one thriller wouldn't kill you

Setting, and Sample Chapter from Blood Rain, my new spy thriller.

Why a spy thriller about Global Terrorism?


Inside “The Cloud,” looking north toward the auditorium, sheathed in black-pigmented wood panels folded to follow its contour, we see the progress since our prior trip June 2015. Micro-perforated fabric enveloping the Cloud is now in place, to provide a glimpse; when completed the Cloud will be dynamically washed by lights of differing colors whilst shadows cast by patrons make this in every way a living, breathing architectural being. To stand within it contemplating my book defies description: La Nuvola, “the Cloud,” a form that follows no rules trapped within its protective glass box. Such seem dilemmas of democracy and freedom, confines of the creative cycle, or existence on a shrinking planet. Photograph  Tom Lukas/Spycar Books.

At first sight, I knew my new novel Blood Rain belonged at Rome’s stunning new Centro Congressi La Nuvola, designed by world-renowned architects Dorina and Massimilliano Fuksas of Rome.


By far the coolest job site I have set foot upon. A team of roped-up ‘Flying Workers’ place the micro-perforated fabric covering  La Nuvola.

This unique experience in the performing arts venue is a nod to history, and a future brimming with possibilities, strategically located within the provocative modernist landscape known as the EUR District of Rome.


The EUR District of Rome. Designed and built during the 1930s and 40s under strict direction of Benito Mussolini; it had been Il Duce’s wish to stage a World Exposition there dubbed Esposizione Universale Roma, thus the neighborhood’s present-day appellation, “EUR.”

The plot. Book publishers call it a “big catastrophe thriller.”  In Blood Rain, this means terror as a major soft-target attack begins to unfold upon the All-Europe Economic Summit, held as inaugural event at Rome’s stunning new Centro Congressi La Nuvola –with twelve thousand souls in attendance.


New Years Eve, 2016. Second level, approaching the entrance to the Cloud and the auitorium beyond. The micro perforated “skin” has been placed over the metal framework since our June visit, lending La Nuvola its organic shape.

WMD of choice? A swarm of hypodermic-tipped Prawn Drones, dosed with the blow-dart poison Curare, which paralyzes the diaphragm causing the victim to slowly asphyxiate while remaining fully conscious.


Hypodermic-tipped Prawn drone. (Author’s prototype.)

The arch-villain.

Enter “The AesphyXianado,” known and feared simply as “X.” The moniker coined by Interpol serves as daily reminder of how little is known about Blood Rain’s villain, funder of terror training camps and mastermind of assaults throughout Europe. Believed to have descended from fertile crescent parents who strived for unification of east and west following World War II, and had spent amply on post-war rebuilding efforts and the foundation of blood banks and medical infrastructure throughout the Continent; how disappointed the AesphyXianado’s parents might have been to learn …


The black Blade (rt.) rising up beside the Theca, a rigid glass enclosure protecting La Nuvola, or “The Cloud.” Photograph Tom Lukas/Spycar Books.Just as the two quotations above echo tensions between myth and science, antiquated versus modern, fundamentalism versus the enterprise of discovery, La Nuvola’s discrete architectural components: The Theca, The Cloud, and the Blade resonate with the area’s history, and then recast it.



Consider the following three epigrams, two of them classical and one of them current, in the opening pages of Blood Rain:

Zeus roused an evil blare of war and sent
Down from high heaven his rain drops stained with
~ Homer, Illiad. 11.54, 8 B.C.

* * *

In the same time here came a strange token, such as before never came, nor never hitherto since. From heaven here came a marvellous flood; three days it rained blood, three days and three nights.
~ Layamon, Brut, 1190.
* * *
Sahara-derived dust rains, termed “red rains” or, more ominously, “blood rains,” are relatively rare meteorological phenomena associated with Saharan dust transport occurring across Europe.

~ Joshua R. White, Randall S. Cerveny, and Robert C. Balling Jr.
Seasonality in European Red Dust / “Blood” Rain Events.
Journal of the American Meteorological Society, 2012

Just as the two quotations above echo tensions between myth and science, antiquated versus modern, fundamentalism versus the enterprise of discovery, La Nuvola’s discrete architectural components: The Theca, The Cloud, and the Blade resonate with the area’s history, and then recast it.

30 Giugno 2014

Centro Congressi La Nuvola di Fuksas. Photograph courtesy of architects Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas, Rome. Photograph compliments of the architect.

From Studio Fuksas: The design concept is briefly explained by three images: the “Theca”, the “Cloud” and the black “Blade” of the Hotel. The “Theca,” longitudinally oriented, is the container, with steel structure and glass double-façade, that encloses the Cloud. The “Cloud” is the heart of the project. Its constriction into the “box” of the Theca underlines the comparison between a free spatial articulation, without rules, and a geometrically defined shape.

