“I saw some of that getting here.”
“Apparently Mrs. Reynolds was staying here temporarily to take care of things, oversee her father’s care, get the house ready for sale, and have her mother admitted into the same nursing home since she can no longer live alone. It was summer, so the kids were staying with her. Mr. Reynolds was apparently coming out here on weekends.”
“Where’d you get all this info?”
“Local sources. Nursing home and the hospital. And from poking around here. And we talked to some of the neighbors on the street.”
“Good work,” said Puller.
“I’m not here to do crappy work.”
“Look, I’m only here because one of the victims is wearing a uniform. And my SAC said you guys were cool with a collateral arrangement.”
“My boss was.”
“Let’s just say the jury’s still out.”
“So he was with DIA?”
“Didn’t they tell you that when you faxed the prints in?”
“No. They just confirmed for me who he was. So military intelligence? Was he some sort of spy? Is that why someone killed him?”
“Don’t know. He was getting ready to retire. Might just be a paper-pusher with eagle leaf clusters looking to punch the private-sector ATM. Pentagon is full of them.”
Puller had decided not to fill her in on what Reynolds had really done at DIA. She wasn’t cleared for it, and he wasn’t looking to get busted down in rank for
letting something slip he shouldn’t.
“That doesn’t really help us all that much, then.”
Puller’s honest side got the better of him. “Well, it might be he wasn’t just a paper-pusher.”
“But you just said—”
“I said might. It’s not confirmed. And I’m just coming to the investigation too. Lot I don’t know.”
Puller drew closer to the bodies. “You found them like this. All seated in a row?”
“The adults’ causes of death are pretty obvious. What about the kids?” He pointed to them.
When she didn’t answer, Puller turned to her.
She’d pulled her Cobra and was aiming it at his head.
“WAS IT SOMETHING I SAID?” asked Puller quietly, his gaze on her face and not the muzzle of the Cobra. When someone drew down on you, you watched her eyes; that told you intent. And her intent clearly was to shoot him if he said the wrong thing or made the wrong move.
She said, “I must be punch-drunk because of lack of sleep.”
“I have no idea if you are who you say you are. You’re the only one who said you were with CID. I should never have given you permission to enter the crime scene. For all I know you killed Larry Wellman and made up a story about seeing somebody. Maybe you’re a spy looking to steal what was in that man’s briefcase and laptop.”
“My car outside has Army plates.”
“Maybe it’s not your car. Or maybe you stole it.”
“I’ve got ID.”
“That’s what I wanted to hear.” She flicked the .45. “Show me, real, real slow.”
Cole backed slightly away. Puller noted she used a standard Weaver firing stance, named after a county deputy in California who’d revolutionized shooting competitions back in the late 1950s. Feet shoulder width apart, knees locked. Gun-side foot slightly back of the other foot. She would employ the classic push-pull to control recoil when she fired. He could tell she had locked her dominant arm, but had not done the same with the hand. She would suffer grip tremble when she fired because of this. But she held the Cobra like she knew it well. And while her form might not be perfect, it was more than good enough to take him down with one shot at this distance.
He three-fingered his cred pack from his shirt pocket.
“Flip it open for me,” she instructed. “Badge first, and then ID card.”
He did so. She studied his picture and then glanced back at him. She lowered her weapon. “Sorry about that.”
“I would’ve done the same.”
She holstered the Cobra. “But you didn’t ask for my ID.”
“I called you to come here. Name and number was in the official Army file. Army doesn’t make mistakes like that. I saw you climb out of your ride. Badge on your belt. When I grabbed you and you cried out, I recognized the voice I’d heard on the phone.”
“Still got the drop on you,” she reminded him.
“Maybe not as much as you thought.”
He showed her the black KA-BAR knife he was holding in his other hand, concealed by his forearm. “You probably would’ve still gotten your shot off just by reflex. Then maybe both of us would’ve gone down.” He slipped the knife into its holder on his belt. “But it didn’t happen.”
“I never saw you pull the knife.”
“I did it before you took your gun out.”
“I saw you look at me, then at the Cobra, and then at the bodies. Not too hard to figure what you were thinking.”
“So why didn’t you pull your gun on me instead?”
“When I pull my gun I intend on using it. Didn’t want to make an awkward situation worse. Knew you’d ask for the cred pack. I had the knife in reserve in case you had something else on your mind.” He looked back at the bodies. “The kids?”
She stepped forward, pulled a pair of latex gloves from her windbreaker, slapped them on, gripped the back of the boy’s neck, and tilted the corpse forward about ten degrees. With her free hand she pointed to a spot near the base of the neck.
Puller hit the area with his Maglite. He saw the large purplish bruise. “Somebody crushed his brain stem.”
She leaned the body back to its original position. “What it looks like.”
“Same with the girl?”
“From the condition of the bodies they’ve been dead over twenty-four hours, ballpark, but less than thirty-six. Your CST have a better read?”
“Roughly twenty-nine hours, so you were close.”
Puller checked his watch. “So they were killed around midnight, Sunday night?”
“And the mailman found them on Monday in the early afternoon. So rigor would’ve just started by then. Can you confirm that as a supplemental benchmark?”
“Did the mailman notice anything suspicious?”
“You mean after he dry-heaved on the front lawn for the fourth time after we got there? No, not really. Killers long gone by then.”
“But they came back tonight. Killed a cop, in fact. Any other wounds or marks?”
“As you can see, we haven’t undressed them, but we did a pretty good look around and found nothing. But you crush the brain stem, the person’s dead.”
“Yeah, that one I get.” He was looking around the room. “You have to know what you’re doing, though. Precise hit, otherwise you incapacitate instead of kill.”
Puller thought, Or military. And if this is a soldier-on-soldier killing?