No Return

No Return

Rob Sangster

May 2018 $16.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-878-3

A Jack Strider Thriller, Book 3

Our PriceUS$16.95
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A riveting new Jack Strider suspense from EPIC Award winning author, Rob Sangster.

San Francisco lawyer Jack Strider sank everything he had into an offshore mining operation. Now he’s about to go broke. Worse, a Wall Street CEO, a Saudi prince, and the president of China all want him dead. And he doesn’t know why.

Cormack Slade, megalomaniacal CEO of an international banking juggernaut, is cornering the supply of Rare Earth Elements. Without these elements, computers, smart phones, nuclear reactors, military jets, and other critical technology simply won’t function. If Slade succeeds, he’ll be the most powerful man in the world. If he fails, his firm will go bankrupt and trigger a cascade of business failures so massive no government can stop it.

To get the money and answers he needs, Jack is forced to navigate the wild whitewater rapids on the River of No Return. All too soon, he’s trying to outrun assassins and stop the catastrophe that will take Wall Street down. To survive, Jack will have to stop running and gamble everything, including his life.

Rob Sangster’s first Jack Strider novel, Ground Truth, was #1 on Amazon Kindle. His second, Deep Time, won the 2017 EPIC Award for best suspense/thriller of the year. A Stanford lawyer with experience in finance, politics, and public service, he’s an avid sailor who has traveled in more than 100 countries. Rob and his mystery writer wife divide their time between their homes in Tennessee and on the wild coast of Nova Scotia.


"No Return is a blazing thriller chock full of intelligence and action.”
—Mark Greaney, #1 NYT Bestselling Author of Agent in Place


Chapter 1

May 25, 5:00 p.m.

Inner Mongolia, China

CHEN BO HATED having his polished black limousine driven through the sulfuric mist rising off the surface of Inner Mongolia’s most poison­ouslake.

He also feared the foul odor might put Wang Jin, the man who shared the back seat with him, in an even worse mood. Second in power behind the president of China, Wang could make this the most important day in Chen’s life—or Wang could ruin him.

The dam on the horizon had long ago turned a pristine river into this lake whose water looked like molten lead. From the mouths of corroded pipes on the bank, green-black industrial sludge arched into the lake. A slow leak at the base of the dam sent toxins oozing down­stream toward three million people living in the city of Baotou.

"Tell your chauffeur to get us away from this cesspool,” Wang ordered. Round head thrusting forward on a corrugated neck, he resembled a truculent toad.

Chen leaned forward, slapped the chauffeur on the shoulder, and motioned for him to speed up.

On the way to Baotou, the limousine passed hundreds of figures plodding along the side of the road. Covered in cloaks of gray dust, unfocused eyes downcast, they were soul-dead mine workers heading for their barracks. Because they were essential to the scheme that filled his mind, Chen felt no pity for them.

The chauffeur drove through downtown Baotou on a broad boulevard from which narrow alleys packed with bars and food stalls branched like veins. Billboards advertising expensive U.S. brands stood next to revolution-era propaganda murals. Faces of Western super­models shared a wall with Chairman Mao. The impatient chauffeur flashed the limo’s spotlights to fight through sluggish traffic.

"On the phone,” Wang said to Chen, "you claimed to have a secret plan that will greatly increase Chinese influence around the world.” His eyes narrowed. "You insisted that I had to come all the way here to evaluate your plan properly. Now I think you’re wasting my time.”

Panic seized Chen. His goal was to persuade Wang to recommend his secret plan to the Chinese president, but Wang seemed about to order the chauffeur to return to the airport.

"No. I swear you will not regret this. What I’m about to show you is at the heart of my plan. You must see this place to appreciate its enormous potential. And also visit my research laboratory where I’ve collected all my work.” He fought to control his voice, to avoid whining. "I am a scientist, not good with words. Telling you about my plan in your Beijing office or on the phone would truly have been a waste of your time.”

And would have doomed my plan.

Wang grunted and edged more solidly into the corner of the back seat. He didn’t bother to disguise a glance at his wristwatch and then gazed straight ahead with a scowl.

Mercifully, they soon reached a remote high ridge with a panoramic view of the vast plain that held refineries with flame-tipped towers, a coal-fired power plant, and three manufacturing complexes. This was what he wanted Wang to see. He ordered the chauffeur to pull off the road and park at the edge of the steep drop.

Wang would already know that this site was one of the engines driving Chinese economic growth. Billions of smart phones, computer hard drives, and flat screen TVs wouldn’t exist without this hellhole. But seeing its immense size in person would help persuade him that its output could become infinitely more important in shaping China’s future.

