The Storm from Afar


In 1533, Spaniard Francisco Pizarro ransomed the Incan Emperor, Atahualpa, for a room full of gold and silver.  After receiving the requested prize, Pizarro publicly executed the leader of the Incan Empire.

Four hundred eighty years later, Sterling Douglas connives a similar stunt to plunder Ecuador’s resources.  Only this time instead of gold, it’s oil he’s after.  And Douglas, unlike Pizarro before him, is fraught with doubt over his role in history. The Storm from Afar is a spy thriller about a secret agent with a crisis of conscience and the opportunity to redeem both himself and a nation.

Douglas has always been a good and loyal soldier. A former CIA field agent and Special Forces operator, Douglas has been lured into the employ of the Howell Foundation with the promise of an unfettered ability to carry out his missions. This time his job is to sabotage the campaign of Fernando Espejo, a candidate for President of Ecuador.  Espejo wants to clean up the oil industry’s operations in the Amazon rainforest, and a multinational oil company has hired the Howell Foundation to avert that outcome, no matter the cost.

In the midst of his mission Douglas learns a devastating truth about his father that causes him to doubt everything about his past, and an encounter with an old flame causes him question whether he’s one of the good guys.

Can an explosion ever be reverse-engineered?  Set against the backdrop of the War on Terror in a world increasingly addicted to a finite resource, The Storm from Afar is a 100,000 word novel about good people doing the right thing regardless of the consequences.

Contact me if you are interested in representing it or publishing it.

Read the opening chapter below:

Kaui: Break-through

“The superior man is firmly resolved.”  I Ching

Sterling Douglas gazed out over the city whose future he would decide.  From the fourteenth floor of the Hotel Colón, he did not see the smoke curling from the lips of the volcano Pichincha, its eruption increasingly eminent.  Nor did he see the evening mists settling in, obscuring the Andean peaks which had guarded Quito since its pre-Columbian birth.

Concentrating on the energy flowing through him, on his Chi, he moved his sweating, naked body through the series of movements.  Ward off left.  Ward off right.  Grasp the sparrow’s tail.  Play the mandolin.  He imagined his roots snaking through the hotel, clinging to the marble walls and shiny brass banisters, groping past aristocrats on vacation, plunging into the rocky soil of Ecuador.  Deep breaths absorbed the energy of the Andes, of the Amazon basin, of the lava-blood pulsing just beneath the earth’s surface.

He had found the clarity he sought.  White crane spreads its wings.   His fingers brushed the cool air.  It chilled his bare skin.  Gathering his body, feeling the stirred energy settle into the pit of his stomach, he let go, and allowed his mind to focus only on the movements.

Thoughts of what had led to this dissipated into the vapors.  He released the intricate planning that had crafted this moment, his research into the Presidential candidate whose doom he now wrought, the specters of missions past, all the feelings he’d ever felt for the one love of his life.  In the end, he simply moved, his mind silent for the first time in years.

The form drew to a close.  He stood still, the final pose its own benediction.  With a single breath, he released hold of his mind.  From his backpack, he withdrew a tattered old manuscript, stained from who knows what, its pages curling into miniature scrolls at each corner.  His first tai chi chuan instructor in Guangzhou, China had given him this copy of the I Ching more than twenty years before.  He used it mainly to keep his mind sharp, as it was written in Classical Chinese.  Lately, he had been consulting it in search of wisdom.

He gathered three coins, shook them in his cupped palms and tossed them onto the taut bedspread.  Repeating that another five times gave him a trigram that he could look up in the text.  He drew kuai, meaning breakthrough or resoluteness.  Be resolute to keep within the correct limits.  Then, later in the text, the superior man is firmly resolved…Quietly follow the path of inner truth…In the end, misfortune comes.   On his laptop, he logged onto the Facebook account he had created for one Dolores Mio.  There were photos of Dolores in various places around the world and a series of status updates about the food she was eating, her workouts, cute guys she had run across, and pithy quotes that she was prone to collecting, especially snippets of Taoist wisdom.  Dolores wasn’t very internet savvy, and she left everything public.  He typed the message from the I Ching into Facebook and posted it.  In the end misfortune comes.

He would be the arbiter of misfortune.  Resolved, he took a quick shower.  After drying off, he pulled on a T-shirt.  He slid into a crisp linen shirt and soft trousers.  In his pockets he placed a pocketknife, a roll of duct tape, and a handkerchief.  After covering up in a rain coat and a hat, he stepped out and summoned the elevator.  When the doors opened, they revealed Miriam Miller, decked out in shorts, t-shirt, and tennis shoes.

“Well, hello, Cowboy,” she said, as he entered.

“Going to the fitness center?” he asked, taking care not to look her in the eye.

“You are such an astute spy,” she said.

He hit the button for the ground floor and the doors shut.

When he didn’t say anything, she said, “You look like a man with a mission.”

He cleared his throat.  “That’s me,” he said.

“My goodness, Mr. Douglas,” she said, suddenly concerned.  “What happened to your neck?”

Reflexively he touched the still sore bruise ringing his neck.  “Hazards of the job.”

The wife of the oil executive who had hired his company to do this, this terrible thing he was on his way to do, just stared.  He had forgotten the wound, but not its source.  Those angry red marks commemorated the last time Alonsa Fernandez would ever touch him.  In love or anger.

