Run Marco, Run

Run Marco, Run

by Norma Charles


  • September 2011
  • ISBN 978-1-55380-131-3
  • ebook ISBN 978-1-55380-137-5
  • 5-1/4″ x 7-5/8″ Trade Paperback, 186 pages
  • Young Reader Novel – Ages 9 to 12

In this fast-paced novel for readers ten and up, James Graham, a Canadian journalist, is kidnapped in a market in Buenaventura, Colombia, right in front of Marco, his thirteen-year-old son. When the kidnappers try to grab Marco, his father yells at him, “Run Marco, run!” Marco manages to escape, and seeing no possibility of help in Colombia, he stows away on a freighter headed to Vancouver where a good friend of his father is living and who may be able to help.

During his search, Marco encounters what seem like insurmountable odds and learns that he must call upon his inner strength and nerve to keep going. “Valeroso; courage,” he keeps saying to himself as he evades drug dealers, security guards, the police and the authorities who would send him back to Colombia — straight into the arms of his father’s kidnappers.

Run Marco, Run is a riveting adventure about a plucky boy who will dare anything to save his father, and who learns that running away is sometimes the heroic thing to do.

Click here to read Chapter One of Run Marco, Run

THE MAN RAN furiously through the crowded streets of Buenaventura. Sweat poured down his face and neck, soaking the collar of his white shirt and fashionable business suit.

“Excuse me please!” he gasped. “Con permiso!”

He burst through a crowd waiting for the pedestrian light to change. “Let me through!” He hurled himself across the street, twisting and skipping to avoid—screech of brakes—a taxi.

“Let me through! Permiso! Permiso!” he yelled at the crowd on the far side of the street. “Let me through!”
Someone shoved him into a woman’s shoulder and the contents of her shopping bag tumbled into the gutter. Papayas and grapefruits and limes rolled in the dust.

“Gringo loco!” the woman yelled after him, shaking her fist.

Breathing raggedly, the man ran on, shouldering through those pedestrians too slow to avoid his frenzied flight. He brushed past a knot of scruffy men lurking in front of the upscale Santa Maria Apartments. They watched him silently as he attacked the steps two at a time leading up to the front door. He punched in a coded entrance number and pushed through the heavy metal door into the foyer. Then he careened down the hall to the elevator.

He waited for the elevator, mumbling, “Come on, come on, come on,” staring up at the floor indicator and cracking the knuckles of his right hand. Once inside, he stabbed at button 4 and then stood breathing heavily with his forehead pressed against the elevator door. When the door slid open he catapulted himself down the hallway to apartment number 411. He keyed the lock and exploded into the living room where his son sat at the computer.

“Marco!” The man grabbed the boy in a bear hug. “Thank God you’re here!”

“Of course. Where else would I be?” Marco dragged his eyes away from the screen and stared at his father. His father’s hair was standing on end, his office shirt stained with sweat. “What’s wrong, Papa?”

“I just heard on the radio there’s been another kidnapping right here in Buenaventura. A thirteen-year-old boy from your school this time. I tried to call and you didn’t answer the phone. I was terrified it was you.” He squeezed Marco’s arm and ruffled his black curly hair. Then he collapsed onto the sofa.

Marco’s stomach churned. “Kidnapped? From my school? Oh no! I wonder who.”

“It’s terrible. That’s the third kidnapping this month. They say that foreigners and their families are being targeted.”

“At least half the guys in my class are foreigners. Could be any one of them.”

“Just last week Max Cureau, the journalist from my paper, was abducted right from his own home. We think it was by some Marxist guerrillas. He still hasn’t been located and the guerrillas have threatened that they’ll continue kidnapping journalists and their families if we don’t stop writing stories about them in the paper.” Marco’s father blew out a big sigh and wiped his wet brow with his handkerchief.

“If it’s so dangerous why don’t you stop writing those stories?” Marco asked.

“Because the stories are true. We can’t allow ourselves to be silenced by a few thugs.”His father went on, “The future of this country, of any country, still depends on freedom of the press. And now I have a lead on a really big story. This one’s about a local drug cartel and it’ll be coming out in the paper in the next few days.”

“But kidnapping kids.”Marco shook his head.He couldn’t stand the idea that one of his friends may have been grabbed from the streets. “Maybe I can find some news.” He turned back to the computer and searched for Buenaventura breaking news.

His father got up and poured himself a glass of water from the upturned bottle in its dispenser in the adjoining kitchen. He gulped down the water and watched the screen over Marco’s shoulder. Their black cat twirled himself around their legs, purring.

