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Alias Island

Alias Island

Leggi anteprima

Alias Island

209 pagine
3 ore
May 9, 2000


When Nelson and Patrica Whitdown retired to Hadaway Island from the Poconos they never dreamed they would be surrounded by convicted felons who plea bargained themselves out of their own identities, and now have nothing to lose but their lives. F.B.I. Special Agent Mark Oberlin, an organized crime expert finds himself hunting down an elusive enemy who has begun to murder these protected witnesses on the splendid ocean beaches and championship golf courses of what the guys back at HQ have nick named Alias Island.
May 9, 2000

Informazioni sull'autore

Donna is a native New Yorker who works as a freelance writer. Alias Island was selected for “storytelling talent” and “dedication to craft” in the Chesterfield Film Company’s annual Writer’s Film Project Competition in association with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, the Kennedy/Marshall Company and Walt Disney Pictures. Ward has signed an agreement with producer John Sacchi and his colleague Matt Groesch who look to produce her novel for television under Sacchi’s 5 More Minutes Productions.

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Anteprima del libro

Alias Island - Donna Ward




Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

For Ken, Charles and Isobel

And for Annie, a bon vivant


With many thanks to Retired FBI Special Agent Daniel Howard Reilly for sharing stories of crimes and criminals during his long and distinguished career. Thanks also to his fellow Vidocq Society members who graciously allowed me to infiltrate some of their cold-case meetings. And I am grateful for the resources and support of the New York City chapter of Mystery Writers of America, where I was inspired to tackle the genre.


Dawn broke in heavy fog. A solitary runner moved along the beach, guided by the slope of the shore and the faint glow of the Atlantic horizon.

Up ahead a lifeguard stand formed in the mist, her quarter- mile marker. It gained substance as she neared, a tall weathered bench facing the sea with a sign at the base that said DAN- GER—NO SWIMMING. She passed to the right with a backward glance, as stand and sign disappeared in the fog.

Moments later she sensed them behind her, two runners, maybe more, approaching at a steady pace. She felt their footfall beneath her own feet, strong and rhythmic on the hard-packed beach. To avoid a collision she veered to the right, and her sneak- ers slapped through warm, foamy surf. But they stayed on her tail, closing the gap, and a flush of panic rose in her face.

They had found her, somehow, on this foggy, empty beach. No one would save her, and no one would witness her murder. She cut left toward the dunes and the oceanfront homes, clutching her head protectively against the blast to come.

But he pounced from behind, knocking her down and pin- ning her to the sand. She felt his knee in the small of her back and his hot, ragged breath in her ear. She would die, but not like this, and with her one free arm she flailed at the air.

Don’t fight him, lady. That makes it worse.

A male voice, young and concerned, from somewhere close by. The weight shifted suddenly and she rolled onto her back, finally locking eyes with her killer. JEsus—

Sorry about that, said the voice. Dogs are allowed on the beach before nine.

It was a pony-sized Newfoundland, twitching in manic delight as he repositioned himself across her chest. A slimy string of saliva hung from his jowls.

Sorry, said the voice again.

"Just get him off me!"

I’m trying, but he thinks you’re playing with him.

A kid, about sixteen years old, came into focus as she blinked away the sand. He yanked at the dog’s choker collar and pulled him to his feet. He doesn’t bite, you know.

Why should he? He can scare people to death. She stood up slowly, both eyes on the dog, and scraped a layer of wet sand from her nylon running suit.

I’m really sorry, the boy repeated lamely. He was slightly built, no heavier than his monster pet.

Okay. Just forget it.

Did he hurt you?

No. But he knocked the wind out of me. You really should keep him on a leash.

The boy nodded contritely, then squinted into the fog. What happened to your friend?

What friend?

The guy running right behind you. I thought you were together.

*         *         *

I want her moved, Joe. Special Agent Mark Oberlin made his terse point, and Joe Penske, Special Agent in Charge of the New York FBI office, slammed his door and sat on the edge of his desk. Penske was shorter than Oberlin, and Oberlin figured he did this to emphasize his superior rank. He stifled a grin.

Not a chance, Mark. You’re talking about three relocations in three years. WITSEC would never go for it. The Witness Security Program had recently formed an alliance with Penske’s office, drawing on the organized crime expertise of agents like Mark Oberlin to help build mob-proof lives for their recruits.

As a result of this collaboration, Oberlin had become the de facto caretaker for a small pod of hastily stashed witnesses, a no-fun job normally performed by the U.S. Marshals Service. In a real world scenario no one - including the FBI - would have access to their whereabouts, or their records. But because of his work in the OC underworld, Oberlin now found himself with both.

