1818: In the Gulf waters off the Texas coast, the pirate Jean Lefitte and his partner Jim Bowie launch an attack on the Mother Mary, a slave ship carrying an invaluable treasure.
The Present: Fifth-generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong finds herself investigating the murder of the oil rig crew that had found the long-lost wreckage of the Mother Mary. The crew also uncovered something else beneath the surface of the sea—something connected to a terrorist attack about to be launched by a mad American-born cleric who has recruited an army of homegrown terrorists.
With the stakes higher than any she has encountered before, Caitlin races to find the connection between the secret treasure of the Mother Mary and the deadly secret hidden on the bottom of the ocean.
Caitlin's only chance to defeat the terrorists lies in the darkest reaches of the Louisiana bayou. In the end, only the strongest of vengeance can win the day.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
About the Author
JON LAND is the acclaimed author of numerous bestsellers, including Strong Enough to Die, Strong Justice, and The Seven Sins. Land lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
JON LAND is the USA Today bestselling author of more than 37 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), and Strong Darkness (winner of the 2014 USA Books Best Book Award and the 2015 International Book Award for Thriller). He's a 1979 graduate of Brown University, lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
Read an Excerpt
By Jon Land
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2012 Jon Land
All rights reserved.
San Antonio, the present
"This isn't your play, Ranger Strong," Captain Consuelo Alonzo of the San Antonio police said to Caitlin Strong beneath an overhang outside the Thomas C. Clark High School. Her hands were planted on her hips, one of them squeezing a pair of sunglasses hard enough to crush the frame.
Caitlin took off her Stetson and let the warm spring sunlight drench her face and raven-black hair that swam past her shoulders. Her cheeks felt flushed and she could feel the heat building behind them. She'd left her own sunglasses back in her SUV, forcing her to keep her view shielded from the sun, which left the focused intensity in her dark eyes clear enough for anyone to see. Her cheekbones were ridged and angular, meshed so perfectly with her jawline that her face had the appearance of one drawn to life by an artist.
Caitlin met Alonzo's stare with her own, neither of them budging. "Then I guess I heard wrong about a boy with a gun holding hostages in the school library."
"No, you heard right about that. But this isn't a Ranger matter. I didn't call you in and my SWAT team's already deployed."
Caitlin gazed at the modern two-story, L-shaped mauve building shaded by thick elm and oak trees. The main entrance was located at the point of the school where the L broke directly before a nest of rhododendron bushes, from which rose the school marquee listing upcoming events, including graduation and senior prom. A barricade had been erected in haphazard fashion halfway to the street to hold anxious and frantic parents behind a combination of sawhorses, traffic cones, and strung-together rope.
"SWAT team for one boy with a gun?" Caitlin raised.
A news helicopter circled above, adding to Alonzo's discomfort. "You have a problem with that? Or maybe you've never heard of Columbine?"
"Any shots fired yet?"
"No, and that's the way we want to keep it."
"Then I do have a problem, Captain. I do indeed."
Alonzo's face reddened so fast it looked as if she were holding her breath. She'd lost considerable weight since the day Caitlin had met her inside San Antonio's Central Police Substation a couple years back. They had maintained a loose correspondence mostly via e-mail ever since, both appreciating the trials and tribulations of women trying to make it in the predominantly male world of law enforcement. Plenty accused Caitlin of riding her legendary father and grandfather's coattails straight into the Rangers. But Alonzo's parents were Mexican immigrants who barely spoke English and lacked any coattails to ride whatsoever. She was still muscular and had given up wearing her hair in a bun, opting instead for a shorter cut matted down by her cap.
"This is the Masters boy's school, isn't it?" Alonzo asked Caitlin.
"Yes, ma'am. And he still uses his mother's last name — Torres."
"Well, I can tell you the son of that outlaw boyfriend of yours is in one of the classrooms ordered into lockdown while we determine if there are any other perpetrators involved."
Caitlin glanced at the black-clad commandos squatting tensely on either side of the entrance. "When was the last time your SWAT team deployed?"
"That's none of your goddamn business."
"Any shots fired, innocents wounded?"
The veins over Alonzo's temples began to throb. "You're wasting my time, Ranger."
"And you're missing the point. You're going in with SWAT without exhausting any of the easier options."
"Me," Caitlin told her.CHAPTER 2
San Antonio, the day before
It had been four months now since Cort Wesley Masters had turned himself into the Texas authorities on an extradition request from the Mexican government. The first two of those months had been spent in a federal lockup and the next two in the infamous Mexican Cereso prison just over the border in Nuevo Laredo across the Rio Grande. With no other adult in the lives of his two teenage sons besides an aunt who lived in Arizona they didn't remember meeting, Caitlin had taken it upon herself to step in and fill the void.
