Sep 112020
 


Hosted by Four-Legged Furballs and 15 and Meowing

This week’s Fill-Ins:

  1. I wish I had been alive during ___________________________.
  2. My favorite way to have apples is ______________________.
  3. I was sad to find out that _________.
  4. _________ isn’t rocket science.

My answers:

  1. I wish I had been alive during early 1900s to see how people lived.

  2. My favorite way to have apples is in a pie.

  3. I was sad to find out that Dr. Fauci thinks there will be so many more deaths by the end of the year.

  4. Boiling water, and I knew someone who couldn’t, isn’t rocket science.

Sep 102020
 

Derailed by Mary Keliikoa Banner

 

 

Derailed

by Mary Keliikoa

on Tour September 1-30, 2020

Synopsis:

Derailed by Mary Keliikoa

A dying wish. A secret world.

Can this grieving investigator stay on the right track?

PI Kelly Pruett is determined to make it on her own. And juggling clients at her late father’s detective agency, a controlling ex, and caring for a deaf daughter was never going to be easy. She takes it as a good sign when a letter left by her dad ties into an unsolved case of a young woman struck by a train.

Hunting down the one person who can prove the mysterious death was not just a drunken accident, Kelly discovers this witness is in no condition to talk. And the closer she gets to the truth the longer her list of sleazy suspects with murderous motives grows. Each clue exposes another layer of the victim’s steamy double life.

Can Kelly pinpoint the murderer, or is she on the fast track to disaster?

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Camel Press
Publication Date: May 12th 2020
Number of Pages: 232
ISBN: 1603817069 (ISBN13: 9781603817066)
Series: PI Kelly Pruett #1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Mary Keliikoa

Mary Keliikoa spent the first 18 years of her adult life working around lawyers. Combining her love of all things legal and books, she creates a twisting mystery where justice prevails. She has had a short story published in Woman’s World and is the author of the PI Kelly Pruett Mystery Series.

At home in Washington, she enjoys spending time with her family and her writing companions/fur-kids. When not at home, you can find Mary on a beach on the Big Island where she and her husband recharge. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun she’s plotting her next murder—novel that is.

Q&A with Mary Keliikoa

What was the inspiration for this book?

I spent years working in downtown Portland high rises for lawyers and coming to work via mass transit. The inspiration for the book really began there. The MAX tracks run perilously close to the sidewalks and I often wondered how it was that more people didn’t actually fall in front of the train. The plot for DERAILED evolved as I continued to play with the idea of having someone fall because of murderous intent.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

Right now it’s writing Book 3 of the Kelly Pruett series! But seriously, the biggest challenge was getting an agent. My dream was to be traditionally published, and for that to often occur, an agent is needed. I went through well over 100 rejections on Derailed before I was signed. That was the biggest challenge, and I was only sort of kidding about Book 3. I had the idea that writing books would get easier, but I haven’t found that to be true 😊

What do you absolutely need while writing?

A quiet space and my laptop are my must haves. Coffee is good too, but I can create without it.

Do you adhere to a strict routine when writing or write when the ideas are flowing?

I show up 5-6 days a week, 2-3 hours each time. I find the routine is helpful and my brain just knows it’s time to work. That’s not to say that I don’t mess around on social media, or get up to refill my coffee cup ten times before my writing session is over, but I find the consistency helps me be creative. I learned long ago that I have to show up and get my fingers typing for inspiration to hit. If I only waited for inspiration, I might not get anything done.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

I love my Kelly Pruett character. She is tenacious, and striving to get out from under her dad’s shadow. She wants to be her own person, but wants to be a good mom. She wants to be someone her daughter looks up to. Maybe I just relate to her the most. Although I have to say her Basset hound Floyd is a very close second.

Who is your least favorite character from your book and why?

Oh I don’t know if I have a least favorite… I do like them all. But if I have to choose, the bartender in the book. I know I created every bit of him, but I’m not sure I liked his attitude about the whole mess!

Give us an interesting fun fact or a few about your book?

It was written in 1999, and when I did the editing 16 years later, it underwent a huge technology overhaul to bring it into current time. The way PIs worked pre-Facebook was a lot different and we didn’t walk around with Smart phones like we do now!
Another fun fact is the original title was Bamboozled. When I was one of the mentees chosen during the 2016 Pitch Wars contest, the first thing that was changed was the title. Two mentors who had considered my novel came up with the name Derailed, and it stuck.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

If you enjoy the likes of Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich, I believe you’d enjoy Kelly Pruett. On her first case, she really comes into her own as a PI, and there are a enough twists and turns to keep you guessing until the very end.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I’ve long been a lover of mystery and puzzles, and combined with my 18 years in the legal field, I was compelled to try my hand at writing a novel. I live in the Pacific NW with my husband of 30+ years and also have a home on the islands. My favorite place to plot murder, novels that is, will always be on a sandy beach with toes in the sand.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

Book 2 in the series, DENIED, will be out in May 2021. PI Kelly Pruett will be back on the case, this time for a former classmate whose father has gone missing. But the search for the missing father and the truth puts Kelly into a high risk game of chance with a killer willing to gamble everything to win. I’m a little scared for Kelly—but I know she can ultimately handle it!

Catch Up With Mary Keliikoa:
MaryKeliikoa.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER 1

Portland, Oregon has as many parts as the human anatomy. Like the body, some are more attractive than others. My father’s P.I. business that I’d inherited was in what many considered the armpit, the northeast, where pickpockets and drug dealers dotted the narrow streets and spray paint tags of bubble-lettered gang signatures striped the concrete. In other words, home. I’m Kelly Pruett and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

I’d just finished invoicing a client for a skip trace and flicked off the light in the front office my dad and I used to share when a series of taps came from the locked front door. It was three o’clock on a gloomy Friday afternoon. A panhandler looking for a handout or a bathroom was my best guess. Sitting at the desk, I couldn’t tell.

Floyd, my basset hound and the only real man in my life, lifted his droopy eyes to meet mine before flopping his head back down on his bed. No help there.

Another rap, louder this time.

Someone wanted my attention. I retrieved the canister of pepper spray from my purse and opened the door to a woman, her umbrella sheltering her from the late October drizzle. Her angle made it hard to see her face, only the soft curls in her hair and the briefcase hanging from her hand. I slipped the pepper spray into the pocket of my Nike warmup jacket.

“Is Roger Pruett in?” she asked, water droplets splatting the ground.

She hadn’t heard the news and I hadn’t brought myself to update R&K Investigation’s website. I swallowed the lump before it could form and clutch my throat. “No, sorry,” I said. “My dad died earlier this year. I’m his daughter, Kelly.”

“I’m so sorry.” She peered from under the umbrella, her expression pinched. She searched my face for a different answer.

I’d give anything to have one. “What do you need?”

“To hire a P.I. to investigate my daughter’s death. Can you help me?” Her voice cracked.

My stomach fluttered. Process serving, court document searches, and the occasional tedious stakeout had made up the bulk of my fifteen hundred hours of P.I. experience requirement. Not that I wasn’t capable of more. Dad had enjoyed handling cases himself with the plan to train me later. In the year since his death, no one had come knocking, and going through the motions of what I knew how to do well had been hard enough. Now this lady was here for my father’s help. I couldn’t turn her away. I raked my fingers through the top of my shoulder length hair and opened the door. “Come in.”

“Bless you.” She slid her umbrella closed and brushed past me.

After securing the lock, I led her through the small reception area and into my office. A bathroom and another office that substituted for a storage closet were down the long hallway heading to the rear exit. Floyd decided to take interest and lumbered over. With his butt in the air, he stretched at her feet before nearly snuffling my soon-to-be client’s shoe up his nose. She nodded at him before vicious Floyd found his way back to his corner, tail swaying behind him. Guess he approved.

The woman looked in her mid-sixties. She had coiffed hair the color of burnt almonds, high cheekbones, and a prominent nose. She reminded me of my middle school librarian who could get you to shut up with one glance. “Would you like coffee, Ms…?”

