Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong returns in Jon Land's Strong Cold Dead, a thriller with heart-stopping action and a high-stakes terrorist plot
The terrorist organization ISIS is after a deadly toxin that could be the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. The same toxin holds the potential to eradicate cancer. There is a frantic race to see who can get to it first, even as Caitlin Strong begins to assemble the disparate pieces of a deadly puzzle.
At the center of that puzzle is an Indian reservation where a vengeful tycoon is mining the toxin, disguising his effort as an oil-drilling operation. This is the same reservation where Caitlin’s great-great-grandfather, also a Texas Ranger, once waged a similar battle against the forces of John D. Rockefeller.
In her highest-stakes adventure yet, Caitlin Strong faces off against a host of adversaries as the lives of those she loves most are threatened by the villains she’s pursuing. The fate of both her country and her state is dangling on the precipice of a strong cold death.
About the Author
JON LAND is the USA Today bestselling author of more than forty novels, including Strong Enough to Die, Strong Justice, Strong at the Break, Strong Vengeance, Strong Rain Falling (winner of the 2014 International Book Award and 2013 USA Best Book Award for Mystery-Suspense), Strong Darkness (winner of the 2014 USA Books Best Book Award and the 2015 International Book Award for Thriller), and Strong Light of Day (winner of the 2015 Books and Author Award for Best Mystery Thriller and the 2016 Beverly Hills Book Award for Best Mystery). Land is a graduate of Brown University. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
Read an Excerpt
Strong Cold Dead
A Caitlin Strong Novel
By Jon Land
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2016 Jon Land
All rights reserved.
East San Antonio, Texas
"Nobody goes beyond this point, ma'am," the tall, burly San Antonio policeman, outfitted in full riot gear, told Caitlin Strong.
"That includes Texas Rangers ..." She hesitated long enough to read the nameplate over his badge. "Officer Salazar?"
"That's Sergeant Salazar, Ranger. And the answer is yes, it includes everyone. Especially Texas Rangers."
"Well, Sergeant, maybe we wouldn't need to be here if a couple of your patrolmen hadn't gunned down a ten-year-old boy."
Salazar looked at Caitlin, scowling as he backed away from her Explorer. A few blocks beyond the checkpoint, a grayish mist seemed to hover in the air, residue of the tear gas she expected would be unleashed again soon. That is, unless the youthful crowd currently packed into the small commercial district at the near end of Hackberry Avenue dispersed, which they were showing no signs of doing. The third night of trouble had brought the National Guard to the scene, in full battle attire that included M4 rifles and flak jackets. Caitlin could see that more floodlights had been set up to keep the street bathed in daylight brightness. They cast a strange hue that reminded her of movie kliegs, as if this were a scene concocted from fiction rather than one that had arisen out of random tragedy.
Sergeant Salazar came right up to her open window, close enough for Caitlin to smell spearmint on his breath as he worked a wad of gum from one side of his mouth to the other.
"Those patrolmen found themselves in the crossfire of a gunfight between a neighborhood watch leader and gangbangers he thought were robbing a convenience store where most pay with their EBT cards. The clerk who chased them down the street just wanted to return the change they'd left on the counter for their ice cream, but the watch leader, Alfonzo Martinez, saw the scene otherwise and ordered the bangers to stop and put their hands in the air."
Neighborhood watch leader Martinez, a lifelong resident of J Street, who'd managed to steer clear of violence all his life, started firing his heirloom Springfield 1911 model .45 as soon as the gangbangers yanked pistols from the waistbands of their droopy trousers. The only thing his shots hit was a passing San Antonio Police car. The uniformed officers inside mistook the fire as coming from the gangbangers, and the officers opened up on them so indiscriminately that the lone victim of their fire was a ten-year-old boy who'd emerged from the same convenience store.
