“I’ll get it.”

“What you need to get, Puller, is to just leave it alone. Those guys didn’t look like the types to be messed with.”

“And you think I do?”

She looked over his shoulder, her arms folded across her chest.

He said, “I know I need to come down to the station and press charges against the guys from last night.”

“You might not wa

nt to do that.”

“Why not?”

“They want to press charges against you.” “Come again?”

“They said you attacked them.”

“I did. Before they attacked me.”

“You might not want to go around admitting that.”

“They were in my room, waiting to ambush me. Little hard to spin that.”

“They’ve already been released on their own recognizance.”

“Things work that fast in Paradise?”

“I don’t know what to tell you.”

“I was told those guys didn’t have gang connections. But someone is apparently pulling strings behind the scene.”

“I’m just a beat cop, Puller. I don’t get into stuff like that.”

“So they’re out on the street waiting to come after me again?”

“I don’t think you have to worry about that.” “Why?”

“Because I told them you were a super special forces homicidal maniac who could kill them in more ways than they could even imagine. I told them that the next time you would kill all of them and then get your Army buddies to come down here and help kill their families for good measure.”

Puller cracked a smile. “You actually told them that?”

“That was the gist of it. And for the Latinos I said it all in Spanish so they would get the point without having to translate. I said if they left you alone, I could guarantee their safety. Otherwise all bets were off. They all looked scared shitless when they left. And I really don’t think they’re going to press charges. They’re too afraid of you.” Puller said, “Okay, I appreciate the assist.” “You’re welcome. Now you can focus on what happened to your aunt.”

Puller smiled. “I wish every local cop I worked with was as cooperative as you.”

“You treat me with respect, I reciprocate. The moment you stop doing that, so do I.”

“I’ve got no problem with that.” He paused, wondering whether he should even venture there. But it would be a good way to ask more questions. And he found he was enjoying Landry’s company. She could be a good asset for him on this case if it turned out his aunt’s death wasn’t an accident.

“You free for dinner?”

She looked surprised and, Puller thought, a bit pleased by the invitation.

“You let me stay at your place rent-free,” he said in a joking manner. “I’d like to do something for you.”

She thought about this for a few seconds. Part of Puller thought she was going to say no.

“I get off duty in two hours. Where do you want to go?”

“Your town. I’ll defer to you.”

“There’s a place called Darby’s on the main drag.”

“Okay. I’ve seen it.”

“Say about eight o’clock?”

“Sounds good.”

He climbed into his truck and drove off. But he was no longer thinking about dinner with Landry.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee in the sedan. He needed to know who they were and whether they were connected just to him somehow or to what had happened to his aunt.

And maybe he had a way to do that.

He picked up his phone.

CHAPTER 40

“Well, well, I was wondering when the hell I was going to hear from you.”

“Just been a little busy, General Carson,” said Puller.

“General Carson? I thought we had moved to Julie.”

“It’s still working hours, ma’am. Wasn’t sure how you felt about that.”

Julie Carson was a one-star stationed at the Pentagon in the J2’s office. The J2 was a two-star who gave the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs the daily briefing. Carson was the vice chair and gave the briefing when the J2 was unavailable. She had helped Puller during his time in West Virginia.

She was forty-one, very attractive, as fit as a triathlete, and as tough as Puller. They had had a rocky start, but things had turned around after they’d found some common ground.

“What I feel is that you can call me Julie.” “Okay. I need a favor, Julie.”

“What, no dinner first?”

“It’s always a question of timing.”

He heard her sigh. “Okay, what do you need?” Puller briefly outlined his dilemma to her in succinct, military-crisp sentences that gave her the minimum amount she needed to follow along. The habit was so ingrained in him that he didn’t even realize he was doing it.

“Damn, Puller. I heard you were out on R and R. What the hell are you doing in Florida in the middle of something else? Do you plan to work your way across all fifty states getting into murder and mayhem?”

“Believe me, this is not by choice. If my aunt weren’t involved, I wouldn’t be down here.”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” she said quickly. “So you think it’s foul play?”

“It’s looking more like it, though I don’t have a shred of proof.”

“And the two guys in the car. You really think they’re military?”

“Were or are. I need to find out which.”

“I can run the plate for you today. But it might just be a rental.”

“It probably is. But if so, they had to put some name down for it and show a driver’s license. That might give us enough to go on.”

“I’ll get to work on it ASAP.”

“I appreciate it, Julie.”

“Now that’s what I like to hear.”

“How are things at J2?”

“Actually, I’m fairly bored with the routine.” “Thinking of a transfer?”

“The rest of my military career will be a series of transfers, the choices of which will largely be dictated by other people. That’s how it goes when you’re chasing more stars.”

“Yeah, I got a taste of that with my dad. Probably one reason I opted for the enlisted side. Too much thinking goes on with the stars and bars side of things.”

“You’re an enlisted and enlightened man, Puller.” She paused, and when she next spoke Puller heard a subtle change in her voice, like she was going from Pentagon mode to something more human.

“So what are your long-range plans?”

He said, “Finish up down here and get my butt back to Quantico. I’m sure CID will find things for me to do.”

“I’m sure they will. Military crime never takes a holiday, Puller. Not when you have hundreds of thousands of mostly young men around the world trying to act all macho. Add to that billions of dollars of taxpayer money flying around and things get complicated. Hands go into cookie jars.”

“And around other people’s throats.”

“So you see yourself being a military cop all the way?”

“I haven’t thought that far down the road, quite frankly.”

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