“No thank you. It’s Hanson.” She settled in the red vinyl chair across from my dad’s beaten and scarred desk. “Georgette Hanson.”

My skin tingled when she said her name.

“My condolences on your father,” she said.

“Thank you.” Her words were simple, and expected, but her eyes held pain. Having lost her daughter, she clearly could relate.

“How did it happen?” she asked.

I swallowed again. With as many people as I’d had to tell, it should be getting easier. It wasn’t. “Stroke. Were you a former client of my father’s?”

She waved her hand. “Something like that.” She lifted the briefcase to her lap and popped the latch. Her eyes softened. “He was a fine man. You look just like him.”

My confident, broad-shouldered, Welshman father had been quite fit and handsome in his youth. Most of my adult life he’d carried an extra fifty pounds, but that never undermined his strong chin, wise blue eyes, and thick chestnut hair. I’d been blessed with my Dad’s eyes and hair and had my mom’s round chin. But since I’d ballooned a couple of sizes while pregnant with Mitz, I knew which version she thought I resembled. “What were you hoping he could do for you with regards to your daughter?”

“Find out why she’s dead.” Georgette shoved a paper dated a few weeks ago onto the desk and snapped the case lid closed.

A picture of a young woman with a warm smile, a button nose, and long wavy brunette hair sat below the fold on the front page under the headline: WOMAN STRUCK BY MAX TRAIN DIES.

I winced at the thought of her violent end. “I’m sorry. Such a pretty girl.”

“She was perfect.” Georgette pulled off her gloves, her eyes brimming. “The train destroyed that. Do you know what a train does to a hundred-pound woman?” Her voice trembled.

To avoid envisioning the impact, I replaced it with the smiling face of Mitz, my eight-year-old daughter. Which made it worse. If anything ever happened to her… How Georgette wasn’t a puddle on the Formica eluded me. I took a minute to read the story. According to the article, Brooke Hanson fell from the sidewalk into the path of an oncoming MAX train downtown at Ninth and Morrison Street. The police reported alcohol was a contributing factor. “They detained the sole witness who found her, Jay Nightingale. Why?” I set the paper down.

Georgette brushed her hair away from her forehead flashing nails chewed to the quick. “At first, the police thought he had something to do with her fall. He told them he’d seen my Brooke stumble down the sidewalk and teeter on the edge of the curb. Supposedly, he called out the train was coming and she didn’t hear him. He made no effort to get her away from those tracks. When the autopsy showed she’d been drinking, they wrote her death off as an accident, released Mr. Nightingale, and closed the case.”

Their decision couldn’t have been that cut and dry. “How much had she been drinking?”

“You sound like the police.” Georgette lifted her chin and met my gaze. There are many stages to grief. One of them anger, another denial. Georgette straddled both, something I knew plenty about. “Not sure…exactly. You’ll have to check the report.”

I scanned her face for the truth. “You don’t know or you’re afraid to tell me?”

She massaged the palm of her hand with her thumb. “The bartender at the Limbo said she’d had a few before he’d cut her off and asked her to leave. None of that matters because Nightingale’s lying. He had something to do with her fall. He may have even pushed her. At the very least, he knows more than he’s telling.”

My eyebrows raised. The police weren’t perfect, but they had solid procedures in death investigations. They would have explored that angle. “What are you basing that on?”

“My gut.”

A mother’s intuition while undeniable, alone didn’t prove foul play. “Did the MAX operator see Mr. Nightingale next to her at any point?”

“He didn’t even see her because the area wasn’t well lit.”

“Do you have his name?”

“Chris Foley.”

I jotted the information down. “What do the train’s cameras show?”

“There weren’t any. And no passenger statements because the train was done for the night. But Brooke shouldn’t have even been in the vicinity of that train.”

“Where is the Limbo located?”

“Ten blocks from where she was hit.”

A half mile, give or take. “Could she have been heading to catch the MAX to go home?”

“Brooke detested mass transit. The people who ride during the day scared her. She wouldn’t go there at night. Besides, she lived south of town. The train wouldn’t have taken her there.” She sighed. “I’m telling you, she wouldn’t be that far from the bar unless someone…” She closed her eyes.

Georgette talked in circles attempting to make sense of it all, but I had first-hand knowledge of drunk people doing things out of character. Given what she’d described, I could understand why the police had closed the matter. Even so, her devastation gripped my heart. And something had brought her out on this rainy Friday. “What are you holding back, Ms. Hanson? Why do you feel so strongly Mr. Nightingale was involved that you’d come to my dad for help?”

She stared at her hands as if they held the answers. “Brooke had changed in the last year. Become more distant. Not visiting. Missing our weekly calls.” The corner of her mouth turned upward in a sad smile. “We used to go for pie once a month. She loved pie. Apple pie. Cherry pie.” Her smile melted. “One day she was too busy and couldn’t get away. When she did, she didn’t look well. Stressed.”

“Did she say what was bothering her?”

“No. She shut me out, which she’d never done before. Now to have been killed by a train downtown when that Nightingale fellow was close enough to stop it from happening? He’s involved. I can feel it.” She straightened. “Until I know what happened that night, I won’t rest.” Georgette reached into her purse and produced an envelope grasped in her right hand. “Here’s three thousand for you to find the truth. Please say you’ll help me.”

Despite steady work from a few law firms around town, and an adequate divorce settlement, being a single mom often meant more month than money. Georgette was offering twice what I made in a good month of process serving and that would go a long way in taking care of my little girl. Not needing to ever rely on my ex would have been incentive alone, but there was more to it than that.

I’d recognized Georgette’s name the moment she’d said it. At the reading of my dad’s will, his lawyer had handed me a handwritten letter. It was a request from my dad that if a Georgette Hanson ever came to his door asking for help, I should assist and not ask questions why. It had meant nothing at the time. I’d figured it was due to his unending dedication to his clients.

Because Georgette had a connection to my dad in some capacity, that sealed my decision to at least try and help her. While I’d been directed not to ask questions, even he would have needed the obvious one answered before he took her money.

“You said she’d changed. Is there any chance she might have…I mean, was she depressed? Could she have stepped…”

Georgette cut me off. “Stop.” Her eyes grew wide with denial and the damn broke. Tears poured over her cheeks; her shoulders shook, buckling from the weight of her anguish. The anger and determination she’d used as a mask crumbled, and each passing second exposed another layer of her gut-wrenching grief.

I shifted at witnessing her raw emotion, bracing myself against my own around my father, and my thoughts on Mitz. Tears stung my eyes, unsure how to comfort my client when I struggled to do that for myself.

She muffled a wail with the back of her hand and finally drew in deep breaths until the sobs subsided.

I grabbed a box of Kleenex behind me. She already had a handful of tissue ready from her purse. I’d back off the notion of suicide—for the moment. The woman didn’t need any more distress than she’d already endured.

She sniffed hard a couple of times and sopped up her face with the tissue. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” I swiped under my eyes with my fingers, gaining control over my thoughts. “I’m not sure I’ll uncover anything new, but I will look for you.”

“Thank you.” She composed herself and stuffed the tissue back in her purse for the next inevitable breakdown.

I handed Georgette one of my dad’s old contracts, explaining my hourly rate, and a couple of authorization forms that might come in handy if requesting any case files was necessary.

She signed her name without bothering to read the fine print. She stood, the vinyl chair screeching against the hardwood floor startling Floyd. Her expression softened. “How old are you?”

“Thirty-two.”

“Brooke was a couple of years older, but pretty, like you and with the same flowing brown hair and kind eyes.” She sniffed. “I came to Roger because he could get to the heart of things. If you’re like him, you’ll find out what happened to my baby.”

I’d never be as good as my dad, but I did possess his mule-like stubbornness to get to the bottom of things. My ex could attest to that. “I’ll do what I can.”

