Flash: A Novel

Flash: A Novel

by Michael Cadnum

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When two teenage brothers bungle a bank robbery, their attempt to hide the evidence is witnessed—aurally—by Terrence, a legally blind neighbor. Terrence tells his girlfriend, Nina, and her brother, who then disappears with a handgun. Nina is afraid of what he might do to the brothers. But she also has every reason to fear what the brothers will do to Terrence.

Flash ingeniously interweaves the stories of two who are hellbent on a destructive path, two who stand in their way, and one whose actions may be the spark to set the whole thing off.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429947893
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 06/22/2010
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 875,523
File size: 194 KB
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

MICHAEL CADNUM lives in Albany, California, where this novel takes place. He is the author of many acclaimed titles, including Peril on the Sea, and The Book of the Lion, a National Book Award finalist.

MICHAEL CADNUM lives in Albany, California. He is the author of many acclaimed titles, including Flash, Peril on the Sea, and The Book of the Lion, a National Book Award finalist.

Read an Excerpt


By Michael Cadnum

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2010 Michael Cadnum
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-4789-3


When will you show them the gun?" asked Milton. He and his brother were sitting in lawn chairs in back of the house.

The morning clouds were burning off, and the sunlight was bright beyond the shadow of the house. San Francisco Bay Area summers were usually like this — half hot, half cold — and the East Bay was enjoying a characteristically dry season.

"Let me hear you say it," Milton insisted.

Sometimes he wanted to hit Bruce over the head. Bruce would take a good deal of hitting — he had a large, round head with close-cropped hair and he smiled a lot. The smile did not mean that he was happy. It meant he was stronger than most people, and that he intended to take advantage of it.

Milton Borchard was eighteen and had graduated from Albany High School earlier that summer. Bruce was sixteen and had dropped out of the same school. Milton found his younger brother to be a lot of responsibility, and sometimes he wished he could think of a way of getting rid of him.

At last Bruce complied and said, "I'll show her the gun after this."

He took a paper out of his inner pocket and displayed the note, which had been folded and refolded until it was limp, the large words in red Magic Marker. THIS IS A ROBBERY. He folded it again and put the paper back inside his leather sport coat, stylish and good-looking, except for the dark stain along the left cuff.

"Don't take the first bag of money they give you," Milton cautioned.

Bruce nodded. He was trying to be patient, and even gave Milton one of his smiles, looking every inch the sort of person who got things done.

Bruce had worked a few nonunion construction jobs until earlier in the summer, when the local developer ran out of funds, and you could still see the line of pale skin on his forehead where the hard hat had kept off the sun. He had dropped out of school to make money. He had failed.

Just then Mom was in the doorway, trying to hear what they were talking about. Her bathrobe had her name stitched across the left breast: LOUELLA. As though her sons might mistake the baggy, worn garment for one of their own.

Milton lifted his finger and Bruce kept his mouth shut.

Mom looked and listened, and you could see her wondering what the hell her two boys were about to get into. Milton tried out his own smile: Just the two of us talking.

Mom shuffled back into the darkness of the interior, a big woman looking even bigger in pink terry cloth. She did jigsaw puzzles of famous artworks in her spare time, which she didn't have much of. She worked with a committee trying to win increased pensions for sugar refinery employees and their families.

Louella Borchard had emphysema and swollen feet, but she had worked as a dispatcher for the Port of Oakland for twenty years. She had the demeanor and mental habits of a person who was accustomed to ordering forklifts to berth ninety-eight and making sure they got there. One of Milton's first memories of his mother was her cursing at a cable TV installation crew for stepping on her geraniums, and the men in white hard hats apologizing, scared of her.

From then on, Milton had the impression that his mother would not hesitate to tear the head off anyone who crossed her. Just like Bruce.

Mom had survived on her own in recent years. Her own mother had drowned in the Russian River during a flood, when Milton was five years old. Her father had been killed in Sparks, Nevada, in a fight with someone trying to break into his car. Milton thought that luck had long ago abandoned his mother, and he felt sorry for her.

She was in bad health, and she needed cash. Milton was determined to see that she would get it.

"Just don't take the first bag of money they give you," Milton repeated, hating himself for nagging his brother, but someone had to make the plans. He had the feeling that if you could read Bruce's mind you would sense a hot current of self-assurance accompanied by nothing. No thoughts, no inner dialogue — just white-hot nothing.

"Because they'll sneak a dye bomb into it and the cash will blow up on us," Milton continued, "and we'll be two dyed clowns with a bunch of useless money."

The bank would open at nine-thirty, and Milton calculated that the bank employees might take a few minutes to get their cashboxes full of currency, nice rows of twenties and fifties. It was ten minutes after nine now.

In maybe half an hour he and Bruce would be bank robbers.


Nina Atwood woke suddenly.

She had been in a deep slumber after hours of wakefulness, worrying about the unusual challenge awaiting her in the forthcoming day. But now she was wide awake in an instant.

