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Excerpts - Nine Minutes Eleven Seconds - Chapter 2

Blue Smoke

Nine Minutes Eleven Seconds


Madison couldn’t help herself. Once that seed was planted, like a dog with a bone, she just couldn’t let it go. She’d been that way ever since she was twelve. She had described it to Dr. Katz as feeling like she was tied to the caboose of a train that was pulling her along as it sped down the track, destination unknown. 

That feeling overtook her as she fought her way through the rest of her first day. Thankfully, the tutorials had eaten up most of the morning and a good part of the afternoon. The lunch with Nicole and a few others had been awkward, to say the least; Madison had picked at her avocado salad and did her best to fend off the questions about her life in Boston beyond the most superficial details. The others seemed to have lost interest and written her off as shy; she wasn’t so sure about Nicole. A few times, Madison thought she’d noticed Nicole looking at her in an odd way, as if trying to figure her out. 

When four-thirty finally arrived, Madison found her way to the transit station. As she waited to board her bus, alone in the throng of co-workers, she gave herself a talking to. 

Why not just accept that one person’s misfortune is another’s good luck? Your good luck, Maddie! Say a prayer for that poor girl, Sam and be grateful. That’s what normal people do! 

It didn’t help. If anything, it only made her feel worse, and the ride home feel longer. Block after block, her voice of reason battled it out with her harsh inner critic.

Maddie, this is just you self-sabotaging again. That’s what Dr. Katz would say.

Don’t overthink every single stupid little –!

She snapped her head around in time to glimpse the ‘Stanford Golf Course’ sign as the bus rolled past. 

That’s where it happened. Where she died. 

She was still holding onto that thought when the bus groaned to a stop in front of her apartment complex. Madison stepped off and it continued on its way, leaving her alone on the sidewalk. 

She looked back up the deserted street. The feeling she had in her cubicle returned, staying with her as she hurried into her building and up to her apartment. And for the life of her, she couldn’t understand why.

So she kept digging. For what, she didn’t know.

“The body of a local jogger was found just off Junipero Serra Boulevard early this morning by maintenance staff at the nearby Stanford Golf Course, the victim of an apparent hit-and-run.”

Madison’s keen eyes scrutinized one of the news clips she’d dug up from the local NBC affiliate’s archive. Perched on her new sofa in her new apartment, nose buried in her laptop, she barely noticed that night had fallen. 

“Samantha Dockett, age twenty-seven, a two-year employee at local tech giant, Know Inc.  –”

She froze the clip and peered at Sam’s face: youthful, pretty, bright-eyed and full of life. Clad in running gear, cheeks flushed and all smiles, fresh off an invigorating jog no doubt. 

Madison switched to another clip, a remote segment at Stanford Golf Course with the Palo Alto Police’s Public Information Officer standing at a phalanx of microphones, flanked by other law enforcement and local officials. “...Again, I am able to report that at this time, three weeks post-incident, the Medical Examiner has concluded the decedent, Samantha Dockett, died from multiple severe internal injuries, including a broken neck, sustained as the result of being struck by an unknown vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed. Our investigation has found no evidence of foul play. Law enforcement continues to search for the driver involved in this tragic, senseless hit-and-run –”

She hit ‘pause’ and studied the lineup of officials. 

What is it, Maddie…?

The three on the right were local PD, one a sergeant, the other two in plain dark suits; on the left were two City Hall types, plus a supervisor from the Parks Dept. 

There – in the back!

Behind the lineup, three clean-cut men stood shoulder-to-shoulder off to one side, out of the limelight. One wore a tan suit; the other two in identical blue windbreakers with a small yellow logo on the left breast pocket: FBI.

She zeroed in on the two men in matching jackets. They looked just like the two who had come to her house when she was nine; not their faces, but their square jaws and dead-serious expressions. 

Why are the FBI at a hit-and-run in Palo Alto…? 

January 2025


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