“You should see the other guy,” he added, nervously.

“I hope it feels better than it looks.”

He nodded.

“Well, good luck, then,” she said demurely, as if knowing they would never see each other again.  They surely would not.

The elevator stopped, its doors crept open, and he motioned for her to exit.  “Fitness center,” he said, smiling.

She stepped out.  As the doors closed behind her, she called out, “Be good, Mr. Douglas.”

He gathered himself on the way down to the first floor, where he tipped the doorman, and entered a city winding down from a normal day’s work.  In the shadowy, damp evening his shoes slapped against the wet concrete.  Beneath umbrellas, men and women rushed to catch buses which slowed, but never stopped.  Their faces remained unseen to Sterling and to each other.  The men shouted to the bus driver to slow down so they could hop on, then to go once they were aboard.   Those left behind offered shrill whistles of condemnation.  Poor Indian families slumped against the walls of buildings.

On street corners, young girls stood together in clumps preparing to run after passers-by with their roses and candy.  “Buy mine.  Buy mine,” they shouted.

Sterling smiled at them and continued walking.  Who was Miriam Miller to tell him to be good?   Of course, she didn’t know what he was about to do.  She had no idea that he was what he was, a privately and wholly owned elite operative.  The same money that paid him supported her upper class lifestyle.  So she could be good all she wanted while people like him took care of her husband’s dirty work.

He paused before a storefront to pick up a newspaper.  He took it with him to the steakhouse, where at a table in the back, he read every page as he savored a steak and an entire bottle of Chilean Pinot Noir.  The biggest news were the volcanoes threatening to erupt and the mass evacuations currently underway.  Guillermo Romero, the establishment’s candidate for president, offered to open up his banana plantations near the coast as refugee centers for displaced citizens.  Meanwhile, his opponent, Doctor Fernando Espejo, candidate of the people, representative of the dispossessed and disenfranchised, gathered raucous crowds wherever he went publicly and urged calm and deference to authorities during this time of crisis.  Espejo had not announced his withdrawal from the race.

After savoring a cup of coffee and settling the bill, he ventured to his second place of residence, the Pension Embajador, where he had secured certain tools of the trade.  Somber and resolute, he readied himself for the task at hand.   With the precision of a vascular surgeon he assembled the device, a nasty little combination of C4 and dynamite that would be so dangerous to transport that only someone with a death wish would have created it.  Tucking it carefully into a harness he had created specifically for this purpose, he pulled the raincoat on over it.  He took a glance in the mirror, grabbed his backpack, and ventured into the pre-dawn darkness.

Quito lay quiet.  There was no traffic moving, no honking, no Indian families dug into the shadows.  He alone, the arbiter of misfortune, moved through the night.  A predator, his heartbeat slowed.  The closer he got to his target, the more he steeled his nerves.  Like a jaguar stalking its prey, he focused on the candidate’s building.  He already knew the man was there, sleeping now, unaware that he would never wake.

Arriving at the building, Sterling detached the package from its cradle and removed the plastic covering it.  The street lay still in the damp darkness, just as it had for centuries, witnessing conquests by Incan princes and gold-seeking, God-fearing Spanish soldiers.  Trash piles straddled sidewalk and street.

A fluffy cat saw him and prowled up to his leg.  Its cries for food filled the night.  He bent to tape the package to the corner of the building beneath the candidate’s quarters.  He knew the building’s architecture.  He knew that the force of the explosion would buckle the building here, that the nearby gas main would assure a devastating fire and complete destruction.

He carefully flipped a radio switch on the tube.  Standing, he admired his creation, compact and tightly bound, its potential energy brimming with danger.  Behind him the cat intently watched.  What had it seen?  What did it sense?  Was Sterling’s essence brimming with evil?

He called the cat over to him.  It hissed and arched its back, as though Sterling were a bulldog promising a brawl.   “Come here,” he said.  He clicked his tongue against the back of his front teeth.

The cat came, and Sterling scooped it into his arms.  Two blocks later he placed the cat on the ground and nudged it to run away from him and the building.  In his pocket he fingered the tiny radio transmitter.  He had not reached the outer limits of the destruction zone, so rubbing the smooth, plastic nodule on the transmitter was like circling the blue steel mouth of a .357 magnum with his lips.  He took another step down the block.  The streetlights hummed.  A distant car started.

The cat, ten feet away, stared at him with its marble eyes reflecting the streetlights.  “Shoo,” he said.  The cat just gazed up at him expectantly.  Sterling hissed, and the cat scampered off.  Then, he flipped the switch in his pocket.

At first nothing happened.  Just as he looked down to check the remote switch, the earth convulsed violently, throwing him to the ground.  A window-shattering explosion tore through the streets.   The building erupted into a universe of concrete, glass, steel, and flesh.

At first, he couldn’t breathe.  So sure the explosion would have killed him, he was surprised when his lungs finally refilled.  Dust coated his body.  His exposed hand and his face screamed with burns.  His coat was torn and smoldering in spots.  His wrist throbbed from where he caught himself when he hit the pavement.  Yet, somehow he was alive.  He stood, brushed himself off, and ambled toward the looming mass of the volcano Pichincha, where one hundred seventy years ago Ecuador won its independence from imperial control.