It was almost dawn before everything got sorted out and the investigative team, comprising San Antonio police and highway patrol detectives, thought they'd managed to get control of the situation. Then, relatively peaceful protests by day gave way to an eruption of violence at night, spearheaded by rival gangs who abandoned their turf wars to join forces against an enemy both of them loathed. Violence and looting reigned, only to get worse by the second night, when eight officers ended up hospitalized — one injured by what was later identified as a bullet rather than a rock. And now, the third night found the National Guard on the scene in force, along with armored police vehicles from as far away as Houston, barricading the streets to basically shut the neighborhoods of east San Antonio's northern periphery off from the rest of the city.
"You're still here, Ranger," Sergeant Salazar noted.
"Just considering my options."
"Only option you have is to turn your vehicle around and leave the area, ma'am. You're not needed or welcome here."
"On whose orders, exactly?" Caitlin wondered aloud.
"Mine," a female voice boomed, a moment before Caitlin heard a loud pop, like a shotgun blast, crackle through the air.CHAPTER 2
East San Antonio, Texas
A few blocks beyond the checkpoint, one of the spotlights fizzled and died, more likely the victim of a well-thrown rock than a bullet. Caitlin was out of her Explorer by then, hand instinctively straying to her holstered SIG Sauer P-226 in anticipation of more shots to follow.
"Get back in your vehicle, Ranger," said Consuelo Alonzo, deputy chief of the San Antonio Police Department, as she strode forward, red-faced from the exertion of rushing to the scene from the police line upon learning of Caitlin's arrival.
"You got a problem with getting some more backup?" Caitlin asked her.
"I do when it comes from you."
"Why don't you catch your breath and hear me out?"
"Because there's nothing you have to say that can possibly interest me right now. In case you haven't noticed, we're sitting on a powder keg, one spark away from blowing San Antonio to hell. We don't need you providing that spark, Ranger. No way."
Instead of settling down, Alonzo's agitation continued to increase. Her face had grown redder, her words emerging through breaths that were becoming more and more rapid. She had risen quickly through the ranks of the department, the youngest woman ever to make captain, three years prior to her recent promotion to deputy chief. And she had been rumored to be in line for the job of public safety commissioner, which came with a plush Austin office and would make her, among other things, chief overseer of the Texas Rangers. Alonzo had no doubt relished that particular perk of a job certain to be hers — until the death of a Chinese diplomat, exacerbated by Caitlin's solving of the murder while Alonzo was dealing with more politically oriented ramifications, led to her being passed over.
Alonzo had overcome an appearance that was often referred to as "masculine," even by her supporters, and much worse than that by her detractors, who seemed to put no stock in the fact that she was happily raising three young children with her husband, who was a professional boxing referee. This was Texas, after all, where a woman needed to work twice as hard, and be twice as good, in a profession ruggedly and stubbornly perceived to be for men only. Caitlin and Alonzo had had their differences over the years but had mostly maintained a mutual respect defined by their professionalism and the sense that their own squabbles only further emboldened those who sought their demise.
At least until Alonzo assigned Caitlin all the blame for Alonzo losing out on a job that was likely never going to be hers now. Since then, Alonzo had used her position as deputy chief to wage subtle war on the Rangers' San Antonio- based Company F whenever possible, seizing upon any bureaucratic conflict or jurisdictional dispute she could in a hapless attempt to make Caitlin's life miserable.
Alonzo ran a hand through her spiky hair. She was heavyset and had once set the women's record for the bench press in her weight class. She'd also done some boxing and was reputed to be the best target shooter with a pistol in the entire department. But Caitlin had beaten her three times running when they'd gone up against each other in state-sponsored contests, winning the overall title in two of those, instead of just the women's division. Caitlin had stopped entering after her most recent victory, figuring the last thing she needed was to draw more attention to herself than her exploits already had.
"You're not moving, Ranger," Alonzo told her.
