“Chilling. . . . Day of Reckoning is dynamite.” Chicago Tribune
John Katzenbach’s third novel, now back in print, is the spellbinding story of a family in jeopardy and what happens when that family is pushed to the brink. Megan and Duncan Richards are no longer the radical activists they were in 1968. He’s a banker, and she works in real estate. They have a fine house and three kids they adore. Their youth is safely stashed away until the day Duncan answers his office phone and gets the message he’s been dreading from the woman he’s spent two decades trying to forget. She called herself Tanya. In 1968, she was the beautiful, charismatic leader of northern California’s radical Phoenix Brigade. She was the one who had assured Duncan and Megan that no one would be hurt in the robbery she’d so brilliantly orchestrated, but when it turned into a slaughter and nearly everyone involved was captured or killed, she laid the blame on them.
The Richardses escaped. But now, after eighteen years in prison, Tanya herself is free again, poised to avenge her version of what happened on that blood-drenched day so long ago.
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About the Author
John Katzenbach is the internationally bestselling author of thirteen novels, including What Comes Next , The Shadow Man , and the New York Times bestseller The Traveler. Three of his novels were made into films, including Hart’s War starring Bruce Willis and Just Cause starring Sean Connery. His most recent novel is Red 1-2-3. Katzenbach was a criminal court reporter for the Miami Herald and Miami News. He now lives in western Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
She felt incredibly fortunate.
Earlier that month she had been sure she wouldn't be able to help the Wrights, and that they would take all their new Boston stockbroker's money over to Hamden or Dutchess County and start looking for their little farmhouse retreat with some other realtor. Then, as she had racked her memory, she had remembered the old Halliday place on North Road. No one had been in it for years, probably not since right after the ancient Mrs. Halliday had died and her estate — nieces and nephews who lived in Los Angeles and Tucson — had listed it with the company. All the realtors at Country Estates Realty had made the obligatory caravan trip down the back roads to inspect the listing, remark upon the leaky roof, the barely adequate plumbing, the mustiness of age, and to figure it would never move, especially in a community that was experiencing a construction boom. It had slid, then, forgotten, like a fallow field slowly being taken over by the advancing forest.
She had driven the Wrights through the woods, bouncing down the half-mile of loosely packed dirt to the front door. The last autumn light had seemed to slice through the darkness of the forest with a special clarity, as if searching out each withered leaf, probing, inspecting, illuminating every ridge and curl. The great mass of rain-black trees stood out, catching the sunlight as it bounded through the brush. "Now, you realize you'll have to do major reconstruction work ..." she had said, but to her delight, they had ignored her, seeing only the last weak hues of fall foliage instead of the steady gray approach of winter. Almost instantly they had started in: "We'll put a greenhouse there, and add a deck to the back side. Don't worry about the living room, I'm sure we can bring that side wall down ..." They had still been talking design as they signed the offer sheet in her office. She had joined in, suggesting architects, contractors, decorators, as she collected their check. She had been sure the offer would be accepted, and that the Wrights would turn the house into a showpiece. They had the money and the inclination: no children (just an Irish wolfhound) and two large incomes with the time to spend.
This morning that certainty had been rewarded with a signed contract from the sellers delivered to her desk.
"Well," she said out loud, as she pulled her car into the driveway of her own home, "you're not doing so bad yourself."
Megan Richards spotted the twins' red sports car, parked, as usual, so that it would partially block the front walkway. They would be home from high school, probably on the telephone already, Lauren on one extension, Karen in the next room, but seated in the doorway, so they could maintain eye contact, jabbering away in the language of youth. They had their own phone line now, a concession to teen age, and a small price for peace and quiet and not having to get up and answer the phone every five minutes.
She smiled and glanced at her watch. Duncan wouldn't be home from the bank for another hour. Assuming he didn't have to work late. She made a mental note to talk to him about working extra hours, stealing the time from Tommy, especially. The girls were off in their own world, and as long as it didn't include booze, bad boys and drugs, they were fine. They knew how to find him if they needed to talk: they always had. She marveled for a moment about the special rapport between fathers and daughters. She had seen it in Duncan when the twins were toddlers, the three of them rolling about on the floor in tickle-and-poke play; realized it too, from her own father. It was different with fathers and sons. There, it was a lifetime of struggles and competition, territory gained and lost, the ordinary and essential battle of life. At least, that was how it should be.
Her eyes caught the shape of Tommy's red bicycle, thrown haphazardly into the bushes.
But not my son. The thought made her flush. She could feel her throat grow uncomfortably tight. Nothing was quite ordinary about him.
As always, she felt her eyes start to redden, then spoke to herself in a familiar mock-stern tone: Megan, you've cried all you're going to cry. And anyway, he's getting better. Much better. Almost normal.
She had a sudden image of her son at her breast. She had known right in the delivery room that he would not be like the twins, with their regular mealtimes, naptimes, schooltimes, adolescent times, fitting into every schedule easily and perfectly, as if drawn up by some thoughtful and sensible master plan. She had stared down at his tiny, struggling shape, all instinct and surprise, trying to find her nipple, and understood that he would break her heart a hundred times, then start in and break it all over again.
