Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong returns in Jon Land's Strong Cold Dead, a thriller with heart-stopping action and a high-stakes terrorist plot (Available October 4, 2016).
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 that just might include the beautiful Comanche girl with whom the son of her ex-outlaw boyfriend Cort Wesley Masters has fallen in love, along with a mythic monster culled from Native American folklore that the tribe believes has risen to protect its land. The lives of those Caitlin loves most are threatened by the villains she’s pursuing; her own moral code is challenged. The fate of both the country and the state she loves are dangling on the precipice of a strong cold death.
BALCONES ANYONLANDS, TEXAS; 1874
“What ’xactly you make of this, Ranger?”
Texas Ranger Steeldust Jack Strong looked up from the body he was crouched alongside of—or what was left of it. “Well, he’s dead all right.”
The male victim’s suit coat had been shredded, much of the skin beneath it hanging off the bone. He’d worn his holster low on his hip, gunfighter style, and his pearl-handled Samuel Walker Colt was the latest model, updated from the one Jack Strong had used since joining the Texas Rangers after the Civil War.
Steeldust Jack checked what was left of the man’s shirt for a darker patch where a badge, removed after he’d been killed, would have blocked out the sun, but he found none. So this was no Texas lawman, for sure, but a gunman of some sort all the same, who’d managed to get himself torn apart just outside a stretch of land set aside for the Comanche Indian reservation a half day’s ride out of Austin.
Steeldust Jack rose awkwardly on his gimpy leg until he was eye to eye with Abner Denbow, the county sheriff who’d sent a rider to the state capital to bring back a Texas Ranger from the company headquartered there.
“Fought plenty of Indians myself over the years,” Denbow told him. “I believe that makes me the wrong man to venture onto that land the government gave them for no good call I could see.”
“It was Sam Houston who gave this patch to the Comanche originally,” Steeldust Jack reminded.
“Yeah, well even the great ones make mistakes, I suppose.”
The recently signed Medicine Lodge Treaty had deeded this parcel to the Comanche, dividing them from their brethren who were settled, along with the Apache, in southwestern Indian territory, between the Washita and Red rivers. A treaty was supposed to mean peace. With the exception of the peaceful sect that had settled on this reservation, though, the Comanche, Cheyenne, and Kiowa continued to make war, conducting raids on civilians and cavalry officers alike. It was that fact, along with the general lawlessness along Texas’s increasingly populace frontier, that had led to the Rangers being officially reconstituted just a few months before.
For the first time in the state’s history, Texas had a permanent Ranger force. But the ruin of his leg by Civil War shrapnel kept Steeldust Jack from joining up with the Frontier Battalion for which his gunslinging skills made him a better fit. Instead, he was assigned to one of the newly chartered Ranger companies responsible for patrolling various parts of the state to keep the law. And today keeping the law meant figuring out what the body of a well-dressed gunman was doing within spitting distance of an Indian reservation.
“Any indication there of who he might be?” Denbow asked Steeldust Jack.
“I can’t find a wallet on him, Sheriff. But the boots this man’s wearing are practically new, and the wear on his trousers tells me they’re pretty much new too. Given there ain’t much left of his face, I don’t suspect anybody’ll be recognizing the man anytime soon.”
Denbow took off his hat and scratched at his scalp, which was marred by scaly, reddened skin. “Looks like the work of a bear to me. That was my first thought.”
“You ever seen a bear kill, Sheriff?”
“No, sir, I have not.”
“People normally run and the bear gets them from behind. So that’s where you find the initial wounds. Only this man’s got no wounds at all on his back. He also doesn’t have any wounds on his hands and arms consistent with trying to ward the animal off.”
“You’re the Ranger who made a name for himself in the war,” Denbow said suddenly, his cheeks looking plump and rosy in the harsh, hot light of the afternoon. I recognize you from the limp.”
Steeldust Jack looked at him, without changing expression. “You know how I made that name for myself?”
“I came home.”
Which was true enough in Jack Strong’s mind. He’d proudly served the Confederacy as an infantry officer with the Texas Brigade, under General John Bell Hood. The brigade distinguished itself during the Seven Days Battles, where it routed Northern forces at Gaines’s Mill, captured a battery of guns, and repulsed a cavalry counterattack. Its status was further strengthened when it spearheaded a devastating assault at the battle of Second Manassas, overrunning two Union regiments and capturing a battery of guns.
The Texas Brigade’s reputation for fighting was sealed at the Battle of Sharpsburg, when it closed a gap in the Confederate line and drove back the two attacking Union corps. Of the 854 that went into battle at Sharpsburg, 550 members of the Texas Brigade were killed or wounded. Being one of the survivors allowed Steeldust Jack to fight in the Battle of Gettysburg.
“You took Devil’s Den with a bullet still lodged in your leg,” Denbow said.
“Lots of men took Devil’s Den, and lots more died in the process. But there weren’t enough of us left to take Little Round Top, and you know the rest. Anyway, unlike most that day, I made it home.”
The bullet was gone now, but too much shrapnel remained in his leg to risk removal. The field docs had wanted to take his whole leg instead of bothering, but Steeldust Jack was hearing none of that. He’d earned that nickname for shooting so fast and reloading so quick that it seemed a cloud of steel dust from the bullet residue hung in the air over him. The nickname had stuck and had accompanied him back to Texas, where still having both legs allowed him to ride and fish with his boy, William Ray, who’d recently followed his father into the service of the Texas Rangers.
All the same, the wound’s lingering effects made it hard to stand too long on his gangly legs. Any quick step stretched a grimace across his expression, tightening the sinewy band of muscles stitched across his arms, chest, and shoulders.
“So it wasn’t a bear,” Denbow was saying, eyes back on the well-dressed stranger’s body.
“It wasn’t a bear.”
“Then what was it?”
Steeldust Jack turned his gaze in the direction of the Comanche reservation. “Think I’ll see if somebody there can tell me.”
Denbow scratched at his scalp again, deepening the red patches, which looked like spilled paint. “You might want to reconsider those intentions.”
“I’ve heard stories, that’s all.”
“About the Comanche living on this here reservation. A strange lot, for sure, gone back to living the old ways, since way back before they ever even saw a white man. I heard some of them been alive at least that long, that they got some deal with their gods that lets ’em live forever.”
“Stories,” Steeldust Jack repeated.
“They never leave the reservation, Ranger. Live off whatever they can fish or farm, and make do with the rest of whatever’s around them. At night, when the wind’s right, you can hear ’em performing all these rituals about God knows what.”
“They’re a dangerous lot for sure, that’s all.”
Steeldust Jack didn’t look convinced. He lumbered all the way back upright, grimacing until he was standing straight again.
“Tell you what’s dangerous, Sheriff,” he said, his gaze tilted low toward the body of the unidentified man. “Whatever did this. ’Cause I got a feeling it’s not finished yet.”
Copyright © 2016 Jon Land.
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Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of more than thirty-five novels, including the bestselling series featuring female Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong: Strong Enough to Die, Strong Justice, Strong at the Break, Strong Vengeance, Strong Rain Falling, Strong Darkness, and Strong Light of Day. In addition, he is the author of the nonfiction bestseller Betrayal. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.