Caitlin gestured toward a figure pressed tightly against the waist-high concrete barrier erected to close off the street to unauthorized vehicles. "See that woman there? That's the mother of the boy who was killed by the fire of those SAPD officers. She's the one who called me, asked me to see what I could do about the violence being done in her boy's name. She doesn't want the city to burn on his account. She wants this resolved peacefully."
"And you think I don't?"
"No, ma'am. It's a question about how you're going about things."
"And how's that?" Alonso asked, not sounding as if she was really interested in Caitlin's answer. "We got a full-scale riot brewing back there. What exactly do you think you can do about it that we can't?"
"I've got an idea or two."
"Care to share them?"
"Ever hear of Diego Ramon Alcantara?"
"Can't say that I have."
"He goes by the nickname Diablo. Leader of a gang running drugs for a Mexican cartel that sees the riots as their opportunity to solidify their hold on the business throughout the state. And Diablo Alcantara has united the city's normally warring gangs toward that purpose, on the cartel's behalf. I take him off the board, all this goes away."
Alonzo shook her head, her expression a mix of resentment and disbelief. "You alone?"
"That's right. Just give me a chance. What have you got to lose, Deputy Chief?"
"How about this city?"
Caitlin turned her gaze in the direction of the rioting. "Seems to me it's already lost. Thing at this point is to get it back."
Alonzo's lower lip crawled over her upper one, her cheeks puckering, until she blew out some breath that hit Caitlin like a blast from a just-opened oven. "We've got five hundred personnel on scene who haven't been able to manage that."
"Would it really hurt to listen to what I've got to say?"
"It hurts me, standing here right now instead of commanding the front line. The governor just approved an assault. We move inside the next hour, if the crowd doesn't disperse as ordered."
"Just give me a chance."
Alonzo shook her head again. "You know the saying 'stone cold dead,' Ranger?"
"Maybe you haven't heard that among Texas law enforcement types it's called 'strong cold dead' now."
Caitlin smiled slightly. "Is that a fact?"
Alonzo was left shaking her head. "Tell me, when you look in the mirror, how big's the army that looks back?"
"Well, you know how the saying goes, Deputy Chief," Caitlin said, backpedaling toward her SUV. "'One riot, one Ranger.'"CHAPTER 3
East San Antonio, Texas
Caitlin skulked about the outskirts of the neighborhoods just outside the riot zone. Through windows not boarded up or covered in grates, she spied more than one family following the simmering violence just a few blocks away on their televisions while they huddled against a wall.
According to the information she'd obtained from a trio of informants, Diablo Alcantara was running the show from his sister's home, near J Street, two blocks from the brewing riot's front lines. The cartels had trained Alcantara well, had taught him the tricks of their own trade, to inspire everyday people to turn to violence to the point that it came to define them. By the time a person found himself on this road, he was too far down it to turn back. So here, in east San Antonio, closing the schools for the day had turned hundreds of teenagers into virtual anarchists, looting and destroying for its own sake. Right now, Caitlin could still smell the smoke from a Laundromat that had burned to the ground after local firefighters and their trucks had been chased back by crowds hurling bottles and rocks. Three firefighters had been hospitalized, and one of the engines had been abandoned at the head of the street, where it too had been set ablaze.
The chemicals and detergents stored in a back room of the Laundromat had turned the air noxious for a time, the strange combination of lavender soap powder mixing with the corrosive bleaches to form the perfect metaphor for the city of San Antonio. Watching those white curtains of mist wafting through the flames to chase the rioters away — more effective than any efforts the authorities had mounted — had given Caitlin the idea to which Deputy Chief Alonzo had refused to listen.
Holding her position against a house, in view of the main drag, Caitlin checked her watch, then the sky, and finally her cell phone, to make sure she had a strong signal. Because word was the gangs were communicating via text message, there had been talk of shutting down the grid, but nobody could figure out a way to do it quickly — something Caitlin was glad for now.
