His hand slipped to his trigger guard. When it moved to the trigger he had to be prepared to fire.
And he would.
And then he saw the person come down the stairs.
And his military cop voice roared, “Down on the floor. Now. Or I will fire my weapon.”
The person did not get down on the floor.
She screamed and ran.
She did not make it to the front door before Puller reached her. He wrenched her arm back, pulling her face-to-face with him.
“Omigod, please, don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me,” she pleaded.
Puller let go of her arm, stepped back, but kept his Mil at a forty-five-degree angle, ready to aim it up at her if the necessity arose. He switched on a table lamp, partially illuminating the room.
“Who the hell are you?” he demanded as he ran his gaze over her.
She was about twenty-five, with blonde hair in a ponytail. She wore faded blue jean shorts cut high up her thighs, a tight-fitting lime green T- shirt, and flip-flops with “Corona” printed on the straps.
“I’m Jane Ryon. Who the hell are you?”
Her tone and words had grown more defiant when it appeared that he was not going to shoot her, but her fearful gaze held on his gun and she still seemed wobbly.
“John Puller.” He held out his ID and badge. “CID agent with the Army.”
“Good God, you’re Betsy’s nephew,” she exclaimed.
“And you’re her caregiver. Or were her caregiver,” replied Puller.
“How did you know that?”
“I ask questions. Like I’m doing now. What are you doing here?”
She opened up her bag so he could see inside. “I left some things in an upstairs bedroom. A jacket and some slacks. I thought I’d be back for them when I came to see Betsy again, but of course that didn’t happen.”
Puller holstered his gun. “I’m sorry if I frightened you.”
“It’s okay. At least I know my heart is strong now. Otherwise I would’ve dropped from a coronary.”
She was about five-five and in good shape. The definition in her legs and the extreme trimness of her frame made Puller deduce that she was a runner.
“I’m really sorry about your aunt,” she said. “She was a nice person. Do they know how she died?”
“How did you find out?”
“I came here on the day they found her body. I was actually coming to visit another client on this street. The police cars were here and then a hearse arrived. I talked to one of the cops. He said Betsy had been found in the backyard dead. That’s all I know. I thought maybe she had a heart attack or something.”
“Her official cause of death was drowning.” “Drowning? I thought they said she was in the backyard. Did she actually drown in the bathtub?”
“No, in the fountain out back.”
“But it’s not that deep.”
“Apparently she fell, hit her head, and slipped into the water unconscious.”
“Oh my God, how awful is that?”
“Well, if she was unconscious she would have felt no pain or panic, but it’s still not a pleasant way to go.”
“Who found her?”
“I’m sure he’s really broken up. They were good friends. It was funny to see them together. He’s short and she’s tall. She reminded me of that lady from The Golden Girls TV show. I’d watch it on TV Land when I was a kid.”
“Right,” said Puller.
“She was her own person, and although sometimes she was hard to get along with, I admired her spunk.”
“Yeah, spunk runs in the family,” replied Puller. “Cookie told me you help him too?”
“Oh yeah. I’ve got a lot of clients in Paradise. Keeps me hopping.”
“You a native?”
“No. And I don’t technically live in Paradise. I’m in Fort Walton Beach, which is nearby. I came down here about five years ago from New Jersey. The winters are a lot nicer, meaning warmer.”
“I bet. How was my aunt before she died?” “She had the typical aches and pains associated with someone of that age. She was on meds— again, no surprise there. She used a walker. She was tall, a lot taller than me, but her spine was curved. She had her good days and bad ones. Like all of us.”
“Yeah, but she recently had a really bad day.” “Well, yeah.”
“How were her spirits? Did she seem depressed, annoyed, worried?”
“Not more than usual. I’ve been a caregiver for quite some time now, and I’ve found that older people’s emotions can run the gamut during the day. They tend to be in higher spirits in the morning. As night approaches they start to falter a bit. At least that’s been my experience.”
“Did she drive? Or did you drive for her?”
“I would run errands. To the store, the pharmacy, stuff like that.”
“In her car?”
“No. I’d use my own. The company I work for doesn’t allow us to drive our clients’ cars. Insurance thing.”
“So did she drive, then?”
“Not while I was here.”
“Which was how often?”
“Two-three times a week.”
“And did you stay over every time?”
“No, hardly ever. She didn’t really require it.” “When would you leave?”
“So if she went out at night for a drive after you left you wouldn’t know about it?”
“No. But why would she go out for a drive? I mean, where would she go?”
“Asking the wrong person. I just got down here. Don’t really know the lay of the land yet. But if she did drive around and went, say, five miles out and five miles back, where might that take her?”
Ryon mulled this over for a few moments. “Well, if she went south that would take her right into the Gulf. If she went north, it would take her into Choctawhatchee Bay. This part of the Emerald Coast is fairly long but pretty narrow, with water on both sides.”
“East and west?”
“West, that would come out around the jetty, although it’s all back roads there. If she stayed on Highway 98 it would angle northwest and