RUNNING OUT OF LIES
The police think he's a joke, but Shane knows his father was kidnapped, possibly murdered.
Despite giving the police compelling evidence, there’s been no resolution to the case. Frustrated, Shane decides to work on his own. His childhood memories of his father watching televised champion cross-country meets inspires him to join his high school team. To Shane, it’s a simple plan: Become a champion runner, make it to the televised state meet, and hope his father—kidnapped or not—is watching and comes home. The closer Shane comes to the truth, the clearer it becomes that someone he loves is lying about his father’s disappearance.
But running isn’t just about the race – it’s about the journey. While chasing after his dad, Shane battles fear of rejection because of his father’s absence. He must face his fear when he meets and falls for fellow student, Lyla. Shane is forced to choose: Should he keep chasing the father who never returned, or pursue a new relationship that could help him conquer his fear?
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“The central mystery is intriguing and I had fun trying to piece together the clues that had been drip-fed throughout the story. Running Out of Lies easily evokes the memories of famous American runners such as Steve Prefontaine, Billy Mills, and Frank Shorter, as their names are mentioned in the story. Overall, it's about familial bonds, friendship, trust, love, change, and self-growth—a substantial read for teens and young adults, particularly ones who love and are involved in cross-country running.”
- Lit Amri, Readers’ Favorite
“This book struck a chord with me instantly. It’s about growing up and becoming a man, but it is much more than that; it is about the many and varied relationships that we as human beings form and the people that touch our lives, sometimes just briefly, but change us forever. With an easy, conversational writing style, the author has brought us a book that is a joy to read and one I can highly recommend.”
- Grant Leishman, Readers’ Favorite
Chapter One: Missing in Action
Shane stood outside the police station, doubting. His arm hung stiffly at his side, frozen as he decided whether he should grab the door handle or run away. If he entered through the door he would be ridiculed by the police and he would have to face the wrath of his mother. He imagined her face turning red as he told her what he was up to that night. She would throw a fit once she realized that Shane was disobeying her wish for him not to revisit the disappearance of his missing father. But Shane had weighed the consequences of reopening the case. He was done wondering for the last four years if his father had left, or if he was kidnapped and being held hostage somewhere against his will.
Shane imagined his father blindfolded and kept in a dark, musty basement and that was all the motivation he needed. He would disobey his mother, risk being grounded, and learn once and for all where his father was and why he’d never returned. There was no going back now. With a shaking hand, Shane grabbed the cold and grimy door handle and pulled.
An overhead light flickered as he entered, as uncertain as his own expectations. The lobby of the Portland police station was dimly lit and filthy. A set of rust-colored stairs towered before Shane and a slick spot on the third step shone in the poor lighting. He tried not to guess what it was, but he had a suspicion it was coughed up by the last person to use the stairs. Normally, he would have run up the steps, skipping every other one until he got to the top, but tonight there was a knot in his stomach. Fearful his legs might give out beneath him, Shane began to climb. He felt tainted as he grabbed the railing to the right of the stairs with his gently trembling hand. It was cold and coated in blue, flaking paint that barely covered the rusted metal below, a grim reminder of the law’s lack of constancy.
The police hadn’t taken him seriously the last time he had visited. Why should they reopen a case that was closed four years ago? Shane gave himself a mental pep-talk. He didn’t have to mind the odd stares from the cops, the impatient looks, or the eyes rolling that suggested he was wasting their time. Things were different now. This time, he had evidence in the form of a small, leather-bound journal in his left hand. He had stolen it from his mother’s bedroom after she had left the house for work that morning. Shane’s heart pounded. He knew his mother would ground him, or worse, the moment she learned the journal was missing, but there was too much at stake. He felt like the journal was his last chance at finding his dad.
Inside it were the notes his father wrote before he had disappeared. Only four pages had anything written on them. Calling them notes was being generous. The first page consisted of calendar dates in his father’s messy scrawl. The second page had a series of random numbers. The third had a cartoon of a man with a rat’s head on skinny shoulders covered by a denim jacket. Shane’s father had been quite the character when he was around. Finally, written upside-down on the last page was the name J. Carnahan. Shane had done his own research, but he couldn’t pin down the significance of this name. It was a long shot, but he hoped the notebook would be enough for the police to locate his dad.
