Friday Sampler: Ill Wind by Mark W. Allen
September 18, 2015
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has launched a new series featuring writing samples from some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Friday’s Sampler is an excerpt from Ill Wind by Mark W. Allen. It is a breath-taking thriller, and nature itself is the stalking killer.
As one reviewer wrote: Who would have thought a weather mystery would be a page-turner? This is true of Ill Wind. The historical descriptions are fascinating and the race against time captivating.
It’s 1900. The newly-formed U.S. Secret Service has sent its best man on a vacation, of sorts. A foiled assassination attempt on the president has caused the death of a fellow agent and embarrassed the Service. A hum-drum assignment chasing counterfeiters on a tropical island seems to be the best prescription, allowing Agent Andrew Price to relax and think about his future.
Ill Wind is the story of Galveston Island at the start of the twentieth century. A city by the sea. A place where money can be made legally and illegally. Fat profits for fat profiteers. An assumed name and job title allow Price to work freely as he tries to unravel a big mystery: Who has been printing millions of counterfeit dollars? Why is someone buying land on behalf of some dead orphans? Why is the land so important?
Price uses his training and the latest technical marvels to unravel the mystery as he fights his own apathy for the Secret Service and his desire to remain in paradise to pursue the woman with whom he’s in love. Each day that he fails to discover the mastermind behind the machine that has taken over the island, the stronger the system becomes.
The only thing that could possibly stop it…is an act of God and nature.
Tuesday Evening, May 22nd, 1900
Price exited onto the north lawn. The would-be assassin had recovered from the initial impact of his wound, the younger man cradling his arm as he ran toward Pennsylvania Avenue. Price holstered his gun and sprinted after him.
The Italian ran off the brick walkway, out into the gravel-topped avenue. Several carriages narrowly missed him as he crossed.
Price dashed across the lawn, avoiding a fast-moving hack and another wagon as he also crossed the roadway, gaining some distance. The Italian entered a small park across the street, trying to blend in with shadows beneath the large oak trees. Price continued his pursuit, his eyes locked on the younger man. The Italian exited the park, continued to run along a side street, then dashed into an alleyway between buildings on the west side of the park.
The Italian began to slow, feeling the injury inflicted by Price, desperate to make some headway in the pursuit. With his good arm he tipped small garbage-filled bins behind him, trying to stop Price’s progress. Price avoided most of the obstacles, but slipped on the wet pavement, then fell. The Italian showed signs of tiring, his bleeding shoulder taking a toll. He gained distance after Price’s fall, heading for the end of the alleyway.
When the Italian emerged onto the adjoining avenue, clopping sounds of an approaching hack carriage caught his attention. Running to a corner, he leapt into the open carriage as it appeared, startling the animal and its driver to a full stop.
“Here now!” the driver hollered, “Quit spookin’ the horse!”
The Italian fell upon the driver, punching him in the face and shoving the stunned man out of the carriage to the pavement below. He grabbed up the driver’s whip, cracking it over the horse’s head. The horse reared, gaining traction on the bricks below as it burst away from the scene.
Price had exited the ally, just missed grabbing the back of the fleeing carriage. He could only watch as it tore down the avenue.
“Thief!” the driver shouted, stood up, tending to his already puffy eye. The street was void of wheeled traffic and Price knew that at any other time, dozens of carriages or wagons would have been clogging the streets.
“He stole my precious General Lee!” the carriage driver looked up and down the street and then turned to Price, “Help me flag down a policeman, will you?”
“Right. A policeman,” muttered Price.
A noise behind them made both men turn, the familiar sound of metal scraping on metal. An electric trolley car rounded a corner, gaining speed, heading the same direction as the stolen carriage.
As the vehicle passed, Price grabbed one of the entry handles and hopped aboard. The driver watched him in agitation.
“Thanks for the help, friend!” he hollered angrily.
Inside the streetcar, Price walked to the front of the empty car to speak with the operator. Price produced his identification and flashed it in the face of the man. The operator raised his eyebrows when he read United States Secret Service.
“How fast does this thing go?” Price squinting down the street through the trolley’s wind screen.
“They tell me thirty-miles-per-hour. But it’s never been past ten,” the operator replied, “Why?”
Price spotted the carriage, now two blocks down the street in front of them. He pointed, “I’m trying to catch that stolen carriage before the man inside can get away.”
“Get away from what? What did he do?”
“He tried…” Price stopped himself, knew he shouldn’t mention McKinley or the assassination attempt to anyone who might be willing to share the story with a newspaperman. “He just gunned down a police officer.”
The operator squinted at the carriage in the distance.
“A cop killer, eh?” the man pulled his cap tightly onto his head, a determined look on his face. He pushed the controls of the trolley to maximum speed. The electric motor slowly began to give the car momentum. Price could see the Italian cracking a whip above the head of the terrified horse with his good arm, barely holding the reins with the bad.
