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Outspoken, brash New Yorker Sammy Greene needs a second chance. Fired from her job as a Washington TV producer, her midnight to 3 am show Sammy Greene on the LA Scene at a small progressive radio station soon has Sammy ruffling the feathers of a popular Orange County Congressman. And everyone is listening.December, 1999. 10 days before the new millennium. Already on edge with Santa Ana devil wind fanning fires threatening to engulf the city and Y2K looming, Sammy's callers imagine Armageddon - the perfect setting for a rogue CIA operative to manipulate fears as cover for his deadly plot.A young woman's burned body identified as the wayward daughter of old friend, Gus Pappajohn spurs the ex- campus cop to join Sammy in what may be a murder investigation, along the way exposing the seamy underbelly of Tinseltown. If Sammy's not careful this time, someone will make sure she's off the air for good.
About the Author
Deborah is a physician, healthcare consultant, and author of five award winning medical mystery/thrillers, three co-authored with her husband, Joel. Linda is a physician-broadcaster-author and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at UCLA. Deborah Shlian and Linda Reid are also authors of Dead Air, which won top honors in the Thriller category of the National Indie Excellence 2010 Awards.
Linda Reid is a physician-broadcaster-author and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA. She is the author of Renegade Paladins, and has been published in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Woman's Day.
Read an Excerpt
By Deborah Shlian, Linda Reid
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2011 Deborah Shlian and Linda Reid
All rights reserved.
December 23, 1999
Each winter, hot dry winds sweep from the deserts across the L.A. basin, and for a few days, blow away the hazy smog, exposing the glittery beauty of the City of Angels. Newcomers delight in the unexpected clarity, the ability to see snow-capped Santa Monica Mountains and azure Pacific Ocean emerge against a lavender sky. But those who stay a while soon learn why some call these Santa Anas devil's breath, others, murder winds, and not just because they can whip parched chaparral into explosive fuel feeding deadly wildfires. No, it's something about the winds' effect on the inhabitants of the city's hills and canyons, making senses sharper, on edge. As Raymond Chandler once wrote, while these winds blast, anything can happen. Anything.
Neil Prescott's Gulfstream G650 shuddered and rolled, slammed by gusty Santa Anas thundering over the Sierras. The gray-haired congressman considered the luxury plane a fitting thirtieth anniversary gift from his oil heiress wife. Enjoying the wild ride, he took a dramatic swig of his martini before leaning over to clap his distressed guest on the shoulder.
"Didn't know you could get so pale under that Saudi suntan." Prescott's ample midriff shook as he chuckled.
Fahim al-Harbi, stroked the neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper mustache and beard that covered much of his olive complexion, then, jaw still clenched, calmly put down his Glenlivet and rocks and brushed the arm of his Armani suit. "I should prefer my death to be in the company of the female gender," he said in cultured Oxford English.
"Aren't you people supposed to get seventy-two virgins in heaven?" Prescott watched the last drops of his martini splash onto his shirt with the Gulfstream yawing and bucking in the turbulence. "I'd sign up for that," he added, remembering to remove his wedding ring and slip it into his jacket pocket.
"Good news. Captain says we'll land in L.A. twenty minutes early." Prescott's second guest, no stranger to most of the "players" on Capitol Hill, stumbled down the aisle from the cockpit when the jet jolted yet again. Slim and ferret-faced, Albert Miller was ID'd by true insiders as a senior CIA operative. Had his sense of irony inspired him to wear that gray flannel suit? Gazing out the window, he muttered, "Five seasons."
"Beg your pardon?" Fahim asked.
"Miller's referring to the California seasons: earthquakes, floods, mudslides, riots, and fires," Prescott explained. "Santa Ana winds, with a little help from the firebugs, set the mountains aflame each year. Burns all the slopes. Then, as soon as you get spring rain, the mudslides." The politician swooped his free hand downward to demonstrate the lava-like flow.
"Bite your tongue, Neil," Miller snapped, settling down next to them and opening his Macbook. "I have a bungalow in Laguna Hills."
"For now." Prescott turned to Fahim, "Hope you're up for a great party in Bel Air tonight, pal. There'll be a little thank-you gift for making all the, um, arrangements."
Fahim's brown eyes narrowed. "I shall still expect full payment when the 'items' are delivered next week." He leaned forward, gripping his leather armrests, "And tell your Madam Kaye, no Arab girls this time."
"Santa Ana winds are bringing record high temperatures and stoking blazes in the San Gabriels and Simi Valley," interrupted Miller who was scanning CNN from his 2-bit LAN connection. "Fire officials expect a severe fire season ahead due to lush growth left behind by last year's El Niño."