She nodded. “Brooke was a good girl. She loved animals, ran every morning, and worked for the law firm Anderson, Hiefield & Price. She was the head accountant there.” Her face beamed with pride before her chin trembled again, but she held it together.

“It might help if I get a better sense of who she was.” I slid the legal pad to her. “If I could get her address, I’d like to start there.”

Georgette jotted the information down and pushed it back to me. She dug into her purse and produced the key. “I haven’t brought myself to go there yet.”

I gave her a sympathetic smile. “Are there family or friends I should start with?”

“Besides my husband, Chester, there’s just her sister, Hannah, who lives in Seattle. They weren’t close.” Georgette cleared her throat. “She never spoke to me about friends or boyfriends. Honestly, with her work schedule, she didn’t have time for any.”

With my own social life lacking, I related. “Do you have her cell? I’d like to check who she had on speed dial.”

She shook her head. “It wasn’t among her belongings.”

What thirty-something didn’t have their phone glued to them? Unless the impact of the train threw it. Another image I pushed away. I rounded my desk and walked her out of my office.

“Please keep in touch on how the investigation is going,” she said.

I assured her I would. She squeezed my arm to thank me as she left. With a twist of the deadbolt, I rested my shoulder against the door and closed my eyes. Mitz would get hugged a little closer tonight.

At my desk, Floyd trotted over and sat at my feet. He rested his chin on my lap while I added a few more notes. His sixth sense of when I needed him never faltered. I tucked the notes, along with a couple of divorce petitions into my bag to serve in between outings with Mitz.

It was early enough to get to Brooke’s place, about twenty minutes away, and to the grocery store so Mitz and I weren’t eating PB&Js for dinner. The faster I got started and found answers, the sooner Georgette could begin healing. If I was lucky, Brooke’s phone would be sitting on her nightstand waiting to be found.

Before getting up, I pulled the letter from my dad out of the top drawer and unfolded the paper. I traced the ruts in the desk we shared with my finger as I read his words. Georgette’s name was there in black and white. I had wanted to ask her more about how she knew my dad, but he’d been explicit in his request. He was a good man, albeit a tough man that I didn’t question. Nor had I ever felt the need to. It hadn’t been easy for him after my mom died, and we became the Two Musketeers. We may have run out of time for him to teach me everything he knew about being a P.I., but I’d learn as I went. I had no other choice. Helping Georgette was the last thing I could do for him. And I would.

“Ready to boogie, Floyd?” I flicked off the lights and Floyd padded behind me down the narrow hall to the backdoor.

We jogged to my yellow 1980 Triumph Spitfire, a gift from my dad when I graduated. “You know the routine, buddy.” Floyd stretched himself halfway into the car, and with a grunt, I lifted in his other half. He tripped over the manual gearshift and settled into the passenger seat as I slunk behind the wheel. The engine started right up, for a change.

Brooke was a couple of years older than me—far too young to die. Was Nightingale involved in her death? Did he know more than he was telling? Or was he just a helpless bystander who could only watch Brooke fall because she was drunk off her ass? I had a feeling I’d be returning the bulk of Georgette’s money after putting in some legwork. With a case the Portland police had already closed and an eyewitness who’d already been cleared, what other possibility was there?

***

Excerpt from Derailed by Mary Keliikoa. Copyright 2020 by Mary Keliikoa. Reproduced with permission from Mary Keliikoa. All rights reserved.

 

 

Tour Participants:

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GIVEAWAY!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Mary Keliikoa. There will be 2 winners of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway begins on September 1, 2020 and runs through October 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

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Sep 092020
 

Life for Life

by JK Franko

on Tour August 1 – September 30, 2020

Synopsis:

Life for Life by JK Franko

What would YOU do if someone threatened your family?

Roy Cruise and his pregnant wife Susie barely survived an assassination attempt in their own home. The police now have them under surveillance. Meanwhile, Kristy Wise is a loose cannon—she knows too much and is trying to “set things right.”

What goes around comes around. And in this case, Roy and Susie may have pushed things too far. There are too many dead bodies. Too many foes plotting against them.

Roy and Susie must outwit the police and neutralize their enemies once and for all. If not, their days of retribution may end behind bars… or six feet under.

Life for Life is Book Three of the Talion crime thriller series which begins with the Eye for Eye Trilogy.
Eye for Eye
Tooth for Tooth
Life for Life

If you like smart, fast-paced thrillers with unexpected twists, then you’ll love J.K. Franko.

 

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller, Suspense, Crime, Legal
Published by: Talion Publishing
Publication Date: July 31st, 2020
Number of Pages: 396
ISBN:978-1-9993188-2-6
Series: Talion Series, #3
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

PROLOGUE

Death is always several seconds and a few footsteps away. Look around you, wherever you are right now. How many things are there within five feet of you that could kill you? An improperly grounded electrical outlet plugged into your tablet. A slippery, wet bath tile that sends your head smashing into the side of the tub. An invisible virus silently multiplying in your lungs.

From the moment of conception, we fight to cheat death. The majority of what parents do for most of a child’s life is simply keep them from dying. And much of what parents teach kids, from avoiding strangers to keeping their fingers out of their mouths, is about staying alive.

Although the odds are stacked against us, we get very good at cheating death. So good that, maybe out of misplaced pride or just to maintain our sanity, we tell ourselves that death is far off.

But it never is. And it comes for us all.

Given my profession, I have always feared death at the hands of a patient. For years, I imagined an unhinged, unmedicated client lashing out at me. Hopefully with a gun, not a knife. When I met Susie and Roy, that changed somewhat. I feared death at their hands not because they were unstable, but because I was expendable.

I must say that after the murder of former Congressman Getz, I believed that I finally had that situation under control. Susie, Roy, and I—and all of our incentives—were finally aligned. We were on the same team, so to speak. I foolishly believed that my life could simply return to normal.

But as I look back on everything now, with twenty-twenty hindsight, I can see that even as Roy was drowning Jeff Getz in the Bay of Pollença in Spain, the rough outlines of our tragic ending had already been sketched—all of the pieces were in place. Death was watching, and planning.

As you must appreciate by now, my story is inextricably intertwined with the stories of others. This is, of course, fundamental to the human condition. We are all part of a larger whole. Seemingly unrelated people and events, distant in time and location, weave their way in and out of our lives like the threads of a tapestry.

I have told you two stories from the past that directly impacted me, Susie, and Roy. I shared with you the tragic tale of little Joan’s death and how she was finally avenged. And, I shared with you the evil done to Billy Applegate and how Jeff Getz paid the ultimate price for that crime.

To complete the circle, for you to understand everything that happened to us, and so that you can take from all this the same cautionary lessons that I have learned, I need to share one final story with you. It is about a woman whose life was irreversibly impacted by our actions.

It is a story about love and death. And, in this case, depending on your point of view, you might even say that her story had a happy ending.

PART ONE

Rebecca Forsyth Turks and Caicos 2020

My work as a therapist requires imagination. To help someone, to really get inside their head, you have to have some sense of what they are going through. If you haven’t experienced what your patient is suffering firsthand, you must imagine.

For example, I have never had a panic attack. But then, only five percent of humans will experience a panic attack during their lifetimes. A pretty low number. So, how can I relate?

I must imagine.

From what my patients tell me, a panic attack closely resembles the feeling of claustrophobia. This is something that I have experienced. What gets me there instantly is that scene from Kill Bill—the one when the heroine Beatrix is buried under six feet of dirt in a coffin and left to die. Do you know it?

Indulge me.

Imagine that you wake up and open your eyes, but you can’t see anything. It’s pitch dark. So dark, you’re not sure your eyes are even open. You’re lying on your back. The air you’re breathing feels warm and slightly humid, the way it does when you’re sleeping with your head under the sheets.

You don’t know where you are, but you don’t hear the usual sounds you would hear in your bedroom. No ceiling fan. No A/C blowing. Everything is silent around you. Muffled.

