ETWG First Chapter Book Awards: Dead Storm by Helen Hanson


Dead Storm by Helen Hanson is a Finalist in the Mystery/Thriller Category of Published Books in the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.

Hackers can steal your money, control your car, access your secret files. What if one had a grip on your beating heart?

Whatever. Clint’s got his own problems. With his company in chaos, only a bottle of scotch tempers his misery. But his apathy will cost others their lives. A plea from the President of the United States doesn’t shake his despondence.

Not even an ultimatum from Beth. But the Washington elite won’t let Clint rest until they get answers.

Will Clint rise above his mounting despair and help the CIA catch a cyber killer?


Award Winning First Chapter

Inside his curtained living room, Todd Westerfield hid from the cool morning winds conspiring against him. The temperatures were colder than normal for this time of year, bringing heavy clouds and a pall that settled over Sochi, Russia. He moved to the region less than two months ago, arriving when the Black Sea lapping the shores hit eighty-two degrees Fahrenheit. Now, the water was ten degrees colder.

He called Pasha to come soothe his ill mood, but she said she couldn’t be more than a companion today, and conversation wasn’t what he had in mind. Her downtime was a damned inconvenience. Maybe some other physical exercise would purge this particular demon.

Helen Hanson
Helen Hanson

Since his exile, he made a point of keeping himself fit. The strains of running CatSat padded him with unwanted pounds and turned several of his hairs gray. Taking a breather from the rat race was one of the few things his ex-partner Clint Masters got right.

Todd dropped his feet off the ottoman and pushed himself up from the Eames chair. His bare feet scuffed along the frieze carpet until he reached his bedroom. He left the veranda door open, and the air jolted his senses. No wonder the room was frigid. But the fresh air did more good than harm, so he changed into a track suit and donned his best pair of running shoes. Outside the marble lobby of his building, he set out at a brisk pace for the Dendrarium as he did several times each week.

His building sat on a terraced section of the coastline with narrow paths lined so dense with foliage, it was hard to see the water from two hundred feet away. Stairs dropped down through thickets that eventually reached the beach. Bridges spanned streams created from winter run-off. Wider entry points allowed vehicular traffic access to the buildings hugging the coastline. His latest refuge held a certain beauty, but it wasn’t Boston. He bounded up the stairs two at a time, taking a path north toward the gardens after reaching the top.

Todd’s penthouse suite enjoyed an unrestricted view of the sea, but at ground level, he passed walls marred by graffiti, burnt-out mobile homes, and machinery so rusted in place even the Tin Man’s oil can couldn’t coax it to move. Sochi’s veneer was rejuvenated before the Olympic Games for international consumption, but deeper, the grain hadn’t really changed. It was the old Soviet Union and the new Russia tossed into a dice cup, spilling onto the landscape at will.

As he climbed the hill, his new Brooks runners pounded pavement. An elderly couple picked their way down, clinging to the pipe railing at the side.

Todd’s tension was beginning to ease. He didn’t sleep well since returning to Sochi. Images of Paige brought him out of his slumber on several occasions. It was an impulsive move—a stupid move—to shoot her. One he now regretted. But at the time, it was the culmination of all his desire to win. To beat Clint once again. Paige could’ve remained useful to Todd, but her constant harangue about marriage and the baby made him snap. Her bedroom games became tiresome. She knew what she was risking, especially with the kid.

A group of young children descended the path toward him, bobbling against one another in an excited pack. He heard a woman yell from behind them. It sounded the same in every language. The children slowed to a stop as two women hurried into view. They were in their twenties, and both smiled as he passed.

He turned onto the last leg of the hill and met a car creeping along the path. It was an old Lada of some kind. Todd veered to the side of the road to avoid it. Beyond the car lay the M27, the main road that followed the Sochi coast. At the hill’s crest, where the path splayed open to the road, an old tree stood sentry with pavement on both sides of its spreading trunk.

Sochi’s spectacular botanical garden, with over 1800 varieties of trees lay to the north. As usual, Todd cut left.

From a trail behind the bushes, a speeding bicycle dropped onto Todd’s path. He halted to let the bike pass.

A sound registered, something whizzing in the air. The bicyclist slammed to the ground like a lone domino. A black spot appeared on the rider’s light blue t-shirt, but it quickly pooled with red.

Todd dove behind the old tree.

Seconds ticked as he waited for the next shot. His heart hammered in double-time.

Except for the traffic, the air stayed quiet. Was the shooter still there? Todd held his breath until he was forced to gasp.

Across the street, a woman pointed, and two men tried to cross the road, but they were forced to wait at the curb due to traffic.

Todd didn’t think they could see him. In the distance, a siren howled. He didn’t want to be there when the police arrived. In Russia, that could get messy.

He tried to steady his nerves, but that required something from a bottle. Or an hour with Pasha.

The siren came closer. The shooter couldn’t still be out there with the police on the way. Todd waited for a large truck to pass on the road and dashed to the edge of the path.

Thick ivy and hedges scratched him as he scrambled through the brush. He scaled the first fence and ran down the hill toward his suite. All his plans were now on hold until he figured out who was trying to kill him.


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