“Then your information is flawed.”

“Tough-looking Marine you have guarding you now. Where is he, by the way? With death threats I wouldn’t be going around alone.”

“Your concern for my well-being is touching.”

“And I take it the bankers in New York weren’t receptive to your cash flow problems?”

Trent threw his cigar down on the dirt and ground it in with his foot. “What the hell did Jean tell you? That stupid bitch.”

Less than three days. That’s all Puller had. He decided to go for it.

“You have your fingers in lots of pies, Roger. Coal. But you operate gas pipelines too, right?”

“What’s that have to do with anything?”

“You tell me.”

“Nothing to tell.”

“You sure about that?”

“Real sure.”

“Being in debt is bad. Treason is worse.”

“You on drugs or something?”

“Just giving you some advice.”

“Why should I take advice from you?”

“Because it’s been given with good intent.”

Trent laughed. “You’re a real funny guy.”

“Not really, no. And if things play out the way I think, you’re going to need more than one Marine to keep you safe.”

“Are you threatening me?” bellowed Trent.

“You’re smart enough to know that the threat won’t be coming from me, Roger.”

Trent climbed back in his Bentley and drove off.

Apparently Puller had struck out again. He had to hope that Dickie would have something more useful to report.

CHAPTER

73

IT WAS NEARLY ten o’clock when he arrived. The neighborhood was quiet. No one was outside. Puller could hardly blame them. It was hot, humid, and the mosquitoes were out in force. It was a night to stay inside the walls, not frolic outside them.

He steered his Malibu through the network of surface streets, following the path that he and Cole had earlier. He made one more turn and the firehouse was up ahead. No lights on, but he didn’t expect there to be. No electricity here. That’s probably why they all went home when it started to get dark. The overhead doors had been pulled down. Puller wondered if they were locked too. He stopped his car, got out, looked around, and sniffed the air. A mosquito buzzed in his face. He swatted it away. That would only signal more comrades to come, he knew. He’d trained in enough swamps to understand that.

He locked his Malibu using his remote fob. He’d parked it close to the building. He had decided to keep his car as close to him as possible from now on. He walked up to the overhead door, reached down, and tugged. It slid up easily on oiled tracks. He looked around again, could see no one. Still, his right hand sat on top of his forward M11. He’d grabbed his Maglite from the trunk and popped it on. The beam cut through the darkness as he moved inside.

While he was waiting for Dickie, he wanted to check out a theory.

There were two Harleys parked side by side to his right, their front wheels chained together. To his left was a rolling toolbox with a big padlock. It appeared that the members of the Harley club didn’t completely trust their neighbors. Both Harleys had large saddlebags. They had locks on them. Not unheard of, and in fact Puller had expected to find them.

He picked the locks and probed the interior of the bags with his light. In the third bag he found what he was hoping for—a bit of plastic, an edge of duct tape, and a few nearly invisible shiny flakes. In another saddlebag he found a few crumbly brown grains. The shiny flakes were pure crystal meth. The brown flakes were an impure version of meth called peanut butter crank. Illegal drugs were more of a problem in the military than the brass liked to let on. Over the years Puller had seen just about every type of illicit drug there was.

So he had found the distribution pipeline for Eric Treadwell’s modest meth operation. The Xanadu bike club put it in their saddlebags and delivered it to their customers. And in impoverished areas where people wanted to forget about their reality because it was so bad, drug dealers had easy prey.

So Treadwell and Bitner had been small-time drug dealers. That wasn’t why they were killed, he was sure of that. He would let Cole know about this, but it didn’t get him any closer to stopping the terrorists.

He went through the storage lockers on the left side of the wall. Nothing. Mostly filled with stuff from the Harley riders. When he attempted to access the lockers on the right, he found them locked tight. He picked the lock of one of them and found nothing. He did two other lockers and found the same: nothing. He didn’t waste time on the others.