"Nothing like this exists anywhere else in the world.” Chen spread his arms, hoping to imply that this place was a treasure equal to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.

He pointed to three buildings where cyclones of ash and cinders swirled skyward from towering brick stacks. "That’s Baogang Steel, famous for exporting specialty steel all over the world. And that two-story building next to it, the one inside the electrified fence, is my research lab. That’s where I keep my calculations and records. Before we go there, I will, with your permission, give you more specifics about my plan.”

"About time,” Wang said.

Chen took a deep breath and launched into the details of his painfully memorized plan that outlined a path to global dominance for the Middle Kingdom. Only after he felt he’d hooked Wang did he bring up an obstacle to his plan. He leaned closer to Wang.

"There’s one other matter. We need to act now because someone is preparing to compete with us in our biggest markets in industrialized countries.”

Wang’s tongue flicked in and out. "China can crush any compete­tion.” Long pause. "President Han Wei will approve this plan, but only if I support it.”

Chen kept his face impassive but felt his heart racing. His dream would become reality. He would rise from being a mid-level Inner Mongolian bureaucrat to being a respected visionary in Beijing.

"To show my gratitude,” Chen said, "I ask no credit for my plan.” He was sending a signal that Wang could present it to President Han as his own. Later, he’d make Wang pay a heavy price for doing that.

"To the contrary,” Wang replied. "You’ve done a great thing. I will see that you get the reward you deserve. Did you create this plan on your own, or were others involved?”

"On my own.”

"Congratulations.” Wang nodded toward the front seat. "We must be careful to keep our secret. The chauffeur, does he speak Mandarin as we do?”

"He speaks Uyghur. The only words he knows in Mandarin have to do with driving.”

"How do you know?”

"I assumed—”

"If you’re wrong, he can sell what he heard about the plan, maybe even to Americans.”

Chen saw no change in Wang’s face but sensed a sharp transfor­ma­tion in attitude. Now Wang considered him a reckless fool. He had to prove he was a serious man or his future was lost. He racked his brain. There was only one way.

He tapped the chauffeur on the shoulder. The man looked back for instructions. Chen gestured for him to get out of the limo. When Chen lowered his window, the chauffeur approached with a smile, eager to serve.

Chen took a handgun from under the limo’s bar, raised it, and shot the man in the forehead. The lifeless body dropped out of sight.

"Clever,” Wang said. "You tricked him into getting out so there would be no blood in the car. You know how to solve a problem.”

Chen’s hand was shaking, so Wang reached forward and removed the gun from his fingers.

"How can we explain this dead man?” Chen asked.

"Being number two in the government means I never have to explain a dead man,” Wang said softly, "or anything else.”

"And you’ll take my plan to President Han?”

"Of course.” He reached across and touched Chen’s shoulder. "Since you want me to see your secret research lab, you’ll have to drive. Be careful not to step in the driver’s blood.”

Relieved, Chen slid out and closed the door. The situation had changed so fast he couldn’t think. What mattered was that Wang was on his side. Stepping around the chauffeur, he was about to open the driver’s door when Wang called to him through the open back window. His voice was so low Chen had to step closer to understand him.

"Chen Bo, your files would prove this plan is yours, not mine. I believe you intend to turn them over to President Han and grab all the credit for yourself. You are a lean and hungry man, Chen... but such a fool.”

Chen saw the pistol poke through the open window aimed at his face. He saw the puff of smoke and flash of flame. He never heard a sound.




Chapter 2

May 27, 6:00 p.m.

Pier 9, San Francisco waterfront


Jack Strider looked up in time to see his partner Debra Vanderberg coming out of the front door of their law firm and hurrying down Pier 9 toward him. She was carrying a bottle of their favorite Bordeaux and had a spring in her step and an easy smile he hadn’t seen in weeks. Exhaustion had given way to elation.

Months of hard work had just resulted in a multimillion-dollar jury verdict in favor of their clients. The defendant, Espanola Drilling, had injected chemically contaminated water underground at high pressure. Within a month, that triggered a local earthquake that wiped out the homes and barns of twenty-five families, their clients. The jury ordered Espanola to pay eighteen million for the damage and five million in fines to the county for road and other repairs.

That verdict had been a game changer for their law firm. It meant they’d get back the money they’d sunk into preparation of the case plus a legal fee paid by Espanola that would keep their firm from going bankrupt.

They chose to celebrate aboard his Dragon racing sloop tied up at the end of the pier so they could relax and be alone. He’d brought cartons of food from Fior d’Italia to the boat and set up plates and silverware in the cockpit.

How the hell was he going to tell Debra the jury awards weren’t going to be paid?