You try to sit up and immediately feel a thump as your forehead hits something. Your hands automatically react and reach up, discovering that something dry and smooth—heavy, immovable—is laying on top of you, just inches above your body. Right above your face, your torso, your legs.

You try to stretch your arms out to either side, and you feel the same barrier just inches away from your elbows, from your shoulders. You move your legs, spreading them apart and lifting them up. They are able to move only inches before, again, you feel something boxing you in.

Your nose itches, but you can’t reach your face to scratch it. You clear your throat and can hear that the sound doesn’t travel. It’s close to you, stifled by the box you’re in. The box is made of wood. There’s maybe six inches between you and the box, all around your body. It’s so close you can smell it. Damp wood. You can also smell soil.

You’re in a box that’s been placed in a hole, six feet deep. On top of it, and on top of you, are six feet of dirt. That much dirt weighs over two thousand pounds. One ton.

The weight of the dirt prevents you from opening the box. The lid won’t budge. And even if you could break out of the box somehow, the dirt above you would fall into it, suffocating you before you could dig your way up to air.

There is no way out. No hope.

As you realize this, your heartbeat accelerates—firing more rapidly. Your breathing speeds up. You struggle to take in air. You’re not sure if you’re already running out of oxygen or simply panicking. You can feel the silent, blind weight of two thousand pounds of earth above you crushing down onto your body. Your legs are tight, anxious. Your body fights for more space… to move, to stretch out, to stand, to run. But on every side you are closed in. You know that out there, everywhere, there is air, freedom. A universe of wide-open space.

But not for you.

You scream. The sound is muffled by the box. The only one who can hear it is you, and you know it. And you remember, as you scream, that there is a very small supply of oxygen in the box. With each breath, you are depleting it, converting it into CO2.

You’re going to suffocate. And there is no way out.

That feeling of being closed in, of paralysis, of heart-racing suffocating hopelessness, is what a panic attack feels like. Just like being trapped in a coffin.

My patients say that this is how you will feel when you’re about to die.

When I try to imagine how Rebecca must have felt, 120 feet underwater with an empty scuba tank strapped to her back, I draw on this image.

* * *

Rebecca Forsyth was floating, weightless. Free as a bird. The feeling was otherworldly. And the view was breathtaking. Above her in every direction stretched a majestic canopy of bright blue. Looking heavenward, her eyes traced dancing beams of sunlight up and away until they converged into a round disc of shimmering white firmament. As she gazed downward, the world fell away from her—the bright blue and the light fading, everything becoming darker the further she looked. The only sound she could hear was the too-close, too-loud in-and-out of her own breathing, which she tried to control—relaxing, breathing slowly.

In: one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten. Out: one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten.

She reached up, pinching her nose, and gently blew, equalizing the pressure in her ears—the Valsalva Maneuver.

Scuba diving was something Rebecca enjoyed, to a point. She was no expert, though she was open water certified and dove several times a year. She loved the feeling of weightlessness. And she liked being able to explore the ocean without having to bob up and down for air. She’d never quite mastered using a snorkel—she always had trouble clearing it of water. Scuba was much more convenient. No bobbing up and down. That being said, she had not done many deep dives.

Today was different.

Alan, Rebecca’s husband, had talked her into diving a wreck. A sunken ship. It was all perfectly safe. Alan was an extremely experienced diver. A certified instructor. He had spent numerous summers working as an instructor and had logged hundreds of hours. In fact, he was the one who had gotten Rebecca into the sport.

The plan was for Rebecca and Alan to follow standard protocol and stay close to one another, buddy diving in case of an emergency. As Rebecca floated about 40 feet underwater, Alan was signaling for her to follow him down toward the wreck, which at its deepest was 165 feet below the surface. They weren’t planning to go down that far. The bow of the ship was at about 110 feet.

Although Rebecca wasn’t crazy about diving so deep, she reluctantly followed. They were on vacation, trying to relax. Trying new things to reinvigorate their marriage. After five years married, they’d hit a rough patch. They’d had some issues. Nothing insurmountable, she would have told you.

Part of their problems stemmed from the way they approached things. Rebecca was more conservative in her thinking. Alan was more of a risk-taker. Of course, for her to have chickened out of this dive would only have served to underscore the differences between them.

She checked the air pressure in her tank and noticed that it was dropping a little faster than normal for her, given the amount of time they’d been underwater. But, she knew that she was stressing over the fact that they were going to dive so deep, and she was breathing a little more rapidly than usual. She reached up and slightly reduced the buoyancy of her BCD, then gently frog-kicked her legs to conserve energy and air, following her husband down into the dark blue depths.

Rebecca swam about ten feet behind Alan and a bit to his left. The bow of the wreck still lay another 70 feet below them and hadn’t come into view. Rebecca couldn’t see it yet. She also couldn’t see that, in addition to the bubbles that drifted up and away from her each time she exhaled, a stream of tiny bubbles trailed behind her. Air was escaping from her scuba tank through a small leak in the line to her backup regulator. As she descended into the depths, the water pressure around her grew, increasing the rate at which air was bleeding from her only tank.

Rebecca followed after Alan, taking in the immensity of the ocean floor that lay before her. The vastness of it was almost overwhelming. She tried to focus on keeping pace with her husband, and on breathing slowly.

In: one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten. Out: one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten.

She scanned beyond him, hoping that the wreck would soon come into view as she gently kicked and followed. As they descended, they were following the natural slope of the ocean floor off the coast of the island. The seabed was spotted with seagrass, kelp, small fish, and here and there a lobster. She saw several lionfish as well.

Rebecca enjoyed fish-watching. Although, for her it was always secondary to keeping an eye out for sharks. The Caribbean is home to a great many species—nurse sharks, lemon sharks, reef sharks—which are generally harmless. But now and again, you will see more aggressive bull sharks and hammerheads.

Rebecca followed behind Alan, staying close, but she couldn’t help being entertained admiring the seascape. She regularly pinched her nose to clear her ears. After what felt like just a few minutes, a shape began to take form ahead of them. Alan stuck his arm out to his side and gave her a thumbs-up. It was the wreck. A few more kicks, and she could clearly see the silhouette of the freighter sitting on the ocean floor below.

It was a tranquil day and the water was clear. There was still very good visibility as they passed 100 feet, though at that depth the water filtered out most of the reds and yellows in the color spectrum. Everything was draped in shades of blue and green.

Rebecca and Alan were diving just off the coast of Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The wreck they were approaching was the W.E. Freighter, a 100-ton ship that was purposely sunken just north of Turtle Cove to create an artificial reef. The plan for the reef had been for the ship to settle in somewhat shallow waters to create an attraction for recreational divers. The ship had unfortunately ended up much deeper than intended and required a bit of expertise to reach.

Once at the bow of the freighter, Alan stopped and gave Rebecca the “okay” sign. She responded in kind, indicating that she was fine. She checked her depth gauge and saw that they were at 110 feet, just what the guidebook had promised. Alan and Rebecca had agreed on the surface not to go inside the vessel. There was always danger of collapse or of getting trapped due to gear catching on something. There was also the risk of getting cut since what remained of the ship was decaying metal that tended to be sharp and jagged. A cut meant blood in the water. And blood in the water attracted sharks.

They hovered for a moment by the bow of the wreck.

As they looked about them, a small school of fish swam out of the boat through a hole in the hull. They were silver with what appeared to be yellow fins and tails, though the color was muted and dull due to the depth. Most were about two feet long. Rebecca recognized them as horse-eye jacks. They shimmered in the water as they swam past the husband and wife, less than three feet away. Alan reached out and touched one of the fish as it went by. It didn’t seem to notice or care.

Rebecca watched the school of fish briefly, then her focus shifted. Always scanning for sharks, she’d seen a shadowy movement not far from them—maybe forty feet. Whatever it was had whipped its body and quickly disappeared into the dark, murky distance. She kept scanning as the small school of fish swam away from them.