Prescott anticipated Fahim's question. "El Niño's a weather pattern that turns the climate upside-down. A lot of rain, then a lot of drought. Accident waiting to happen." He shook his head. "Like Y2K."
"Your country seems to be hysterical about the end of the millennium," Fahim observed.
"You heard the Deputy Secretary in D.C. this morning. Y2K is the electronic equivalent of El Niño. Our control of computer systems, aviation, weapons, power supply — everything could go up in smoke."
Prescott turned his gaze to Miller's laptop. The computer screen now displayed a picture of the charismatic president stumping for his charm-challenged VP to win the Democratic nomination in next year's race. He nodded at the monitor where the crowd was chanting the president's name. "They still adore him. Look at them. A bunch of fat and happy sheep." He sneered. "Time we restored some dignity to the office, dammit. We can't let these bastards have another four years in the White House." Prescott slammed his fist on the cedar table just as the jet lurched upward.
"You honestly think you can persuade the American people to vote for change?" Fahim asked after a moment of strained silence.
Miller glanced up from his computer. "Our researchers have been studying fear since the Cold War. An effective tool that unites people against a common enemy." The expression in Miller's blue eyes grew cold. "Let the sheep enjoy this holiday season for a few more days. With your help, before the sun rises on the new millennium, this entire country will wake up certain there's an enemy out there intent on ending America as we know it. Believe me," he declared, "first, they'll be terrified, and then they'll be begging for change."
* * *
The madam picked up the call on her personal line after the first ring. ID displayed private caller. Though he didn't give his name, she recognized Miller's gravel voice.
"You're back in L.A." The demure tone belied her irritation at the fact.
"Blew in on these damn winds," he said. "Listen, Kaye, I need a short order for a party tonight in Bel Air. Blonde. No implants." He didn't bother to say hot, sexy, or beautiful. Those adjectives were implied. "Someone who's comfortable with — the exotic."
"Who's the client?" the madam demanded, her suspicions aroused by his hesitation.
"Our Saudi friend."
"Govno!" she cursed silently in her native Russian. The Arab had roughed up one of her girls a year ago. She'd told Miller then that he was on her blacklist.
"You there?" he asked when she hadn't answered.
"I'm not comfortable with this."
"Twelve thousand for a couple of hours. How uncomfortable can you be?"
More dead air on the line as the madam considered Miller's proposal. Twelve thousand was four times the usual fees. Hard to hang up on that. And, it might be an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Sylvie had gotten too cocky lately. Making foolish noises about leaving the fold. Going out on her own. By sending Sylvie to the party tonight, they'd have a chance to search the girl's flat for the client list she'd stolen. That was another stupid mistake, Ms Sylvie: underestimating Madam Kaye.
"All right," she said. "It's a deal."
The winds gusted soft and warm, a siren song caressing the nubile bodies dancing and drinking by moonlight on the poolside patio of the sheltered Bel Air estate with the movers and shakers of Tinseltown. An exclusive gala of a music mogul who'd just signed a multimillion-dollar record deal — only the beautiful and wealthy were welcome. The deafening beat of the producer's latest artist's rap album made conversation impossible. But, truth was, the partygoers were there to be seen, not heard. This event was 10 percent business, 90 percent show.
Two young blondes, sporting identical hairstyles and dressed in identical tight cocktail dresses, sat at a table in a darkened corner cradling flutes of champagne, surveying the scene like hunters stalking their prey. Sylvie adjusted her décolletage to expose more cleavage. "It's well past eleven. Kaye said he'd be here by ten."
"You don't think playing both sides is a little dangerous?" her "twin" wondered, wishing Sylvie hadn't confided her duplicity.
"Come on, Ana, L.A.'s a rough town and we've got a rough gig," Sylvie replied. They both knew she meant the life of a high-priced call girl. Or "escort" or "working girl" or "whore," it was all the same. Underneath the city that glittered, there was plenty of grime. Sylvie had long ago accepted that reality. Ana still hadn't made her peace with it.
"Why are we doing this?" Ana persisted. It was something she'd been thinking about more and more.
Sylvie tilted her head and leveled her blue eyes that glistened from the hit of coke she'd taken before leaving the apartment. "You're kidding, right?"
"No. You're smart, you're beautiful. I thought you wanted to be an actress."
Sylvie ran her tongue over her full, sensuous lips. "I am an actress. People like you and me, we're survivors. We do what we have to do. Besides, there's always Plan B. Payless shoes, remember —"
Ana looked away, catching a glimpse of several newcomers just stepping onto the patio and nudged Sylvie with her elbow.
"Shit, that's him," Sylvie said, blindly grabbing the designer string purse behind her chair. "At this hour, I'll be all night. Find your own way home, okay." It wasn't a question.