Debra swung up onto the teak deck on the starboard side and walked back to the cockpit. She gave him a hearty kiss, sat on a bench seat, and pointed to the boxes. "Italian food, yum! I’ll get a corkscrew for the Bordeaux.” Then she took another look at him. "What’s wrong?”

"What makes you think—?”

"Because I know every millimeter of every expression you have. It’s something serious. What happened?”

"I got a call five minutes ago. The lawyers for Espanola Drilling filed an appeal.”

Her face clouded. "Those snakes. They have no grounds for an appeal.” After a moment, she went on. "It’s ironic. When we started our firm, one of our goals was to protect the little guys from the bullies. Now we’re the little guys being beaten up by the bully.”

"And our clients will get nothing for months, maybe years,” he said. "There was no judicial error, so Espanola won’t get a reversal. They can’t win.”

"Espanola doesn’t intend to go through with it,” she said, "because this was a stingy jury. If they got a new trial, the next jury could double or triple the damages. They know that, so this is blackmail. They’ll come back in a few weeks with a lowball settlement offer and threaten more delays.” She slumped back on the bench. "And we get no reimburse­ment and no legal fee. On top of that, we’ll have to spend even more to fight them.”

He sat beside her in silence, looking at the Bay Bridge carrying streams of traffic between San Francisco and Oakland. After a few minutes, the fog lifted to reveal the University of California high-rises and the Berkeley hillsides.

Her head came up. "I’m okay.” She straightened. "I just hoped so much that we were out from under.” She took a deep breath and managed a miniscule smile.

"You keep up with the firm’s finances much better than I do,” he said. "Without that fee, how bad are we hurting?”

"Despite all the pro bono work we do, the firm was on track to earn a small profit this year until we paid out $300,000 in expenses for the Espanola case. And we’re already in default $460,000 on the debt service we owe Sequoia Bank. The firm’s reserves are drained. Our personal accounts, too.” She exhaled. "It’s bad.”

The ten million dollars they’d borrowed from Sequoia Bank had been to finance a project he expected to be a major money-maker. Debra had been reluctant to take on so much debt but thought the idea made sense in theory. Her belief in him had tipped the scale in favor of her supporting the project. But it had failed to generate any income yet. Now they were way out on a limb.

"If the bank forecloses on the loan...” Her voice dropped off. She turned away.

He knew the end of that sentence. The home they loved was part of the collateral for the loan. Buying it together had been a major step forward in their relationship. He had to find a way to get back to finan­cial stability before the stress drove a wedge between them. Making it right for Debra meant everything to him.

"We should talk strategy,” she said. "We can’t afford to fight the appeal. We have to get the judge to dismiss it right now as frivolous litigation.”

"We’ll try that,” he said, "but that judge didn’t hide his bias in favor of Espanola. He won’t dismiss.”

She nodded. "Then we’ll offer to assign our incoming legal fee to Sequoia Bank if they’ll suspend our payments for six months.”

"They may object that the fee won’t be paid for quite a while, maybe never,” he said. "But they haven’t harassed us for missing pay­ments in the past, so maybe we’ll be okay for a while longer.” He wanted to sound confident for Debra, but she could analyze the situation as well as he.

She picked up the bottle of Bordeaux and turned it around in her hands. "We’ll save this for later.”

"I’ll call the bank and set up a meeting with our loan officer.”

She stood and bent to kiss him, her long hair falling onto his shoulders. She straightened. "I’ll get ready to go to court and box that judge’s ears until he tosses the appeal.”

He watched her walk up the pier to the office, much more slowly than on her way down. When he turned away, his attention was caught by a procession of at least two dozen motor yachts passing under the Bay Bridge and moving in his direction. He recognized the ritual. Members of a yacht club were heading for open water to spread the ashes of a recently deceased skipper. An omen? He waited until the last of the yachts had passed before he dialed the bank’s number.

"Good afternoon. Jack Strider calling for Arthur Shopbell.”

"Mr. Shopbell is out of the country, sir.”

"When will he be back?”

"I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t give out that information. May I direct your call to someone else?”

Since his relationship was with Shopbell, bucking their request up the line seemed like a loser. Waiting a few days wouldn’t matter.

"Thanks, anyway. I’ll call back.”

Debra was right about the irony of their predicament. Their goal from day one was to protect little guys from economic bullies. They built a strong business practice to help pay for the public interest cases and encouraged their lawyers to rotate between both sides. That meant hiring people who were idealistic but who were also tough and well- trained. Their formula had a long way to go, but it was working—until he over-reached on that damned loan.

The sky had darkened. The clammy humidity told him the over­hanging clouds were about to let go. He walked up the pier to his office carrying the cartons from Fior d’Italia. They’d eat at their desks.

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