All three men turned their heads when they heard the screech of tires, followed by the whoop of a siren. A police cruiser had turned down the street and was advancing on them.

Puller saw the driver first and his heart sank.

It was Hooper.

Next to him was Landry.

Hooper looked excited.

Landry seemed uncertain.

Puller slipped his Mu back into its belt holster as the two cops got out of their car. Hooper had his gun pulled.

Of course you do, thought Puller.

Landry kept her gun holstered, but placed her hand on top of its butt.

Hooper advanced, swiveling his gun back and forth until he finally kept it pointed at Puller. “You just can’t keep out of trouble, buckaroo,” he said gleefully.

“I wasn’t aware I was in trouble,” replied Puller.

Hooper looked at the proximity of the Tahoe to the other car and said, “So you always park this close to other vehicles?”

“If I want to have a private conversation with somebody, yeah,” said Puller.

This comment made Landry snort and Hooper scowl.

“You keep up with the bullshit your ass will be in a lockup so fast you’ll get a nosebleed,” he snapped.

Puller said nothing to this inane comment because there was really nothing to say.

Even the guys in the car looked like they wanted to laugh, and probably would have except Hooper was now pointing his gun at them.

Puller said to Landry, “Can you ask your partner to holster? His finger is past the trigger guard. To me that means you’re going to fire.”

“Hoop,” said Landry in an admonishing tone. “No more accidents, okay?”

More accidents? thought Puller.

“We know he’s armed,” said Hooper, indicating Puller.

“I am armed because I’m required to be by the United States government,” pointed out Puller. “You can take it up with the Pentagon if you want, but I think federal trumps state, at least in this instance.”

He pointed at the two men in the car. “But now they might be armed too. I don’t know for sure.”

Landry’s gaze flicked to the car’s occupants. She stepped forward, her hand still gripping the butt of her sidearm. “Will you gentlemen please step out of the car with your hands where we can see them?”

“I can’t open my door,” said the guy on the passenger side. “His truck is blocking it.”

“Then slide across and out the driver’s side,” said Landry sharply.

With Hooper keeping his aim on them and now ignoring Puller, the two men slid out of the car, their hands held out in front of them.

“Are you armed?” asked Landry again.

Each man looked at the other.

The driver said, “We are not armed.”

“Open your jackets,” said Landry.

The men did so and there was nothing to see except shirts and belts.

Puller said, “Why have you been following me?”

The driver looked at him. He was about six feet tall, broad shoulders tapering to a slim, hard waist. His companion was likewise built. Their buzz cuts matched too. Up close they looked even more military.

“Who says we’ve been following you?”

“I do,” said Puller. “This is the fourth time I’ve seen you. Twice on this street.”

“It’s a small town,” said the man.

Landry said, “Let us see some ID.”

The men pulled out their wallets and handed over driver’s licenses. Landry wrote the info down in her notebook while Puller tried but failed to see the names and addresses on the licenses.

She handed them back.

The first man said, “Unless you have some reason for holding us, I’m assuming we can go now?”

Landry glanced at Puller and then back at the men and said, “Can you tell me what you’re doing in Paradise?”

“Just down here on vacation,” replied the man.

“Have you been following this gentleman?” asked Landry.

“No. I’m thinking about buying a place on this street, actually. Even contacted a Realtor about it.” He flicked out a card to her. “This is her name and contact info. She’ll vouch for me. We were sitting here going over what places we were going to check out when this guy came flying at us. Seems to me that instead of questioning us, you should be arresting him. I thought he was going to ram us with his truck.”

Landry glanced down at the card and then frowned as she glanced once more at Puller. Puller could read all the doubts in that look.

She handed the card back to the man. “Thank you for your cooperation. I’m sorry for any inconvenience.”

Hooper said, “Do you want to press charges against him?” He indicated Puller.

The man eyed Puller, as though trying to absorb every detail of his face.

“Nah. He doesn’t seem worth the trouble.” He smiled at Puller while his friend let out a snort of laughter. “So just move your truck and we’ll be on our way.” He drew closer to Puller. “But you try something like that again, I won’t be as accommodating.”

Landry stepped between them. Perhaps she had caught the look from Puller that indicated he was about a millisecond from breaking the man in half.

“That’s enough of that,” she said, pushing them apart. “Puller, move your vehicle. Now. Gentlemen, you have a good day.”

Puller climbed into his truck and backed it up just enough to allow the other car to creep past. Then the driver accelerated, turned the comer, and was gone.

Puller got back out of the truck. “What were their names?” he asked.

“That is none of your damn business,” snapped Hooper.

Puller looked at Landry inquiringly.

She shook her head. “It is none of your business, Puller. And just be glad he didn’t press charges. Now from here on, just stay away from them.”

“Me staying away from them isn’t the problem. They’re following me.”

“So you say,” barked Hooper. “Doesn’t make it true.”

Landry said, “Puller, their story does sound logical. If they’re looking for a house on this street.” She gazed up and down it. “And I see three for-sale signs.”

Puller knew this was bullshit. The guys had their cover story. But Diego had seen them near the Sierra. He didn’t think there was any real estate in that area that would interest the two men. But he kept that to himself.

“Okay,” he said. “You’re probably right.”

Landry clearly didn’t believe him, and Hooper clearly still wanted to arrest him.

He turned to climb back into the Tahoe. Hooper said, “How do you know we’re done with you yet?”

Puller turned and stared at him expectantly. “Okay. Are you done with me?”

Hooper looked surprised by the question and glanced at Landry. She said, “Hoop, finish the patrol on this street. I want to have a word with Mr. Puller.”

Hooper climbed into the cruiser and hit the rack lights and engaged the crowd control button. The blasting noise caught Landry completely off guard.

“Damn it, Hoop, just go,” she snapped.

He sped off faster than he should have on a residential street.

“How do you stand working with that idiot?” asked Puller.

She ignored the comment and said, “What is going on with you?”

“Come again?”

“Are you getting paranoid?”

“I’m not paranoid. Those guys are following me.”

“You have proof of that?”


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