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Authors: John Gilstrap

Scott Free

SCOTT FREE
Also By John Gilstrap

Nathan's Run

At All Costs

Even Steven

1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2003 by John Gilstrap

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Atria Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

Library of Congress Control Number: 2002105799

ISBN-10: 0-7434-8235-2
ISBN-13: 978-0-7434-8235-6

ATRIA
BOOKS
is a trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc

Designed by Jaime Putorti

Visit us on the World Wide Web:
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In memory of the thousands of innocents who went to work on September 11, 2001, never knowing it was their last day.

With special thanks to the hundreds of firefighters and police officers whom I suspect did know, but went to work anyway. Words cannot capture the breadth of their sacrifice, any more than they can express the depth of our gratitude.

God bless you all.

Acknowledgments

Always and forever, the first nod and heartfelt thanks go to my family. Joy and Chris, you are the reason why every day is beautiful—even the cloudy ones. I love you so much.

In the pages that follow, you'll discover that Scott O'Toole has a passion for heavy metal music. If he enjoyed the works of Beethoven or Britten or even Stravinsky, my research would have been easy—certainly less painful. As it is, the assault to my ears was rendered far easier through consultation with students of the Governor's School for Humanities and Visual and Performing Arts, class of 2000, conducted at the University of Richmond. Greg, Hailey, Max and Craig, thanks a million. (And remember, Max, Scott had blue hair long before you did.)

I'm an east-coaster who happens to love the western mountain ranges. If I got some of the little details wrong, my apologies to the residents of Utah. For the details I got right, I owe thanks to Dot Jackson. On the techie side of things, Brian Drake of Outfitter Satellites taught Scott and me everything we know about satellite phones. My dear friend and fellow author John Ramsey Miller put me in touch with my newfound weapons expert, Bill Grist. Thanks to all.

Thanks also to Linda Shorb at October Country Muzzleloading, Inc., for her patient assistance in helping me to understand the workings of modern day flintlocks. As it turns out, that particular subplot never materialized, but I'd be remiss not to acknowledge the kindness.

Then there's the backstage crew that just keeps me going: Jeff Deaver, who provides counsel that no one else can; Sandy Berthelsen, number-one fan and supporter; Duffy Ward, M.D., medical (and outdoor) consultant, walking buddy and good friend; and Joe, the aging black lab who makes my office a little warmer every day.

In the pages that follow, I paint a portrait of literary agents that is none too complimentary. This is fiction, folks. The reality is, without my own agents, Molly Friedrich and Matthew Snyder, I'd be lost in this business. Thank you both for all you do.

The people at Atria Books and Pocket Books work very hard to make my stories more compelling, and to put them into the hands of readers. Thanks to Judith Curr, Tracy Behar, Louise Burke, and especially to George Lucas. Thanks also to the dedicated professionals at Michael Joseph, my U.K. publisher, with special nods to Tom Weldon and Rowland White.

Day One
1

T
HE CESSNA DANCED
all over the sky.

The pilot shouted to Scott over the engine noise, “Everything's gonna be just fine. The storm's just a little heavier than I'd anticipated.”

A little heavier. As in, the walls of the Grand Canyon are a little steep.

The pilot tried to put the best face on it. “Forget it. In ninety minutes, our ears'll be bleeding from the music.”

Scott shot him a look. “You told me ninety minutes a half hour ago.”

The pilot tossed a tense shrug. “Like I said, the storm's worse than I thought.”

Metallica was appearing at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, and the pilot—a ski patroller named Cody Jamieson—had somehow scared up two tickets from a couple of college kids who'd let the blizzard intimidate them. Nobody in their right minds would risk getting stranded on the back roads of the Wasatch in weather like this.

For Cody, however, road conditions were irrelevant. He had his very own airplane—a twenty-five-year-old high-wing job that he'd picked up for a song and maintained himself in a little corner of the hangar at SkyTop's private airstrip. The idea was to fly out of the storm, then beat its arrival in Salt Lake City. If they ended up stranded after the concert, Cody knew some people at BYU who'd put them both up in a heartbeat.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The aircraft lurched violently, the worst bump yet, knocking Cody's flying charts onto Scott's lap. “Air currents,” he explained before Scott could ask.

This whole thing was beginning to feel stupid. They'd met less than a week ago while Cody was writing Scott up for skiing out of control on Widow Maker. It turned out that the ticket was little more than a warning, but Scott had gone off like a bomb anyway. He was the only skier
in
control, for crying out loud. It was a matter of principle. He'd thrown down his poles and his hat, kicked off his skis, and was ready to fight it out. “Why don't you write up those assholes for doing two miles an hour on a black diamond slope?”

