Linda J. White is the author of multiple FBI thrillers including the HOLT Medallion-winning “Seeds of Evidence.” She lives in Fauquier County, Virginia with her husband Larry, who worked at the FBI Academy for over 27 years. When she’s not writing she likes playing with dogs and her grandchildren and going to the beach.
Her latest book is the suspense novel, The Tiger’s Cage.
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About the Book:
FBI Special Agent Tom Donovan is about to nail the drug lord he’s been investigating when Angel Ramos does the unthinkable: He kidnaps Tom’s eighteen-year-old son, Kenny. The FBI responds with a powerful show of force but Ramos manages to elude them. Tom is furious, his wife is terrified, and their son is forced to confront evil face-to-face.
Tom devises a brilliant plan to rescue his son, but on a windy, rainy night in Washington, his past collides with his present in a dramatic turn of events, and Tom discovers his greatest strength isn’t his at all.
The Tiger’s Cage is a story of courage, faith, and endurance in a violent world.
For More Information
- The Tiger’s Cage is available at Amazon.
- Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
Tuesday, January 12, 1993
“No, thanks. It’s a good night to be outside.”
“See you tomorrow at school, then.”
“You bet.” Kenneth Patrick Donovan turned toward his home, just a mile away. His suburban Northern Virginia neighborhood was quiet, peaceful, softly illuminated by lights from living room windows spilling onto front yards in gentle squares. Four inches of snow from yesterday’s storm lay on the ground, fluffy and clean, like a down comforter shaken and re-laid on the earthy bed.
No one was out, not even the neighborhood dogs, and Kenny drank in the solitude like a tonic. He couldn’t get the meeting out of his mind. Amazing. He was learning so much. Shoving his hand in the pocket of his high school letter jacket, he fingered a little metal cross. He looked up at the starry January sky, and it seemed he could see forever.
He didn’t notice the white Chevy van as it came down the street. He heard a noise. A small alarm went off in his head. He started to turn around, too late.
They grabbed him from behind. Kenny’s head snapped back and fear exploded in his belly. He pulled against their hands, and sucked in a panicked breath as someone shoved a bandanna in his mouth. He couldn’t breathe! The night disappeared under a knit hat.
They pushed him toward the street and he braced his legs, resisting, until a sharp crack on his head impelled him forward. He stumbled. They grabbed him by his collar and threw him onto the ribbed metal floor of a van.
He tried to get up. They held him down, forcing his hands together behind him. “Tighter!” he heard one of them say, and zip ties tightened around his wrists. A new wave of terror ran through him. No, no! He fought wildly, like an animal in a trap, the plastic cutting into his flesh, and he made it to his knees. Then a blow to the back of his neck made him collapse and he lay helplessly on the floor, trembling with fear and exertion.
The side door slammed shut. Kenny felt the van accelerate. A musty, heavy tarp dropped on top of him, suffocating him. He moved around, trying to find an air space. He got a sharp punch in the ribs.
“Stay still!” a voice commanded.
Oh, God, he thought, help me! Who are these people? And every muscle in his eighteen-year-old body began shaking uncontrollably.
Night had fallen like a magician’s cape over the streets of Alexandria, Virginia. The bright lights were scattered like multi-colored sequins over the darkness. As FBI Special Agent Tom Donovan worked his way through the congested downtown, he looked at the glittery night with a jaded eye. He stood close enough to the stage to see the magician’s tricks, to know that behind the shimmering lights were dark pools of despair—shadowy alleys and dirty streets where twenty minutes of euphoria could be bought in a vial for ten bucks and paid for, forever, with your soul.
As he drove along, Tom rehearsed the details of his testimony for the next day’s grand jury over and over in his mind. Catching Angel Ramos’s right-hand man, Miguel Camacho, with a kilo of coke was a stroke of luck even he couldn’t have anticipated. An indictment would up the odds of flipping Camacho. His testimony against Ramos could bring the drug kingpin down once and for all.
Satisfied at that thought, Tom flipped on the radio to a sports-talk show. Callers were re-hashing the Buffalo Bills game against Pittsburgh on Sunday. He had no dog in that fight, and changed stations. “Today, President Bush announced that …” yada yada. Punching that off, he inserted a cassette. Upbeat Celtic music. Perfect.
Twenty minutes later, Tom pulled into the garage of his Fairfax County home. As he did, he felt a vague uneasiness, confirmed by Cathy’s glare as he walked into the kitchen. “Hey!” he said.
“Where’s Kenny? I expected you both to be home when I got here.”
Tom’s mind began racing. Where was he … when was he … was he supposed to …
“You were supposed to pick him up!” she said. “You forgot, didn’t you?” She had dark hair, like him, but her eyes were blue. When she was angry, they seemed to develop flecks of gold, like sparks from a blacksmith’s hammer.
Cathy rolled her eyes and turned away.
Tom cursed under his breath. “Sorry. I’ll get him now. Where is he?”
“He gave you that information. You were the one who was supposed to get him.”
“Oh, right.” Tom began patting his pockets, searching until he found it—a scrap of paper with an address. “Got it! I’ll be right back!”
But when he arrived at the house on Littlefield Street, the two-story white Colonial looked dark except for one small light in an upstairs bedroom. Puzzled, he jogged up to the front porch and rang the bell. A minute later, a man in a plaid bathrobe answered it. “I’m Tom Donovan,” he said to the man. “I was supposed to pick up my son, Kenny. I guess I’m late.”
A teenaged boy came partway down the stairs. “Mr. Donovan? Kenny said he’d walk home.”
