Imprisoned in Nicaragua, an NFL star must escape to the United States to warn the government of an impending terrorist attack—before the sinister forces of the international intelligence community silence him forever
Jamie Skylar is not a political man. His life has always been about football, and that single-minded dedication was justified when, after he finished setting school rushing records at Brown, the New York Giants gave him a lucrative contract to join their crew of bruisers. But more important to him than football is his sister, and she needs him now. An American undercover operative masquerading as a journalist in Central America, Beth has just learned of the Nicaraguan army’s plans for an attack inside the United States, codenamed Operation Thunder Clap. She invites her brother to visit her, intending to have him smuggle out the government’s sinister plans. But when she is murdered and Jamie is imprisoned, the running back will need all his strength to escape and warn the United States. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Jon Land including rare photos from the author’s personal collection.
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About the Author
Jon Land is the USA Today–bestselling author of The Tenth Circle, Pandora’s Temple (winner of the 2012 International Book Award and nominated for a 2013 Thriller Award for Best E-Book Original Novel), and five other books featuring Blaine McCracken, Land’s iconic series hero, for Open Road Integrated Media. He also pens the critically acclaimed Caitlin Strong series, which includes Strong Rain Falling and Strong Darkness, winners of the USA Best Book Award in 2013 and 2014, in the Mystery and Thriller categories, respectively. Now with thirty-seven books to his credit, Land will soon be working on a new title for Open Road, in which McCracken teams up with Land’s other bestselling series hero, Jared Kimberlain (The Eighth Trumpet and The Ninth Dominion). Land lives in Providence, Rhode Island, and can be found at jonlandbooks.com and on Twitter with the handle @jondland.
Read an Excerpt
The Valhalla Testament
By Jon Land
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1990 Jon Land
All rights reserved.
"WE HAD US ANY balls, Ivy, we'd drive back downtown and chuck their asses out the window."
Jamie Skylar turned to the huge shape in the Jaguar's driver's seat. "Wouldn't change anything, Monroe."
"Nice payback, though, something you become quite the expert in," Monroe Smalls said with a smile.
Jamie smiled back at him and reached for the latch.
"Thanks for the lift."
He had started to hoist the door open when Smalls's huge hand closed on his forearm. They were parked in one of Kennedy Airport's forbidden red zones, but none of the patrolling traffic police seemed eager to argue the point.
"You ready to tell me where you're going, Ivy?"
"Vacation," Jamie lied. "NFL board of standards and practices gave me six weeks off, so I figure I might as well enjoy it."
Monroe Smalls smirked at him. "Yeah, and the Pillsbury Doughboy's my first cousin on my mama's side."
"I can see the resemblance."
Smalls let go of Jamie's arm. "Just keep your ass in shape, Ivy. Six weeks done, the Giants'll be waiting. Shit, you don't miss the play-offs, you don't miss nothing."
"Take care of my locker, Monroe."
"Least I can do on accounta how you took care of my ass."
Jamie slammed the Jaguar's door, and his reflection looked back at him in the glass. He looked tired. Worse, he looked sad and weak. The long, wavy brown hair that sometimes slid out the bottom of his helmet seemed limp. His face was normally smooth and angular, but it wasn't just distortion from the glass that made it appear puffy and drooping. His crystal-blue eyes, usually so bright and vital, were shown in the window as lifeless spheres. Even his powerful shoulders seemed to be sagging.
What the hell is happening to me?
It had been only the day before that Jamie appeared before the National Football League Board of Standards and Practices. Their preliminary investigation had been completed with uncharacteristic swiftness, but Jamie wasn't surprised.
"Mr. Skylar," board chairman Walter Mount had opened as he took off his glasses, "the purpose of this hearing is to hear final testimony in the matter of your purposeful injury of one Roland Wingrette of the Philadelphia Eagles. For the record, this incident occurred on Sunday, October second. Also for the record, are we to conclude that you have decided not to retain legal counsel for this hearing?"