Cody ignored the challenge and asked him what he played.

“What?”

The ski patroller nodded toward Scott's head. “The hair. I figure you've got to be part of a band.”

Scott's bushy crop of blue hair had earned him the nickname Smurf from his soccer team-mates. “Guitar,” he said, caught off guard by the randomness of it. “Lead guitar.” Just like that, the acrimony evaporated.

At twenty-one, Cody was five years Scott's senior, and also a guitarist—heavy metal all the way. A first-year member of the patrol, the guy was anxious to find somebody to jam with, and Scott put him to shame. As payment for impromptu lessons, Cody introduced his new buddy to the gang, giving him the chance to slug down illegal beers and participate in the ski patrollers' late-night snowmobile races. Best of all, it gave Scott a reason to spend as much time as possible away from his mom. They dubbed him their mascot, and thanks to the nod from Cody, they treated him like a full-fledged member of the crowd—almost more a member than Cody, who, as a rookie, was the brunt of unrelenting teasing and practical jokes.

So, when the Metallica tickets became available, Cody chose Scott.

But this snowstorm crap was more than he'd bargained for. Rodeo cowboys enjoyed smoother rides. “Do you have any idea what you're doing up here?” Scott shouted.

The question drew a nervous glance. “I know enough to find the airport and set us down.”

“Then how come we're still in the air?”

“I think the winds blew us a little off course,” Cody admitted.

Something in his tone sparked a note of terror. “Does that mean you don't know where we are?”

“It means I know reasonably well where I am. If I could just get a quick peek at the ground, it would help a lot.”

The reality hit Scott like a slap. The only way to catch a glimpse of the ground was to get closer to it, and here in the mountains, that was a good way to get snatched out of the sky by a rock. “Why don't you call on the radio? They'll look at your spot on the radar screen and tell you where you are.” Scott had seen enough movies to know how this sort of thing worked.

Cody Jamieson seemed not to hear the question. When Scott repeated it, he snapped, “I don't have a transponder, okay? They can't see me on their screen.”

“Well, call in a Mayday, then.”

Again, Cody seemed not to hear.

“Cody?”

“The radio doesn't work.”

“What?”

Cody didn't bother to repeat himself.

Scott's head swam with the utter stupidity of it all. He was in the company of a moron, but he swallowed his anger. Never piss off the only guy who knows how to fly the plane. “Can you at least turn up the heat?” he asked. “I'm freezing.”

This time, he didn't even expect an answer. He pulled the headphones from his Discman over his knit cap, hit Play, and cranked up the volume. That done, he pulled his seat belt tighter, donned his gloves, and tried not to think about the approaching wave of air sickness.

With his eyes closed, he tried to become a part of the music, to forget about the danger. The Stones CD was one he'd stolen from his dad's collection—not his first choice for facing death, but he wasn't about to go fishing for something new. As he tried to concentrate on the power and complexity of Keith Richards's guitar licks, Scott did his best to ignore the slamming beat of his heart.

Cody Jamieson's terrified shriek cut through the music like a razor through flesh. Scott snapped his eyes open and started yelling, too, even before he saw the obstacle that loomed up out of the darkness ahead of them.

By the time he realized it was a tree, they'd already hit it.

 

S
HERRY
C
ARRIGAN
O'
T
OOLE
sat in the far corner of the White Peaks Lounge. She thought of it as the power spot—the one from which she could take in the entire room with a single glance. The place was packed, despite the $9.00 price tag on the drinks, and the atmosphere positively vibrated with news of the blizzard. Sherry gleaned from her targeted eavesdropping that as good as the slopes had been these past couple of days, another foot or two of fresh powder would make this the vacation of a lifetime. Add the presence of the president of the United States, who had already proclaimed SkyTop Village to be his family's longtime favorite vacation spot, and the tongue-waggers could barely contain their enthusiasm.

Whoop-de-freaking-doo.

In the forty-five minutes that Sherry had been waiting for Larry to show up, she'd been hit on twice, once by a ski patroller who looked like the Marlboro Man, and the second time by a guy in his sixties who must have had a lot of money, because guys that ugly always had a lot of money. On a different day, she might have been complimented by the attention, but not today. This whole trip had been a disaster from the very start. Brandon had Scotty so thoroughly brainwashed that she'd never had a chance to break through to the boy.

In fact, at the close of their fifth day in skiers' paradise (and Sherry's personal hell), they were further apart than when they'd arrived. How was that for gratitude? Here, she'd negotiated him a week off from school, footed the bill for him to spend a week in the place he'd always dreamed of going, and he copped an attitude because she didn't want to ski. Like that was some big surprise? She'd
never
liked to ski.

