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Authors: Jon Land

Strong Darkness


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For the Gregorys

Life's a beach



Must be that time of year again, and I promise you another great ride this time. Before we start, though, I need to give some much-deserved shout-outs.

Stop me if you've heard this before, but let's start at the top with my publisher, Tom Doherty, and Forge's associate publisher, Linda Quinton, dear friends who publish books “the way they should be published,” to quote my late agent, the legendary Toni Mendez. Paul Stevens, Karen Lovell, Patty Garcia, and especially Natalia Aponte are there for me at every turn. Natalia's a brilliant editor and friend who never ceases to amaze me with her sensitivity and genius. Editing may be a lost art, but not here, and I think you'll enjoy all of my books, including this one, much more as a result.

Big thanks also to Mireya Starkenberg, a loyal reader who now suffers through my butchering the Spanish language in order to correct it. My friend Mike Blakely, a terrific writer and musician, taught me Texas firsthand and helped me think like a native of that great state. And Larry Thompson, a terrific writer in his own right, has joined the team as well to make sure I do justice to his home state. I'm also indebted to my cousin George Mencoff for introducing me to the principles of the Deep Web and to
magazine for publishing a perfectly timed cover story.
You'll also find more info on how
Strong Darkness
came to be in my author's note that follows the epilogue here.

Check back at
for updates or to drop me a line. I'd be remiss if I didn't thank all of you who've already written or e-mailed me about how much you enjoyed the first five tales in the Caitlin Strong series. And if this happens to be your first to visit to the world of Caitlin, welcome and get ready for a wild ride. Right now it's time for me to stop talking so you can start reading.

P.S. For those interested in more information about the history of the Texas Rangers, I recommend
The Texas Rangers
Time of the Rangers,
a pair of superb books by Mike Cox, also published by Forge.



“The Secret Web: Where Drugs, Porn and Murder Live Online,” Lev Grossman and Jay Newton-Small,
magazine, November 11, 2013



Title Page

Copyright Notice





Part One

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Part Two

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Part Three

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Part Four

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Part Five

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Part Six

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Part Seven

Chapter 69

Chapter 70

Chapter 71

Chapter 72

Chapter 73

Chapter 74

Chapter 75

Chapter 76

Chapter 77

Chapter 78

Chapter 79

Chapter 80

Chapter 81

Part Eight

Chapter 82

Chapter 83

Chapter 84

Chapter 85

Chapter 86

Chapter 87

Chapter 88

Chapter 89

Chapter 90

Chapter 91

Chapter 92

Part Nine

Chapter 93

Chapter 94

Chapter 95

Chapter 96

Chapter 97

Chapter 98

Chapter 99

Chapter 100

Chapter 101

Chapter 102

Part Ten

Chapter 103

Chapter 104

Chapter 105

Chapter 106

Chapter 107

Chapter 108

Chapter 109

Chapter 110


Author's Note

Other Books by Jon Land

About the Author



In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.




“They knew their duty and they did it.”

—Ranger John S. “Rip” Ford (1815–1897)



EXAS; 1883

“Well,” said Judge Roy Bean from behind the greasy bar in his cramped saloon that doubled as a courtroom, “I've researched this matter from the best resources available and have concluded that there ain't no law in Texas against killing a Chink. So with that in mind, this court finds the defendant not guilty.”

The overflow crowd, hoping to a man for a quick resolution so they could get back to the business of drinking, was already applauding the verdict when Bean banged his gavel. The judge stripped off the black robe covering his bulbous frame and laid his palms atop the bar on either side of the single law book upon which he relied.

“Now,” he said, slapping the wood hard enough to kick a blanket of dust into the air, “who wants a drink?”

*   *   *

In the bar's rear, Texas Ranger William Ray Strong was the lone man not celebrating. He stood shaking his head, eyeing the famed frontier judge who liked to proclaim himself the only law west of the Pecos. Just a few days earlier, William Ray had been summoned to an area on the outskirts of El Paso where the Chinese victim had been found hanging from a cottonwood tree. Arresting the culprit had been as easy as walking into an El Paso bar with the intention of posing some questions, only to overhear a cowboy with rotting teeth and the worst breath he'd ever smelled boast of doing the deed.

“Can I take that as a confession?” William Ray asked, approaching the table.

“You can take it as the drunken word of Cole Varney,” the cowboy said, toasting him with his beer, “the only word I know.”

Varney watched William Ray hitch his barn coat back to reveal his Colt Peacemaker.

“What are you, some kind of lawman?” Varney asked, drawing a collective chuckle from those crowded at the table with him.

William Ray pulled the barn coat further to reveal his Texas Ranger badge, forged out of a Mexican Cinco Pesos coin. “I suppose you could say that.”

The chuckling seemed to freeze midbreath, the whole bar going silent. William Ray noticed men who'd eased their hands a bit closer to their holstered pistols draw them back, leaving those hands in evidence for him to see.

“And you, Cole Varney,” he resumed, drawing close enough to stand over his suspect, “are under arrest for the murder of Han Chu.”

“Was that the Chink's name?”

William Ray kicked the chair out from under Varney and he hit the floor hard, blowing out some breath that stained the air with the stench of stale onions and eggs gone bad. Light spilling from dusty tin lanterns strung overhead flickered at the impact that coughed a dust cloud into the bar's already grimy air.

“Doesn't matter if he was a Chinaman or the goddamn man from the moon,” William Ray said, jerking Varney to his feet by the scruff of the neck. “You confessed to murdering him, sir, and the awful stench you give off should be enough to arrest you on its own.”

“I didn't confess to nothing. Anybody hear me confess to something?” Varney asked anyone in the bar who was listening.

To a man, including those at his table who'd kept to their chairs with their hands remaining where William Ray Strong could see them, nobody answered Varney's question one way or another.

“You're under arrest, sir,” William Ray said, snapping his handcuffs into place on the suspect's wrists.

“Who the hell are you?” Varney spat, clinging to his bravado.

“A Texas Ranger, and if that ain't enough for you, we can each try our guns and see who's still standing after the smoke clears.”

*   *   *

While William Ray had been riding with the famed Texas Ranger captain George W. Arrington of the Frontier Battalion, fighting renegade Indians and Mexican bandits, a steady stream of Chinese workers had moved into West Texas to continue laying track for the Central and Southern Pacific Railroads' expanding routes through Texas and into Utah, Nevada, and California. There weren't enough workers to handle all the area that needed to be covered, and it had reached the point where the railroad companies were actually negotiating with prisons to turn their incarcerated into virtual slave labor.

When the Frontier Battalion was disbanded the year before, William Ray had found himself busting up those illegal chain gangs. But the charges never stuck and those truly responsible were too powerful and far away to arrest anyway. While that frustrated him to no end, it in no way softened his commitment to make sure the laws of the land were applied to this new wave of immigrants on both sides. As far as he was concerned, American or not, they had to be answerable to justice whether they were the perpetrator or the victim.

Chinese crews relocated their campsites regularly to keep up with track laying progress. The particular camp they occupied here in the Trans-Pecos region of Texas had served as home longer than usual, thanks to the need to build an earthen dam to help stabilize the rail bed before ties and tracks could be spiked. It had been an unusually wet year for West Texas, stopping the railroad in its tracks until the Chinese crews completed the nearly quarter-mile-long, fifty-foot-high dam.

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