He checked his watch. He had gotten here purposely early just in case Dickie wasn’t playing straight with him and someone had set up an ambush. He had some more time to kill. He decided to employ it by searching this place. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that folks who distributed meth could be persuaded to do something far more heinous, even if it meant hurting their country. Maybe folks around here felt their country had already abandoned them, so what did it matter?

There was another room off to his left. He went in there, the shadows devolving to cavelike darkness, for there were no windows in here. It was empty. He backed out, his ears straining for the sounds of anyone drawing near.

He ventured up the stairs. There was a kitchen that looked like it was being used by the club. He opened some cabinets and found cans of soup and cereal boxes.

There was another room adjacent to the kitchen. He opened the door and peered inside, his light cutting into the dark. This must’ve been the fire chief’s office, he thought. Old desk, old file cabinets, shelves, and a couple of rusty chairs. He looked through the file cabinets but they were empty, as were the shelves. He sat down behind the desk and started opening drawers. He found nothing until he dipped his hand farther back in one of the drawers after his light hit on something.

He looked at the yellowed piece of paper. It had the date 1964 on it.

The heading said “FIA.” He didn’t know what that meant.

He read the body of the document. It dealt with procedures in the event of a fire at the facility. There was nothing in it that revealed to Puller what the facility did. Maybe this had to do with what Mason had told him. About the bombmaking component work.

He eyed something written in the margin. The ink had faded but he could still make it out.

The numbers 92 and 94.

He put the page in his pocket and rose.

He heard the noise as soon as he left the small office.

A motorcycle, coming fast, its engine throbbing. He strode quickly over to a set of windows on the second floor that overlooked the front of the firehouse.

It had to be Dickie. He hit his watch with the light. It was time.

He could see the bike’s single headlight stabbing through the gloom. The motorcycle rolled onto the cracked concrete fronting the firehouse. Now Puller could make out more clearly the man’s image. Blocky shoulders. Chunky torso. It was Dickie.

The sound of the shot made Puller jerk and instinctively duck. As he watched, the round hit the rider directly in the head, smashing through the helmet, drilling through the skull and brain and exploding out the other side. The Harley drifted to the right as the rider let go of the handlebars. The man fell off to the left and hit the concrete. He jerked once and lay still. The bike continued on before hitting the wall of the firehouse and falling over on its side, the engine still running.

Puller didn’t see this last part. He had leapt to the fire pole and slid down it.

The shot had come from the left. Long-range rifle round. Puller figured the sniper was on the ground somewhere. There was no high dirt here, just houses. The shooter could be in one of them. And there were a lot of them. All empty. Well, maybe not.

Puller eased out of the front entrance next to the still running bike. He bent down, turned it off, his M11 making defensive arcs. He thumbed the number on his cell p

hone.

Cole picked up on the second ring.

He explained things in three efficient sentences.

She would be bringing the cavalry to his aid for a second time today.

He counted to three and then zigzagged his way to the Malibu. Keeping the body of it between him and where the shot had come from, he unlocked his trunk and quickly snagged what he needed.

Night optics.

And his body armor. The outer tactical vest was a modular soft armor configuration that could stop a nine-mil round. But that wasn’t good enough tonight. Puller took a few seconds to slip the ceramic plates into the inserts in the tact vest to bump up his protection level. He powered up his optics and the world was revealed in a sharply defined green. He looked over at the body. The helmet was still on, so he couldn’t see the person’s face. The last piece of equipment that Puller reached for in his trunk was probably the most important.

H&K MP5 submachine gun. It was the clear weapon of choice by Special Forces for close-quarters battle. Its max range was a hundred meters, which meant Puller was going to have to get a lot closer to his target.

Sniper rifle against close-quarters small arms put the latter at a decided disadvantage. Added to that was the fact that Puller was certain the shooter had a night-vision scope to make the kind of shot he just had. He would have preferred to have his bolt-action sniper rifle. But the H&K would have to do.

Puller put his MP on two-shot bursts and slammed the trunk closed.

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