Suddenly, her peripheral vision registered a rapid movement coming from their left. She focused just in time to see sparkling glints of silver—a large barracuda rocketed in from the murkiness and sank its teeth into one of the jacks as the remainder of the school scattered. Thin wisps of black blood trailed behind the barracuda as it swam off, chomping and chewing on its prey. In the wake of the attack, the remaining jacks re-grouped and continued on as if nothing had happened.

It was not the first time that Rebecca had seen a predator make a meal of another fish. It never ceased to amaze her how an underwater scene could turn from completely tranquil to suddenly violent and bloody, and then return once again to the prior calm as though nothing had happened. She turned to Alan, who was shaking a hand back and forth as if to say, “Holy crap!” She gave him a thumbs-up in reply.

Rebecca continued to scan. Now there was blood in the water. And she was nervous—looking for sharks. As she looked around, Alan drifted a bit deeper examining the wreck. Rebecca was about to follow when a strange shape on the seafloor caught her eye. She felt her belly tighten and reached for her dive knife. She froze and watched carefully. Her patience was rewarded.

A sludgy-looking grey rock, which had apparently been laying low waiting for the barracuda incident to pass, decided that the coast was clear. Rebecca marveled as the rock changed color and texture, turning back into an octopus. The little guy half-swam half- crawled away, in the opposite direction of the barracuda. Rebecca smiled to herself. She loved those smart, creepy, eight-legged mollusks.

The octopus gone, she turned and saw that Alan had drifted about twenty feet away from her, deeper, exploring the hull of the wreck. He looked back at her and waved her towards him. Apparently, he’d found something of interest. Rebecca gave him a thumbs-up, and as she began to move, she looked down at her depth gauge.

Still at 110 feet.

They had agreed not to go below 130 feet, which was the official cut-off for recreational divers. Realizing it had been a while since she’d checked, she also took a look at her air pressure gauge.

Red.

A cold claw of panic squeezed Rebecca’s chest when she saw that the needle was in the red zone, between 200 PSI and zero. Almost empty. The gauge had to be wrong. She and Alan had both checked her tank in the boat. It was full then. And they’d not been diving that long—certainly not long enough for her to have used up a full tank of air.

She tapped on the gauge with a gloved finger. The needle didn’t move. Still red.

She carefully reached back behind her head with one hand to make sure the tank was fully open. Sometimes a not fully open tank would give a bad reading on a gauge. She turned the air valve in one direction and the flow of air stopped. Then she turned it in the other direction, fully opening the valve, and air flowed. She checked the gauge. Still red.

Rebecca looked up and saw that Alan had swum farther away from her, about thirty feet. And he was still moving. She fought down the panic and breathed out slowly: one-two-three-four-five-six- seven-eight-nine-ten.

Then in: one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten.

She had two choices.

She could try to ascend. If she did, she’d be abandoning Alan—leaving him at risk. She also had no idea if the air in her tank would get her to the surface. If it didn’t, she’d have to make a “controlled emergency ascent.” She remembered from her training what that meant. Possible decompression sickness. Possible pulmonary barotrauma—essentially her lungs exploding. And, of course, she could drown.

Her other option was to get Alan’s attention and return to the surface using his backup regulator—an “alternate air source ascent.”

She had to choose quickly. Given her options, Rebecca decided she had to get to Alan. She frog-kicked gently, trying not to accelerate her heart rate or breathing, conserving air, swimming down deeper into the cold sea after her husband. As she swam after him, she removed her dive knife from its sheath and used the metal ball on the end of the hilt to bang on her tank, making a high- pitched metallic clink clink clink hoping to get Alan’s attention.

Alan continued to descend. He was too far away to hear her.

She was still breathing. She still had air.

But her brain began to work against her. Fear gripped her throat like a noose slowly tightening. As Rebecca swam deeper into the sea, the ocean began to collapse in on her. Tunnel vision. Panic began to rise in her belly. She felt boxed in.

Trapped.

She fought the fear, trying to keep her breathing slow. Kicking gently, trying to get to her husband. He had air. He was only thirty feet away.

Life was only thirty feet away.

She began to feel desperation. To lose hope.

Is this it?

Is this how I die?

Alan didn’t hear the continued and more desperately rapid clinking of her knife on her tank. He wasn’t turning. He was swimming deeper, and she was barely gaining on him. She began to kick harder, knowing that her heart rate would increase. And her breathing as well. She had to get to him. He was still too far away.

Rebecca kicked and breathed. Kicked and breathed.

Kicked and…

…she breathed in, and three quarters of the way through the breath she hit a wall—it was like she was sucking on a rubber hose that was closed at one end. There was nothing. She was out of air.

She couldn’t fight the panic any longer. Sheer panic.

The feeling of being closed-in, of paralysis, of heart-racing suffocating hopelessness hit Rebecca Forsyth like a brick wall.

***

Excerpt from Life for Life by JK Franko. Copyright 2020 by JK Franko. Reproduced with permission from JK Franko. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

JK Franko

J.K. FRANKO was born and raised in Texas. His Cuban-American parents agreed there were only three acceptable options for a male child: doctor, lawyer, and architect. After a disastrous first year of college pre-Med, he ended up getting a BA in philosophy (not acceptable), then he went to law school (salvaging the family name) and spent many years climbing the big law firm ladder. After ten years, he decided that law and family life weren’t compatible. He went back to school where he got an MBA and pursued a Ph.D. He left law for corporate America, with long stints in Europe and Asia.

His passion was always to be a writer. After publishing a number of non-fiction works, thousands of hours writing, and seven or eight abandoned fictional works over the course of eighteen years, EYE FOR EYE became his first published novel.

J.K. Franko now lives with his wife and children in Florida.

Guest Post

Seven Challenges to Writing a Series

There are some distinct advantages to writing a series. To begin with, once you have laid out who your characters are and what kind of conflicts they typically get into, you can focus on plot. For example, if you think about Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, after reading the first book, your reader knows who the hero is and what kind of messes he gets into. They know what to expect and, if they liked what they read, they will keep coming back for more. So, what challenges do you face in keeping a series interesting for readers?

1. Change the stakes. Many guides to writing a series say that each book should continually raise the stakes. That’s impossible. If you follow that advice, by book three your protagonist will be saving the world from some sort of apocalypse—nuclear, biological, financial. And you will be left with nowhere to go from there. Rather, each book should change the stakes. The stakes should always be high—that’s what makes for good conflict in any plot—but they need to be high for the hero—not necessarily for the rest of us.

2. Supporting cast. If you think about any Bond film, there are two types of supporting characters. The one that are always there—M, Moneypenny, Q. And then there are the ones that are always there, but change—each Bond film has the villain and the villain’s sidekick (usually an assassin with a unique killing style), for example. Bond films are very formulaic, which is why they make for an easy example. But, this concept applies to any series. You need to surround your hero with characters that the readers get as attached to as your main man/woman.

3. Know what works. If readers are returning to read your book two and three, then you know you’ve got something. What you have to figure out is what that “something” is and make sure you deliver it in each book in the series. It could be a formula—like the Bond film structure. It could be a main character that readers are invested in and want to see through to the end—like Harry Potter. It could be a world that you’ve created that is fascinating—like Star Wars. You need to understand what your readers love about your series and make sure to give them more of that.

4. Continuity. Be sure that you clearly map out character details and series events and stay true to them. This goes for protagonists, villains, and supporting cast members. I use Excel to track birth dates, ages, parents, places lived, and character details—likes and dislikes—for all characters. As far as events, I maintain an extensive timeline of all series events to make sure future events are consistent with past.

5. Mix it up. Don’t be afraid to bring in new characters, plot devices, or even play with story structure. If a reader is on book four of your series, they are there because they like what you’ve done in the past. But don’t be afraid to experiment and throw them a curve ball here and there. Readers enjoy surprises.

6. Plan ahead. Map your series out as far ahead as you can. This allows you to drop clues in earlier books that you can later come back to. It also helps you to avoid “blockers”—details or events that you write in an earlier book that prevent you from going a direction you’d like to in a subsequent book due to continuity issues.