She got out of the car and trudged over to the bushes. She pulled the bicycle out of the damp hedge, cutting an expletive off in mid-burst as she splattered rainwater on her skirt, and, holding the handlebars gingerly and trying not to scuff the toe of her shoe, thrust the kickstand down. She left the bicycle righted on the pathway.
And so, she thought, I just loved him all the more.
She smiled. I always knew it was the best therapy. Just love him harder.
She stared at the bicycle. And I was right.
The doctors had revised their diagnoses two dozen times, from retardation to autism to childhood schizophrenia to learning disability, to let's just wait and see. In a way she was proud of the way he'd defied all their categorizations, taken every expert's opinion and shown it to be wrong, skewed or simply inaccurate. It was as if he'd said to hell with all of them, and simply set out on his own course through life, dragging the rest of them along, accelerating sometimes, braking others, but always devoted to his own inner pace.
If it was a hard course, well, she was still proud of it.
She turned and looked back up at their house. It was a colonial design, but new, set back forty yards from the street in Greenfield's best subsection. It was not the largest house on the street, but neither was it the smallest. There was a large oak tree in the center of the lawn and she remembered how the twins had hung a tire from it a half-dozen years before, not really that anxious to swing themselves, but knowing that it would attract the neighborhood children, and bring their playmates to them. They were always a step ahead. The tire was still there, hanging straight down in the gathering darkness. She thought of Tommy again, and how he would rock there endlessly, back and forth, hour after hour, oblivious to other children, the wind, rain, snow — whatever — kicking his feet into the air and leaning back, his wild eyes open, staring up and absorbing the sky.
Those things don't scare me anymore, she thought. And she no longer cried over his eccentricities. The time he brushed his teeth for two hours. The three-day fast. When he wouldn't speak for a week, and when he wouldn't sleep because he had too much to say and not enough vocabulary to say it. She glanced down at her watch. He would be home soon, and she would make him beef barley soup and homemade pizza, which was his favorite dinner. They could celebrate the sale of the Halliday house with some peach ice cream, as well. As she planned her menu, she mentally figured her commission. Enough for a week at Disney World this winter. Tommy would like that, the twins would complain that it was immature, for little kids, then they would have a wonderful time. Duncan would secretly adore the rides and she could sit by the pool and get some sun. She nodded to herself. Why the hell not?
Megan glanced back up the street to see if she could spot her father's car, saying a small prayer of thanks. Three times a week her retired father picked Tommy up at the new school. She was glad he rode the bus only twice a week, and she appreciated how her father, all gray-haired and wrinkled, brought out the excitement in his namesake. They would assault the house, filled with wild schemes and descriptions of what went on at school, all mile-a-minute talk. The two Tommys, she thought. They are more alike than they know.
She opened the front door and called out: "Girls! I'm home!"
There were the unmistakable sounds of teenage voices murmuring on the telephone.
For a moment she was filled with a familiar disquiet. I wish Tommy was here, she thought. I hate it when he's in transit somewhere, and I don't have him in my arms, ignoring his halfhearted complaint that I am squeezing him too tightly. She exhaled slowly and heard a car come down the street. That's probably them, she thought, relieved, then slightly irritated with herself for feeling relief.
She hung up her raincoat and slipped off her shoes. She said to herself: No, I wouldn't change anything. Not one bit. Not even all Tommy's troubles. I have been lucky.
TWO: The Two Tommys
Judge Thomas Pearson strode down the corridor as the bell for the end of school rang. Doors popped open on either side, and the hallway filled with children. The flood of young voices washed over him, a joyous bedlam of children gathering book bags and raincoats, opening to let him pass, then closing in behind him. He danced out of the way as a trio of boys raced headlong past him, their coats trailing behind like some squad of swashbucklers' capes. He bumped into a small red-haired girl, with her hair in bows and pigtails. "Excuse me," she said, all childish well-drilled manners. He stepped past, bowing slightly in exaggerated politesse, and the little girl laughed at him. It was like standing in the froth at the beach, feeling the spent wave bubble and boil around him.
He waved at some of the faces he recognized and smiled at the others, hoping that some of his height and age and austerity would seem diminished, that he would blend better with the bright colors and lights of the school corridor. He spotted Tommy's classroom and maneuvered through the press of small bodies toward the door. It had a large multicolored balloon painted on the exterior, next to a placard which read: Special Section A.
He reached down to open the door, thinking how much he enjoyed picking up his grandson, how young it made him feel, but it swung open suddenly. He waited a moment, as first a shock of brown hair, a forehead and finally a pair of blue eyes peered around the edge.
For a second he stared at the eyes, and saw his late wife instead, then his daughter, then finally, his grandson.
"Hi, Grandfather. I knew it would be you."
"Hi, Tommy, I knew it would be you, too."
"I'm almost ready to go. Can I just finish my drawing?"
"If you like."
"Will you come watch me?"
The judge felt his hand seized by his grandson's and he thought of the tenacity of a child's grip. How they hold on to life, he thought. It is adults who cheapen it. He allowed himself to be pulled into the classroom. He nodded to Tommy's teacher, who smiled back.
