Strong Cold Dead
by Jon Land
on Tour October 2016
In her storied career as a Texas Ranger, Caitlin has confronted all manner of villains, but nothing that’s prepared her for the terrorist group ISIS’s pursuit of a devastating weapon on Lone Star State soil. The land in question lies on an Indian reservation where a drilling operation steeped in mystery and controversy is about to commence under the auspices of shadowy billionaire Cray Rawls.
But Rawls is only one of Caitlin’s problems. Her surrogate son Dylan, the oldest boy of her reformed outlaw lover Cort Wesley Masters, has joined the tribe to protest Rawls’ desecration of the sacred Indian lands. The same desecration that has unearthed an ancient evil Caitlin’s own great-great-grandfather fought nearly 150 years before. There’s also a twisted genius who’s uncovered the true nature of that evil, a young man with whom Caitlin shares a past now poised to deliver Armageddon from Texas’ canyonlands.
To save millions from a horrible fate at the hands of ISIS, Caitlin and Cort Wesley must sort through a web of death and deceit as tangled as the blood-soaked grounds of the reservation that hold a deadly secret. A secret that’s the source of a battle rooted in the past and now destined to determine the shape of the future.
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Giveaway: There will be a PICT Rafflecopter & individual host giveaways available
More: Jon Land has verified that Strong Cold Dead does not contain Excessive Strong Language, Graphic Violence, Explicit Sexual Scenes, Rape, or Other Trigger Situations, however, this has NOT been verified by PICT staff.
Read an excerpt:
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 include Texas Rangers . . .” She hesitated long enough to read the name plate 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 more floodlights had been brought in to keep the street bathed in day-glow brightness, casting a strange hue in the air 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 gang bangers he thought were robbing a convenience store where most pay with their EFD 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 gang bangers yanked pistols from the droopy waistbands of their trousers. The only thing his shots hit was a passing San Antonio police car, the uniformed officers inside mistaking the fire as the gang bangers’ and 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 comprised of San Antonio 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 reined, only to get worse by the second night when eight officers ended up hospitalized, one from what was later identified as a bullet instead of a rock. And now the third night found the National Guard on the scene in force and armored police vehicles from as far away as Houston barricading the streets to basically shut off the neighborhoods of East San Antonio’s northern periphery from the rest of the city.
“You’re still here, Ranger,” Sergeant Salazar noted.
“Just considering my options.”
“Only option you have is turn your vehicle around and leave the area, ma’am. You’re not needed or welcome here.”
“On whose orders exactly?” Caitlin wondered.
“Mine,” a female voice boomed, a moment before Caitlin heard a loud pop!, like a shotgun blast, crackle through the air.
East San Antonio, Texas
A few blocks beyond the checkpoint, one of the spotlights fizzled and died, victim of a well-thrown rock more likely than a bullet. Caitlin was out of her Explorer by then, hand instinctively straying to her holstered SIG Sauer P-225 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 back-up?” 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 becoming more and more rapid. She had risen quickly through the ranks of the department, becoming 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 that came with a plush Austin office and a job that would place her, among other things, as chief overseer of the Texas Rangers. Alonzo 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 the murder while Alonzo was dealing with more politically oriented ramifications, led to her being passed over.
Alonzo had overcome an appearance often referred to as “masculine” by even 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 cast Caitlin with all the blame for her losing out on a job that was likely never going to be hers now. Since then, she’d 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 woman’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 woman’s division. She’d stop 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 tight 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 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, puckering her cheeks until she blew out some breath that hit Caitlin like a blast wave 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.”
This time Alonzo finished her chuckle. “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.’”
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 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, 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. A road a person was often too far down by the time he found himself on it at all. So it was here in East San Antonio, where 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 when local firefighters and their trucks were chased back by crowds hurling bottles and rocks. Three 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 Laundromat had chemicals and detergents stored in a back room that 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 effectively than any efforts the authorities had mounted, though, 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. Since word was the gangs were communicating via text message, there was talk of shutting down the grid, lasting until nobody could figure out a way to do it quickly—something she 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 bevy of news choppers with 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 just beyond the spray of a streetlight showcasing a block packed with gang members proudly and openly displaying their colors.
Amid the gang bangers unified in this unholy alliance, she spotted 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 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 to look at the jagged scar and translucent orb visible through the narrow slit Alcantara had for a socket without feeling a flutter in her stomach from the sight.
Caitlin knew 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’ve only just reached the scene courtesy the cartels.
The bangers, under Diablo Alcantara’s leadership, looked ready to launch their assault that would push the rioting from this neighborhood into the city proper, intent on turning San Antonio into Juarez. Caitlin’s plan hadn’t accounted for going up against heavy weaponry, but the reality made its 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, spending 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 cheering by the most chemically altered in the bunch.
Caitlin checked her watch one last time before she stepped out from the darkness onto the street, light glinting off her badge and 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.”
Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of 38 novels, including eight titles in the critically acclaimed Caitlin Strong series: 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 which won the 2016 International Book Award for Best Thriller-Adventure, the 2015 Books and Author Award for Best Mystery Thriller, and the 2016 Beverly Hills Book Award for Best Mystery. The latest title in the series is Strong Cold Dead, to be published on October 4 and about which Strand Magazine said is “certain to rank Land among a handful of our most talented thriller authors of this decade.” Land has also teamed with multiple New York Times bestselling author Heather Graham on a new sci-fi series, the first of which, The Rising, will be published by Forge in January of 2017. He is a 1979 graduate of Brown University and lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
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