7. Have an end in mind. Many series go on, and on, and on. Which is great. But you should have a clear idea of how you want your series to end. This doesn’t mean knowing specifically that Book 10 will be the last. But it does mean having a clear idea of what will happen to your hero and cast in that final book. You want your series to “go out” like Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series ended, not like George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.

Copyright 2019 JK Franko

Catch Up With JK Franko On:
jkfranko.com, Goodreads, Instagram, Bookbub, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

 

Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!



 

 

Enter To Win!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for JK Franko. There will be Six (6) winners for this tour. Two (2) winners will each receive a $10. Amazon GC. Two (2) winners will each receive LIFE FOR LIFE by JK Franko (Print ~ US and Canada Only) and Two (2) winners will each receive LIFE FOR LIFE by JK Franko (eBook). The giveaway begins on August 1, 2020 and runs through October 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

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Sep 072020
 

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Mailbox Monday

According to Marcia, “Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.

Click on title for synopsis via GoodReads.

Monday:

Third Degree by Ross Klavan, Tim O’Mara and Charles Salzberg Signed TPB from Author
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah ~ eBook from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley
One Step Behind by Lauren North ~ eBook from Berkley via NetGallley
Friday:
The Perfect Guests by Emma Rous ~ eBook from Berkley via Netgalley
Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker ~ Kindle from September Prime pick

Sep 032020
 

Strong From The Heart by Jon Land Banner

 

 

Strong from the Heart

by Jon Land

on Tour August 17 – September 18, 2020

Synopsis:

Strong from the Heart by Jon Land

Caitlin Strong wages her own personal war on drugs against the true power behind the illicit opioid trade in Strong from the Heart, the blistering and relentless 11th installment in Jon Land’s award-winning series.

The drug crisis hits home for fifth generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong when the son of her outlaw lover Cort Wesley Masters nearly dies from an opioid overdose. On top of that, she’s dealing with the inexplicable tragedy of a small Texas town where all the residents died in a single night.

When Caitlin realizes that these two pursuits are intrinsically connected, she finds herself following a trail that will take her to the truth behind the crisis that claimed 75,000 lives last year. Just in time, since the same force that has taken over the opiate trade has even more deadly intentions in mind, specifically the murder of tens of millions in pursuit of their even more nefarious goals.

The power base she’s up against―comprised of politicians and Big Pharma, along with corrupt doctors and drug distributors―has successfully beaten back all threats in the past. But they’ve never had to deal with the likes of Caitlin Strong before and have no idea what’s in store when the guns of Texas come calling.

At the root of the conspiracy lies a cabal nestled within the highest corridors of power that’s determined to destroy all threats posed to them. Caitlin and Cort Wesley may have finally met their match, finding themselves isolated and ostracized with nowhere to turn, even as they strive to remain strong from the heart.

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: Forge Books
Publication Date: July 28, 2020
Number of Pages: 368
ISBN: 0765384701 (ISBN13: 9780765384706)
Series: A Caitlin Strong Novel, #11
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Jon Land

Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of fifty-two books, including eleven featuring Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong. The critically acclaimed series has won more than a dozen awards, including the 2019 International Book Award for Best Thriller for Strong as Steel. He also writes the CAPITAL CRIMES series and received the 2019 Rhode Island Authors Legacy Award for his lifetime of literary achievements. A graduate of Brown University, Land lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Q&A with Jon Land

What was the inspiration for this book?

Great opening question and let me answer it in a way you’re probably not expecting. I don’t draw on inspiration in the traditional sense of the word, because if you’re a professional the work, the writing, becomes its own inspiration. What inspires me when writing the Caitlin Strong series is what inspires every book I write: the desire to write a great story, to lose myself in the writing the same way you will hopefully lose yourself in the reading. In my mind, the most important thing for a writer is loving the story you’re telling. If you don’t love it, how can you expect the reader to love it? And the desire to tell a story that the reader loves makes for the greatest inspiration out there

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

As you know, I do an awful lot of these interviews and no one’s ever asked me that before. And the answer is a combination of remaining relevant as an author and, toward that end, the need to redefine myself more times that I’d care to admit. The simple fact of the matter is all but a very select few authors are in real control of their careers–you see their names high up on the New York Times bestseller list. The rest of us are subject to changes in the marketplace and the world. Like when the thriller genre collapsed at the time the Soviet Union dissolved in the early 1990s. Or, in my case, when the decline in sales for a series lead a publisher to say it’s time to do something else. Or when the mass market paperback industry collapsed and, with it, a great portion of my value as a writer. I don’t write four or five books a year because I want to, I write that much because I have to in order to make a living and pay the mortgage. So the challenge I’m really alluding to here is the need to balance creative concerns with the realities of financial concerns.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

Privacy, light, and my computer. Oh, and my imagination, of course, but that doesn’t take any breaks!

Do you adhere to a strict routine when writing or write when the ideas are flowing?

The volume of my work requires the former. You show me a writer who only works when the ideas are flowing and I’ll show you an amateur. Being a writer is a job. You get up and you do it every day, no matter your mood, no matter the bad emails that began the day, no matter how well, or not so well, your latest book is doing. Sticking to a routine requires the kind of self-discipline any self-employed professional must have or they’re not going to be chasing their dream very long.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

I’d have to say Colonel Guillermo Paz, Caitlin’s giant and brutally efficient protector who was originally hired to kill her. He wasn’t even supposed to survive the first book in the series, Strong Enough to Die, but he took his scenes over from me and had another idea. I liked how his character developed so much, I knew he had to stick around. His scenes are almost always my favorite to write and it’s such a blast to give him a new set piece to continue his search for enlightenment and redemption. Making one of the world’s deadliest men an elementary school gym teacher was an absolute blast in Strong from the Heart, and that opening scene where he rides to Caitlin’s support when she needs it the most against a half dozen heavily armed ICE agents is pure gold. I wish I could tell you where his dialogue comes from, but you’ll have to ask him!

Who is your least favorite character from your book and why?

Wow, I wasn’t expecting that one! So I hope you don’t mind me doing a bit of cop-out in my answer. Look, STRONG FROM THE HEART contains some pretty despicable villains and I don’t like any of them—as people—but as characters, well, that’s something else. In STRONG LIGHT OF DAY, the book’s villain Callum Dane early on beats an amputee to death with his prosthetic leg. How can anyone not hate him? You’re supposed to hate him as a person, but I had a blast writing him as a character because he was so heinous. Hey, I wish I had created Hannibal Lecter. I don’t like him either but I love him as a character as well.

Give us an interesting fun fact or a few about your book?

I don’t have to cop out on that question, although I’m not sure I’d call them fun facts. Doing a book where Caitlin Strong takes on the opioid crisis, fighting her own personal War on Drugs, opened up a world to me that was confounding in the depth of the problem. 80,000 people are going to die this year of drug overdoses. There are over 3 million people in this country who are addicted to opioids. And the government has not only allowed this to happen, they actually enabled it because of the pharmaceutical lobby. Sure, public opinion has forced their hand in cases like Purdue Pharma, but this problem has existed for far longer than people realize and the individuals elected to represent us, and look out for our best interests, turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the problem for far, far too long. You want to know why we’ve been losing the War on Drugs since it was declared? Look no further than Washington, DC.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I want you to have as much reading STRONG FROM THE HEART as I did writing it!