The board members glanced at one another disdainfully. The room was laid out just as Jamie had pictured it: deep and rectangular, with Mount and the four others hidden behind a conference table set near the front wall. Before it, a number of chairs had been arranged in neat, precise fashion, the effect purposely that of a courtroom. A big-screen television dominated the right-hand wall. Against the left-hand one sat a stenographer whose black machine had already spit out a curled ream of paper. Jamie had taken a chair set forward from the rest directly in front of the chairman.
Walter Mount was nodding. "Then let us turn our attention now to the monitor...."
With that, the big-screen television jumped to life. The sound blared briefly before Mount muted it. Giants Stadium.
Seventy-six thousand fans screaming their lungs out at an early season game with playoff intensity. Kickoff coverage team lining up on the field following a Giants touchdown, Jamie third blue shirt in from the right.
Six years back, Jamie had figured Scranton High stadium would hold the biggest crowd he'd ever play before. A senior on a decent team with a decent chance of making second-team all-state or honorable mention wouldn't ordinarily have much of a career ahead of him. But a Brown University recruiter saw him and took a chance. Brown had won a grand total of five games over the preceding three years, so the smart talent, as the recruiter put it, wasn't exactly breaking down the doors to play there. Jamie liked what the man had to say. Play football in exchange for a degree in engineering if the financial aid came through. Scholarships didn't exist in the Ivy League, the recruiter explained. It was the best they could do.
He had been the leading rusher on Brown's freshmen team but hadn't turned all that many heads. The big transition happened over the summer before his sophomore year. He took up lifting weights for the first time and saw his weight jump from 185 to 205. Another inch and a half of growth put his height at a nice round six foot two. When he came back for summer two-a-day practice sessions, he did the forty in 4.6 flat, beating his best previous time by three-tenths of a second. Coaches made him run it again the next day just to make sure their clock had been working right.
The real change, though, was on the field. All of a sudden people were having trouble catching him, and when they did, they couldn't bring him down. Not a single defender on the whole Brown team could manage the feat one on one. It was as if Jamie had tuned into a new kind of balance, could juke his upper body one way while his lower body went the other. Sometimes he could even feel the parts separate, felt he was two people. He saw the holes and hit them at the same time and had become the prime ingredient in the Brown offense by the opening game against Yale. Nine hundred yards as a sophomore and twelve hundred more as a junior. People started to take notice.
Senior year proved to be the best of all. Nineteen hundred yards—an average of almost two hundred per game. Sports Illustrated came to do a story. ABC carried one game and ESPN three. Brown went 10-0 and stormed to the Ivy League title for which each member of the team was rewarded with a golden ring set with a big blue jewel. The only time Jamie had taken it off since was when he was playing or practicing. He received enough votes in the tallies for the Heisman Trophy to come in fifth, the best showing ever from the school where John Heisman himself had gone. Before he knew it, a call came on draft day from the Giants and he signed a three-year contract for $250,000 a year, with the first two guaranteed. A half-million bucks to play pro football with a Superbowl contender.
The tape was rolling, but Jamie didn't watch it. The incident was too well etched on his mind, planned out far in advance. The Eagle return man had taken the kickoff on the two and been piled up just short of the twenty-yard line. Jamie saw this out of the corner of his eye while the rest of his vision was poised on Eagle offensive lineman Roland Wingrette, who'd been blocking on the left. The whistles had long blown when Jamie crashed into him from behind. The much larger Wingrette had gone flying, landed, and hadn't gotten up. A sea of white Eagle uniforms swallowed Jamie for a brief instant before the blue of the Giants joined the pileup. Jamie was hit several times, but he didn't feel it through the pads. All he felt was good.
Walter Mount had stopped the tape and removed his glasses. "Mr. Skylar, it is the contention of this committee that you willfully and maliciously sought to do harm to Roland Wingrette. And in so doing did cause a concussion and third-degree separation of the right shoulder. What do you have to say in this matter?"
Mount hastily redonned his glasses, as if his eyes were deceiving him. "You are admitting a totally unprovoked, potentially career-threatening attack on a fellow football player?"
"Not at all."
"But you said—"
"The attack was provoked."
