April 1998: A tanker hauling a deadly new explosive vanishes without a trace in a raging storm.... That explosive falls into the hands of Jack "Terror" Tyrell. Now, he's more determined than ever to realize his deadly vision: to lead a radical underground group that spreads its message via bombs and blood.
Enter Blaine McCracken. McCracken seeks out his mentor, Sergeant Major Buck Torrey, to get his edge back after being wounded in a terrorist attack. But Torrey has disappeared. McCracken reconnoiters with beautiful Liz Halprin, Torrey's daughter, and their hunt takes them on a perilous journey where secrets can be as deadly as bullets.
McCracken and Halprin are hot on Jackie Terror's tail, which brings them to Manhattan, where Terror's going to hold seven million people hostage.
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About the Author
Jon Land is the author of Pillars of Solomon, Walls of Jericho, A Walk in the Darkness and Keepers of the Gate. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of more than fifty books, over ten of which feature 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 is also the author of Chasing the Dragon, a detailed account of the War on Drugs written with one of the most celebrated DEA agents of all time. A graduate of Brown University, Land lives in Providence, Rhode Island and received the 2019 Rhode Island Authors Legacy Award for his lifetime of literary achievements.
Read an Excerpt
By Jon Land
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1998 Jon Land
All rights reserved.
"This is as far as I can take ya," the sheriff said, stopping the old squad car where the dirt road ended. "And I only took ya this far on account of you being a friend of his."
Blaine McCracken nodded his thanks and started to climb out of the car. He took it slow, his hip stiff from the ride, focusing on the tangled growth of vegetation and the dark waters ahead.
"Ya need some help there?"
"I can manage."
"Don't forget your bag now," the sheriff reminded, shifting it across the back seat.
He was a dour man with a face marred by pits and furrows. The thickness of his southern accent seemed strange to Blaine, who didn't consider Florida to be part of the Deep South. Then again, this part of the state was new to him.
Blaine had flown into Miami and had a cab take him southwest to Flamingo. There the sheriff had offered to drive him to Condor Key, a swampy peninsula that jutted out into the northern tip of the Everglades. The only road sign he noticed on the way was faded and spotted with rust.
Blaine reached into the back seat and hoisted his duffel bag with his good arm, the bad one dangling limply by his side. He closed the door again and caught a glimpse of his face in the window. It was much thinner than he could ever recall, the cheekbones set high and jaw sunken beneath his close-cropped beard. His skin looked pale and furrowed, further exaggerating the thick scar that sliced through his left eyebrow where a bullet had left its mark years before. The sheriff made no motion to join him outside the car, pointed straight ahead through the windshield instead. "What ya wanna do now is walk out on that dock, far as you can. There'll be a boat coming to take ya the rest of the way 'fore too much longer."
"Thanks. I appreciate the lift."
The sheriff leaned a little across the seat. "I ask ya a question?"
"Thing is, see, the man don't get many visitors. Fact is you the first I seen since he moved in, and that includes his family."
"You said you had a question."
"Does he know you're coming?"
"Depends if he reads his mail."
The sheriff nodded, not changing his expression. "I figured as much."
"Then why'd you drive me out here?" Blaine said through the window, dropping his duffel and leaning his hands on the door.
"Saw your ring, son." The sheriff cocked his gaze toward Blaine's ring finger. "He got one just like it, and I know enough 'bout such things to be sure there ain't many. You got that ring, way I see it you're a man he wouldn't mind seeing. He'll have my hide if I'm wrong."
"Yours and mine both."
The sheriff restarted the engine. "Give the ole boy my best. Tell him there's a meal waiting at the house whenever he gets it in his head to come into town."
He had to reverse his car a few times in the narrow roadway to manage the swing back around. With the sheriff gone, Blaine was left alone amidst the mangroves and black swamp waters that lay in every direction. The land was so flat, only a few inches above the water level and tangled with thick vegetation, he could see little beyond the worn dock. Blaine's shirt was already soaked through with sweat by the time he walked to the edge, the world around him alive with noise. Things shifted and plopped in the water. The mangroves rattled in the breeze.