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I went to Brown University with every intention of becoming a lawyer. Then I got bit by the writing bug, and everything changed—I changed horses in the middle of the stream, so to speak, something that Brown’s then New Curriculum allowed. So I knew I wanted to be a writer; I just didn’t know what kind of writer I wanted to be. My first book was actually a senior thesis in the Honors English and American Literature program. And I didn’t set out to write a thriller, so much as a Hollywood novel in the tradition of Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust. But the book became a thriller because that’s where my instincts took me. It was also the genre I enjoyed reading the most so it was natural for me to gravitate in that direction. That’s an important lesson for all writers because you can’t force the process. If you’re not being natural, instinctive, you’re going to write something that is not only unreadable, but also unpublishable.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

I’ve recently taken over Margaret Truman’s CAPITAL CRIMES series and my first effort, MURDER ON THE METRO, publishes next February. Having also done six books in the MURDER, SHE WROTE series, I understand the responsibility and risk that comes with taking over a major brand. In that respect, it’s a totally different process but in another respect, I don’t just want to write the characters, I want to take ownership of them the same way I do for my own. Something I never could have done a decade ago, but that I’ve grown into over the past few years.

Catch Up With Jon Land On:
JonLandBooks.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER 1

San Antonio, Texas

Caitlin Strong pushed her way through the gaggle of reporters and bystanders clustered before the barricade set up just inside the lobby of the Canyon Ridge Elementary School building.

“Look,” she heard somebody say, “the Texas Rangers are here!”

She’d focused her attention on the six men wearing black camo pants and windbreakers labeled I-C-E in big letters on the back, glaring at her from the entrance to the school to which they’d clearly been prevented from entering. She pictured several more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents stationed at additional exits in case their quarries tried to make a run for it.

“We didn’t call the Rangers,” snarled a bald man, the nametag he was required to wear reading ORLEANS.

“No, sir,” Caitlin told him, “that would’ve been the school principal. She told Dispatch you’d come here to collect some of her students.”

She let her gaze drift to a windowless black truck that looked like a reconfigured SWAT transport vehicle.

“Just following orders, Ranger. Doing our job just like you.”

“My job is to keep the peace, sir.”

“Ours too, so I’m going to assume you’re going to assist our efforts, given that we’re on the same side here.”

“What side would that be?”

Orleans snarled again, seeming to pump air into a head Caitlin figure might’ve been confused for a basketball. “United States government, ma’am.”

“I work for Texas, sir, and the principal told me all the kids you came for were born on Lone Star soil.”

“That’s for a court to decide.”

“Maybe. And, you’re right, the both of us are here because we’ve got a job to do and I respect that, sir, I truly do. My problem is it’s never right in my mind for adults to involve children in somebody else’s mess.”

Canyon Ridge Elementary was located on Stone Oak Parkway, part of San Antonio’s North East Independent School district and featured a comfortable mix of Caucasian and Hispanic students in keeping with the city’s general demographics. The building featured a rounded arch entry where Caitlin could see any number of faces, both child and adult, pressed against the glass. She also glimpsed a heavy chain looped through the double doors to prevent entry, although numerous chairs, boxes, and what looked like an overturned cafeteria table had been piled into place as well. Caitlin pictured similar chains and barricades barring entry at any of the other doors as well, the eyes of both children and adults alike gaping with hope at her arrival through the glass.

“As a Texas Ranger,” Orleans responded finally, “you enjoy a degree of discretion I don’t have. I wish I did, but I don’t. And as long as I don’t, I’ve got orders to follow and that’s where my discretion begins and ends.”

“Where are you from, sir?”

“Not around here, that’s for sure. Does it matter?”

“That ICE is about to take six US citizens, all under the age of ten, into custody matters a lot,” Caitlin told him. “Some might even call it kidnapping.”

“Did you really just say that?”

“Like I said, I’m only trying to keep the peace. Exercise that discretion you mentioned.”

“It’s not your jurisdiction.”

“San Antonio was still part of Texas last time I checked.”

Orleans’ spine stiffened, making him look taller. “Not today, as far as you’re concerned. You don’t want to push this any farther than you already have, Ranger, believe me.”

“It’s about the law, sir—you just said that too. See, the Texas Rangers maintain no Intergovernmental Service Agreement with ICE; neither does the city of San Antonio. And, according to the city’s detainer agreement, a local police officer has to be present whenever you’re staging a raid. And I don’t currently see an officer on site.”

“That’s because this isn’t a raid.”

“What would you call it then?”

Orleans’ face was getting red, taking on the look of sunbaked skin. “There’s a local inside the building now.”

“Right, the school resource officer. What was his name again?”

Orleans worked his mouth around, as if he were chewing the inside of his cheeks.

Caitlin cast her gaze toward the pair of black, unmarked Humvees that must’ve brought the ICE officials here. “You got assault rifles stored in those trucks, sir?”

“Never know when you might need them.”

“Sure, against fourth graders wielding spitballs. Report I got said those and the fifth graders helped barricade the doors.”

“So arrest them and let us do our jobs,” Orleans sneered, his shoulders seeming to widen within the bonds of his flak jacket.

“Be glad to, once you produce the official paperwork that brought you this far.”

“We can give you the names of the students we’re here to detain, Ranger.”

“What about warrants, court orders, something that passes for official?”

Orleans shook his head. “Not necessary.”

“It is for me.” Caitlin took a step closer to him, watching his gaze dip to the SIG Sauer 9-millimeter pistol holstered to her belt.

“Don’t make me the bad guy here, Ranger. I’m doing my job, just like you. You may not like it, all these protesters might not like it, but I don’t suppose they’d disobey the orders of their superiors any more than I can.”

“I know you don’t make the rules, sir, and I respect that, to the point where I have a suggestion: Why don’t you stand down and give me a chance to fetch the kids you’re after from inside before somebody gets hurt?”

A skeptical Orleans nodded stiffly. “Sounds like you’ve come to your senses, Ranger.”

“Never lost them, sir. You’re right about orders and mine were to diffuse the situation through whatever means necessary. That’s what I’m trying to do here. The lawyers can sort things out from that point.”

Orleans hedged a bit. “I didn’t figure something like this fell under Ranger domain.”

“This is Texas, sir. Everything falls under our domain. In this case, we can make that work to your advantage.”

Orleans nodded, his expression dour. “The doors were already chained and barricaded when we got here, Ranger. That means somebody tipped the school off we were coming, even fed them the names of the kids we were coming to pick up.”

“It wasn’t the Rangers,” Caitlin assured him.

“No, but somebody in the Department of Public Safety must’ve been behind the leak after we informed them of our intentions as a courtesy.”

“That’s a separate issue you need to take up with DPS, sir. For now, how about we dial things back a few notches so the two of us can just do our jobs?”

“That sounds good to me, Ranger. The United States government thanks you for your support.”

Caitlin stopped halfway to the school entrance beneath the curved archway and looked back. “Don’t confuse what I’m doing with support, Agent Orleans. When things go from bad to worse, blood often gets spilled. What do you say we do our best to keep the street dry today?”

CHAPTER 2

San Antonio, Texas

Caitlin watched the school’s principal, Mariana Alonzo, unfasten the chains after enough of the makeshift barricade had been removed to allow one of the entry doors to open.

“Thanks for coming, Ranger,” Alonzo greeted, locking the chain back into place.

“I’m sure your sister would have preferred intervening herself, ma’am.”

Alonzo swallowed hard. “Did you mean what you said out there, that you’re going to deliver the kids to ICE?”

“I also said I was here to diffuse the situation through any means necessary.”

Mariana’s Alonzo’s sister Conseulo was a former San Antonio police captain and deputy chief currently climbing the law enforcement ladder at the Department of Public Safety in Austin. She’d called Caitlin immediately after first getting word of ICE’s pending arrival at Canyon Ridge Elementary, though not before alerting her sister to what was coming.

“All six of these kids are honor students, Ranger,” the school principal noted.

“This kind of thing would be just as wrong even if they weren’t, ma’am. I imagine your sister believed that more than anyone. I’m surprised she didn’t come here herself, instead of calling me.”

Now, an hour after that call, the sister of DPS’s Deputy Police Commissioner was looking at Caitlin with the same hope she’d glimpsed on the faces of the kids pressed against the glass.

“She wanted to,” Principal Alonzo said, “but I wasn’t about to let her throw her career away. Then she told me she had another idea. Nobody messes with the Texas Rangers, right?”