She called me an hour ago. Says she was stalked on the beach. Really? Penske looked at his watch. It’s only eight-thirty now. Lisa’s bogey men must be morning people. Not funny.

Not serious, considering her track record. Penske watched for a reaction in Oberlin’s clear gray eyes, suspecting that Lisa had become more to him than just one of his charges. Last year it was a sniper in Boise. Remember that one? Turned out to be her neighbor’s car backfiring. And the year before, when we put her in Paducah? He tapped his chin. Let’s see—oh, yeah. Someone broke into her apartment while she was sleeping and turned on the gas oven.

It could happen.

It didn’t happen! The dead bolt and chain were still on the door when the marshals got there. That makes two false alarms, Mark. Instead of another relo this babe could probably use some therapy. He added casually, I don’t know why you get so emotionally invested in these people.

You mean, Oberlin said coolly, why care if they get whacked?

"Hell no. We’ve gotta care. If they don’t trust us, they don’t tes- tify. What I mean is, why the particular concern for Lisa?"

She’s just a kid.

She’s in her twenties.

She was a kid when she got dragged into this mess.

Penske shrugged. Couldn’t have nailed Victor Benigno without her.

Yeah, but what does she get out of the deal?

What does she get? Penske gave Oberlin an are-you-nuts look. She gets to live. Testimony or no testimony, Lisa’s fate was sealed when she found the body. You think Victor would have let her slide if she promised not to tell? She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She’s lucky we got to her before he did.

Lucky Lisa, Oberlin said dryly. First one in her class to join the witness protection program.

Look, said Penske sharply. Maybe it isn’t fair in the cosmic scheme of things, and I don’t want her to end up in the trunk of a car any more than you do. But I do think she’s got an overac- tive imagination with all this stalking stuff. Victor doesn’t hire stalkers, he hires killers.

That’ll reassure her. Can I quote you?

Yeah. And while you’re at it, remind her that we’ve never lost a witness who followed the rules of the program.

The standard WITSEC speech. Which happens to be true.

I think Victor’s post-trial announcement might have made a bigger impression.

What did he say?

That he would wipe Elizabeth Mahoney off the face of the earth and see her burn in hell. He watched Penske’s eyes widen. Or words to that effect.

Penske walked around the desk and sank into his chair. Okay. What do you want to do?

The easy answer would be to turn her over to the marshals. Let her be their headache.

No. That was not part of the deal.

Mark, we don’t even need her now…

Oberlin shook his head in amazement. You would do that? Break a promise to a witness?

She’d be well protected, Mark. The marshals have a good track record. Penske eyed Oberlin’s stony expression. Okay, so what do we do?

I told you. Move her.

"Look, could you just talk to her first, maybe play hardball for a change?"

Oberlin squinted. Hardball?

Yeah. Tell her to get a grip and keep her mouth shut.

Why don’t I just beat her senseless.

This is no joke, Mark. We’ve got a pre-trial witness down there. If Caitlin Peretti smells trouble she’ll bolt, and then we can kiss our little interagency project goodbye.

Along with your promotion, right Joe?

Penske smiled tightly. And let us not forget your monthly golf boondoggle.

My what?

You heard me. Who else has a job that puts them in a golfer’s paradise every month?

Oberlin smiled, bemused. You’re right, Joe. It’s all fun and games.

*         *         *

Another hot one coming up, Nelson Whitdown remarked to nobody as he stepped onto his back patio. Hands on hips, elbows splayed, he rocked back on his heels and looked to the east, where the sun rose sluggishly over the Hermitage golf course. It lingered for a moment in the moss-laden crown of a hundred year-old live oak, then it pierced through a cleft in the uppermost bough, striking Nelson Whitdown’s sweat-glazed forehead like a laser beam.

Now this is living. He inhaled with fierce satisfaction, sucking up a lungful of steamy Low Country air.

Sunrise and sunset of the semi-tropical variety had played a part in luring Nelson and his reluctant wife Patricia to coastal South Carolina. Hadaway Island, in particular, was known as a haven for self-sufficient retirees, and it earned high marks from Alive! magazine for its bone and joint-friendly activities. There were miles of beaches for leisurely combing and gentle coastal waters for mostly knee-high bathing. But it was the sixteen finely groomed golf courses that had put Hadaway on the map; and the climate permitted all-season play, albeit half the year in a Venusian-like atmosphere where a stroke on the eighteenth tee frequently signaled a health emergency.