"Mr. Skylar, we could find nothing on the game film to indicate actions of Roland Wingrette toward you."
"Rewind the tape, Mr. Chairman. To the ten-minute mark of the third quarter."
Mount cleared his throat. "We do not have the complete game film readily available."
"Fine. Then just answer a question. What position does Roland Wingrette play?"
"Offensive line, reserve."
"But he was in for that one series in the second half, wasn't he? He came in after our allpro defensive lineman, Monroe Smalls, had flattened their quarterback for the third time in the afternoon. First play in, Wingrette chop-blocked Smalls behind the knees. Refs didn't see it, but the players did. On both sidelines."
"These are serious charges, Mr. Skylar."
"Bullshit. You've heard them before and you didn't do a damn thing about it."
"So you took it on yourself to extract punishment."
"Apparently." Jamie looked closer at Mount, who had lapsed into silence. "You don't plan to review the films, do you?"
"The relative honorability of your intentions does not change the facts here."
"He's done it before, you know. Hell, every time that fuck wad coach of theirs sends Wingrette into a game, it's to take someone out. And instead of doing something about it, you condemn me."
Mount pulled off his glasses again. They trembled in his hand. "You could have brought it to our attention, Mr. Skylar. There is a procedure for these grievances. There are proper channels."
"You ever play football, Mr. Mount?"
"Too bad. You'd know a hell of a lot more about procedure if you had. There's a code on the field, Mr. Chairman, that's got nothing to do with standards and practices. All of you should really come to a game sometime. You just might learn something."
Mount held his ground. "And yet with all these incidents you allege Roland Wingrette was behind, you were the first to act upon it."
"Nope. Just the first to get it right."
Mount stared ahead, expression trapped behind anger and stupefaction. "Mr. Skylar, this committee is prepared to decide on your punishment for willfully rendering a fellow player inactive for six weeks, and you seem to have no regrets whatsoever."
"Only that I didn't put him out for the season, Mr. Chairman."
It took the committee only twenty minutes to call Jamie back into the room. Against the left wall, the stenographer's fingers were keyed like a gunfighter's ready to draw.
"Mr. Skylar," Mount began with glasses in the on position, "it is the judgment of this committee that you be suspended from the National Football League for a period of six weeks, during which time you are prohibited from taking part in any practice or meeting. Giants Stadium is off limits to you, as are the stadiums of any team the Giants are playing on the road during that period. Additionally, you will be fined the sum total of your salary for that six-week period. If you wish to appeal this judgment, the NFL council will inform you of the proper procedure to follow...."
Mount had more to say, but Jamie didn't listen. This committee would never understand why he had done what he had. Simply stated, Jamie owed Monroe Smalls, owed him more than he owed anyone.
Jamie ruefully recalled his initiation to training camp the previous summer. He was hog-tailed and slammed to the ground on his very first carry by Smalls, who wore the vast majority of his 300 pounds as sheet steel muscle. But when the all-pro had finally let him up, grinning, Jamie shoulder-tackled Smalls back to the turf and began flailing at him. The blows must not have had any great effect, because Smalls had the tables turned before anyone could even break the scuffle up. He was still grinning when he lifted Jamie from the turf.
"For an Ivy League man, you got shit for brains but rocks for guts," the big man told him then. "Keep hittin', Ivy, and you might just find yourself a job here."
And he did, in no small part because Smalls pushed and prodded him at every opportunity. Smalls had been a two-time all-American at Army and had been granted a special dispensation in order to play pro ball. In return, in the off season he did twelve weekends reserve duty and repeated the ten-week Special Forces course every spring at Fort Bragg after mini-camp. The latter had been Smalls's idea, his way of getting keyed-up for the season. In preseason it got so Jamie was looking for the all-pro every time he got the ball even when Smalls wasn't in the scrimmage. Got so he could read the holes the instant faster that you had to in the pros. Smalls was all over him, dogging him and making life generally miserable, and in the end Smalls was ultimately responsible for his making the team as a third-string tailback. Jamie figured decking Roland Wingrette didn't even begin to even out the tally sheet.