Blaine sat down on the dock to take the pressure off his hip, felt the wood, moist with lapping waters and relentless humidity, soak through the seat of his pants. He slapped at the mosquitoes buzzing around his ears and fingered his ring, glad now he had worn it, tracing the two silver embossed letters amidst the black:
It was a part of his past, dead and gone, but the past was what he needed now.
His mystical Indian friend, Johnny Wareagle, who knew him better than anyone, said men like the two of them walked with the spirits, their movements guided, protected. The last few years, Blaine had really started listening, because Wareagle's explanations made as much sense as any other. A small bullet could kill, just as a big bullet might not; it was all in where it hit you.
Johnny had spent many hours at the hospital over the past six months, strangely unmoved by the severity of McCracken's wounds or of what his prognosis might hold.
"Looks like your spirits deserted me, Indian," Blaine had said one night when the pain in his hip was especially bad.
"They are your spirits too, Blainey," came the seven-foot-tall Wareagle's placid reply. "The road you travel with them has taken a sharp turn, that is all."
"The end of it for me, maybe."
"You've been broken before, Blainey."
"Nothing a little gauze and antiseptic couldn't take care of. Small scars, relatively speaking."
"I was talking about your spirit, where the scars are never small. I was talking about years ago when both of us had withdrawn, accepting the emptiness."
"I came and got you."
"The years between that time and the Hellfire were merely a respite to convince us of the men we really are." Here Johnny had paused, his eyes seeming to light the room. "You still are that man."
Wareagle looked unfazed. "There is a legend among my people of a warrior who rode the plains through too many years to count. Entire tribes fell to his hand, if they dared attack his people. One night he slept by a calm stream, where he was attacked by a warrior who was his equal in every way. He had at last met his match, and the battle went on for hours. Others in the tribe found him bloodied and near death, and pointing at his attacker." Johnny's expression had fixed tightly on Blaine. "His own reflection in the stream, Blainey, come to take him in a nightmare."
"There a point to this, Indian?"
"Only one man can defeat you. The warrior of legend had bested every opponent, but he could not overcome himself when at last confronted. This is that confrontation for you, Blainey."
Blaine thought back to those words, fingering his ring again. It had been a gift to him and a select few others after the war in Vietnam. A gift from the man who had shaped him, pounded the folds of his being as if he were a sword and left him razor sharp.
Dead Simple, the motto of the elite unit Blaine had been a part of through those years. But the last few months had been anything but simple.
Lying in the hospital, listening to the grim pronouncements of specialists, fighting through the grueling hours of physical therapy — lower body first and then upper body, the dual regimens necessitated by his two equally debilitating wounds. Watching and hearing people marvel at his progress. A medical miracle. A triumph of will.
Yet he couldn't get out of a car without an old sheriff asking if he needed help. Couldn't use his left arm to lift a duffel bag that barely weighed twenty pounds.
So where was the miracle?
The doctors had proudly pronounced him capable of being able to lead a normal life. How could Blaine explain that wasn't good enough? When they said he would eventually get back ninety-five percent of his strength and mobility, how could he tell them it was that last five percent that mattered most, was responsible for the edge that made him what he was, at least had been?
They wouldn't understand, so he had come down here to Condor Key in search of the man who would.
Blaine saw a skiff pushing its way through the still water, slipping past the vegetation that stubbornly clawed at it. The skiff was unmanned, and he rose warily to his feet, hackles rising with that familiar and long-unfelt uneasiness that comes of sensing danger. A feeling of something not as it should be. The skiff could have broken away from another dock, of course, and drifted here with the currents. But a mangled hip and shoulder weren't enough to change the way he had learned to think: to accept nothing as innocent.
Blaine moved closer to the dock's edge so as to get a better view of the skiff. It rode high in the water, ruling out the possibility of a person lying down inside it on a surreptitious approach. He had let Sergeant Major Eugene "Buck" Torrey know he was coming but hadn't furnished a return address or phone number, not wanting to give Buck the opportunity to tell him not to bother.