For the better part of a week, then, they'd barely seen each other, their interaction limited mostly to breakfasts on the heels of his late-night returns, his breath smelling of beer. Night before last, she could have sworn that he purposely breathed on her to get a rise. Nice try. She'd be damned if she was going to play the queen-bitch role that ex-hubby Brandon had assigned to her. If Scotty wanted to experiment with underage drinking, then she couldn't think of a better, safer place for him to test his wings.

She took a long pull on her second cosmopolitan, noting that Carmella, her server-this-evening, was watching. Sherry signaled for one more.

The White Peaks Lounge was a room that didn't know what it wanted to be when it grew up. Built in the 1930s in the rustic style of the lodge itself, it seemed to be trying to attract a younger crowd. Unfortunately, the small cocktail tables and chrome-and-leather sling chairs didn't make the place look modern so much as it gave the impression of a retro yard sale.

For the last five minutes, she'd been matching avoided glances with a balding, forty-something guy sporting a cast on his arm. Every time she felt the heat of his gaze, she'd look up in time to see him looking someplace else. That kind of adolescent crap drove Sherry crazy. If they wanted to make a pass, then they should just have the balls to take their shot and get the rejection over with quickly.

Oh, shit, here he comes.

Armed with what had to be his third martini, the guy spun himself off his barstool and sauntered her way. Unlike so many of the other orthopedic victims she'd seen these past five days, this guy had an athletic look that told her he'd earned his injury doing something daring. As he approached, the eye contact held, and she greeted his smile with one of her own. Maybe rejection wasn't in his future after all.

“Excuse me,” he said, gesturing to the empty seat. “Is this taken?” His smile was liquid from the booze.

Sherry gave him her coyest smile. “I've been saving it for my assistant, but he seems to be running a little late.”

Mr. Charming pulled out the chair. “May I?”

Sherry shrugged.

“My name is Bernard Caplan. People call me Bernie.” He extended his hand across the table and Sherry took it.

Why did that name ring a bell? “Pleased to meet you. I'm—”

“You're Sherry Carrigan O'Toole,” Bernie said.

Sherry felt herself blush.
Ah, a fan…

“I've read your books. You caught me staring from over there, and rather than be mysterious, I thought I'd come on over and meet you personally.”

Sherry did her fawning-fan giggle. “I'm so happy you did. And what did you do to your arm?”

Bernie made a face that said the injury didn't mean a thing. “Some beginner idiot on Dark Passage rammed me from behind yesterday. Broke my wrist. You know, I catch you on the radio from time to time.”

This time, the giggle was real. Handsome, athletic and a fan. This had real possibilities.

“Do you recognize
my
name, by chance?” Bernie asked.

Sherry's eyes narrowed as she churned Bernard Caplan through her memory banks. Something was there, all right. Something so close…

“That's okay if you don't,” Bernie said with a dismissive wave. “It's actually
Doctor
Bernie Caplan, and I'm the chief of psychiatric medicine at the University of Virginia.”

Something changed behind Bernie's eyes, and as it did, Sherry felt her stomach flip.

“I saw you here, and I thought to myself, ‘When will I get another chance like this?' So, here I am.” Just like that, with the precision that only a mental health practitioner can muster, all the humor evaporated from Dr. Bernard Caplan's face. “I wanted you to know that I think your brand of moralizing pop psychology does more harm to more people on a daily basis than all the world's missed diagnoses combined. In the past year alone, I've treated two teenaged girls who were depressed to the point of self-destruction because they could not meet the minimum standards of perfection you laid out in
The Mirror's Not the Problem.”

Sherry felt the muscles of her chest and abdomen tighten, preparing for battle. “That's ‘minimum goals to strive for,'” she corrected. “And
Mirror
sold nearly a million copies in hardcover.”

Bernie smiled. The real one wasn't nearly as attractive as the one he used to lure her off her guard. “You say that as if it's something to be proud of. Millions of people are duped every day by charlatans.”

“Now listen here—”

“There's no need to get defensive,” Bernie said, showing his palms. “I just saw you here relaxing, having a good time, and I thought I'd share with you what you've put a real doctor through since you became the self-help quack-of-the-day.”

A shadow fell across the table. “Is there something wrong here?” Finally, Larry had arrived. Six feet tall if he really stretched, and a hundred-fifty pounds on his fattest day, Larry Chinn's entire life was ruled by Sherry O'Toole and
Gentlemen's Quarterly,
not necessarily in that order. With his close-cropped, spiky bleached hair and tiny granny glasses, he was the poster child for closeted gays. Tonight, he wore chalet chic—blue jeans and a turtleneck, with a cotton sweater tossed over his shoulders—and, sensing the tension at the table, he tried his best to look intimidating.

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