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Collateral Damage


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About The Book

Ali Reynolds and High Noon Enterprises face the dangerous consequences of one man’s desperate search for revenge in this unputdownable thriller from J.A. Jance, the New York Times bestselling author who “has been delivering must-read books for a long time” (The Real Book Spy).

After spending twenty years behind bars, Frank Muñoz, a disgraced former cop, is out on parole and focused on just one thing: revenge. The wife who abandoned him after his arrest, the mistress who ratted him out for abetting a money-laundering scheme, the detectives who presided over his case all those years ago—they all have targets on their backs.

For Ali Reynolds, the first Christmas without her father is riddled with grief and uncertainty. And with her husband and founding partner of High Noon Enterprises, B. Simpson, preoccupied by an upcoming New Year’s trip to London, she is ready for a break. But when Stu Ramey barges into her home with grave news about a serious—and suspicious—accident on the highway to Phoenix involving B.’s car, things reach a breaking point.

At the hospital, a groggy, post-op B. insists that Ali take his place at a ransomware conference in London, as troubles brimming around High Noon come to light. But questions remain: Who would go to such lengths to cut the tech company from the picture? And what if Ali and the rest of the team are also in danger?


Chapter 1


Wednesday, January 1, 2020, 8:00 a.m. (PST)

Frank Muñoz’s first New Year’s Day out of the slammer was a quiet one. He got up, made coffee, and had a bowl of cold cereal—Frosted Flakes—for breakfast. His mother, Lupé, had never bought Frosted Flakes back when he was a kid. She claimed they were too expensive. “Have a tortilla,” she’d always said. “They’re better for you than all that sugar.” Of course Frank realized now that a steady diet of tortillas wasn’t very good for you, either.

After breakfast he switched on his flat-screen TV and settled in to watch the Rose Parade. His moderately priced, fully furnished apartment on Shadow Lane was only a stone’s throw away from Las Vegas Metropolitan Police headquarters. Having lived in lockup for the past sixteen years, being in this clean and comfortably furnished apartment was like living in the lap of luxury. His choosing to live within walking distance of the local cop shop made it appear as though he had nothing to hide—which was exactly what he wanted people to believe.

Frank watched the parade from beginning to end, not so much to see the floats but to catch glimpses of the city of Pasadena itself. Living in self-imposed exile here in Vegas, Frank still missed the place where he’d gone to work fresh out of college. And being occupied with the parade meant he wasn’t keeping an eye on his watch and wondering what was going on. After today, he’d be one step closer to achieving his goal—three down and one to go. By the end of the week, once all four of his tormentors were out of the way, his job would be over, and his score would be settled.

Melinda, his younger sister, called just as the parade was winding down. “Are you coming over to watch the game?” she asked. “Menudo, tamales, and tacos—all homemade and all you can eat.”

He understood why she was calling. Melinda was the baby of the family. Although much younger than Frank, she was incredibly bossy and felt morally obliged to look after him. The problem was Frank didn’t really like her, and he could barely tolerate her husband, either—his brother-in-law, Ricky. But when Frank had been coming up for parole, Melinda and Ricky had suggested he consider moving to Vegas, and that’s why he’d asked to be set up with a parole officer there—to be close to family. Melinda had provided a plausible excuse, but the real reason for Frank’s wanting to settle in Vegas was far more complicated.

Years earlier, and two days before his trial had been due to start, Frank had sat in a jailhouse interview room with his attorney and a US prosecuting attorney who was there to pitch a plea deal.

“We’ve examined your financials,” the prosecutor said. “We know for a fact that you’ve been receiving substantial amounts of hush money from the people behind BJ’s, and we have witnesses who are prepared to testify to your having subverted an upcoming vice raid, which allowed ample opportunity for the illegal gambling operation to disappear long before officers arrived.”

That was all true. Frank had been a longtime regular at a local strip joint called BJ’s, but he was also a cop. He had noticed that many people who came through the place exhibited zero interest in the dancers. They all went directly upstairs to a room marked PRIVATE. AUTHORIZED ENTRY ONLY. Frank recognized a good number of those folks. They were well-known locals, respected politicians and businessmen, whose reputations would suffer irreparable harm if they were caught up in a raid on an illegal gambling den.

One afternoon in the locker room while preparing for his shift Frank had happened to overhear two of the vice guys discussing an upcoming operation—a planned raid on BJ’s. The owner, Betty Jean Parmenter, was a tough old bat who, back in the day, had been a well-known stripper herself. While still in her prime, she had managed to marry into the mob. Her long-deceased mafioso husband and his pals had provided the start-up funds that launched BJ’s originally, and for years it had operated as both a gambling den and a mob-friendly money-laundering establishment.