A reception desk greeted him at the top of the stairs and a woman was seated behind it with thick, curled hair and wide-rimmed bifocals. She was facing a computer screen, looking inattentive. She looked like the kind of woman who had a husband who constantly sat at home watching TV and grandchildren she never saw. She looked like she rarely received a thank you from her bosses. She looked like she hadn’t taken a vacation since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Shane approached the desk, cleared his throat and flashed a pleasant smile.
“Hello.” He glanced at the nameplate on the desk. “…Deloris,” he finished.
Deloris stared at him blandly and forced a half-smile. “May I help you, sweetie?” she asked in a drone that suggested a long day of sitting.
“Yeah,” Shane said, “I have evidence for a case this station worked on.” He raised the notebook in one hand. “I want you to give this to your boss.”
Shane’s words hung in the air like a dripping rag. He’d hoped they would pique her interest. Instead, Deloris looked like she’d inhaled a bottle of Vicodin.
“Evidence of what?” she asked, stifling a yawn.
Shane took a deep breath. “That my father was kidnapped.”
That wasn’t the entire truth. He knew the receptionist would laugh if she knew the current status of the investigation. It was a cold case. He would spare her the details, lest he not crush the hope to which he clung.
“Your father was kidnapped?” croaked Deloris. She produced a pile of colorful Post-it Notes and a pen from her desk. Shane felt hopeful. “When did this happen?”
“September 28, 2013,” said Shane confidently.
To his dismay, Deloris didn’t write anything down. “Honey, that was four years ago. Was there an investigation?”
Deloris looked nonplussed. “And was the case closed?”
Shane felt impatient with this woman. It didn’t matter to him what the cops had concluded because they were wrong.
“Then what is it you want me to do?” Deloris countered.
“Like I said,” Shane repeated, “give this to your boss.”
He extended the notebook toward Deloris. She looked strangely at it, like it was diseased. Finally, she took it in her hand.
“Alright.” She nodded. “I’ll make sure someone receives this.”
“Your best detective,” Shane asserted. “That’s who I want.”
By her expression, Deloris looked like Shane was pulling her leg. Still, she smiled politely.
“The right person will get this. Can I get your name and phone number in case they find anything?”
A good question, and one that was a relief. This felt like progress. Shane gave her the information and stared expectantly at her.
“Please,” he said, “this is crucial. I need to see my dad again.”
“Our detectives will do the best they can.”
Shane felt disappointed. In his head, this had been more explosive. This, the first piece of evidence he had offered the cops in years, should have raised eyebrows at the least. It was a shot in the dark, he realized, but he hoped it would be enough to give this case a new direction. He expected some kind of fanfare. In his head, there had even been confetti. He knew his expectations were too high. They always were. However, this was a start.
“When will I hear back from the detective?” asked Shane.
Deloris shrugged and returned to her computer screen. “Whenever they get to it.”
“What’s your best guess?”
Deloris looked at Shane like he was an irksome fly. “Six weeks, tops.”
Shane scowled. “Isn’t that a little slow?”
“Our officers are very busy, young man,” Deloris said.
Shane sighed. “Fine,” he enunciated. “Thanks.”
“No problem, sweetie,” droned Deloris with a limp wave of her hand. It looked like she was swatting away the world’s slowest fly. “Now don’t you have somewhere to be? You’re a teenager.”
Shane snatched his cell phone from his pocket and checked the time. He was going to be late for his mother’s curfew. He fought a desire to swear but refrained in front of Deloris.
“Actually, I do,” he said, forcing a smile. “See you later.”
He sprinted down the stairs, his foot making contact with the slick spot on the third step. His foot twisted painfully, but he grabbed the railing to regain his balance. His mother was always saying he needed to be more thoughtful. He took a deep breath and ran for the double doors, bursting outside to where his car was parked.
Wheezing, Shane’s 1989 Plymouth Reliant crawled toward the curb. Its engine shuddered and Shane was rocked in his seat like a bobblehead. He parked and leaned back in his seat, listening to his cassette deck playing ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ by INXS. Shane knew the song by heart. He began to sing with the final verse but gave a jolt of surprise as the lyrics became oddly distorted and garbled. The player made a noise like teeth grinding. Shane swore and jabbed the eject button, hoping to save the tape. It popped out and Shane was reminded of the way a patient sticks his tongue out for the doctor to take his temperature. The cassette was warm in his fingers, not a good sign.