She'd moved into their home in the San Antonio suburb of Shavano Park, never imagining Cort Wesley's freedom wouldn't be secured in a timely manner, much less him being imprisoned south of the border. Having the responsibility for his boys, Dylan and Luke, thrust upon her for what was now an indefinite stretch of time left her feeling trapped and claustrophobic. On edge like a tightrope walker negotiating a typically precarious balance, while blindfolded to boot since she'd never been responsible for anyone but herself. Given her already close relationship with the boys, Caitlin had assumed the transition would be easy and the duration relatively short, neither of which had proven true. Rangering and childrearing, even in modern times, just didn't seem to mix well. Although she'd cut back on her duties as much as possible, raising a pair of teenagers was without question a full-time job that had hit her with the brunt force of a glass door you didn't know was there.
"Mexican authorities haven't given at all on the visitation rights," Caitlin had told her captain, D. W. Tepper, just yesterday in the smaller, shaded office he'd moved into because it was cooler in the hot summer months. The office already smelled of Brut aftershave and stale cigarette smoke with stray wisps clinging to the shadowy corners well after Tepper had finished sneaking a Marlboro.
"What happened that one time they let you in?"
"I made a few comments about the conditions."
"Imagine that didn't go over too well."
"State Department help some?"
"Well, since they got involved even the e-mails stopped. He could be dead for all we know."
"This is Cort Wesley Masters we're talking about, Ranger," Tepper said matter-of-factly, as if that were something Caitlin didn't already know.
"He ain't dead." Tepper pulled his finger from a furrow that looked like a valley on his face and checked the nail as if expecting he'd pulled something out with it. "How's this mothering thing going?"
"How do you think? I figured it would last a few weeks tops. That was four months ago now."
"No choice I can see. And they're good boys anyway, 'less Dylan gets it in his head to mix it up with stone killers again."
"I think he's had his fill of that. Caught him with a joint, though."
"You arrest him?"
"Thought about it."
"Thought about that too."
"I caught my oldest smoking a Winston when he was twelve. Made him put it out and eat the damn thing."
"Now that," Caitlin told Tepper, "I didn't think about. I don't believe it's a regular thing."
"Course it's not," Tepper said with a smirk. "Never is for a high school boy."
"Dylan's got himself in the Honors program now. Starting to get his mind set on college, even talking about a college prep year. And Luke's so smart it's downright scary."
Tepper leaned back in his desk chair far enough to make Caitlin think he was going to topple over. "So how's it feel?"
"How's what feel?"
"Hanging up your guns."
"When you start doing stand-up comedy?"
"When was the last time you drew your pistol?"
"Patriot Sun shoot-out, right?"
"What's your point, Captain?"
"That in a crazy way this experience has been good for you. Something to bring you into the current century instead of fancying yourself the last of the old-time gunfighters."
"It was never me doing the fancying."
"You embrace it or not?"
"What's that matter?"
Tepper tightened his gaze on her, the spider veins seeming to lengthen across his cheeks. "It's bound to catch up with you, that's all I'm saying."
"You ever been known to be wrong?"
"I was going to ask you the same question."
"Nobody's perfect, D.W."
Tepper's eyes didn't seem to blink, looking tired and drawn. "'Cept when you draw your gun, Ranger, you'd better be."CHAPTER 3
San Antonio, the present
Captain Consuelo Alonzo closed the gap between them in a single quick step, close enough for Caitlin to smell sweet perfume and stale spearmint gum. Alonzo's neck was sunburned as if she was religious about slathering sunscreen on her face while neglecting pretty much everywhere else.
"Listen to me and listen good, Ranger," she said, shoulders stiff and squared, to Caitlin. "You got a reputation that precedes you by about a mile, and the last thing we need is your trigger finger making the call in there."
"Save it, Captain," Caitlin returned dismissively. "I had six weeks training with the FBI in Quantico and I've diffused more hostage situations without gunplay than your SWAT team has even dreamed of."
"And this has nothing to do with Cort Wesley Masters's son being inside the building?"
"You told me he was in a locked-down classroom, not a hostage. School of fifteen hundred, nice to see you've got your thumb so centered on the situation."
Alonzo's cheeks puckered, her eyes suddenly having trouble meeting Caitlin's. "Truth is we haven't got a firm fix on who the gunman's holding in the library."
"I thought so. What about the suspect?"
"Near as we can tell it's a junior named William Langdon, age sixteen. Honor student with no previous criminal record. Principal says he's been bullied."
Caitlin turned her gaze again on two SWAT officers poised on either side of the school entrance, armed to the teeth and wearing black gear and body armor. "Yeah, men like that oughtta be able to talk him down for sure."
"Why don't you just button it up?"
"Because your actions are about to get people killed, Captain."
"I'm well aware of the risk, Ranger."
"I don't believe you are. In rescue situations most hostages are actually shot by SWAT team commandos acting like they're playing paintball. Once the bullets start flying, they tend to do strange things, like hit people they weren't necessarily aimed at who have a tendency to start running in all directions."
Alonzo looked Caitlin in the eye again. "You know your problem? You take this 'One Riot, One Ranger' crap too much to heart. That might have been the case a hundred fifty years ago, but the simple truth is it's not any more. You're a dinosaur, Ranger Strong, a goddamn anachronism."
"You finished, Captain?"
"Yes, I am, and so are you. You just haven't figured it out yet."
