up and
down the hills as it careens along a nine-mile path just east of
Colvos Passage from Sedgwick Road to the Olalla Bay Bridge. At
about its midpoint, near the intersection with Fragaria Road, was a
spot locals had long dubbed the Banner Jump. The Jump was a patch
of asphalt that eggs on the lead-footed, as it literally begs those
who traverse it to .y. A quick descent down the hill is followed by
a slight rise, and then another drop. Even at the posted speed of
40 miles per hour, a driver and passengers can feel that tickle in
the tummy that makes some people queasy and little kids cry for
more. For as long as there have been teenagers with something to
prove or fathers yearning to give their kids what they've wanted,
there has been the invitation to push the pedal to the floor. Those
with a '70s TV or .lm reference .ash on the opening moments
of Starsky and Hutch or possibly the famed chase sequence of The
Kids called it "going airborne."
The Banner Jump was a buzz that required no alcohol to deliver
the goods. No amusement park fee. Just a not-solazy drive
past modest homes, equestrian estates with sprawling
pastures, and mobiles, to and from Port Orchard. In rural places
like South Kitsap County, cheap excitement was frequently the
order of the day.
The thrill could be as short-lived as a spark.
A decade and a half ago, it was also quite deadly.
Mikey Walsh no longer cared what time it was. What day it was.
Where he was. It was a week before Thanksgiving, and Mikey had
little to be thankful for. He'd been tweaking for a week. Or maybe
it was just three days. He'd never be able to swear to it. Not in
court. Not anywhere. Crystal meth had been the solution to a
problem of his own creation and he knew it. Certainly, it wasn't
his fault that he hurt his back at a construction job site for a
new Taco Bell in Bremerton, a half hour to the north. But the fact
that he'd tested positive for drugs was. He'd violated his
employment contract --- and that meant he had no insurance, no
compensation. Mikey sat in his double-wide mobile home on a twisty
gravel road in South Kitsap and started to contemplate just how it
was that he'd be able to get himself out of the debt that
threatened to take over his life. As far as he could tell, he had
Cooking methamphetamine or turning his life over to God.
Mikey thought about it long and hard, and in a moment of
weakness and despair, he did what any addict would do. He didn't
Crank, as most in his crowd called it, was like anything
illicit. At first a thrill, then a curse. It kept him going when he
wanted nothing more than to stop. Mikey was never a handsome
figure, but bit by bit meth took every ounce of his youth. His hair
thinned. His teeth yellowed. His eyes became languid pools of
emptiness. When he wandered the aisles of the all-night Albertsons
off Mile Hill Road in Port Orchard, everyone knew he was a tweaker.
His empty stare, his bamboo limbs, and the fact that all he
ever purchased was beer, chips, salsa, and wings were the giveaways
that checkers make casual note of in the ceaselessly boring hours
of a late shift.
The night everything changed for Mikey, he landed behind
the wheel of his 1979 Chevy Silverado with a shudder and a thud. It
was almost midnight when he found himself headed down Banner Road
toward his mobile in South Kit-sap. The roadway was shiny and he
considered the possibility of frost. It was only for a
moment. Meth impairs its users with a sense of invincibility,
bravado, as it sends a steady flow of energy and false signals of
well-being into a shell-shocked system. Mikey had been out on a
drug run late that night, delivering, selling, and sampling his
wares as he went from customer to customer swapping Baggies of
drugs for crumpled twenties. He wasn't tired. Hell, he never got
Down the long hill from the intersection at Willock Road, Mikey
reached over and turned the knob to the defroster to clear the
condensation off the pickup's cracked windshield. The combination
of his watery eyes and the low skirting fog made it hard to see.
His gaze returned to the road and he shook his head.
It couldn't be.
A girl was waving frantically from the center of the road just
at the Banner Jump.
Jesus! You dumb shit! I'm going to kill you!
His eyes riveted to the figure in the roadway, Mikey slammed on
Get. Out. Of. My. Way!
The Silverado's nearly bald tires laid a smelly patch of rubber
and slid toward the shoulder. Gravel spit out from under its tires,
and in that instant Mikey thought that he was going to meet his
Maker. Not in the way that he'd imagined lately. Not in the .ash of
an explosion in the toolshed where he converted the raw
materials—the very flammable raw household
materials—that turned a toxic brew of chemicals into money.
