“Hey!”

They both looked over to see a burly security guard heading their way. Mecho hastily stood and moved away from her.

“Hey!” the guard said again as he came up to Mecho. It was the same guard as yesterday. “You’re really trying my patience, bud.”

The woman said, “I was talking to him. He was doing his work. I asked him a question.”

The guard looked at her like she was on drugs. “You asked him a question. Why?”

“Because I wanted to hear his answer,” she said, scowling. “So you can just leave him alone.” The man was about to say something, but seemed to think better of it. “Right, Ms. Murdoch. I was just making sure everything was okay. Just doing my job.”

“Everything is very okay,” she said sternly. After the guard retreated Murdoch said, “My name is Christina, Mecho. My friends call me Chrissy. It was nice talking to you.”

As she walked away he watched her. She glanced back once, saw him, and smiled again, tacking on a little wave.

In that knowing smile he saw something interesting. He was almost certain that she knew he had been watching Lampert and her have sex. And she didn’t seem concerned by it in the least. In fact, she seemed uplifted by it.

A singularly remarkable woman of great beauty.

A part of him hoped he would not have to kill her.

CHAPTER 38

The trip to Eglin Air Force Base took about thirty minutes. The duffel was where it was supposed to be and Puller signed the necessary paperwork, loaded it into his rental, and drove back to Paradise. Along the way he passed through Destin and eyed Landry’s high-rise.

That made him remember he needed a new place to stay.

He arrived back in Paradise around noon.

He hadn’t missed it for even a minute.

He made a stop at Bailey’s Funeral Home, where he needed to see his aunt’s body again.

After he was finished there, he drove directly to his aunt’s house. The sun was high, the day was hot, and the humidity had crept so high that simply walking produced rivulets of sweat. But Puller had spent many years of his life in heat even worse than this and it had little effect on him.

He reentered his aunt’s house using the key that the lawyer Mason had given him. Now that he had his duffel he could make a proper investigation.

He unpacked his duffel and spent the next five hours going over the interior room by room.

The only remarkable thing he found was nothing.

The only fingerprints were his aunt’s. That was why he had stopped by the funeral home, to take a set of elimination prints from Betsy Simon.

There was no sign of forced entry, no indication of a struggle.

He found a box of photo albums stuffed in a closet next to the small laundry room. He looked through a few of them and then stuck the box into his duffel. He would look at them later.

He moved his investigation out to the backyard, where he followed his aunt’s presumed path from the house to the fountain area. He got down on his knees and examined the stone surround, the disturbed stones under the water, the holes in the lawn made from the walker. If his aunt’s body had still been here he might have seen something that was not right, but it wasn’t and thus he couldn’t.

He sensed someone watching him and turned and saw Cookie peering over the fence.

“Did you grow?” Puller asked.

“I’m standing on a box. What are you doing?” asked Cookie.

“Just satisfying my curiosity.”

“You really think she was murdered, don’t you?”

“What do you think?”

Cookie seemed alarmed by the question. “I don’t have an opinion. I thought it was an accident, but I wouldn’t know what to look for.”

“Well, I do know what to look for and I’m not finding much.”

“Did you speak to Mason?”

Puller rose and went over to the fence. On the box Cookie and he were close to eye to eye.

“I did. He was helpful. What do you know about him?”

“Like I said, good lawyer. He’s handling my estate too. He does the same for lots of people.” “You know him beyond that?”

“Some. But we’re not really friends socially.” “Did you hear about the bodies washing up on the beach?”

Cookie nodded sadly. “The Storrows. I knew them. Nice people. I wonder what the hell happened.”

“The police are checking it out.”

“The paper wasn’t very full of details. Do you know anything?”

“If I did, I wouldn’t be at liberty to say.”

“Are you working with the police?” asked Cookie.

“No. I tend to work solo. But I’m just naturally tight-lipped with details like that.”

Cookie glanced over his shoulder at the fountain. “Still gives me the creeps, thinking of her dying there.”

Puller said, “I guess I need to arrange for the funeral service and all.” He didn’t have a clue as to what this entailed.

“Betsy told me that she wanted to be cremated. It should be in her will.”

“Mason didn’t mention that.”

“Did he give you a copy of the will?”

“Yes.”

“You should read it. Betsy was very particular about her funeral arrangements. I’m sure she spelled them out to the letter.”

“Thanks. I guess I should have already done that.”

“You’re young. You don’t think about wills and funeral arrangements.”

“I’m also a soldier. We tend to think about them more than most people.”

Puller left Cookie, went back inside, and packed up his equipment. He took one last look around and hauled his duffel out to the Tahoe. He sat in the driver’s seat and pulled out his aunt’s last will and testament. After skimming over most of the legalese, including the part leaving the house to him, he arrived at the provisions about her final arrangements.

Betsy Simon did indeed want to be cremated. She had prefunded the service with Bailey’s Funeral Home. That included an urn for the ashes and a request that they be spread over the Pennsylvania countryside where she had grown up.

He tucked the will back into his pocket. He would speak with Bailey’s about this. He figured they were probably very experienced with cremating folks down here.

He was starving and he had no place to stay. He would take care of the food first, the lodgings next. He also had to check in at the police department. He figured Landry would soon require his sworn allegations to process the eight idiots who had come after him last night.

He checked his phone and was surprised that there was no text from her.

Or Bullock.

He wondered if the moron Hooper had stopped puking yet.

And then he stopped wondering about Hooper.

He put the keys in the ignition, pulled his Mu, and hit the gas, pointing the Tahoe straight at the car.

Sometimes the direct way was the best.

CHAPTER 39

Puller slid the nose of his Tahoe to within an inch of the passenger door of the other car. The man seated there stared at him in surprise. The driver was trying to back the car up. Puller eased the nose forward until his hood was touching the car’s passenger door. If the driver backed up any more, he was going to seriously damage his vehicle.

Puller watched both men for any sudden movements. He raised his gun into view, rolled his window down, and motioned the passenger to do the same.

The man did so. “What the hell are you doing?” he barked.

“Not what I wanted to hear,” replied Puller as he climbed out of the Tahoe and came around to stand next to the car, the Mu held at an angle that would allow him to shoot at his target within a millisecond and not miss.

“What I wanted to hear was why you’ve been tailing me. And I would follow that up by asking who the hell are you.”

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