Spine stiffened, Captain Alonzo walked off to confer with a San Antonio deputy police chief who'd just arrived to provide political cover once the press showed up in full force. Caitlin waited until Alonzo's back was turned before approaching the school entrance as if she was doing exactly what she was supposed to, pausing at the entrance to eye the SWAT commandos posted on either side.
"I'm glad to be in the background on this one, boys," she said, reaching for the glass door. "Don't bother moving. I'll let myself in."CHAPTER 4
San Antonio, the present
The only sound she heard from that point was the soft echo of her boots clacking against the tile floor. Caitlin knew the layout of Thomas C. Clark High School pretty much by heart, but this was the first time she'd ever walked these halls when they were so empty and quiet. Her only company as she drew closer to the library were members of Captain Alonzo's SWAT team at various strategic positions in sight of the school library entrance. All of the commandos tensed further at her approach, their flak jackets seeming to grow as if pumped with air. But not a single one made a move to approach and signal her back. Even with her own experience and legacy to uphold, it never ceased to amaze Caitlin the degree of respect Rangers commanded. No one, law enforcement or otherwise, ever questioned their presence or involvement.
Still, there was no doubt several members of the SWAT team were currently reporting her presence in the building over the microphones built into their helmets. Those reports would throw Alonzo into a rage, though there was nothing either she or her commandos could do about it at this point.
Caitlin felt her focus seem to tighten, every one of her senses sharpening as the library came into clear view, endless shelves of books visible through story glass panes mounted high on the wall. She felt her heart continuing to race before suddenly slowing to a heavy rhythmic throb in her chest. Her legendary grandfather, Earl Strong, had told her countless stories about the many gunfights he'd managed to survive, always stressing those moments before the inevitable transcended. The feeling was surreal, almost dreamlike, close to feeling detached from your own body. Once a gunfight began, instinct took over to the point where it felt like someone else was pulling the trigger. Earl had told her that the anticipation was worse because it was so hard to keep the mind focused on the task at hand with so many other thoughts clamoring to be heard.
Caitlin slid past the six SWAT commandos positioned to stage their attack through the library's two separate entry doors. All the window blinds were drawn, denying view in but view out as well, which would keep William Langdon from seeing more commandos prepared to storm the room.
As she neared the door, Caitlin spotted the SWAT team leader and pointed to her eyes. He responded by pointing out the sixteen-year-old captor's position inside. Then, without hesitation, she was through the door and immediately awash in the scent of books, glue bindings, and paper. The deserted hallways had maintained the smell of AXE body spray and flowery shampoo or perfume, mixed with denim and leather. But inside the library the smell of fear quickly rose above that of books and everything else.
Her own hands in the air, Caitlin's eyes instinctively swept across the terrified faces of the hostages seated on chairs at large rectangular tables or on the floor. Her first thought was how young they looked, all the teenage bravado lost to the terror of having their lives threatened by an indiscriminate gunman. Their eyes pleaded with her for help, rescue, solace — anything. And, with that in mind, Caitlin turned her gaze to an overweight boy with a full, round face muddied by red patches of acne growing beneath hair tangled in grease. He stood with his back against a shelf support holding a collection of the old Encyclopedia Britannica. His shoulders and back were stiff, the Glock 19 with extended thirty-shot magazine quivering slightly in his grasp.
"I imagine this isn't the way you thought this day was gonna go when it started," Caitlin said, heart strangely steadied. She stood so straight she might have been about to reach up for something, shifting her weight forward onto her toes to facilitate the quick motion she might need.
"I could've shot you when you came through that door," the boy said to her.
Caitlin swallowed hard, her mouth dry and tongue pasty. She now bore the awesome responsibility for the fate of the hostages. However this turned out, it was all on her. For a brief moment she began to rethink the steps that had brought her this far, then refocused herself on the overweight boy before her, seeing only his gun.
"But you didn't," she said, "because that's not what you are or who you are, son."
"I'm not your son."
"True, but you're a son of Texas, that's for sure, and as a Texas Ranger, that places you in my regard and makes you my concern."
"That's a load of crap and you know it."
"William, you hand me that gun and walk out of here by my side and I promise you that's where you'll stay until all this gets sorted out. That's a promise from me and the Rangers. You made a mistake, but so far no one's been hurt and there's still time to get out of this with that remaining the case."
"I'm scared," William Langdon said, his entire body starting to tremble, the pistol in his hand shaking as if attached to a paint mixer. Caitlin began to fear, along with everything else, he might open fire accidentally.
"No, you don't. You don't understand!"
"I'm willing to try. Just lay that gun down and give me a chance."
"I ... can't."
His eyes shifted to the right, subtly but enough to make Caitlin wonder why he was looking that way. The gun looked all wrong in William Langdon's hand, hardly strong or firm enough to hold it up with the extended magazine, which meant, which meant ...
Which meant what?
Caitlin felt a flutter ripple up her spine. Something was wrong here, something beyond the thinking of Captain Alonzo and her commandos.
Excerpted from Strong Vengeance by Jon Land. Copyright © 2012 Jon Land. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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