The skiff slid closer to the dock, almost within reach. Blaine knelt, intending to pull it in toward him. He was reaching out to snare the small boat, when a hand rose from beneath the water and caught his ankle in an iron clutch. Before Blaine could respond, he felt himself being heaved off the dock. He took the impact against the surface on his bad shoulder and felt a shredding burst of agony in what passed for muscle now. He had twisted his body before striking the water as well, which made his hip feel like something was crunching around inside it.
The pain distracted Blaine long enough for a pair of powerful hands to grasp him round the head and throat. The hands dragged him further under as Blaine kicked and flailed. Then, just as quickly, he felt the same iron hands yank him to the surface and hoist him effortlessly back onto the dock. He squinted in the bright sunlight and gazed down at a grinning shape treading water just below him.
"I got your note, son," said Sergeant Major Buck Torrey. "Now tell me what the hell happened."
"At least you didn't waste much time," Blaine said to Hank Belgrade that day six months earlier at the Lincoln Memorial, where they always met.
"Forty-eight hours to be exact," Belgrade told him. "I wanted you in on this while Red Dog's trail was still fresh. This is a bad one, MacNuts."
"So I figured when you asked me to bring Johnny along." And his gaze fell briefly on the shape of the huge Indian waiting patiently at the foot of the steps. Blaine waited for a pair of late-afternoon tourists to slide past them before he continued. "Who knows I'm here?"
Belgrade frowned. "You're looking at him."
"I'm sure you've got your reasons."
"The government's dirty tricks divisions. Doesn't officially exist."
"And another thing that doesn't officially exist is the research division Special Projects maintains at Brookhaven Labs. The latest phrase for deterrent there is active destabilization."
"I didn't know there was another kind of destabilization."
"Bear with me here. Active destabilization refers to isolating an enemy, cutting off his supply lines. Knocking out bridges, runways, command and control." The slump in Belgrade's shoulders deepened. "We set out to create something with one hundred percent effectiveness. And we did. It's called Devil's Brew. I named it myself. Trouble was it turned out to be considerably more effective than we expected or required. We're talking the biggest bang anywhere short of a nuke. Too big a downside if the wrong people found out it existed. So I decided to dump it."
"Red Dog was transporting the shipment to be destroyed. Desolate roads away from major population centers, standard route through central Pennsylvania — you know the drill."
"Then, all of a sudden, the rig vanished. Poof! Into thin air."
"You check the route?"
"Along with the entire surrounding area, with satellites, U-2 spy planes, ground sweeps, and full recon units. Utterly clean. No shrapnel, no evidence of any kind of a hijacking or of a crash. Storm that night washed away any tracks that might have helped us." Belgrade sighed. "Like I said, not a trace. Might as well have dropped off the face of the earth."
"What about the transponder?"
"Died out suddenly."
"Or was turned off."
"There were two," Belgrade said, catching McCracken's meaning. "The crew didn't know about the second."
"Never switched on."
"Which makes this an awfully sophisticated piece of work if you're thinking hostile action from a source other than Red Dog's crew."
"That's why I called you." Belgrade's expression became utterly flat and rigid. "We can't let this stuff fall into the wrong hands, MacNuts. If Devil's Brew works even half as good as the preliminary testing indicated, there won't be a person in this country who'll be safe. And it'll be my goddamn fault, even though I took every conceivable precaution. It was a textbook operation."
"Sometimes things happen you haven't got a chapter ready for."
Before Belgrade could respond, Blaine saw police cars tear onto the Mall and converge on the Washington Monument. In the distance, beyond the Reflecting Pool, tour patrons were scattering in all directions. Blaine stiffened, the hairs of his beard seeming to stand on end. From the foot of the Memorial, Johnny Wareagle turned and looked up at him.
"Like I was saying," Blaine said.