“Your sister and I go back a ways, ma’am,” Caitlin told her, not bothering to add that not all their interactions had been positive.

Alonzo steered Caitlin away from the throng of children unable to take their eyes off her badge and gun to a corner of the hall. They stopped beneath an air conditioning baffle blowing bursts of frigid air.

“What now, Ranger?”

“Where are the children, ma’am?”

“In my office,” Alonzo said, tilting her gaze toward an open door through which Caitlin spotted a pair of school secretaries busy fielding a nonstop flurry of phone calls behind their desks. “Be nice to keep as much of a lid on this as possible.”

Caitlin weighed her options. “That lid got blown off when your sister called me in on this. I don’t figure on ICE breaking down the doors, but they’ll wait us out for as long as it takes. Means we need to find a way to take these kids out of their reach.”

“Is that even possible?”

“I’ve got a couple of ideas.”

***

“You want to do what?” D. W. Tepper, captain of Ranger Company G, blared over the phone.

Caitlin pictured him reaching for a cigarette. “You heard me, Captain.”

“Well, that’s a new one, anyway.”

“First time for everything.”

“Our necks better be made of Silly Putty, if we’re going to stick them out this far.”

“Not the first time for that at all. And put down the Marlboro, D.W.”

“Jeeze, Ranger, what are you, psychic now, like that seven-foot Venezuelan giant of yours?”

“Speaking of Colonel Paz . . .”

CHAPTER 3

San Antonio, Texas

Twenty minutes and another phone call later, Caitlin inspected the three-page document Principal Mariana Alonzo had printed off an email attachment she’d just received.

“You Rangers sure work fast,” she complimented.

“Always been our way,” Caitlin told her, folding the document in thirds so the proper section was face out, “long before there was any such thing as email or even electricity.”

“You ever wonder what it was like ranging in those days?”

“Strongs have been Rangers almost as long as there’s been a Texas. I never really had to wonder, since I’ve heard all the stories about their exploits.”

“I’ve heard of your grandfather, your father too.”

“Well, ma’am, my great-grandad William Ray and my great-great-grandad Steeldust Jack had their share of adventures too.”

“I’d love to have you back some time to talk about that history to our students.”

“Let’s take care of the ones I came here about today first,” Caitlin said, pocketing the now tri-folded set of pages.

***

“You sure about this, Ranger?” Mariana Alonzo said to Caitlin, after bringing the six students from Canyon Ridge Elementary that ICE officers had come to collect from her office to the main lobby, just out of sight from the barricaded entrance.

Caitlin ran her hand through the hair of a trembling girl who looked all of ten years old, then used a tissue to wipe the tear stains from the cheeks of a boy who was all of nine.

“As sure as I am that if we don’t do something fast, ICE might breach the building.”

“What happens then?”

“This is still Texas and I’m still a Texas Ranger, ma’am. Just ask your sister.”

“I did, after she told me you were coming.”

“What’d she say?”

“To stay out of your way. That everything I’d heard was true.”

Caitlin bristled. “I wouldn’t put much stock in those stories. The press is prone to exaggeration.”

Alonzo nodded. “She told me you’d say that too.”

Caitlin felt the boy whose cheeks she’d swiped clean tug at her sleeve.

“Are you going to save us from the bad men?”

She knelt so they were eye-to-eye and laid her hands on his shoulders. “What’s your name, son?”

“Diego. I’m scared.”

“Well, Diego, let me show you what happens to men who scare little kids.”

***

The bald ICE agent named Orleans smirked when Caitlin emerged from the school entrance with the six children ICE had come to collect in tow, school principal Mariana Alonzo bringing up the rear. Cameras clacked and whirred, as she brushed aside microphones thrust in her face.

“That wasn’t so hard, was it?” Orleans said, once Caitlin reached him, her charges gathered protectively behind her. “Good thing you came to your senses. If it makes you feel any better, I hate this part of the job as much as anybody.”

“I hope that’s the case, Agent, I truly do.” Caitlin eased the document Captain Tepper had just emailed from her pocket. “Because this is a duly executed warrant naming these six children as material witnesses to a crime, subject to protection by the Texas Rangers until such time they are called to testify.”

Orleans started to turn red. Caitlin could feel the heat radiating through his uniform, dragging an odor that reminded her of a gym bag with yesterday’s dank workout clothes still stuffed inside.

“You lied to me, Ranger.”

“No, I didn’t, sir. I told you I was here to diffuse the situation and that’s what I’m doing. I said I’d fetch the kids from inside before somebody got hurt, and that’s exactly what I did.”

“You mean, nobody’s been hurt yet, Ranger.” With that, Orleans snatched the warrant from her grasp. “This is bullshit and you know it,” he said, having barely regarded it.

“That’s not for either of us to say, sir. It’s for a court to decide now.”

“You want to tell me what crime exactly these six suspects are material witness to?”

“Did you just call them suspects?”

“Answer my question, Ranger.”

“I’m not at liberty to say, sir. It’s a confidential investigation.”

Orleans turned his gaze on the imposing group of five armed men dressed in black tactical garb behind him, then looked back at Caitlin and smirked again. “So you think we’re just going to let you parade these subjects past us all by yourself? You really think we’re going to just back down and stand aside?”

The blistering roar of an engine almost drowned out his last words, as an extended cab pickup truck riding massive tires tore onto the scene and spun to a halt between the ICE agents and their Humvees. The springs recoiled, as a huge figure with a pair of M4 assault rifles shouldered behind him emerged from the cab, towering over those he passed, including the men with I-C-E embroidered on their jackets.

“This is Colonel Guillermo Paz,” Caitlin told Orleans, “an agent of Homeland Security, just like you, sir. He’s going to help me parade these ‘suspects’ past you.”

***

“Colonel Gee!” a first-grade boy beamed, coming up only to Paz’s waist as he hugged him tight before Paz could lift him into the backseat of his truck. “You remember me from pre-school?”

“Of course I do, Marcus.”

“Do you still work there?”

“No, I moved on. I do that a lot. Learn what I can from a place and then try another.”

“I miss you, Colonel Gee. You never finished the story of what you did to those bad men who tried to hurt you when you went home for your mommy’s funeral.”

“They’re not alive anymore, Marcus.”

“Really?”

Paz fixed his gaze on the ICE agents who’d edged closer, weighing their options. “It’s what happens to bad men.”

***

“Thank you, Colonel,” Caitlin said through the window, eyes even with Paz’s in the driver’s seat.

“’The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.’”

“Robert Kennedy?”

Paz’s eyes widened. “I’m impressed, Ranger.”

“Just a lucky guess.”

“Edward Bulwer-Lytton didn’t believe in luck. He called it a fancy name for being always at the ready when needed.”

“Describes the two of us pretty well, I suppose.” Caitlin looked at the four kids squeezed into the big pickup’s backseat, Diego and Marcus in the front staring wide-eyed at the giant behind the wheel. “You know where to take them.”

Paz cast his gaze back toward the ICE agents, frozen in place fifteen feet away with scowls plastered across their expressions. “And if they follow?”

“They won’t get very far,” Caitlin told him. “Principal Alonzo yanked out the valve stems on their tires while we were loading the kids.”

***

Caitlin’s phone rang with a call from Captain Tepper, just as Guillermo Paz was driving off and the ICE agents were discovering their flat tires.

“Now who’s psychic, Captain?” she greeted. “Kids are safe and I didn’t even have to shoot anybody.”

“Good thing you saved your bullets, Ranger, ‘cause there’s somewhere else you need to be right now. A town in the desert called Camino Pass, formerly with a population of two hundred and eighty-eight according to the last census.”

“Formerly?”

“Looks like they’re all dead, Ranger. Each and every one of them.”

***

Excerpt from Strong from the Heart by Jon Land. Copyright 2020 by Jon Land. Reproduced with permission from Jon Land. All rights reserved.

 

 

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