Making meth was part chemistry class flunkout and part short-order
cook. Mikey had assumed that if he died young, it would be in a
blaze of glory.
A literal blaze.
As he skidded to avoid the girl in the road, Mikey did what he
hadn't done in a long time. He said a silent prayer.
The sound of branches scraped the side of his cab. The sparkle
of broken glass glittered in the wet road like a busted snow globe.
All came at him in the strangeness of slow motion. All came
at him in the instant that he would later say was the beginning of
a turning point.
The girl in the center of the road rushed at him. She was
pulling at the handle of his door and he sat still and scared.
"We need help. Our friend's hurt. My sister might be hurt,
She was a teenager. Pretty. Scared. Very scared. Her words
pelted him between big gulps of air. Mikey thought he
detected the odor of beer, but he wasn't sure if he'd smelled
himself or the remnants of a can of Bud that had ricocheted from
the drink caddy on the floorboard to the passenger seat.
Reflexively, he reached down and tucked the beer under the seat.
His priorities were warped by trouble, which followed him like a
shadow. Trouble had been his soul mate. Personal disaster, his
Mikey didn't need another dose. He didn't need a DUI.
The girl pulled open the driver's-side door and lunged at him.
She was blond with ice blue eyes. Everything about her was
stunning—the kind of girl who got noticed in a crowd. The
kind of girl he might have asked out on a date if he hadn't ruined
his life. A splash of blood trickled down from her temple, but
otherwise she looked fine.
Scared, but oh-so-fine.
Mikey pulled back, but the seat belt held him in her grasp.
"What are you doing?"
"We need help! You have to help us."
The young man pushed himself from behind the pickup's steering
wheel. He swung his legs to the ground.
His vision was fuzzy and he wiped his eyes with his palms as the
girl dragged him to a silver '92 Taurus on its side. Steam or smoke
poured from the car's crunched engine block. It was an instance in
which there was no color. Shades of gray, black, silver. The girl's
black shirt was wet and he looked closer at it.
Was it water? Blood?
More steam erupted from the stomped-beer-can Taurus.
"This is gonna blow!" he said. "We got to get out of here."
"Not without my sister, we're not," the girl said.
"Hey, I don't care about your sister. I care about being blown
"We need an ambulance. The sheriff!"
Mikey loathed the concept of wanting the sheriff in any
proximity whatsoever. He had been arrested twice before and,
despite the numbing haze of his addiction, he did not want to join
the "Third Time's the Charm" club of tweakers and drunks.
He pulled back, but the panicked girl grabbed his wrist.
"Over here," she said. It was nothing short of a command.
"Hurry! What's the matter with you?"
He looked over and rubbed his eyes as the second girl, hunched
over a body, looked up. He shook his head. The second girl
locked her eyes on his. He rubbed his eyes. Even in the dim glow of
a broken headlight, it was apparent that she was a dead ringer for
the first girl. Was he seeing double?
"Get moving! You have to help!"
What he saw next, he'd never forget. And never speak about. Who
would believe a tweaker like him?
One of the twins leaned closer to another figure on the
roadside, a teenage boy.
"Help," he said. "Help me, please."
Fifteen years later, Detective Kendall Stark looked at the
e-mail that she'd printed out on the Kitsap County Sheriff's
Department laser printer. It was brief, puzzling, and, the
detective had to admit to herself, a little concerning.
THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE.
It was e-mailed to the Class of '95 reunion website.
"That e-mail you forwarded was interesting," she said, when she
got Adam on the phone. Adam's various responsibilities with the
reunion committee included managing the website.
"You mean the truth one from the Bible?"
"Yes. Any idea who sent it?"
"Nope. It came from a Kinko's copy center. Some loser from our
class must work there."
"All right. See you at the next meeting."
She hung up and put the e-mail away. She wondered which one of
their classmates had sent it and, more important, just what
truth the writer had in mind.
Kendall had no idea that she was on the edge of a
whirlpool, about to be sucked in.
Excerpted from CLOSER THAN BLOOD © Copyright 2011 by Gregg
Olsen. Reprinted with permission by Pinnacle. All rights