Tom frowned. “What time did he leave?”
“All the kids were gone by, what, nine, Jason?” the dad asked his son.
Tom glanced at his watch. Nine-twenty-five.
“Yes, sir. Coach said we had to be in bed by nine thirty, so Terry kicked everybody out at nine.”
“Thanks,” Tom said. “Sorry to bother you.” He turned and stepped off the front porch. The door closed behind him. How far was he from home? A mile? Two? Shouldn’t Kenny be home by now?
Kenny struggled to stay calm. Within minutes, the van stopped, the door slid open and strong hands jerked him to his feet, pulling him out. He twisted again, trying to get away, but the grips holding him tightened. Heart pounding, Kenny tried to see, tried to hear, tried to figure out where he was. He could feel pavement under his feet, and a little loose gravel. The knit hat covering his eyes seemed a little floppy and by twisting his head just the right way, he could see just a bit of the ground.
What now? He was breathing hard. He heard a car door slam and footsteps, and then he smelled something. A cigar? He looked down. A pair of cowboy boots appeared right in front of his feet. A shiver went through him.
The cigar smoker pulled Kenny’s wallet out of his back pocket. “Donovan. Muy bien.”
That voice … did he know that voice?
The man laughed. “Your father will be missing his boy, no?”
Kenny could smell the cigar, so close.
Then the man jerked open Kenny’s letter jacket. He ran his hand down the young man’s ribcage. Kenny reacted, pulling against the hands holding him. He twisted his head right and left, finally dislodging the bandanna in his mouth. He sucked the cold night air into his lungs. “What do you want?” he cried out, his chest heaving. “Who are you?”
The man hit him, hard, across the mouth. Kenny’s head jerked to the side and he felt his lip split against his teeth. He swallowed blood.
“Shut up.” The man grabbed Kenny by the throat, pressing his thumb into Kenny’s neck. “Just shut up.” He released his hold. “My muchachos, they are bored.” He switched to Spanish. “Haz lo que quieras.” Do whatever you want.
The snakes in Tom’s belly were starting to slither. He drove slowly through the empty neighborhood, then pulled into the garage and entered the house. “Cathy!” he bellowed. “Is he here? Did he come home?”
Cathy emerged from the family room. “No. He wasn’t at that house? Where is he?”
“I have no idea. He told them he’d walk home.”
“That’s ridiculous! Where could he be?”
The anger in her voice masked fear. Tom knew that. “I don’t know.” He ran his hand through his hair. “Where does he go? What does he do? McDonald’s? Where do I look for him?”
Cathy turned. She crossed her arms. “He doesn’t go anywhere, not during wrestling season.”
“Except for this group.”
“That started just a few months ago. You’d know that if you were ever around!”
“Does he have a girlfriend?”
“Not that he’s told me.” Cathy raised her chin, and in that small gesture, Tom saw vulnerability.
“Look, Cathy, there’s probably some good explanation for all this. Kenny’s a good kid.” They’d gone through some tough times with their son when he was younger, but Tom thought those were behind them. “Maybe he stopped to help someone with homework. I’ll go back and get the names of the kids he was with. Then I’ll check around the neighborhood.”
“I’m going to look, too.”
“No. You stay here.” His voice sounded firmer than he intended.
Cathy’s mouth tightened into a line. At first, Tom thought she was going to argue with him. “Someone needs to be here when he shows up,” he added. “You can page me.”
She glared at him. “Fine. Do it your way. Just find him, Tom!” Her voice caught, and she walked swiftly out of the room.
Kenny sensed several men around him. Five, maybe six guys. What were they going to do?
The first blow slammed into his gut, and Kenny’s breath exploded out of his lungs. Then came another, higher, and to the right, and pain screamed through his ribs. Another blow landed, and another. He felt himself slipping, sinking to his knees, and the blows became kicks against his body, his face, his legs. “No!” he breathed. “No!” And then the blackness began to envelop him. He collapsed and fell, the loose stones of the parking lot studding his face.
He was a little boy again, on his first bike with hand brakes, a silver Columbia five-speed. He was so proud! He whizzed down the hill past his grinning, clapping father, his hair blowing in the wind. He owned the sidewalk! He was king of the hill!
But he was going too fast. He squeezed too hard, locked the brakes, and sailed over the handlebars, his mouth wide with surprise. He hit the ground hard.
He was hurt. Crying. Scared. His dad ran up. “Kenny. Son. You okay? I’m here. It’s all right.” He felt his dad’s hands touching him, saw his steel-gray eyes grow soft with caring. “You’re going to be fine, son.”
Dad’s here. He was safe now. His father’s strong love could fix anything.
Kenny Donovan turned his head. Asphalt. Stones. Ice. Dad wasn’t here. He was on his own.
Tom steered his car back to the house on Littlefield Street, parked, rang the doorbell, and apologized when the dad in his robe answered again. “He’s not home yet. I need to know who my son was with,” Tom explained. “I need names.”
The dad motioned him in and, with Jason’s help, compiled a list of eighteen kids and their phone numbers. “Thank you,” Tom said, as he stood up to leave.
“I hope he shows up soon,” the dad said. “I’m sure he will.”
Tom nodded. Then he looked Jason’s dad in the eye. “Why was he here, anyway?”
“Fairfax Fellowship of Athletes.”
What kind of … when did Kenny get hooked up with them? His jaw tightened. “Thanks.” Tom started to leave then asked, “Do you mind if I use your phone?” He’d have the office page his FBI partner. There was no one he’d rather have with him right now than Jack McRae.