The novel is set in a realm where high school meets high treason, and sees principal character and narrator, Chris Baker coming under fire from rogue elements inside the the FBI, the Marine Corps, and a small number of hired killers as he attempts to uncover a conspiracy that seems to encompass his entire life.
Chris leads a completely ordinary life until his father, who is a researcher for the Marine Corps, dies mysteriously, leaving Chris with a suspiciously sizable payout from his father's life insurance comany. During a fight at school, Chris puts his aggressors into hospital, so his his principal attempts to cover it up. Chris utilises a combination of high tech espionage, social engineering and physical intimidation he never thought he'd be capable of, in an attempt to discover the answers to the compounding mysteries in his life. obooko.
I was seventeen, almost eighteen, the first time I killed someone.
It was kind of an accident, in the same way that bubble gum is kind of a food. I hadn't set out to kill him, honestly, but I wasn't exactly trying not to kill him either.
To be fair, the guy tried to kill me first. That I had most likely broken his arm and nose before he tried to kill me would probably have been brought up by the prosecution at my murder trial, if there had ever been one. If there had been, though, I or my overpriced attorney (I'm assuming that if I had one, he would be overpriced) would have mentioned the extreme duress I was under. My father had recently died, my school life had gone completely out of control, I had more than a little bit of pepper spray in my eyes, and I was acting to defend my life and the life of the girl I was with.
But alas, there was no murder trial. There was hardly an investigation, really. As an average teenager, that night would have probably been the high - or low - point of my young, naive life. It would probably have been the topic of discussion in a lifetime of counseling and group therapy. It might have motivated a period of heavy drug use and the abandonment of friends and family, followed by an inspirational recovery that I might later write about in a best-selling autobiography, that would surely be described by Newsweek magazine as, "A haunting, yet uplifting story of tragedy and the re-discovery of life that every person, young and old, must read." My life wouldn't move in that direction, though.
Being put in a situation where you have to decide whether or not to probably kill someone to protect your own life should have affected me profoundly, but it didn't. It bounced off me like rain off glass.
Around two weeks later, when I killed someone again, this time much more deliberately, I was affected even less. There was no murder trial for that one, either.
I'm getting ahead of myself, though.
If what I'm trying to insinuate is that I'm not a normal teenager, I have to confess that I was painfully normal for most of my life, up until the moment my father died.
It was a usual night; a school night.
I was putting off an English assignment. The document I was supposed to be writing was opened on my computer, but I was watching a movie on TV instead. I don't even remember what it was called, some B-horror movie on cable about a giant mutated snake was eating people. Said snake was in the middle of eating Wil Wheaton when my house phone rang.
Twelve seconds later, I heard my mother screaming downstairs.
He'd had a heart attack at work, and died on the way to the hospital. He was in his forties and by all accounts seemed perfectly healthy. He hadn't had a full physical in a while, but it wasn't like he ate nothing but cheeseburgers. He smoked in college, he'd told me once, but hadn't since.
Daniel Baker, my father, was a research scientist at the Marine Corps University Research Center in Quantico, Virginia. That is, until that night. Then he was just dead.
The nature of his work demanded a large measure of secrecy. I had a very small idea about what he did up there in Quantico, and we were given no clue about what he was doing when he'd had the heart attack beyond that brief, emotionless phone call.
It's not all too unusual, where I grew up, for such secrets to infect people's lives. I'd lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia my whole life. Quantico - a self-contained "city" that's home to the nation's largest Marine Corps base, the Marine Corps University, DEA University, FBI Academy, and a few other assorted pillars of dread - is about half an hour's drive from Fredericksburg. So too is the CIA headquarters in Langley and the Pentagon, and Washington D.C. isn't all that far, either. Everybody who worked for these societies of secrets tended to live in the suburbs outside of them, like Fredericksburg. A lot of kids my age were just as clueless about one or more of their parents' occupation. If they didn't tell us, we didn't ask. "Don't ask questions," is a kind of unofficial motto for the youth of the area.
We knew it wasn't all cloak and dagger business with fast cars, encoded messages dead-dropped inside payphone Yellow Pages, and pistols under pillows. Even the most mundane of government jobs requires some level of secrecy. In a way, it's comforting, knowing that the job is being done and that the secrets are safe.
It's no comfort, however, to a kid whose father had died.
For the next week I existed in a state of disconnection from reality. The edges of the world, my world, were dulled and prodded uselessly at my senses while I walked around, spoke to relatives, bought a suit, attended a funeral, and when not doing any of these, sat alone in my room. The relatives and family friends who came over before and after the funeral wore empathetic faces that squawked of sympathies and if- there's-anything-I-can-do...s. Sentiments and familiar stories bounced off the walls and mingled with the scents from the floral arrangements. I just sat there, pretending to pay attention, but wallowing in the daze I'd seeped in since I'd first heard, and trying very hard to concentrate on the thoughts spinning around my head.