“Like I said, I just got here six months ago. I don’t know enough people to be aware if they are who they are or not. And mysterious happenings? If she counts parties of drunk guys and gals parading half-naked down the main strip at two a.m. as being mysterious then she’s got my vote.” “So nothing else you can tell me?”

“Afraid not. I know it seems senseless, Agent Puller. But accidents do happen.”

“Yeah, they do.”

But what Puller was thinking was, If it was an accident, why are people in a Chrysler following me?

He wasn’t just spontaneously thinking this. He had just seen the car pass by the front of the cafe and stop near his Corvette. The window came down and he was pretty sure he saw a flash. They had taken

a picture. Before he could even think of racing after them, the Chrysler drove away.

“Agent Puller, is everything all right?”

He refocused on her. “Everything’s cool.”

“I hope I was able to allay your concerns about your aunt.”

“I think my concerns are right where they should be.”

CHAPTER 24

As Puller was leaving the cafe his phone buzzed.

“Puller,” he said.

“Mr. Puller, this is Griffin Mason, you called my office about your aunt?”

Puller said, “That’s right. Can we meet tonight or is it too late?”

“I’m still at my office if you’d care to come by. You know the address?”

“I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

Puller got in the Corvette and was at the lawyer’s office two minutes early. It was in a former residential area where the homes had been turned into small businesses. It was two blocks off the water and Puller assumed the land was worth more than the houses. But then again maybe that applied to pretty much all the homes on this narrow strip of earth with bay water on the north side and warm Gulf water to the south. A late-model Infiniti coupe was parked in the concrete driveway.

The front door was unlocked and Puller walked into a small reception area. There was no one there. Puller assumed the hired help had long since departed.

“Mr. Mason?” he called out.

A door off the reception area opened and a short, flabby man stood there. He had on gray pinstriped pants, braces to hold them up, although his ample belly probably needed no help to do that, and a white starched dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He had a short graying beard and his glasses were thick enough to be called Coke bottles.

“Mr. Puller?”

“That’s me.”

“Please come in.”

They settled in Mason’s office, which was comfortably furnished in leather and soft, dark woods. A bookshelf held a staggering number of weighty legal tomes, and file folders were stacked against walls and also covered his desk, where there was also a computer.

Puller said, “Business looks good.”

“Frankly, a trusts and estates lawyer in Florida is a no-brainer from a business point of view. You don’t have to be a brilliant attorney. You just have to be competent and have a pulse. The average age of my clientele is seventy-six. And they keep coming. I’ve had to turn business away even after hiring an associate two years ago. I might have to hire a second lawyer if things keep going that way.”

“Nice problem to have. Now, about my aunt?” “Just as a legal technicality, could I see some ID please?”

Puller pulled out his cred pack and showed Mason, who smiled and said, “Your aunt spoke very highly of you.”

“I hadn’t seen her in a while.” As soon as he finished the statement he felt a pang of guilt.

“Well, it didn’t diminish one iota her admiration for you and what you’ve accomplished.”

“I’m just an Army grunt. There are lots of us.” “Don’t be modest, Agent Puller. I was never in the military but my father was. World War II. Your aunt told me about the medals you’ve earned. Quite impressive.”

Puller wondered who had told his aunt about this. He didn’t think it was his father. The old man just wasn’t that into his sons’ lives.

“I tried to phone her when my father received a letter from her,” said Puller. “No one answered. Then I discovered what had happened. I understand that my aunt had a caregiver. A Jane Ryon?”

“I know Ms. Ryon. She’s a very capable young woman. She has lots of clients in town.”

“I look forward to meeting her.” Puller paused. “It was quite a shock to hear my aunt was dead.”

“I know. It was very shocking to me as well. She had some physical problems, but she seemed very strong mentally. I thought she would live to be a hundred.” He moved some papers around on his desk. “You say she wrote a letter to your father? Is that why you came down?” “Yes. I thought it was time to pay her a visit.” Puller was not going to reveal to him what was in the letter. “Did she have a will?”

“Yes, she did. And I can tell you the contents. I refreshed my memory on them after I got your call.”

“What are they?”

“With the exception of a few minor bequests, she left everything to you.”

Puller stared at the man. This was not something he had ever expected.

“To me? And not my father?”

“Not unless your father is Chief Warrant Officer John Puller Jr.”

“No, he’s a three-star, retired. I’m the CWO.” “Then you get it all.” He paused. “You seem surprised?”

“I am. Like I said, we hadn’t been in contact for many years. I didn’t even know she knew my current rank. It was very recent.”

“She had no children. And her husband had passed on. And as I said, she thought very highly of you. Was quite proud. Called you the son she wished she’d had.”

This statement hit Puller like a sucker punch to his kidneys. “Okay,” he said slowly, for he could think of nothing else to say.

“She had various investments and her home. The real estate will need to go through probate. There are numerous legal steps that must be gone through before you will receive the property. It could take up to a year, I’m afraid.”

“That’s not a problem. I don’t need the money.”

“I have inventory lists of her personal possessions. I do that for all my clients. That way you’ll know exactly what you’ll be getting. I can give you a copy now if you’d like.”

Puller shrugged but nodded and Mason produced several sheets of paper stapled together, which he handed to Puller.

“They’re very recent,” said Mason. “We had just gone over her estate about a month ago.” “Did she give any reason why?”

“No. But we usually met about once a year to make sure everything was up to date and that she didn’t want to make any changes in her estate planning.”

“I see.”

Puller ran his gaze over the pages. There were things like books, pictures, jewelry, some Hummel collectibles and the like on there. He didn’t really want any of it.

Mason said, “I’ll take your contact info from you and keep you posted as we progress through the stages. Once the house is titled in your name you can do with it what you want. Live in it, rent it, or sell it.”

“Fine, whatever.”

“And her stock, bank, and bond portfolios were fairly substantial. She made some good investments over the years. I have records on all of that as well.”

“Okay.”

Mason studied him. “But then you don’t strike me as the sort to whom any of that much matters.”

“I’ve never owned a home. And I’m not sure I know what a stock or bond looks like.”

Mason smiled. “That’s actually refreshing.

Most heirs I deal with want it all and the sooner the better.”

“When was the last time you talked to my aunt?”

Mason sat back and clasped his hands behind his head, revealing sweat patches under his arms although the room was cool. “Let me think. Thursday of last week, I suppose. She called me.” “How did she sound?”

“Sound? She sounded normal.”

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