The very day Frank overheard the vice guys’ discussion, he had shown up in Betty Jean’s office unannounced and sounded the alarm. Once he did so, she had examined him with a disturbingly intense look.

“We know you’re a regular,” she said finally. “We also know you’re a cop. How come you’re telling me this?”

Frank had shrugged. “Just thought you should know is all,” he replied.

He hadn’t known if she’d pay attention to his warning, but when the promised raid occurred, that private upstairs room had been wiped clean as a whistle. The next time Frank stopped by the club and it was time for him to pay his tab, he didn’t have one. Instead the barkeep handed him an envelope with his name on it. Inside was a cool $10,000 in cash.

That Christmas Frank had used his unexpected windfall to play Santa in a big way. The kids at home had all gotten everything on their wish lists, and he’d found a pair of one-carat diamond earrings for Danielle, his sweet little side dish. He’d given her the earrings while they were dining at a fancy restaurant on a night when he’d had a bit too much to drink.

“These are lovely,” she said, “but how can you afford to be so generous?”

With the booze loosening his tongue, he’d told her the whole story. Sitting in the interview room that day, Frank knew Danielle Lomax had to be the one who had fingered him.

“What we’ve got you on so far,” the prosecutor continued, “is enough to put you away for the next twenty years, give or take. We’re willing to cut that down to ten if you’ll agree to name names.”

William Banks, Frank’s supposedly pro bono attorney, had been in the room at the time, ostensibly taking handwritten notes on a legal pad. When the prosecutor’s spiel ended, Banks spoke for the first time.

“I’ll discuss your plea offer with my client,” he said. “We’ll let you know.”

Once the prosecutor had left the room, Banks slid the legal pad over to Frank so he could see what he’d written there:

We are prepared to pay $500,000 in cash due upon your eventual release if you don’t name names.

Obviously Banks didn’t believe the audio/video feed in the interview room had been turned off once the prosecutor left the room, and neither did Frank. What’s more, he didn’t have to think twice about the offer.

Thanks to that little bitch Danielle, he was for sure going to prison. As a former police officer, once inside Frank would automatically be on an endangered species list. As for the people making this very quiet counteroffer? They had every reason for wanting him to stay silent and he suspected they were good for the money they were offering. If they somehow reneged on the deal after the fact, he could always come after them. The statute of limitations might have run out on some of their current illegal activities, but by the time he got out of the joint, there were bound to be more where those came from.

At that point, Frank had placed his hand on the legal pad and pushed it back toward his attorney. “I’m not taking the prosecutor’s deal,” he said aloud, “and I’m not naming names. I’ll take my chances and go to trial.”

“That’s totally up to you,” Banks had said, closing the legal pad and slipping it into his briefcase. “It’s probably just as well to have this over and done with. See you in court.”

Even before the counteroffer was on the table, Frank had already made up his mind to plead guilty, but for strategic reasons, he waited until the day of the trial before actually doing so. He wanted to know exactly who the feds had lined up to testify against him. That morning, as he and Banks waited in a conference room before entering the courtroom, Frank had asked if he could see the prosecutor’s list of proposed witnesses. Obligingly Banks had handed it over. On it were several names Frank recognized—Danielle’s, of course, but also those of two homicide cops from Pasadena PD—Jack Littleton and Hal Holden.

The night of Alysha’s parking lot shooting, Frank had been at the club, but he had managed to disappear into the woodwork before homicide cops ever appeared on the scene, so someone—Danielle, most likely—had brought his presence to their attention. Frank had no doubt the homicide cops were the ones who had alerted the feds to what went on behind the scenes at BJ’s.

When Frank returned the witness list, Banks had handed him a business card on the back of which was a handwritten note containing the name “Nicholas” and a phone number. Because the area code was the same as Melinda’s, Frank understood this was a Las Vegas number. His sister’s presence may have been an excuse for wanting to move to Vegas, but the phone number on the card was the real reason he’d done so.

“Hang on to this,” Banks had advised. “When you get out, call the number. Ask to speak with Nicholas and tell him I sent you. He’s someone who’ll give you a helping hand.”

Frank studied both the name and the string of numbers for a long time, burning them into his memory before returning the card.

Banks appeared puzzled as he took it back. “I thought you’d want to keep it,” he said with a frown.

“I am keeping it,” Frank told him, tapping the side of his head, “in here where it’ll be safe.”

That’s all that had been said aloud, but Frank had understood what was really going on. Nicholas, whoever he might be, was the guy in charge of overseeing Frank’s payout.