Ana observed her roommate as she shimmied on her Manolo Blahniks toward a swarthy man whose salt-and pepper-hair, though stylishly coiffed, betrayed at least a couple of decades beyond hers. Sylvie flashed a luminous pink metallic smile and whispered something in his ear. When he nodded, she took his manicured hand and led him toward one of the guesthouses where Ana had no doubt they would share a line of high-grade coke — and much more.
Damn. It had been a mistake to come with Sylvie tonight. Still, Madam Kaye could be quite convincing. She'd insisted they both attend, and, so, here they were. Ana scoured the crowd until she spotted a stocky man she'd seen many times on TV standing by the bar — popular Orange County, California Congressman Neil Prescott, reputed to be one of the madam's occasional and less avaricious clients. Perhaps Kaye was right. The night wouldn't be a total loss. The congressman would be good for a pair of wheels, and maybe a couple of thou for next month's rent.
Straightening her dress, Ana rose and reached behind her to grab her own purse hanging from the chair. Slowly, she approached the congressman with practiced modesty, and an unwelcome twinge of regret. This scene was getting old, and, in her mid-twenties, so was she. "Hi," she shouted over the music, "mind if I join you?"
The politician gave her long blonde hair and well-toned body an appreciative once over, then pointed to the gyrating crowd with a broad smile. "Too noisy. Let's get out of here. I have a place."
It was almost midnight when the silver Mercedes drove past the two muscled bouncers manning the gates of the Bel Air estate. The music had been cranked up even louder, the beat reverberating in the abyssal canyon. The party would no doubt go on all night. Ana felt a slight shiver as the wind began picking up strength around them. Was that scent a hint of smoke? Unleashed, the Santa Anas could whip the night into a fiery frenzy. By morning, the streets would be strewn with the victims — dead branches of once beautiful palms, rotting in the gutters that are the shadowy underbelly of Eden.CHAPTER 2
Breathless, Sammy Greene sprinted into the radio studio, slid into her seat, and pulled on her headphones at one minute before midnight. She flashed a broad, slightly guilty smile at her producer on the other side of the glass. "Am I late?"
Jim Lodge punched the button for the network feed harder than really necessary. As the sounds of the national news for the top of the hour came in over the loudspeaker, he turned to the window between them with a wry expression. "Bad hair day?"
"Gut gesuked." Sammy ran her fingers through her disheveled red mop and tossed off her grandmother's Yiddish equivalent of I'll say, adding, "I've lived through hurricanes and I've never seen hot winds like this."
"Santa Anas," the producer said.
Sammy reached into her satchel and pulled out notes for her upcoming show. "Aren't winds supposed to be cold? Wind chill."
Jim shook his long gray locks and took a sip from a large mug of steaming coffee. He lowered his voice to a hush. "Devil wind."
"Huh?" Sammy repositioned her mic and leaned over to turn on the small TV monitor she had set up next to her board. She liked to run it muted on the national news networks or C-SPAN to keep up with breaking events while she was on the air.
"They fly from the desert, from Death Valley, and soar over the mountains, bringing the flames of Hell to the denizens of Paradise." He waved a torn sleeve at the window and the sea of lights beyond.
"How Dante-esque." Sammy's colleague, his full beard, ponytail, and ragged togs identifying him in her mind as the last surviving hippie, could get a little creepy at times. "And I thought I'd only have to worry about earthquakes."
Frowning, Sammy surveyed the gloomy studio, buried within a ratty wood-and-stucco building in the bowels of Canyon City, a wannabe middle-class community just south of Beverly Hills. When she'd begun her broadcasting career, she'd never imagined ending up two years later on the night shift in a tiny shack like this.
She glanced over at the adjacent monitor, now tuned to CNN. High-tech graphics whizzing across the screen cost thousands of dollars — more than a year's wages at the Washington TV network where she used to work. Despite the low pay and long hours, she'd gladly have stayed there if she could. She'd loved being near the action, especially with an election coming up next year.
Sammy felt no regrets leaving Ellsford University after graduating on the five-year plan in '97. Her campus radio experience landed her the dream internship in D.C. at the television network and a gig six months later as one of the youngest associate producers for investigative reporter Barry Kane and his show, Up Front D.C. Sammy'd never had illusions about landing in front of the camera. Her frizzy red hair and strong Brooklyn accent didn't fit the popular Barbie Doll image. She was happy as a journalist pounding a beat, thrilled to be trolling for stories from K Street to the hallowed halls of Congress, catching the scent of corruption hovering over the Capitol.
Maybe she shouldn't have pushed so hard on the Senator Treadwell story. After all, he was a fishing buddy of the network's CEO. Still, she never figured she'd get sacked for doing her job. Even the parade to the door through the studio by a security guard escort hadn't dampened her certainty that another news organization would appreciate her skills in the tenacious pursuit of truth.