Coaxing it, Shane pulled the small rectangle —and an endless string of spaghetti-like film—from the deck. He swore again. The cassette, along with the others scattered throughout the car, was his father’s. Shane cursed the broken player some more. Shane felt like the car was the final piece of his father’s legacy. He sometimes wondered if his dad had left a note inside the car for him, a clue to where he had gone. Pitifully, Shane gently laid the cassette and its plastic entrails to rest on the passenger seat. He would try to spool it back together later.
Feeling frustrated, Shane yanked his keys from the ignition, got out and slammed the car door shut. He stared anxiously at the sickly green bungalow with drawn checkerboard-pattern curtains in front of him. He suddenly tensed, realizing it was a mistake to slam the door. The house’s dim porch light was on, which was odd because Shane wasn’t expecting his mother to be home. She worked the swing shift at the hospital and didn’t get home until after midnight. Shane gripped his brand new lanyard and tiptoed across the dry and yellow lawn as though it were a minefield. He unlocked the front door of the house and stepped inside. He was an hour past his curfew.
The door groaned as he entered. Heart pounding, Shane carefully nudged the door shut with a soft click. Cautiously, he tiptoed into the darkness, fumbling for where he knew to be a switch beneath one of the kitchen cabinets. He felt it in his fingers and snapped on the light.
The tiny bulb lit the cramped kitchen unit. The familiar cracked maroon tile floor and the water-stained wooden kitchen table shoved into the corner greeted Shane. He thought the kitchen was ugly, but it was home. Raking a hand through his hair, he crept into the living room. Light from the television was flickering against the couch. His mother was lying on the sofa with her eyes closed and her purse sitting on the floor next to a heavy overcoat. Shane breathed a sigh of relief. He could sneak into his room where his mom would be none the wiser. He had not told her about the concert.
Without warning, his mother stretched her arms in the air. Shane tensed up. His mother turned her head and looked at him. With a gasp of panic, she clutched at her heart.
“Shane, don’t sneak up on me like that! You scared me half to death!”
“Sorry,” said Shane. “I thought you heard me coming.”
“Tell me before you decide to send my heart racing,” his mother said hastily. “You don’t want to kill me, do you?”
A faint odor of smoke hung in the air. Shane glanced at the dying cigarette inside an ashtray on the coffee table.
“Of course I don’t.”
His mother looked stern. “I want you to apologize right now.”
“Sorry,” said Shane awkwardly. His words were missing, so he went to the refrigerator and grabbed some leftover pizza that was saran-wrapped to a dinner plate. He microwaved it for thirty seconds.
His mother stood and crossed her arms. She walked over to the kitchen table and sat down in one of the chairs. “Why are you getting back at this hour?”
“I went out. That’s what I do on Friday nights. You know that.”
Dead silent, his mother held her arms to her body as though adhered by superglue.
Shane yawned. “Anyway,” he announced, “I had a long night. I was going to head to bed.”
“No, you’re not,” said his mother, bringing her arms closer still. “Do you remember the conversation we had when summer started?”
“I’m talking about your curfew.”
Shane looked surprised. “Mom, summer’s over. Can’t I have a new curfew?”
Ellane Alderman shook her head. “Ten is still the exact moment you should be walking inside this house.”
“You’re still at the hospital at ten,” Shane said. “How will you know if I’m even here?”
He watched as his mother’s cheeks became the same color as the chipped tile floor.
“Don’t argue with me,” she said quietly. “It doesn’t matter where I am. What matters is that you’re not respecting my authority.”
“I wasn’t arguing,” Shane said truthfully. “I was just voicing my opinion.”
Except for the low humming of the television, it was dead silent. Like the coming of a storm, he knew a lecture was brewing. Shane thought he knew better than to question her authority. He was wrong. Ellane heaved a sigh like bellows letting out air. A vein in her temple twitched. Shane felt fear in the pit of his stomach, but he tightened his jaw, trying to maintain false confidence for his mother.
“Tell me,” said Ellane, “where were you tonight?”