The window slid down and Jamie was glad to see his reflection slide away with it.
"Remember, Ivy," Smalls said as Jamie looked back into the Jaguar from the curb, "I'm paying your fine."
"Whatever you say, Monroe."
"You're fuckin' A right whatever I say. And I also say six weeks done, all this gonna be just a baaaaaad memory. Plenty of shit worse than this been known to happen."
Jamie almost told him it already had.
The telegram had come the night before. Jamie hadn't mentioned it to anyone, including Monroe Smalls. Nor had he told the Giants front office or anyone else where he was going. He'd explain it all when he got back. There weren't many things in the world more important to him than football, but one of them was the reason why he was sitting in a firstclass seat on a plane bound for Nicaragua forty minutes after Monroe Smalls had dropped him off.
A man who had been watching him from a distance in the departure lounge waited until the jet had begun its taxi before moving for the phone.
"It's a go," he reported. "Skylar's on his way."CHAPTER 2
"ARE YOU CHECKING IN, miss?"
Chimera regarded the doorman politely and smiled. "No," she replied. "Just meeting a friend."
Chimera continued on through the 42nd Street entrance of New York City's Grand Hyatt. The escalator was directly to the left, rising toward lobby level to the sounds of water cascading in an endless cycle through the large fountain. She had been to the Grand Hyatt only once before but recalled the layout well enough. The lobby sprawled from a wall-length reception desk, across a lounge area complete with built-in velour seating, to the gleaming Sun Garden restaurant which overlooked 42nd Street. Chimera edged forward, noting only peripherally the endless line of conventioneers waiting to register; briefcases held, coffee sipped, a few already with peel-off labels affixed to their lapels.
It wasn't hard to fine Crane; he would be in the spot Chimera would have chosen had the circumstances of desperation been reversed. Keep the back covered and the sides as easy to watch as possible. The rectangular island of brown velour seating designed around an indoor planter was the perfect choice, and she spotted Crane an instant after spotting it. He was sitting on the segment that looked out toward the wide end of the lobby, dominated by the piano bar and Sun Garden restaurant. His back was to the front desk, but he couldn't be seen from there. A drink diluted with melted ice rested on the white square table before him, right next to the nearly finished house of straws he'd been constructing one piece at a time.
Chimera slowed her approach, disturbed by something wrong with the scene. If there was any such thing as a legend in the world of killers she was a part of, it was Crane. No job had ever been too difficult, no challenge too great. When all else failed, you called Crane. The right people knew that, and some of the wrong ones as well. His speciality was knives, but he could handle just about any other weapon as well.
He had done his best work for Israel in that country's early days, but he made his legend with The Outsiders, a group so named because they existed "outside" of all sanctioned authorities. For a price, anything could and would be done by operatives who were outsiders themselves, outcasts who had made mistakes that left them nowhere else to go.
Halfway across the room, Chimera stopped short. This man couldn't be Crane. The shoulders were too stooped, the frame much too thin. The Crane she knew was a big man, but this one looked to be the product of some crash diet. And yet it was indeed Crane, and Chimera's thoughts lingered briefly on whether his appearance was somehow to blame for the desperate message that had brought her here. One Outsider arranging to meet with another was totally unheard of, but Chimera would not have dismissed Crane's plea no matter what the cost.
Chimera could tell by Crane's progress on the house of straws that he had been here awhile already, which was bothersome since she was not late. Men like Crane never lingered too long in a single spot unless they had a pressing reason.
She was approaching him from the side across the brown and white checkerboard carpet when the legend spoke.
Chimera sat down on the seat next to Crane's. "To be trite, it's been a long time."
"Right. Years. How many? Two?"
"Two and a half."
He gazed at the auburn hair which tumbled past her deep-set brown eyes to her shoulders. "God, you look great, hell of a lot better than the first time I saw you in that bar. Cairo, wasn't it?"
Chimera nodded and tried to look relaxed.
"I hope I didn't take you away from anything."
"I'm due somewhere tomorrow. It can wait."
Excerpted from The Valhalla Testament by Jon Land. Copyright © 1990 Jon Land. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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