"All right," Sam Kirkland, the FBI's assistant director in charge of counterterrorism informed McCracken thirty minutes after terrorists had seized the Washington Monument. "This is what we know." Kirkland's expression was somewhere between a scowl and a sneer, and he didn't bother to disguise the reluctance in his voice. "For starters," he continued inside the FBI's makeshift command post, where equipment was still being dragged in, "we've got five perps armed with automatic weapons holding thirty-seven hostages on the observation deck. Our thermal scan was positive for explosives, most likely C-4, enough to blow the tip of the monument into orbit. The leader says he'll detonate in just under three hours if he doesn't receive twenty million dollars."
"Any ID on the leader?"
"His voiceprint's not in our files."
"What about photo reconnaissance?"
"He hasn't given us a clear look. He's bald, that's all I can tell you so far."
"Not very much."
"The money's twenty minutes away," Kirkland said, "if it comes to that."
"What about Hostage and Rescue?"
"Ten minutes away, with a response plan drawn up no more than one hour after that," Kirkland said, trying to sound confident.
"Then they'd better draw up new specs for the Monument while they're at it, Mr. Assistant Director. The observation deck windows are too thick to shoot or crash through, and my guess is the elevator has been disabled. Think your men can cover ninety flights of stairs and still take these bastards by surprise?"
Kirkland met McCracken's eyes for the first time, liquidy spheres that looked like miniature black holes. "You got a better idea?"
Blaine focused his gaze on the tip of the Monument. "Just one."CHAPTER 2
"This the FBI I know we're talking about?" Buck asked disbelievingly, still treading water. "I can't see these keep-it-in-the-house sons of bitches opening up their doors to an outsider."
"Hank let a few people know I was on the scene; they took care of the rest."
"Wrong place at the wrong time."
"Then or now?"
"Why don't you tell me?"
Buck finally pulled himself onto the dock and sat on its edge next to McCracken. His huge forearms pulsed slightly with exertion and his black t-shirt clung to his barrel chest like a glove. Blaine couldn't say Torrey was still muscular; he was just big — everywhere. His face was block square, his jawline so angular that it lent his expression a perpetual menacing glint. His jet-black hair showed some streaks of gray now and it was longer than Blaine had ever seen it. His face, though pitted and pockmarked, was strangely gentle, that of a man who could hug a person as easily as break him in half.
Buck Torrey's career had been that of a textbook hero until the relatively recent past. As sergeant major of the elite troop Blaine had been selected for in the early seventies, Torrey had designed the program that separated the good from the great among Special Forces personnel. This and subsequent work led to a steady rise for him through the Special Forces as it eventually became umbrellaed under the Special Operations Command based in Florida. Torrey, it was said, was being groomed to take over the post of Command Sergeant Major upon the retirement of the legendary Hank Luthie.
Everything changed on a single ragged morning in Somalia, when an army Ranger detachment was dispatched to "acquire" a Somali warlord. The operation went off without a hitch; the detachment was pulling out when one of its choppers was hit by an RPG. The chopper went down and the result was a pitched battle that rivaled any on record for ferocity and violence, ending with Ranger troops fighting with bayonets or hand-to-hand through an impossibly long night. The Rangers took three dozen casualties. The Somalis took over a thousand.
For Buck Torrey that was small consolation. He had written a half-dozen memos on the need of armored support for his men dispatched to that godforsaken country. Because they had gone unheeded, on-site Special Operations Command was helpless to mount a rescue or send in proper reinforcements. Torrey's men — and he saw them all as his men — had handled their end of things brilliantly, only to be fucked by an establishment that was balancing image and dollars instead of protecting lives. Torrey wrote one final memo, walked into the SOC commander's office, and broke his jaw with a single punch.
Excerpted from Dead Simple by Jon Land. Copyright © 1998 Jon Land. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
PROLOGUE - OBLIVION,
1 - OLD DOGS,
2 - NEW TRICKS,
3 - STRATTON'S FOLLY,
4 - DEVIL'S BREW,
5 - THE TAKING OF MANHATTAN,
Other Books by Jon Land,