There was someone in the house.

She knew this — but how? Had she heard a sound?

The predawn was dark. The digital alarm clock and the points of light on her laptop all gave off enough ghostly glow for her to see the hulk of the desk chair and the backpack hanging from the bedpost.

These homely objects appeared alien now, awkwardly sinister. She sensed the quiet of the big house beyond her open bedroom door and the all-but-silent chuff of wind over the eaves, the midsummer clouds sifting in off San Francisco Bay.

And then she heard a definite, undeniable something — a sound, no question. The hardwood floor creaked, and the carpet whispered under a footstep. The muted noises probed her sense of security, and she felt outrage.

This trespasser, whoever he was, had just turned on the floor lamp in the living room. The lamp was too far away to illuminate her room, where she grasped the blankets, pulling them around her body, but she sensed a pale quasilight that insinuated into the space.

Her father had warned her to lock the house up, and of course she had, but this was probably an expert, one of those people who can break a lock by breathing on it, and now she was in trouble.

Frighteners, they were called, thugs who crept into a house and scared a man's family, or worse than scared them. If you owed money, these were the guys who made sure you paid it.

She held the quilt up to her chin. She was scared. She wondered where she had left her cell phone, and reckoned that it was in the bottom of her backpack, or in some other inconvenient place where it would be impossible to retrieve the thing silently.

The entire town of Albany had been in turmoil lately. There had been a drive-by shooting barely half a mile away right before the Fourth of July, with a man working on his car fatally wounded. And someone walking his dog had found a dead body on Albany Hill just last week, an unidentified male, the cause of death still under investigation.

The small Bay Area town, wedged in between Berkeley to the south, with its university and politics, and Richmond to the north, with its refineries and decayed apartment warrens, was no longer a peaceful place to live.

She was alone in the house and the only solid plan she could come up with was stymied — her brother's nine-millimeter Beretta was locked in the safe in his old bedroom closet, kept secure while he was on duty in the military. She had thought she might need the gun someday, and she had figured out the safe's combination and made sure the pistol was loaded, but there was no way she could get her hands on the gun now without making a lot of noise.

She was helpless.

She held her breath and let it out slowly, keeping very still. Whoever it was, he was being quiet, too. Nina heard the cushions of the sofa give off an almost imperceptible sigh.

And then she heard the Hello Kitty key chain make its characteristic jingle.

She had to be sure, because if she was right, something wonderful was happening.

Too wonderful to believe.

No one but her immediate family knew about the key secreted under the potted agave plant at the end of the porch. Her brother had bought the key chain himself, and stuck it there under the big terra-cotta urn.

The key chain made a further racket, tossed into the large ashtray no one ever used except for extra quarters and keys, just the sort of thing her brother always did, sitting down when he first came home.

But Carraway was in a military hospital in Germany, recovering from almost being killed.

Wasn't he?

She spent a breathless moment before the mirror, her reflection blurry as she put on a bathrobe, her new haircut every which way — four o'clock in the morning and no time to make herself look human.

She ran down the hall, her bare feet padding quickly down the cold hardwood.

Then she hesitated.

Despite certainty that this had to be her brother, she had a growing sense that he was still too badly injured. The army chaplain on the phone had mentioned sepsis and intravenous antibiotics.

"A nasty piece of ordnance zigged through Carraway's insides," was the way Sergeant Palmer, one of Carraway's army buddies, had described the injury in a phone call.

The television was on, something in Cantonese, then an ad for stain remover, and finally CNN.

She said her brother's name.

She called it again, louder.


So much depended on Bruce.

Milton had wasted a lot of energy keeping the guy out of trouble. The robbery scheme had been more than a much-needed moneymaking strategy — it was a way of directing Bruce's energies.

For instance, Bruce had a habit of picking fights with passing motorists. It wasn't road rage, it was pedestrian rage. Everyone knew drivers speeded, they double-parked. But Bruce took it personally. This was not a good idea, given the string of drive-by shootings all over the Bay Area recently. Drivers these days were armed with Glocks and hollow-points, and an aggressive pedestrian had been shot dead in San Francisco earlier that summer.

But personal safety was not an issue with Bruce. He had bloodied a guy's nose outside the Albany Theatre three months before, a driver who nudged his car into the crosswalk while Bruce was walking in it. He had picked the guy up out of his little blue Alfa convertible, and if Milton had not been there to pull Bruce off the stunned, scared driver, they would have had serious difficulty with the law.

Bruce had been suspended from high school twice for fighting, but had never been arrested. Milton felt that you had to admire Bruce, but on the other hand, you didn't.

He felt that strange, unhappy stirring inside again, a jealous feeling not at all friendly toward his brother. Like maybe hearing that his brother had been put into jail would not be such bad news. This was the way he had felt since he saw his brother with Billyana Venova, putting his arm around her on Solano Avenue, Billyana responding by leaning her head against Bruce and walking along like the two of them were stuck together.