Marco’s father scooped him up. “So are you hungry now, Greco?” he asked, stroking the cat’s head.

The cat purred some more and licked his chin.

“Here it is.” Marco read the brief description. “‘Late developing news: This afternoon, a thirteen-year-old boy was abducted on his way home from Colegio Colombo Aleman. Details of the kidnapping, including the identity of the boy, have not yet been released.’ Man! That’s way too close. I’ll call Antonio. Maybe he has heard something.”

“Good idea,” his father said, sprinkling food into the cat’s dish. “Meanwhile, I’ll get supper started. It’s been a long day and I’m starving. Bet you are too.” He peeled off his rumpled jacket and went to rummage through the fridge. Marco punched in his friend’s number on the phone on the desk. The phone rang and rang until the message machine came on asking him to leave a message. It’s Marco,” he said. “Call me back.”

“No answer?” his father asked.

Marco shook his head. “So weird. Antonio said he was going straight home this afternoon after school to finish this geography project on North America. It’s due the day after tomorrow.”

“Oh blast!” His father was still poking through the fridge. “Not enough here to make a meal for a bird. No tomatoes. No peppers. No plantain. We’re even out of onions. I’ll have to go down to the market. You’d better come with me, Marco.”

“Do I have to? I need to get started on my project.”

“You can do that when we get back. I don’t want to leave you alone here in the apartment. Not now. Not with all the kidnappings happening so close by. In fact, I’m thinking about getting someone to stay with you after school until I get home from work.”

“A babysitter? No way, Papa. Thirteen-year-olds don’t need babysitters.”

“Think of it as a bodyguard. There’s just too much danger in the city these days to leave you alone. Just now when I came home, I saw some really rough-looking thugs hanging around outside our apartment building. I don’t like it.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“You think so, eh? The political situation may be getting better in some parts of Colombia, but here on the westcoast with the drug wars, it’s getting crazier by the minute. Eight journalists have been kidnapped or killed already this year and it’s just August. Do you know that last year nine times more murders were committed in Buenaventura than in New York City? Now how’s that for a scary statistic?”

“Pretty bad,” Marco admitted.

“The government keeps trying to crack down, but the rebel army’s getting more and more desperate,” his father continued. “No telling what’s going to happen next. I wish Rolando Mendoza were still here. He had a lot of influence with the rebels.”

“Mr.Mendoza? The man you helped leave the country?”

“Yes. I asked our cousin in Vancouver to sponsor him last year. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard from him lately. If anyone could get the city out of this political mess, it’d be Rolando Mendoza. I’ll give him a call after supper tonight and see what he thinks. I’m sure he’ll have some ideas. Come on, let’s go. We won’t be long. You can help me carry the stuff.”He tossed Marco a shopping bag. Marco reluctantly shut down the computer. “Bye,Greco.”

He scratched the cat between his silky ears. The cat shut his eyes and purred. He was sleek and tidy, all black except for a white patch under his chin. Marco didn’t have time to change into jeans and a t-shirt. Buttoning up his white cotton school shirt, sliding on his sandals, and patting his pocket for his wallet, he followed his father out and down the stairs. Their footsteps echoed off the cement walls. He and his father usually used the stairs to go up and down the four flights unless they were in a hurry. It was part of their daily workout. His father dialed in the security code to open the metal outside door and it buzzed open. When they were outside, the heavy door clunked closed behind them. Marco pulled on it to make sure it was firmly locked. Once outside, he glanced around. A warm wave of stuffy air flowed over him. The sidewalk in front of the apartment steps was more crowded than usual, with people of all ages milling about. Maybe some festival was going on at the nearby church. Dusty streetlights had been turned on but the late afternoon light was dim and murky. The market was just a few blocks away so when they needed fresh fruit and vegetables, they usually walked there.

Marco shoved his hands into the pockets of his shorts and followed his father’s long shadow along the congested sidewalk, wishing he could be back up in their air-conditioned apartment.

A couple of men wearing red bandanas around their necks jostled against them, cursing. One of them caused Marco’s father to stumble and the man shouldered on without apologizing.

Another man, also wearing a red bandana, glared at Marco, narrowing his eyes. Creepy. What’s that all about? Marco wondered. The guy was a burly man with a thin face and bristly moustache. He thought he’d seen the man before but he couldn’t think where. Something was definitely familiar about him. He pushed past him and caught up with his father. “You all right, Papa?”

“I’m fine.” He brushed off his pant leg. “Let’s hurry. We want to get to the market before it shuts.”