Only after months of mailing out résumés and calling on colleagues once counted as friends, did the message sink in. She was persona non grata in Washington. And New York. And Boston. And —
"Los Angeles," advised her colleague, Vito, one of the few D.C. news pros still willing to lunch with her. "It's the city of second chances. People don't care about your past there."
Ironic. Vito couldn't have known that some of her past — make that, someone from her past — was in that very city. That was why she'd resisted his offer to contact an old buddy at a tiny, low-budget, low-wattage Pacifica radio station on the Very Left Coast. She'd waited weeks, until every feeler she'd put out had been rejected and her bank account nearly drained, before swallowing her pride and asking Vito to make the call.
Her career in tatters, Sammy had ended up back where she started. In front of a talk-radio mic. Lighting Chanukah candles in ninety-five degree Los Angeles heat. She walked over to the almost empty coffeepot. "Thanks, Jim," she muttered, pouring the last few drops into a clean cup. Returning to her seat at the board, she began to arrange her notes for Hour One.
She'd scoured the morning papers, bypassing election news and holiday features until she found what she was looking for near the back page of the L.A. Times — a story about a homeless protest encampment, a tent city growing this past month outside the Canyon City Hall, just a few miles from the station. Sammy had come so close to being out on the street herself. She felt passionate about helping the thousands in her new city who could not afford shelter. With Christmas just over a day away, it was time for action. Sammy would try to rally her listeners to offer their aid. She glanced at the clock. Almost five after twelve. "Jim, we ready?"
The producer nodded and began a five-finger countdown to her cue.
Excerpted from Devil Wind by Deborah Shlian, Linda Reid. Copyright © 2011 Deborah Shlian and Linda Reid. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a truly electrifying story that begins a week before the dawn of the year 2000, when almost everyone on this planet was biting their nails, just waiting for Y2K to destroy us all. To really offer the viewer a background, the author begins with an exciting Prologue. The date is February 16, 1991. The tale begins in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm, when a young soldier is horribly wounded and waiting for an evac helicopter to take him to a nice clean hospital. Sadly, he is too far gone, and a Dr. Bishop comes to comfort him and stay with him until the end. The soldier tries to tell Dr. Bishop something as he slowly succumbs to the morphine that was given to him for his pain. "Many children. Dead. Innocents. Stop the Resonator; stop the murder." These are the soldier's last words, and Dr. Bishop can't forget them. On to December 23, 1999. Sammy Greene was a former radio personality in the East and is now on a late night talk show in Los Angeles. It is mere days before the turn of the century. Y2K is right around the corner when the Santa Ana winds (the Devil Winds) start blowing. Fires commence and half of the city is smouldering. On Sammy's talk show all the 'loons' are coming out of the woodwork and telling anyone who will listen about the hideous things that are about to happen to the world. A listener calls in to inform Sammy and her audience that a dead body was found in the hills, and Sammy finds out that the deceased girl is the daughter of an old family friend from her home town. As she delves into the tragedy, Sammy tries to find out what actually happened. With the help of the dead girl's father and an old boyfriend who is now a doctor, Sammy uncovers the fact that the death is not an accident, but a murder that was covered up by the wildfires taking out the city. She enlists the help of her friends at the radio station and her boyfriend whose boss just happens to be Dr. Bishop, the man first introduced in Saudi Arabia. The Resonator warning from the dying soldier is about to come into play as Sammy and friends discover a wicked plan that could kill many, many people. Time is running out in the big city and Sammy is most definitely playing with fire as she tries to stop the danger that definitely outweighs the Y2K controversy. There are so many great characters in this story including: Sammy's estranged father Jeffrey Greene, a real estate magnate; Neil Prescott, a crooked congressman; Albert Miller, a CIA operative; and, Madam Kaye, who is a real MADAM. Readers will never guess the plot lines - especially the Madam's 'link' in the story. Just wait until you find out who she is! And, literally everyone has a part in this deliciously Mickey Spillane-'like' story. Quill Says: Loaded with suspense and mystery. This story has corruption at the highest level of government and police departments, murder, and fear all encompassed by those hot devil winds. What more could a suspense reader want?
It is December 1999, and the Y2K phenomenon is upon us. California's Santa Ana winds create devastating fires throughout Los Angeles. The perfect time for a terrorist attack and to hide a murder. This is some of what is going on in Devil Wind. The main character is Sammy Greene, a late-night radio DJ, who gets caught up in the investigation. There is some action, but I wouldn't say it was a thriller. The characters did not do much for me and the plot was just okay. There is a mish-mash of things going on that at times I was lost.