take her to Destin.”

“And east?”

“Then you’d be heading toward Santa Rosa Beach, Seaside, and then, way past five miles, Panama City.”

“Anything interesting along that way?”

“Lots of beaches. The Emerald Coast stretches for about a hundred miles. You’ve got Eglin Air Force base to the west, and east of Panama City there’s Tyndal Air Force base.”

“Lot of military bases around here,” commented Puller.

“Right. I guess you’d know that being in the military.”

“And there’s Pensacola, where all the naval aviators go to learn to fly. And Hurlburt Field, although that’s really part of Eglin. Air Force has its special operations command there among other things.”

“You obviously know a lot more about that than I do.”

“Probably not a lot. I’m Army. The Air Force operates at a higher altitude.”

“Well, again, I’m sorry about your aunt.”

“And I’m sorry for scaring you. I really appreciate everything you did for Betsy.”

He walked her to the door, turned on the outside door light so she could see better, and watched Ryon walk down the driveway to her car, a blue Ford Fiesta with a large dent in the passenger door.

As she drove off, Puller saw a police cruiser coming down the road. He didn’t manage to close the door in time. And he was aware that the exterior door light made him about as visible as a digital billboard.

The cruiser did a hard left into the driveway and the driver hit the rack lights.

Puller stood there watching as Chief Bullock stepped out of the car and headed toward him, one hand on his sidearm, his gaze dead center on Puller.


Bullock stopped when he was within five feet of Puller, who had stepped out onto the front stoop. “You want to tell me what the hell you’re doing here? And then try to give me a reason why I shouldn’t arrest your ass right now.”

Puller held up the keys to the house. “Got these from my aunt’s lawyer.” He slipped the copy of the will out and held it up for Bullock. “She left me the house. It’s all in here. You can call the lawyer if you don’t believe me or what the document says.”

Bullock lurched forward, snatched the will out of Puller’s hand, and read it under the porch’s exterior light. He folded up the will and handed it back to him.

“I’m no lawyer, but it looks like you got yourself a house. Of course if your aunt was killed I guess that gives you a first-class motive to kill her.”

“Except that I wasn’t in Florida when she died.”

“And you can prove that?”

“If I have to. And if I knew I was going to inherit the place, why would I come down here, kill her, and then show up here and get arrested so you’d know I was down here at all?”

“Maybe you’re stupid.”

“You’ll have to take that up with the Army.” “I’ll take it up with you anytime I want so long as you’re in Paradise.”

“Can we call a truce here? If I rubbed you the wrong way, I apologize. It was not my intent.” Bullock rocked back and forth on his heels, let out a loud exhale of air, and said, “Forget it. Much my fault as anybody’s. I tend to get the hair on the back of my neck up too quickly.”

“No problem. I can understand that.”

“You still think your aunt’s death wasn’t an accident?”

“I don’t know. I’ve talked to the ME and I saw her body. Nothing has jumped out at me.”

“But you’re still not sure?”

“I guess you can never be sure. Maybe I’m looking for something that just isn’t there.”

“Folks do that sometimes.”

Puller put out his hand. “Look, I know you’re busy. Whatever happened on the beach today looked pretty important. I’m going to head back to where I’m staying. Thanks for not arresting me.”

Bullock shook the hand and then said, “Yeah, it was pretty bad.” He stared at Puller. “What we found on the beach.”

Puller took this as an offer from Bullock to talk about the case.


“No. Both shot in the head.”


“A couple actually. The Storrows. Nancy and Fred. Like you remembered hearing at the station. Well-known folks around here. Been here longer than me. They took walks on the beach every night. They did the other night and never came back.”

“Any witnesses? Clues?”

“Bodies were pretty badly decomposed. Nobody has come forward saying they saw anything.”

“Motive? Robbery?”

“Mr. Storrow had twenty dollars in his pants and a gold wedding band on his finger. Mrs. Stor- row’s diamond ring was still on her finger.”

“They have any enemies?”

“Not a one that I know of. They were retired. They grew up together in Fort Walton Beach. High school sweethearts. Moved to Paradise a long time ago. He owned a string of businesses, small stuff, gas station, Subway shop, mobile phone store. He sold all of them quite some time ago and he and the wife were spending their golden years in pretty comfortable style.”

“And the couple who reported them missing and who were at the beach today?” said Puller.

“The Storrows’ son, Chuck, and his wife, Lynn.”

“Not making any accusations, but any motive there?”

Bullock shook his head. “Son is a banker here in town and makes a great living. Doesn’t need a dime from his parents. They were very close. Played golf every weekend. Had parties at each other’s homes. Genuine affection there.”

“So maybe it was a random thing. Wrong place, wrong time.”

“That’s what I’m thinking.”

“Can you tell from where the bodies washed ashore where they entered the water?”

“Having some guys who are good with the tides and currents around here doing that for me. Might narrow down a place to search. We already have a time frame for when they left the house for a walk.”

“I know I’ve got no jurisdiction in this, but if you want another pair of eyes to look over stuff while I’m down here, I’d be glad to.”

“Okay, Puller, depending on how things go I might take you up on that. You have a good evening. Glad we worked things out here.”

“Yeah, me too.”

Bullock trudged back to his car and Puller closed and locked the front door, then walked to his car and headed off. He drove to the spot where the Storrows’ bodies had washed ashore.

Wrong place, wrong time, maybe. Which meant they might have seen something or run into someone and that had cost them their lives.

Mysterious happenings in the night.

He gauged the distance he had driven from his aunt’s house.

My house now. And what do I do with it?

The distance was 2.2 miles. This was not where his aunt had driven to. Whether or not that meant the Storrows’ murders were unconnected to what had happened to his aunt was not a question he could answer right now.

I don’t know enough. I may never know enough.

He was out of his element. He had no powers of investigation down here. His official duffel with all the equipment he typically needed to solve crimes was all the way back in Virginia. Then he had an idea. He picked up his phone and called USACIL, or the United States Army’s Criminal Investigation Lab, at Fort Gillem, Georgia. He had a contact there, Kristen Craig, whom he had worked with on many cases. He knew the hour was late, and Georgia was actually an hour ahead of Paradise, but he also knew that Craig often burned the midnight oil.

Tonight proved to be one of those times. She answered on the second ring. He explained to her what he was doing and what he needed.

She said, “I have a shipment going out to Eglin tomorrow morning. I can put the duffel on the plane. You can drive up and get it around noon your time.”

“You’re a saint, Kristen.”

“Just remember to call and tell my boss that aroun

d review time.”

Tags: David Baldacci John Puller Thriller
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