This is a guest post by best-selling thriller writer, Andrew Gross.
Generally, when thriller writers go into where they get their ideas from, they cite the newspapers or a random story they were told. In the case of 15 Seconds, the opening scenario that launches the action actually happened to me.
I was driving in Houston, Texas—Old Houston, actually, with tram tracks and cobblestone streets—on a book tour of all things, for Reckless, searching for my hotel. (Which, because of a wrong address put on my itinerary, was nowhere even in the area.) My GPS instructed me to “make a legal U-turn,” if I could, and I’d arrive there.
I looked down the block. At first, I thought about making a series of right turns that would place me on the other side of the street. Then I thought, Jeez, that might be a one-way street, better not. Not seeing any other vehicles around, I just went, the hell with it, and made an illegal U-ey.
Next thing I knew there were flashing lights behind me. A policeman got out of his car; he looked as if it was his first day on job. He came up and asked me for my license and proof of insurance.
“Proof of insurance?” I replied, surprised. “It’s a rental car. I don’t have proof of insurance.”
“Driving without insurance is a violation of Texas law,” he said back. “Punishable by a five hundred dollar fine!”
It’s a rental car, I told him again, contritely, blathering on about how confusing it was down there and how I was just following the GPS to get to my hotel.
“What hotel?” he asked, arching his eyebrows. I looked and didn’t see one. Before I could explain, he had already gone back to his car. I waited, annoyed at my rotten luck. And at him. Going on about proof of insurance. But when he came back, I had no idea what was about to come.
“What are you writing me up for, officer?” I asked, disconsolate. He was carrying several tickets in his hands.
“Making an illegal U-turn. Driving without proper proof of insurance.” I groaned. Then, “And driving down a one-way street,” he said.
“Driving down a one-way street!” Excitedly, I told him I hadn’t driven down a one-way street! I hadn’t even started the turn. I said I was an author, on my way to a book signing. That only someone who was impaired would drive down a one-way street. I pleaded about my driving record, my insurance premiums. I was never threatening. I was never disrespectful. I never raised my voice. But at some point he warned me if he heard another word out of me, I wouldn’t like the result.
I guess I gave him that word.
“That’s it!” he shouted. “Out of the car! You’re under arrest.”
“Under arrest?” Flabbergasted, my jaw dropped.
In seconds I was thrown up against his car, my hands bound tightly behind me. As he tossed me into the back of his car, I was reeling in total disbelief.
Out of nowhere, eight new patrol cars pulled up, lights flashing. They closed off the street, diverted passersby who gathered around, peering at the prisoner in the back of the police car. Me!
One by one, the cops came up to me, each of their questions growing a lot more serious. “Who was the woman in the car with you?” one asked.
“When was the last time you were stopped by the Houston police?”
Finally, “What were you doing in a Federal office building in downtown Houston an hour ago?”
To each one, I defended myself. I said I didn’t know what they were talking about. That I was an author on a book tour. That I’d just gotten off a plane. With that last question, I felt my heart nearly stop. I realized I was in a strange city, in the back of a police car, in cuffs, told I was going to jail. And now suspected of Homeland Security kinds of crimes...
I racked my brain wondering whom I was going to call.
Eventually, the situation ended benignly for me. They realized I was telling the truth. One by one, they got back in their cars and began to drive away. The first cop took me out of the handcuffs and put me back in my car. I suspected they were letting me go.
But as I waited for him to come back over, I started to think, what if someone drove right up now and put a bullet in his head? The crowds had dispersed. There’d be no one to see. There would only be one suspect. The person who had been in the back of his car, in custody, only minutes before. Me!
And that’s the situation that my hero Henry Steadman finds himself at the start of 15 Seconds. Alone. Having been picked up by the police. And having witnessed something terrible.
Except things don’t end quite as benignly for him!