“I went to a concert out of town with Pher,” he said. The only way he could get out of this lecture by being honest with his mother.
Ellane glared at him. “Where was the concert?”
The joints in Shane’s knees creaked under his weight. He wanted to sit down, but he felt like doing so would be submissive. He had to find a way to calm his mother down so he could go to bed.
“Portland,” he said, shifting his leg.
His mother narrowed her eyes into slits. “You drove to Portland and back?” she hissed, snakelike. Her voice was barely a whisper. “On a Friday night?”
“What’s the big deal?” Shane said. “It’s only forty-five minutes away.”
“You could have wrecked that car on the freeway, Shane,” Ellane said. “I don’t know why I let you drive it.”
Shane needed to butter her up, lest she take away his car. It was his escape from the house that felt like a prison. Shane thought of the years of waiting for his mother to return home from work. Since he was twelve, Shane would twiddle his thumbs waiting for his mom to come home. Ellane said the alternative was homework. The truth was Shane felt like he didn’t have a parent. He had a parole officer who didn’t trust him. It was no wonder he fell in with a bad crowd when he was fifteen.
“Because you’re generous,” Shane said to calm his mother down. “Thank you.”
Ellane nodded. “Yes, I am generous.
“Did you leave for the concert after school?”
“No, I hung out at Pher’s after school,” Shane said.
“What time did the concert start?”
“How long did you spend there?”
“I don’t know. It’s a concert. Maybe three hours tops.”
He knew his mother was calculating the drive time in her head. She was trying to figure out if he was lying.
Ellane relaxed her arms. “Okay.”
Shane was surprised. Was the interrogation over so easily?
“Yes,” Ellane said with all the sincerity of a seasoned lawyer cross-examining a witness. Shane wondered when she would pull out a Bible and have him swear on it. Ellane crossed one leg over the other. “Except there’s one piece of your story that doesn’t add up. Why were you late?”
Shane thought carefully. “Pher and I got tacos,” he said. “After the show.”
“It doesn’t take long to get tacos,” said prosecuting attorney Ellane.
“There was traffic after the show,” Shane added.
“There always is,” Ellane said.
Shane forced a smile. “Yep.”
Ellane bobbed her foot slowly. “It sounds like you had a pleasant evening with Pher at this concert. I’m glad.”
Shane made a face. “Why are you glad?”
“Because it sounds like you stayed out of trouble,” said his mother. “Good for you.”
This made Shane angry. Of course he’d stayed out of trouble. He wasn’t fifteen anymore. He had learned from the work program his mother made him do to keep his record clean. An entire summer cleaning up trash at parks and planting flowers had taught him how to keep his mother happy. He would not show his anger. He would keep her in check. He would remain pleasant.
“How was work tonight?” Shane asked his mother.
Ellane began massaging her neck. Her light-brown hair was tied back in a ponytail, hiding a couple of grey strands near her right temple. Her face was small and slender and she had bird-like limbs. She had more muscle when she played basketball in high school, but skipping meals due to busyness and being on her feet all day as a nurse gave her the appearance of malnourishment. Her teeth were stained yellow from the copious amounts of coffee she drank to make it through her long shifts.
“It went well,” she said stiffly. “A man came in with a laceration between his thumb and forefinger. I helped the doctor patch him up. Twelve stitches.”
Shane grabbed his plate of pizza from the microwave and sat down at the kitchen table. “Wow. Do you know what happened to him?”
“He said he was building a hutch and cut his hand with a band saw. Clearly, he never took a woodworking class in high school.”
“That sounds rough,” Shane said and looked at his mother’s overcoat. “So, um...did they let you off early?”
Ellane tightened her lips. “No, it was a very slow night,” she said rapidly. “A handful of other nurses were cut before I was. Why do you ask?”
“Don’t lie, Shane,” Ellane told him. “There’s a reason for everything.”
“You didn’t put away your coat,” Shane explained. “It looks like you just got here.”
“It’s my business where I set my things,” snapped Ellane.
Shane knew that from the gambling receipts between the couch cushions when his mother wasn’t home. He knew she didn’t need the extra money. He wondered if she worked so much to avoid him. Shane didn’t like her attitude at present, but he didn’t want to show it. If he was lucky, he would finish his pizza and go to bed. He was pleasantly surprised she wasn’t grounding him for being late. Maybe their relationship was finally improving.