"He wants to finish his drawing," Judge Pearson said.
"Good. And you don't mind waiting?"
"Not at all."
He felt his hand released, and waited as his grandson slipped into a chair at a long table. A few other children were drawing as well. All seemed preoccupied with their work. He stood and watched as Tommy seized a red crayon and scratched away.
"What are you drawing?"
"Leaves burning. And the fire is spreading to the forest."
"Oh." He didn't know what to say.
"Sometimes it's disconcerting."
He turned and saw Tommy's teacher standing next to him. "I beg your pardon?"
"It's disconcerting. We'll set the children down for drawing or art, and the next thing we know they've come up with a battle scene, or a home burning down or an earthquake toppling an entire city. One of the others drew that last week. Very elaborate. Very detailed. Right down to the people falling into a crevasse."
"A little ..." He hesitated.
"Macabre? Sure. But most of the kids in this section have so much trouble with their feelings, we encourage any fantasy if it brings them closer to what they're really afraid of. It's really a pretty simple technique."
Judge Pearson nodded. "Still," he said, "I bet you'd prefer pictures of flowers."
The teacher grinned. "It would be a change." Then she added, "Would you please tell Mr. and Mrs. Richards to call me, so that I can set up an appointment with them?"
The judge glanced down at Tommy, who was busy with his paper. "Something wrong?"
The teacher smiled. "I suppose it's human nature to assume the worst. On the contrary, he's been making great progress all fall, just as he did in the summer. I want him to join the regular third graders for a couple of classes after the Christmas holidays."
She paused. "Oh, this will still be his main room, and he'll probably have a setback or two, but we were thinking that we might challenge him more. He's really very bright, it's just when he gets frustrated —"
"— He gets out of control." The judge finished her sentence.
"Yeah. That hasn't changed. He can still get pretty wild. But, on the other hand, it's been weeks since he had one of his vacant spells."
"I know," the judge said. He thought how frightened he'd been the first time he'd seen his grandson, as a toddler, simply stare off into space, oblivious to the entire world. The child would remain like that for hours on end, not sleeping, not speaking, not crying, barely breathing, as if away in some other place, only to return abruptly a few hours later, acting as if nothing had happened.
He looked down at Tommy, who was finishing the drawing with great, bold streaks of bright orange across the sky. How you terrified all of us. Where do you go on those trips?
Probably a better place than here, he thought.
"I'll tell them. They'll call right away. It sounds like good news."
"Let's keep our fingers crossed."
They walked out the front door of the school, and for a moment the judge was struck by how swiftly the end-of-the-schoolday excitement dissipated. There were only a few cars left in the parking lot. He felt a cold breeze that seemed to reach through the front of his overcoat, penetrate his sweater and shirt and chill his skin. He shivered, and buttoned his jacket.
"Button up, Tommy. These old bones feel winter in the air."
"Grandfather, what are old bones?"
"Well, you have young bones. Your bones are still growing and getting bigger and stronger. My bones, well, they're old and tired because they've been around so long."
"Not so long."
"Sure, almost seventy-one years."
Tommy thought for a moment.
"That is long. Will mine grow that long?"
"And how come you can feel things with your bones? I can feel the wind on my face and hands, but not with my bones. How do you do that?"
The judge laughed. "You'll know when you get older."
"I hate that."
"When people tell you to wait. I want to know now."
The judge reached down and took his grandson's hand.
"You're absolutely right. When you want to learn something, don't ever let anyone tell you to wait. You just go ahead and learn it."
"Well, really it is just a figure of speech. You know what that means?"
"But really it means that when you get old, your bones are brittle, and they don't have as much life in them anymore. So when a cold wind comes along, I can feel the chill, right inside of me. It doesn't hurt, it just means I'm more aware of it. Understand?"
"I think so."
The child walked along in silence for a few paces. Then he said, more to himself, "There's a lot to learn," and he sighed. His grandfather wanted to laugh out loud, thinking what an extraordinary observation that was. But instead, he gripped his grandson's hand tighter and they proceeded through the grayness of the afternoon to his car. He noticed a late-model sedan parked next to his, and as they approached, a woman got out from the rear seat. She seemed middle-aged, was tall and very sturdy, and wore a large, floppy black hat. Striking red hair flowed down in unruly sheets from beneath the brim, and she wore a large pair of dark sunglasses. They made the judge momentarily uncomfortable: How could she see out? He slowed and watched as the woman approached them briskly, with a businesslike solidity.
"Can I help you?" the judge asked.
The woman unbuttoned her tan raincoat and slowly reached inside. She smiled.
"Judge Pearson," she said. "Hello." She looked down at his grandson. "This must be Tommy. Well, aren't you the spitting image of both your mother and father? A regular little chip off the old blocks. I can see them in your face."
"I'm sorry," the judge started. "Do I know you?"
"You were on the criminal court bench, weren't you?" the woman asked, ignoring his question. She continued to smile.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Day of Reckoning"
Copyright © 2014 John Katzenbach.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Good page turned and I enjoyed the book. The ending is a little lame but a good read!
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