“Oh, you think so?”

“Don’t you?”

“Maybe. What do you think? Did I like it?” “No. But then again, it’s none of my business.” She looked over his shoulder at the yacht. “He has the best of everything,” she said. “Houses, planes, yachts.”

“And you? Are you one of his bests?”

“You don’t seem like a typical member of a landscaping crew.”

“I came here for a better life. I have yet to find it. In my country I had a good job. I used my brains. Here, I just use my back.”

“So why come here, then?”

“I had to.”

“Were things bad in your country?”

“Things were bad,” he said curtly.

“I see.”

“Do you really see?”

She looked at him with a bemused expression. “Why do I think you’re talking more about me than you?”

“Does the other man know?”

“James? James is lock, stock, and barrel with Peter.”

“This is a phrase I don’t understand.”

“Peter owns James. So, no, he doesn’t care.” “Then James is less than a man.”

“A fact I know perfectly well.”

“Why do you bother to talk to me? Because I saw?”

“I trust my gut on people. And you passed that test.”

“That doesn’t matter. People like you do not talk to people like me.”

“Is that the rule?”

“Yes.”

“I like to smash rules, Mecho. I always have.” He shrugged and went back to weeding.

“Will you be here much longer?” she asked. “Will you?”

“I don’t know. It’s up to Peter.”

The same for me, thought Mecho.

CHAPTER 59

The Plaza Hotel did not look like the far more famous one in New York City on the edge of Central Park. Its exterior was the usual beige stucco, its roof the usual terra-cotta tiles, and each balcony overlooking the water had columns shaped like palm trees.

Puller did not focus on the architecture of the building as he and Carson walked inside. He was thinking about Diego. And how to get him and Mateo back in something other than body bags. And he still had no clue where Isabel was.

“Do we tell the police about what just happened?” asked Carson as they hurried through the ornate lobby that had as its centerpiece a fountain with King Neptune in the center on a pedestal with dolphins and mermaids leaping around him. If it weren’t so garish it might have actually been funny.

“Yes, we do. They need to get an APB out on the kids right now.”

Landry met them at the elevator banks and they rode a car up to the floor where the murders had occurred. On the way Puller told her about Diego and Mateo and their run-in with the street kings.

“You’re lucky to still be walking around. Those guys are real animals.”

“They wouldn’t last a minute in Afghanistan,” said Puller.

“Amen to that,” added Carson.

Landry called in this information. “I’ll let you know as soon as we hear anything,” she said after she got off the phone.

As they climbed off the elevator Puller caught Landry and Carson checking each other out in a way only women could do and most men would never even notice. But Puller noticed and, again, it made him uncomfortable.

The hotel room was empty except for Bullock and the two dead bodies. Other than that there was no visible sign that anything had been processed.

Bullock came over to them, and as if in answer to his thoughts he said, “Called in some support from the state police. And I’m trying to think of a way to engage the FBI. This is getting out of control. But I’ve heard nothing back yet. Florida’s slashed its budget like every other state. Not sure we’re going to be getting any help.”

Puller was only half listening. His attention was on the bed where the two men lay. He drew closer, Carson right next to him.

“Who called it in?” asked Puller.

“Hotel. Room service came up here with a breakfast order one of the guys had put in the night before. No one answered. She opened the door and, to put it delicately, tossed her cookies along with the breakfast tray. Luckily someone cleaned that up before we got here.”

“Those wounds look deep,” said Carson.

“They are,” replied Landry. “The knife blade came out the other side on both men.”

“Long blade and strong killer,” said Puller. He focused more on the faces. He had already seen that the two men were not the same pair that had been following him.

When Carson asked him about this, he shook his head. “No. Different guys. Never seen them before.”

He looked at Landry. “Time of death?”

“The ME came in and did a quick look-see and pronounced death. She said between two and four last night.”

Puller ran his gaze over the bodies. “Tied up.” He looked closer at their faces. “Were their mouths taped? I see some residue.”

“Apparently so, but the killer took the tape with him. And there’s this.”

Landry edged down the pants and underwear of one of the men.

“The killer cut his groin?” said Carson.

Landry nodded. “We saw the blood on the pants and the ME had a look.”

Puller said, “Torture? Getting them to talk?”

“I guess that technique would work on most guys,” observed Landry dryly.

“Who are these two?” asked Puller.

“Joe Watson is the guy on the right. This was his room. Stiff on the left is Donald Taggert. He was in the room next door.”

“What else do we know about them?”

“Not much. They came down here about two weeks ago. They’re both from New Jersey. We’re checking into their backgrounds now. Next of kin being notified, all the standard stuff.”

“Two weeks here,” said Puller. “Pretty expensive.”

“It can be, yes,” said Landry.

“Nice suits,” said Carson, edging up Watson’s jacket to see the label. “Hands manicured, expensive shoes. There’s money here for sure.”

Bullock came over to join them. “And a bombing at Lampert’s place. Murders on the beach. Gangs attacking folks. I don’t know what the hell is going on. Just last week this place was as peaceful as a small town in the middle of Kansas.”

“Even small towns have problems,” said Puller, thinking of his recent escapade in rural West Virginia.

“Well, right now I’ll switch with any of them,” replied Bullock. He looked inquiringly at Carson, and Puller quickly introduced her.

“A general?” said Bullock. “That’s pretty impressive.”

“Not really. The Army has a lot of one-stars.”

“Not many who are women, I bet,” said Bullock.

“The Army could definitely do better in that regard,” agreed Carson.

Puller said, “Any leave-behinds from the killer?”

“Not much so far. No one saw anything. And unfortunately the hotel doesn’t have security cameras in the corridors.”

“Why not?’ asked Carson.

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