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Under construction. As I discovered this amazing piece of architecture in 2013: Framework in place for Centro Congressi La Nuvola, a.k.a., “The Cloud,” suspended within La Nuvola’s steel and glass Theca.  Photograph compliments of the architect.

Why drones?

While finishing up Special Operations in 2013, John Paine, the editor I was working with at the time (and a very good one…), thought it a good idea for me to lay down a detailed outline for a sequel, “Before you cool off from finishing this one…” he suggested.

My next book! Sequel. Right!” This was news to me; everything then had to do  with finishing the first book. And surviving it!

I quickly recalled an important conversation, with an author I greatly admire named Karl Marlantes. Karl had been a Rhodes scholar and graduated from Yale before enlisting as an officer in Viet Nam, a grueling experience prompting his novel, Matterhorn.  Thirty-five years from battlefield to completed draft and publication, Marlantes’ book wound up a masterpiece bestseller! Booyah!

We were talking about Post-traumatic Stress, and how the impact of drone warfare so differs from conventional combat in that the pilots of drones flying over parts of the Middle East come and go from an office cubicle in which death is doled out in a manner that might seem dispassionate by comparison. As officer and seasoned combat veteran Marlantes remained skeptical, even concerned about the impact that remote strikes might produce on members of our military — making kills at the push of a button, sans painful yet cathartic anguish death produces on the warriors of more traditional battlefields where the killing is face-to-face — a context Marlantes reminds us is “deeply spiritual,” amidst the constant striving for life amidst the departure of souls.

For me, this was food for thought, and think of it I did as I set about outlining my sequel, in which I settled upon a drone attack by some very bad guys.

On the balance, readers will encounter a stunning variety of unmanned aircraft of a lesser evil throughout the pages of Blood Rain, with “personal drones” as ubiquitous as engineered life forms are in Bladerunner.

Why set Blood Rain in Italy? Or Europe, for that matter?

I think of it as a love letter to Italy. Europe as well. Or perhaps, a thank-you note. Having traveled there once or twice before stumbling upon Blood Rain’s story line, I came to appreciate the day-to-day courage implicit in living but a narrow sea removed from the epicenter of what the majority of Americans peer at with trepidation on nightly news broadcasts. Italians, and all Europeans for that matter are literally on the front lines, their nations pushing back against constant threat, the people not only going about their lives but celebrating life in raising families, observance of traditions and new territory be it in areas of food, music, literature, and architecture — despite pressures and threats most Americans would be hard pressed to fathom.

Once my sequel’s outline spilled out, all one hundred twenty-five pages of it, I thought: What would it be like to tour Italy whilst thinking about day-to-day existence in the way of someone who calls that nation home! I’m certain that I fall short; as a meditation on living in the shadow of the premeditated, Blood Rain isn’t going get it absolutely right. Meditations rarely do. And yet the action and adventure was irresistible.

Excerpt from Blood Rain. 

[Author’s note: This piece of writing comes late in Blood Rain, in the neighborhood of page 300, coming up to the climax. A pair of nuns traveling with a girl’s choir from Colombia as delegates to sing at the Economic Summit’s closing ceremonies has been abducted by the AesphyXianado’s henchmen. Its a ruse to lure in the Illuminator, who hero-villain of my first book, Special Operations. . .]

Through the dark, Sister Amparo repeated the street names to herself, Viale America. . ., Viale Umberto Tupini . . ., Viale Egoe, hoping she could will them to memory.

The van now slowed, made a sharp turn, then came to a stop before a tall iron gate.

The one in the passenger seat with the machine pistol was pulling a black ski mask over his head, while the van’s driver shoved a white plastic shopping bag back toward his frightened passengers. “Cell phones. All of them.” The armed one trust his free hand toward the younger nun, Sister Amparo. “Yours! Give me your cell phone!”

She handed it over, her free hand still clutching her crucifix. It was then she noticed; not the slightest tremor. She had blocked all memory of a life she left behind less than a year ago, in order to enter this Vocation to serve God. Clearly He had accepted this gift, yet with a slightly different plan for her particular set of skills.

Now the driver was getting out. He advanced into the beam of the van’s headlights where he appeared to be winding a length of paper tubing about the stout case-hardened chain that kept the iron gate shut.  Brock Tussi had hastily created a thermite device clad in Kraft paper to be simple enough for Drekkar Kechlö to deploy.  Next the failed physician produced a butane lighter, which he used to ignite the magnesium strip Tussi had included as a fuse, then leapt aside.

A brilliant white flash, red droplets of molten metal, and they were in.