A coach crossed the roadway at the next intersection, stopping in the middle of the road as the stolen cab thundered towards it. The Italian used both arms, jerked back on the reins, slowing the horse’s progress. The stolen carriage came to a stop, as it had to maneuver around the blocked intersection.
Price leaned forward, willing the trolley to go faster as he saw the Italian stopped in middle of the street. The trolley would soon catch up before the carriage could regain speed. He eyed the roof above him, leaned down to the operator to be heard over the loud hum of the trolley’s motor.
“Keep going!” he pointed to the roof above, “I’m climbing on top!”
The trolley man gave him a disbelieving look, but Price’s face told him he wasn’t joking. “Don’t touch the wires above your head,” he warned, “That electric current will burn you to a crisp!”
Price nodded, happy to heed the advice as he stepped to the forward doorway of the trolley. He carefully climbed over the rail and scurried onto the roof, cursing under his breath as the polished shoes he was wearing failed to give him the traction he needed to quickly make the climb.
On the roof, sparks fell around him as the trolley’s electrical connection wheel bumped along the overhead power wires. Price fought to maintain his balance while avoiding the deadly equipment above. He crouched, keeping his center of gravity as small as possible, hiding himself from the street below.
The Italian managed to squeeze the stolen rig past the stopped coach and started rolling back down the avenue towards the Potomac. The stopped coach moved quickly through the intersection, the driver averting a near-collision with the speeding trolley as it shot down the roadway.
Price moved to the front of the trolley, crouching low as it closed on the racing carriage. He could see the top of the Italian’s whip as he drew it back, then “snapped” it forward heavily to urge the terrified horse along. The stolen cab continued on its path, oblivious to the streetcar pulling along beside it.
Price stood, calculating the cab’s speed, picking a landing spot. He felt the rhythm of the running horse, took a deep breath…
He landed heavily on the passenger bench of the carriage, fighting to retain his balance. Startled by the impact, the Italian nearly lost the reigns when he recognized Price. He raised the whip, brought it down across Price’s face.
Price reeled, recovered, pulled himself up onto driver’s bench. He landed a well-placed blow against the younger man’s temple.
The Italian dropped the reigns, turned, leaping at Price. Both men fell into the open carriage below, the Italian forcing Price against one of the passenger seats and pounding him in the face with his fists, his one good arm doing most of the work.
The horse, startled by the commotion behind him, began to run faster, pulling the carriage along at a frightening pace. The streetcar began to drop away, unable to match the speed. Other wagons along the path heard the clattering roar of the out of control cab, moved clear of its path as it tore down the avenue.
Price blocked most of the punches by keeping his arms in front of his face. When he had an opening, Price delivered a vicious blow into the other man’s face, so hard that it brought him to a standing position.
Price drew back both of legs, kicking them deep into the Italian’s midriff. His body flew out of the carriage and into open roadway.
When the Italian hit the packed gravel surface, his body rolled to a stop after several yards where he lay, stunned by the impact with the ground. He pushed himself up, attempting to stand.
As he did, the trolley hit him at full speed.
The streetcar bounced over the obstruction, regained its hold on the track beneath as it dragged the body along with its rear wheels. Sparks flew as the brakes were applied. The trolley rolled to a stop.
Down the street, Price grabbed the reigns of the cab, stopped the horse that had all but expended the last of its energy. Foam was splashed across the bay’s chest as it heaved to regain its breath. Price turned the rig around and walked it back to where the trolley had stopped.
Several bystanders approached the streetcar, looking down at the body trapped beneath it. Price stopped beside the gruesome scene and stepped out of the carriage to the street, eyeing the mangled corpse beneath the trolley.
A metro officer appeared, called off his beat by all the commotion. He called out the man in the trolley, “What’s all the trouble, then?”
The trolley man jumped to the street, glanced beneath his car and grimaced. The policeman knelt, caught an eyeful. He stood, not really wanting to deal with another dead body in the street.
“He ran out in front of you?” the policeman asked.
The operator glanced at Price, “That fellow there fought with him after having me chase him down,” The operator still looked amazed as he told the story, glancing up at the roof of the streetcar, “He jumped off the roof into that carriage.” The man nodded to the body beneath his streetcar, “Said it was stolen after that fella killed another copper.”
The officer glanced at Price, “You pushed that man out of that carriage?”
“He lost his balance,” Price said flatly. He nodded down at the body, “Dead?”
“As a Christmas goose,” The officer took an official step forward, reaching for Price’s arm, “I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to come with me, sir.”
Price took a step back, avoiding the officer’s grasp, and flashed his identification.
“A fed, eh?” the officer said, “Was he a spy or something?”
“Something,” Price pocketed his credentials, “Please have the body taken to Washington hospital. Someone will be along shortly to take charge of it.” Price climbed back into the hack, “I’ll take this back to its owner.”
“What’s all this ordering around? You want the metro police to clean up another federal mess?”
“Call it a favor between jurisdictions,” Price replied. He shook the reigns of the horse, steering the carriage back down the avenue.
The police officer shook his head, tipping his hat, “Favor between jurisdictions. Bah!”