But Nelson Whitdown didn’t come here for the golf, nor even for the surf, sun or high humidity, all of which he could have found in Florida. Rather, like other Hadaway Islanders who had emigrated from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other easterly outposts of the Great North American Midwest, Nelson Whitdown had settled on this place primarily for what it lacked: New Yorkers.

The Weather Channel had been reporting to the Whitdown home since six a.m. It now sent a somber bulletin out to the patio with a warning that the heat index for the Southeast would top one-oh-five today. Stepping back inside he pulled his sweater off a coat hook and inspected himself in the hall mirror: thick white wicker-like hair, and a superiorly ectomor- phic six-foot one in height, even at the age of seventy-eight. The finer details of his appearance wouldn’t matter, since most of his neighbors were far-sighted. Mrs. Whitdown, however, had eyes like a hawk.

Nels! She called cheerily as she emerged from the kitchen. I’ve left you— Her blue eyes traveled from his face to his feet. What’s wrong? he said, following her gaze. You’ve seen me wear sandals, Patricia.

Yes, Nels, but you’ve never gone without socks.

Didn’t you hear the Weather Channel? Over a hundred today, he said with a snort as he buttoned his sweater.

Patricia Whitdown leaned into the room, still holding onto the doorjamb. I’ve left sandwiches in the fridge.

Going out again are you? Nelson muttered.

It’s Tuesday, Nels. I volunteer at the library every Tuesday. Right. So go. He faced the mirror, but kept the corner of an eye on his wife.

So…what are your plans for this morning? Patricia inquired. Same as always. Don’t worry about me.

A moment passed. Okay. See you later then. She blew him a kiss and hurried out the door, pulling it closed with a loud slam to discourage him from giving chase. In fact, Nelson Whitdown had been known to follow his wife all the way to the Hermitage gatehouse, while she drove at three miles an hour like a pace-car in a Seniors marathon, for fear he might slip and fall under the wheels.

She put a spring in her step as she walked to the car, her key aimed at the lock.

Patricia! Wait!

She turned slowly, the patient look pasted to her face. Yes, Nelson?

I need the car. Now?

He lumbered toward her. Just need to talk to the guard. Won’t be a minute. He took the keys from her hand and folded himself into the front seat under the wide-eyed gaze of his wife. I promise this won’t take long.

He was back within minutes. He climbed out of the car, held the door for his wife and dropped the keys into her hand.

What was that all about, Nelson? Never mind.

Patricia rolled her eyes. She got behind the wheel, pulled the door closed hard, then lowered the window. Nelson leaned in for a good-bye peck but the window stopped halfway down. Do be careful today, she advised, wagging a finger.

What on earth are you talking about?

Your balls, Nelson. You’ve tripped over the damn things twice this week. She raised the window and reversed down the driveway to Fernview.

Bah. Nelson dismissed her warning with a wave, even though he knew she was right. He’d tripped over his balls yester- day and stubbed his toe, which was why he was now sockless.

Nelson Whitdown’s balls were his trophies. He kept them in a large tin basin just inside the patio door, promising to move them out of the way as soon as he got someone to give him a hand. There were hundreds of golf balls, all different makes and models, and many with stamps bearing their origination affili- ation—Carolina Commodities, Sunbelt Realty, Bell South, Hadaway Ocean Links. Nelson Whitdown had counted at least ninety different stamps, but the rarest and most prized were those that bore a New York logo of any kind.

He went to the kitchen for a third hot water refill for his expired tea bag. Then, as he had done most every morning for the past five years, he plopped his college football helmet onto his head and settled into his hammock. Here he would lie in ambush for some unsuspecting golfer’s ball to land in the thick ground cover surrounding the Whitdown patio. Any out-of-bounds shot was fair game for stealthy retrieval, cam- ouflaged as he was in a green cardigan. Once back in his ham- mock behind a leafy fern—the errant ball now a permanent part of the Whitdown ball collection—Nelson would get a peculiar charge watching the frustrated golfer search for a ball he would never find. Damn. I saw it come down right here, they would say.

This was a nasty trick, but Nelson Whitdown was a nasty man. Furthermore, he reasoned that any golf ball landing on his property became his property by default.

He reached for his teacup on a small white resin table, took a noisy slurp, and then lay his helmeted head against the ham- mock. Moments later a practice ball from the driving range smacked against the upper bough of a nearby tree, and Nelson Whitdown winced as he pondered the wisdom of locating the line of practice tees so close to the fairway where any unsuspecting golfer—or homeowner—could be seriously beaned.

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