Less than one kilometer’s distance from the La Nuvola, the train marshalling yard where Rome’s underground metro cars went to be repaired would be deserted until after Republic Day, with the welders, mechanics and railway engineers who kept tens of thousands of daily commuters moving off work to celebrating the birthday of Italy’s republic.

Deserted and unlit, except for the yellow glow of sodium vapor lights that illuminated its perimeter, it was a place where odd shadows sprung from the shells of dismantled locomotives and heaps of rotting retired railroad ties.

The van came to a stop before a windowless concrete building, where the driver stuck another device embedded in a sticky substance that looked like putty to cover the front door lock.

Once the device flashed and spilled molten metal, the masked gunman ordered,“One at a time!”

Standing to the edge of the headlight beam, the driver held up Sister Amparo’s cell phone, recording video, as the nuns and choir entered the locomotive shop that would be their prison.

Tussi was right, thought Kechlö as he followed inside, still filming. The engine shop’s high, windowless walls would contain their catch until after Zero Hour, with plenty of time to spare until workers returned the morning after. Unless that day gets declared a day of national mourning… 

Still following the panicked choir, Kechlö continued to shoot his video all the way to the worker’s “break room” that would serve as their holding cell.

Sister Amparo did her best to calm the girls.  He aged mentor Sister Esperanza took up the rear, reciting prayers quietly in Spanish.

“Shut her up!” demanded the masked one with the gun as the frightened line of captives filed past.

Kechlö issued the warning in Italian. But it came to no avail.

Tussi’s attention had already flitted, addled by the drugs. Skorpian still trained on the girls, he applied a generous line of white powder to the back of the fist that still held the silenced weapon, and vacuumed the cocaine into a nostril with a loud snorting sound that scared them even more. As the drug took effect the bomber’s eyes feasted upon the ten young girls and their chaperones.

Stepping to a workbench, he selected a heavy iron wrench. Training his weapon on the smallest of all the girls who went by the name Tenacia, he threw the wrench to her feet, then the bag of cell phones Kechlö had collected. “Smash them all!” he shouted.

As Tenacia knelt on the grimy concrete floor to work, Tussi paused, then lingered over her.

The nun they called Suor Amparo immediately picked up on it.

Kechlö noticed as well. “After Zero Hour!” he shouted at Brock Tussi, “We have God’s work first…” Then he walked outside with the cell phone, to capture a crucial reflection, sure to lure the Illuminator into the trap.

Soon as the failed physician was outside, Tussi made his move.

The second he reached for little Tenacia, the young nun yanked, spun, and thrust, shouting “NO!” as her crucifix penetrated Tussi’s cornea, drove through the eye’s lens, drained the vitreous body, ripped the retina, breaking through the orbital socket of the skull, where the feet of Jesus came to a stop less than a millimeter from the frontal lobe of the terrorist’s brain.

Shrieking choir members dispersed to the room’s edges as the now-blinded man let out a scream, waving his muscle bound arms. Briefly touching the embedded crucifix, he yanked back his hand, cursing the pain, and then bolted.

Frightened Tenacia dropped the wrench.

Planting a foot on it, Tussi stumbled, across the room and into the far wall, driving the rheme deeper.


Again Sister Amparo noted the stability of her own hand, its utter lack of trace of tremor. It became crystal clear to the young nun. She must consider the life she had left behind, and the vows she had taken to begin another.  And this was going to pose a challenge.

One Mind, any weapon. . . The slogan of Marine Corps’ martial arts training that had made her so much in demand during three years’ combat service in Iraq that had led the young veteran to devote the remainder of her life to peace in this vocation as a member of the Grey Nuns, who held the motto, To Jesus through Mary. Fluent in Spanish, having been raised in a bi-lingual household in south side Chicago, the Holy Order had placed Amparo in Colombia for her first year with Sister Esperanza. The decision that she would stay on had been mutual.

It had been the ones former Sergeant Major Amparo had been unable to protect that caused her to put a gold band on her finger that wed her to Jesus a month after her discharge.

Unfortunate. Necessary. Tonight’s violence had taken her back.

The mentor she now held in her arms due to Tussi’s brutal attack might not survive this. But here was hope; soon the two men would be leaving, lest the brutal one die from loss of blood.

“They’ll never get out,” grated Tussi, filled with vengeance but somehow still on his feet. He had made it to the electrical panel, where he threw a lever. Pitch dark. The sound of footsteps.

Sister Amparo sees the eerie swath of yellow light from outside when the door opens, then shuts when the two men exit. Then a scraping sound as they barricade the door from outside.

One mind, any weapon…   To Jesus through Mary. . .

Instead of leaving one life for the other, by defending the girls in her care she had accidentally combined them.

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