“There was one thing I didn’t mention,” Shane said. He thought he would trust her this time. He would give her the whole truth.
Ellane looked suspicious. “Yes?”
“I went to the police station after the concert.”
Ellane looked livid at the words ‘police station.’ Shane would have to explain himself quickly.
“No, no,” Shane said, “it wasn’t anything to do with me. I went there because of Dad.”
The change in Ellane’s expression was alarming. Upon the mention of her husband, Ellane resembled an animal cowering inside a cage.
“Shane, your father left.”
Ellane tittered to herself. “He didn’t disappear. You know that.”
Shane told himself he wouldn’t let her get to him. After the receptionist at the police station acted skeptically about his visit, the last thing he wanted was to receive flak from his mother. He already knew she didn’t believe him.
“Yeah, he did,” Shane said.
“Not this again,” his mother said wearily.
“Not what again, Mom? The truth?”
His mother shook her head. “I won’t have it. I won’t have any of your…” She paused and made a face, “theories. I’m not in the mood.”
Shane felt angry. “They’re not theories.”
“I won’t hear another word.”
“What are you afraid of? Don’t you want to see him again?”
For once, his mother looked empathetically at her son. “It’s not that simple.”
“Mom, Dad is out there somewhere,” Shane persisted. “We just have to find him.”
“Shane, I listened to your theories when you were thirteen. About how you think your father was kidnapped by drug lords—”
“I never said anything about drug lords,” Shane cut in. “I’m not crazy.”
“I never said you were,” his mother continued, “My point is you’re not thirteen anymore, Shane. It’s time for you to face the facts. Look at the evidence. You know what the police found.”
He didn’t want to be reminded of the first investigation five years ago. He didn’t care because he knew they were wrong. The private investigator his mother had hired told them that much. However, he didn’t have enough evidence to continue the investigation.
“The police were wrong, Mom. I’ve found new evidence that might prove my theory,” said Shane. This felt like the perfect opportunity to share his new finding. “That’s why I went to the police station before the concert. I gave it to them.”
“Evidence?” his mother said. “What new evidence?”
“I won’t lie to you. I took something that belonged to Dad.”
All the sympathy on his mother’s face melted away. It was replaced by utmost horror.
“Your father’s notebook. I couldn’t find it this evening in his things. Don’t tell me. No, Shane, don’t tell me you’re at it again.”
Shane paused. “I had to.”
Ellane turned red in the face. “You stole it? Shane, you said you were finished. I made you promise. You said you were done stealing!”
Shane was upset. First, his mother didn’t have to dig up the past. Second, there were bigger things at stake here.
“This is different,” he said.
“I was clear,” she said, pointing a shaking finger at her son. “You don’t steal anymore.”
Shane laughed. “I have evidence that could bring Dad home…and you’re worried about me stealing? I’ve stopped doing that, Mom.”
“No, you haven’t. This is proof.”
He didn’t think he could sway her this time. “This isn’t about me, Mom. It’s about seeing Dad again!”
Biting her lip, his mother shook her head. “He’s not coming back.”
“Of course he’s coming back. But we need to find him first. He’s out there, Mom.”
“You heard what the police said. You know what happened.”
“What about the P.I., Mom? He didn’t agree.”
“He was saying that to keep me paying him. You know how he drained me dry. Think of our house, Shane.”
His mother had to sell their old house in the country to pay the P.I. She wasn’t wrong.
“But he could have been right, Mom. Don’t you want to have hope?”
“He was lying. You know what your father did to me. To us.”
“Mom, he was your husband! Have some faith in him.”
Ellane looked on the verge of tears. “No, I’m not having faith in that deadbeat.”
Shane felt so angry at her that he balled his fists. He didn’t want to hear it.
“Don’t call him that!”
“I’ll call him whatever I want. He’s my husband.”
“He’s not just your husband! He’s my dad and I’m finding him whether you like it or not!
“Don’t bother,” Ellane said. “He doesn’t want to be found. He left us.”