As they threaded their way through the crowded streets, Marco stuck right beside his father. It was the end of the day, and some stalls were closing, although many people were still shopping or hanging around in bunches talking and laughing. Loud rock music blared from huge speakers set up on a stall selling CDs and DVDs.

As Marco followed his father past stalls piled with shoes and shirts and jeans and all other sorts of clothing, he felt people turn and stare at them.His papa, with his light brown hair and grey eyes, was obviously a gringo, a foreigner, a rare sight around this part of town. But since Marco looked more like his mother, with his curly hair and dark eyes, he didn’t stand out so much. Sometimes people didn’t even believe that James Graham was his father. It could actually be embarrassing.

At the end of the long row of tables was a food area with a stall selling sweet pastries bubbling in oil and, Marco’s favourite, freshly baked flat empanadas filled with cheese and peppers. The delicious smells made his mouth water and stomach growl with hunger.

Beside the pastry stall was a table of fruit and vegetables. Mounds of mangos, limes and pineapples, oranges and papaya and lulo, and anon and corozo were spread out on sacking along with stacks of squash, lettuce, carrots, onions, cucumbers, potatoes and cassava and an assortment of other egetables. Bunches of yellow bananas and long green plantain hung from hooks beside a table.

A plump woman in a big apron shouted in Spanish, “Papaya. My papaya—the best, and the best price. Four for the price of three.”

A short man beside her stall was selling small plastic cups of strong coffee, flavoured with cinnamon and sugar. A man was sipping a cup and staring straight at Marco. He was wearing a red bandana as well. Strange.

Marco moved closer to his father who’d stopped at the plump woman’s stall and had picked up a couple of large ripe tomatoes from the display.
“Pretty juicy looking tomatoes,” he said, nodding. “Be good for our salad tonight. What do you think, Marco?”

Marco flushed and turned away, trying to ignore him. He wished his father wouldn’t speak English to him in public. Especially in such a loud voice. It always drew even more attention.

His father usually spoke English to him. He said he wanted his son to grow up fluent in English. Marco would learn enough Spanish at school and from his friends, he said. And that was true. In fact, Marco could speak English just fine, although he was much more comfortable speaking Spanish so he could blend in with people around him.

Hearing his father grunt,Marco glanced back and gasped. Two husky men had grabbed his father’s arms and were pressing into his sides, trapping him. His eyes were wide with shock.

Both men were wearing red bandanas.

At their feet the ripe tomatoes had tumbled to the ground in a splattered mess.

Before he could rush to help his father, another man lunged over and seized Marco by the back of his shirt, wrenching it tight around his neck, choking him.
He was a short squat fellow. With a bristly moustache. The same creepy man he’d seen earlier in the street! Marco struggled to escape but the man’s grip was too tight. He swore in Marco’s ear and tried to heave him away. He smelled the stink of the man’s sweat and his hot beery breath.

He twisted around and yelled in the man’s face, “No!” He yanked back with all his strength, flailing out with hands and feet and knees.

“Run!” Marco’s father bellowed as the men dragged him away. “Run, Marco, run!”


Click here to close the book excerpt.

Also by Norma Charles:

Reviews & Awards

Awarded Gold in General Pre-teen Fiction at the 2012 Moonbeam Awards

Selected Best Books for Kids and Teens 2012

Selected as Runner-Up for a 2013 Chocolate Lily Award

“Both timely and relevant, Marco’s story is told with the warmth and understanding we have come to expect from this popular author.” —Beryl Young

Run Marco, Run is a good adventure story for younger readers who are looking for more mature themes. While it presents some of the horrors that can occur in countries with high crime rates, it is done in a way that does not exploit, describe, or dramatize them.” —Resource Links

“[Run Marco Run] will resonate with young people as well as older readers, and the themes of drug trafficking and immigration difficulties are timely and relevant. Norma Charles has written an enjoyable and important story that needs to be told.” —CM Magazine

“This fast-paced book is about a 13-year-old Colombian boy and his unshakable determination to find his kidnapped father. . . . We are scared for him as he wanders alone, and disheartened when he is deceived by those he trusts. An exciting read.” —Calgary Herald

“Run Marco Run would work well as an independent study novel for Grades 6 to 8. A social science approach could emphasize the cultural and economic differences evident between Buenaventura and Vancouver.” —Canadian Children’s Book News

“The legitimacy of Marco’s need to help his father takes him on a very purposeful adventure, which middle grade readers will appreciate.” — CanLit for LittleCanadians