Years later, out on parole and after arriving in Vegas, he’d finally gotten around to calling that memorized number. The phone was answered by a woman who said, “Hi-Roller Fitness. May I help you?”

“I’d like to speak to Nicholas.”

“Nico’s not in right now,” she said. “May I take a message?”

“My name’s Frank Muñoz,” he told her. “William Banks is a friend of mine. He suggested that I give Nicholas a call.”

She took Frank’s number, saying she’d pass it along. An hour and a half later he got a call from an unknown number.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Muñoz,” a pleasant male voice said. “Nicholas Fratelli here. Glad to make your acquaintance. I understand you may be in need of some assistance. Do you happen to be in Vegas at the moment?”

“Nearby,” Frank replied. “I’m currently staying in Henderson with my sister.”

“Do you have transportation?”

After their mother’s death, Melinda had held on to Lupé’s twelve-year-old Honda, and had used it as her kids’ vehicle of choice when they were learning to drive. By the time Frank showed up, the kids had moved on to newer vehicles, and Melinda had signed the Honda over to him. Having an old beater suited him. It wouldn’t do for someone fresh out of the slammer to be driving around in something flashy.

“Yes, I do,” he answered.

“Why don’t you drop by the Hi-Roller Fitness location on Alta tomorrow afternoon around two and let’s see what we can do?”

The next day Frank had shown up at the appointed hour. Nico Fratelli knew everything there was to know about the payout. It didn’t take long for Frank to realize that the fitness part of the gym was little more than a front, providing appropriate camouflage for a well-organized money-laundering operation. Unlike a bank, Hi-Roller didn’t come with the convenience of ATMs, and although there were twenty-some locations in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, the one on Alta was the only one where funds were actually disbursed.

After that initial contact, whenever Frank needed money, he would drop by the gym and make a discreet visit to the attendant in charge of the back room. To most of the people who frequented the gym, Frank was buff enough that he looked like he belonged. That was one thing being in prison had done for him. With nothing else to keep himself occupied, he had worked out for hours almost every day, and he had been released in far better physical condition than when he’d been arrested.

“Just so you know,” Nico said, “a number of our local constabulary have back-room privileges, but if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.”

Knowing that made Frank uneasy, but he shrugged it off. “Fair enough,” he said.

“One more thing,” Nico added. “That number you used to call me?”

“What about it?” Frank asked.

“Lose it. If you need to speak to me again, just mention it to the guy in charge of the back room. Got it?”

“Got it,” Frank had replied.

Obviously his silence on the phone to his sister had gone on for far too long. “Well,” Melinda pressed impatiently, “are you coming over or not? The kids would love to see you.”

That was Melinda being bossy again, and the last bit about the kids was an outright lie. Frank’s niece and nephew were both in college now, and they weren’t at all interested in their uncle Frank or in anyone else, for that matter. Most of the time they kept their noses buried in their cell phones or iPads and were totally oblivious to everything around them.

“No, thanks,” Frank replied. “I’ll just hang around here.”

“Are you sure? I hate to think of you being alone on New Year’s Day.”

“No, really,” Frank insisted. “I’ll be fine. I appreciate the invitation, but I just don’t feel all that much like socializing today. Maybe next time.”

“Next time I may not have homemade tamales,” Melinda warned.

Frank laughed at that. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll take my chances.”

“All right, spoilsport,” Melinda retorted. “Go ahead and be a hermit. See if I care.”

“But I’m still going to watch the game,” he told her. “Who are you rooting for, the Ducks or the Badgers?”

“Oregon, of course,” Melinda told him. “I’m from the West Coast. Why would I cheer for Wisconsin?”

Frank was relieved when the call ended. It was coming up on noon now. Rose Bowl Game or not, whatever had happened in Arizona was most likely already over and done with. Once he knew the final outcome of that, he’d be ready to move on to the final chapter. He was a bit concerned about the two events happening in such close proximity, but he didn’t believe the cops would make a connection between them. Why would they?

So today it was Hal Holden’s turn. Later this week would be Sylvia’s. To Frank’s way of thinking, it was high time his ex-wife finally got hers, too.

About The Author

Photograph by Mary Ann Halpin Studios

J.A. Jance is the New York Times bestselling author of the Ali Reynolds series, the J.P. Beaumont series, the Joanna Brady series, and the Walker Family series. Born in South Dakota and raised in Bisbee, Arizona, Jance lives with her husband in Seattle, Washington. Visit her online at 

Product Details

  • Publisher: Pocket Books (October 24, 2023)
  • Length: 432 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982189167

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