It was too much for Shane. With a shameless glance at his mother, he grabbed his dinner plate from the kitchen table and heaved it at the floor. An almighty crash echoed around the room as china fragments skittered across the tile like terrified mice.
“You’re wrong about Dad,” Shane breathed.
Ellane looked livid. “You clean that up right now.”
“I’m going to bed,” Shane muttered, walking away.
He was halfway across the dark living room when there was a piercing cry from behind like a wounded animal.
“SHANE! GET BACK HERE!”
Hands shaking, he turned on his foot. “Didn’t you hear me? There’s no way…” he began, but stopped at the sight of his mother’s face. He had not seen her this angry in years.
“We are not finished!” she bellowed. “Have a seat on the couch!”
Biting his lip, Shane did as instructed.
“I can’t believe you,” his mother hissed as she marched toward him. “I am so sick of your attitude.”
She plopped down on the sofa. One of the cushions emitted a frightened squeal beneath her weight. The corner of Shane’s mouth gave a spasm; if the situation were not so serious, he would have laughed.
His mother snatched up the remote and muted the television. She turned to face him, fire in her eyes.
“We need to talk about your punishment.”
Not facing her, Shane watched a lioness on the TV screen slowly creep up on a gazelle. Grazing obliviously on a patch of dried grass, it looked quite content.
“What for?” he murmured. “Times like these, I’m glad we don’t talk often.” He didn’t care how angry he made her; he just wanted out of the room.
“This atrocious behavior of yours has got to change, Shane.”
Framed by an expansive African veldt, the feline huntress crept toward her prey.
“Oh yeah?” her son snarled. “How exactly do you expect that to happen?”
“Look at me,” the huntress replied, “and I’ll tell you.”
The gazelle raised its head uncertainly as Shane tore his attention from the television screen. His mother looked surprisingly calm as he faced her.
“Are you going to discipline me?” Shane said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“I’m not joking, Shane,” his mother warned. “I believe an attitude adjustment for you is necessary.”
Shane frowned. “Do you now?”
From the corner of his eye, he saw the lioness pounce.
“Since transportation is so important to you,” she stated, “I am banning you of your car privileges.”
On the TV screen, the big cat sunk her teeth deep into the gazelle’s neck. Meanwhile, Shane felt as though his blood were boiling.
“You can’t do that,” he protested. “That car is the only freedom I have, goddammit!”
The huntress nodded. “I am your mother, Shane, and I can do whatever I want. Give me your keys.”
Shane gazed desperately at her; the gazelle hung limply in the lioness’ mouth, its neck steadily dripping blood onto the dusty earth. Shane frantically tried to find a loophole.
“How will I get to school if I don’t have a car?”
“Pher has a car, doesn’t he?”
Shane searched his brain for ideas. Simultaneously, the caught prey on the TV attempted an escape.
“You can’t have my car forever. I won’t stand for it.”
“However long I keep it is my decision. Your keys, now.”
As the parched soil drank the red liquid from above, the gazelle suddenly began thrashing about in its captor’s mouth. Feeling sick to his stomach, Shane slowly dug inside his pocket. He threw his keys onto the couch.
“You think you have me in your trap,” he said clearly. “Well, you don’t.”
“Shane,” his mother said loftily, “you can’t reason with me.”
Eyes locked onto his mother, he leaped to his feet. “I’m going to bed.”
“That’s fine by me,” his mother replied, folding her hands together. “I’m glad we had this talk.”
Setting his hand on the doorknob to his bedroom, Shane turned around.
“God, you’re a horrible mother.”
Ellane’s face turned brick red.
“Don’t you ever call me that,” she said dangerously. “Take it back.”
Shane gripped his doorknob. “No.”
Ellane had had it. “If you think your father is coming back, then you can join him on the streets! You can move out!”
Making an ugly face, Shane backed into the inky darkness of his room. He slammed the door behind him. Having won the last word, Ellane laughed and shook her head.
She sat watching her son’s door for a long time until her smile broke. Sighing, she rose from the couch. She trudged into the kitchen, opened the tiny coat closet next to the front door, and pulled out a broom and dustpan. Her movements became oddly mechanical as she bent down to the floor in front of the kitchen table. With the broom, she swept up the broken china from the maroon tile floor. She felt like she was always cleaning up after Shane. Being a single parent was a prison.