Above the fire smoke and tear gas residue staining the air in patches, the night sky was clear, and she made out a collection of news choppers, their navigation lights flashing like the stars millions of miles beyond them. Creeping closer to J Street and the home of Diablo Alcantara's sister, Caitlin froze. She was just beyond the spray of a streetlight, which showcased a block packed with gang members proudly and openly displaying their colors.
Amid the gangbangers unified in this unholy alliance was a stocky figure, more bulk than muscle, holding court near the rear. Diablo Alcantara had gotten into a knife fight while in high school and had ended up losing an eye to a slice that split the left side of his face right down the middle. Even in pictures, it was hard for Caitlin to look at the jagged scar, and the translucent orb visible through the narrow slit Alcantara had for an eye socket, without feeling a flutter in her stomach.
Caitlin knew that the stocky figure was Alcantara the moment he turned enough toward the streetlight for its spray to reflect off the marble-like thing wedged into his skull in place of an eye. She counted fifty bangers in the vicinity, armed with assault rifles and submachine guns no intelligence report had made mention of, meaning such firepower must have only just reached the scene, courtesy of the cartels.
The bangers, under Diablo Alcantara's leadership, looked ready to launch the assault that would push the rioting from this neighborhood into the city proper. They were intent on turning San Antonio into Juarez. Caitlin's plan hadn't accounted for going up against heavy weaponry, but the reality made the plan's implementation all the more necessary. Giving the matter no further consideration, she lifted the cell phone closer and pressed out three words in a text message: Come on in.
Caitlin figured she had three, maybe four minutes to wait. She spent the first of them following the gang members' antics in preparation for what was to come. Some of them wore military-grade flak jackets, in odd counterpoint to the pungent scent of marijuana smoke gradually claiming the air. She watched beer bottles drained and smashed, a few stray shots fired into the air to the cheering of the most chemically altered in the bunch.
Caitlin checked her watch one last time before she stepped out from the darkness and into the street, light glinting off her badge, holstered pistol in plain view as she continued toward the center of the block.
"I'm a Texas Ranger," she called out to the gang members, whose gazes fixed on her in disbelief. "All of you, stay right where you are."CHAPTER 4
East San Antonio, Texas
Caitlin stopped thirty feet from Diablo Alcantara and swept her gaze across the other fifty or so gang members, who were armed to fight a small war.
"Diego Alcantara?" she called, breaking the silence that had settled over the block.
"Who wants to know?" Alcantara asked, emboldened by having a veritable army to back him up.
"Texas Rangers, sir. You're under arrest."
The silence returned, until it was broken anew by laughter. Just a ripple at first but quickly spreading, some of the gang members literally doubling over, slapping their knees, their assault weapons all but forgotten.
Alcantara joined in, clapping. Closer up, Caitlin saw he had a bullet-shaped head to go with the horribly scarred face, which seemed to come to a point at the top, where his black hair was bunched together with dried gel. Caitlin thought she could actually smell the oily pomade from this far away, the aroma not unlike the Brylcreem her grandfather Earl Strong had used every day until his last.
Alcantara's eyes, both the good one and the bad, were set too far back in his head, as if some cosmic force had realigned the sockets while he was still in the womb. Caitlin watched the good one narrow.
"Hey, you're that famous bitch Ranger," Alcantara said in recognition. "The one put a whole bunch of men in the ground."
Caitlin's mental clock continued to click down. The gang members started to encircle her, still giggling and chortling, seeing no threat whatsoever in her presence. The dueling aromas of weed smoke and stale sweat intensified as they drew closer.
Alcantara approached through the crowd, his misshapen features tightening and one eye narrowed, like a dog trying to figure out what it was seeing.
"You're a bitch with balls, I'll give you that, and now you're gonna have to —" He stopped midthought, puzzlement sprouting on his features. "Hey, anybody else hear that?"
Excerpted from Strong Cold Dead by Jon Land. Copyright © 2016 Jon Land. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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