Billyana's family was from Bulgaria, and her father taught comparative lit at San Francisco State. She spoke with a sultry voice and had an exotic accent, a full figure, and long sable hair. Her father had forbidden Billyana to spend time with Bruce, and so their intimacy had been a secret, even from Milton. Seeing them together had been a very unpleasant surprise.

Milton had spent the Memorial Day weekend in Santa Rita County Jail, waiting to be arraigned for being drunk in public. He had been drinking red vermouth you could buy from Jay Vee Liquors on Central Avenue, where the cool-eyed counter clerks watched for shoplifters and drug deals over by the porn and the Snickers bars.

Maybe he had been drinking to keep from feeling jealous toward Bruce, but such hard romantic disappointment was new to Milton, and he did not know why he had felt trapped in such bitterness. He had passed out on the sidewalk in front of the bowling alley on San Pablo Avenue, and the cops of Albany, California, did not want the town to turn into another one of those troubled San Francisco Bay Area communities, with people stretched out on the ground, unconscious, nowhere to go. "It's a little early in the day for a nap," Officer Dean had said, tucking Milton into a cage car and locking him up for the long holiday weekend.

The trial was yet to be scheduled, but the court-appointed attorney was a breezy man named Paul Casper who said Milton could plead guilty and ease into community service, picking up trash along the shoreline during one of the Save the Bay days held every summer.

Milton was accustomed to being exposed to the learning of his elders, and not only state-licensed teachers. He had shared a crowded cell with a grizzled, alcoholic bank robber named Arnold Reese, who had explained all the drawbacks to a life of crime, by way of encouraging Milton to reform and not take up robbery for a living.

Milton had listened carefully, but drew a different conclusion from the one the veteran felon had suggested. Milton had heard on the news that one out of every hundred Californians was in a correctional facility, and he was surprised at how many incompetent criminals there were.

"That blown-up money will be the evidence that puts your butt in the joint," said the professional criminal. His warning only made Milton ambitious to pull off a bank job cleanly.

He had begun looking at pictures of celebrated felons on the Internet, everyone from Billy the Kid to the shadowy, muffled figures caught by bank security cameras, and felt that there was a brotherhood of criminals out there, and that most of them were less intelligent than Milton.

Now Bruce climbed out of the lawn chair and gave a meaningful look at his Nike multifunction wristwatch. He slipped the pistol out from the interior of the jacket. He stood at an angle so Mom couldn't see.

If there was one sour detail in the crime Milton had planned, the gun was it.

"Are you sure we shouldn't look around for a better gun?" asked Bruce, holding the pistol down low with one foot forward, a classic stance that made him look unquestionably dangerous.

Milton suspected there was a gun or two in the Atwood house, down the block, with the big brother in Iraq getting half killed, the father always off somewhere, and cute little Nina all alone. And Major Wanstead, with his perfectly manicured front lawn, was always putting a gun case into the trunk of his Chrysler — surely the retired soldier must have a handgun hidden away in his nightstand.

Milton admired the way Bruce looked with the pistol and the leather jacket. Milton wished he had half his younger brother's good looks, but where Bruce was tall, blond, and broad-shouldered, Milton was mouse-brown and lean.

Milton said, "Tuck it in your belt," hoping to God his brother wouldn't get into a gunfight.


How thin he looked!

This was her brother, definitely, the same Carraway she had always known and loved.

But he was different. Even with only one lamp turned on she could see that her brother was as handsome as ever, but gaunt. His face was expressionless, his body tense. He turned off the TV and stepped toward her, one arm out, not the usual two-armed hug her family employed, a family of long, rib-cracking embraces.

"Hey, Nina," he said quietly, putting his sinewy arm around her.

She hesitated, afraid that she might cause harm by touching him. The surgeon on the phone had said that it was a miracle Carraway was alive.

"Carraway, I thought you were in the hospital." In Germany, she could not add. What was he doing here?

He smiled. "Not anymore."

His short, dark hair was tousled, and he was unshaved, dressed in scruffy civilian clothes, an outsized white T-shirt and lumpy gray cargo pants. A denim jacket lay tossed over the armchair. He did not look at all like a national guardsman who had just been promoted from specialist to sergeant.

She wiped her tears of happiness. Carraway was customarily terse and straightforward, a no-tears guy, but he was blinking tears, too, and she was happier at that moment than she had ever been in her life.

He did hug with both arms then, emotion and family custom taking over, but he clasped her gently, a man with something wrong with him even after three months of medicine.

"Dad's not home?" he asked, releasing her.

"He's in Milan," she said. "He left in a hurry and he might not be back until next week."

She meant to communicate in those few words a world of trouble for her father, and she knew that if Carraway was anything like his old self he would guess. Milan and London were where the exporters lived, the people who had to be convinced to let Dad's payments continue to slide.


Excerpted from Flash by Michael Cadnum. Copyright © 2010 Michael Cadnum. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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.

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Flash 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just love this book! Totally reccomend it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago