“But you just said it wasn’t the police.”
“Well, don’t the police sometimes use civilians in undercover operations, particularly if they have some inside connection to a target?”
“I guess they do. But then you’re talking drugs or maybe gunrunning.”
“I don’t think it was that, because I don’t think that would have scared Matt so much.”
“He had his family out there. He might have been nervous for them.”
“Maybe,” she said uncertainly.
“He ever tell you a name or give a description of this ‘undercover’ person?”
“Did he say how he met the person?”
“Ran into them one day.”
“Why would they confide in him?”
“Because he was in uniform, I believe.”
“But if the person were working undercover they presumably would have already been working with the police. So why go to some guy in an Army uniform?”
“I don’t know,” admitted Strickland. “But I do know that Matt was involved somehow and he was really worried.”
“Where are you assigned?” he asked.
“I’m an analyst at DoD.”
“What do you analyze?”
“The Middle East, with an emphasis on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
“Ever been there?”
She shook her head. “No. I know you have. Many times.”
“It’s okay, Barbara. Some people make good analysts and some don’t.”
“And some people are good in combat. Like you.”
“Would you like to analyze a situation for me?”
She looked surprised but nodded gamely.
“When I was assigned this case I was told that it was unusual. Four bodies in another state, one of them a DIA colonel. Normally, we’d bring the heavy artillery on something like that. Multiple CID agents, tech support, even bring folks up from USACIL. But they sent just me because it was termed unusual. You got any idea why that would be the case?”
“But General Carson said nothing Reynolds was involved in would have been connected with his murder, so they couldn’t have been concerned about that. But the SecArm’s office even called down to the lab in Atlanta about the case. They seemed to think it was some hot stuff going on, and more than just the DIA angle. Why would they have thought that?”
“Because someone from DIA told them it was hot stuff and wanted to keep a close lid on it?” suggested Strickland.
“I was thinking the same thing. When I earlier mentioned General Carson your face changed color.”
Now Strickland turned pale.
Puller said, “It’s just stuff I tend to notice. Don’t take it personally. So tell me about the lady.”
“I don’t know her all that well.”
“I think you know her a lot better than I do. Tell me, would Reynolds have confided in her the same concerns he did to you?”
“Matt was a soldier’s soldier.”
“Meaning he followed chain of command. So he would have told her. And maybe she saw an opportunity to score a victory. An unexpected one that might get her the second star, especially if what Reynolds had stumbled onto had to do with national security matters. Is that plausible? Or am I barking up the wrong tree?”
Strickland bristled. “I think Julie Carson would crawl over the body of her dead mother to make major general.”
“So she’s that ambitious?”
“My experience in the military is that everyone who gets at least one star is that ambitious.”
“So she tells Reynolds to stay on the case. Interface with this undercover person. She smells that second star. But instead Reynolds and his family get wiped out. Now Carson’s sitting on a potential bomb. If the truth comes out not only will she not get the second, but the first star might get stripped.”
Strickland nodded. “She has to play cover-up. But she told you that Matt’s work at DIA had nothing to do with his death. That he wasn’t working on anything sensitive.”
“What else would she say? He headed up J23. That alone is enough to believe his work got him killed. He helps prep the Chairman’s daily briefing. And if someone called Carson on it, she’d just say she was walking the ‘need to know’ fence. Stonewall me, but count on the fact that Reynolds being DIA will be deemed to be the cause of his death. And she probably is hoping against hope that whatever really got Reynolds killed never comes out. Then she’s safe. Otherwise, she’s looking at a lot of explaining if it’s discovered that she kept the lid on something big in order to score professionally. She went for the home run and popped up to the shortstop.”
“It that’s true, she’s in real trouble.” Strickland looked almost gleeful.
Puller said, “My job is to nail a killer, not knock off a one-star from her chosen career path. She might have screwed up, and if she did she might have to pay the piper, but that’s not my goal, okay?”
The gleeful look fled Strickland’s features. “What are you going to do?” she asked.
“Have a second conversation with a certain one-star,” said Puller. “I appreciate your help, Lieutenant.”
Strickland again turned pale. “You won’t tell her it was…”
“No, I won’t.”
“WHAT THE HELL are you doing here?”
Julie Carson was not in uniform. She had on jeans and a sleeveless Army green T-shirt and her feet were bare. Her arms were tanned and muscled. She probably hit the gym every day and ran at lunchtime to catch the rays and keep her body lean, thought Puller.
She gazed up at Puller, who stood on the other side of the door to her condo. In his regulation dress uniform shoes he was about six feet five and the breadth of his shoulders filled the doorway.
“Got some follow-up questions.”
“How’d you know where I lived?”
“I don’t mean to insult your intelligence, but I’m an Army investigator and you’re in the Army. Like looking in the phone book.”
“I still don’t like it.”
“Duly noted. Can we do this inside in private?”
“I already talked to you.”
“Yes, you did, and like I said, I had some follow-up questions.”
“And I’m investigating a murder. Of one of your people.”
The door down the hall opened and two young people came out and looked over at them.
“Inside might be better, General,” observed Puller.
She glanced at the young couple, stepped back, and let Puller in, closing the door after him. She led him down the hallway. Puller noted the high-end fixtures, oil paintings, and tasteful furnishings in her condo across from Pentagon City Mall that was only one Metro stop from the Pentagon.
“Nice commute for you.”
“Yeah, it is,” she said brusquely.