Carson would get the other.

But the damn boat was coming on fast, so Puller didn’t have the luxury of waiting.

He looked down at the same moment Carson looked up. He didn’t know if she could see him without the benefit of the goggles he had on, but she had obviously either seen or heard the boat.

He shimmied down the tree, landing quietly in the sand.

A minute later he had rejoined Carson.

“Two left,” he said.

“Right, but reinforcements are coming from the water.”

“I know. I saw.”

“Now what? Those two are between us and the road.”

“So we have to remove the obstacle.”

“We don’t have time for a standard pincer movement.”

He said, “What do you suggest, General?”

“So I’m back in command?”

“Superior rank is never really out of command. You earlier deferred to my judgment. Leadership defaults back to you.”

She looked around. “Feint, draw out, and strike. Speed and finality.”

He nodded in agreement. Til do the feint and draw.”

“I was thinking the other way around. You’re better with the rifle.”

He shook his head. “We’re close enough range to do it with pistols. And I know you’ve kept your certifications up.”

“How?”

“You’re chasing the second star. You wouldn’t let something that simple trip you up.”

“I am damn good with a handgun at anything under twenty-five meters.”

“Then we’re well within your comfort zone.” “But the feint will get shot at.”

“That’s the hope.”

She gazed at him. “Did you so readily volunteer for all the dangerous assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan too?”

“All the assignments over there were dangerous.”

Puller checked the water again. The boat was almost there.

“We’re out of time.”

“Let’s do it.”

It worked.

Nearly perfectly.

But anything less than perfection under the circumstances was problematic.

Puller took up position fifteen meters off the left flank of the targets, who had committed the tactical blunder of retreating to the same spot. It marshaled their firepower but also left them sitting ducks for the strategy devised by Carson.

Carson had taken up her strike position five meters off Puller’s left flank, down in the sand, the Mu positioned on the hard shell of a long- dead sea creature. She had the goggles on now. She had crystal-clear fields of fire.

Now it was up to Puller to do the feinting just right.

And he did, almost.

He sprinted out of seemingly nowhere, a nearly six-foot-four blur wide-stepping through the sand running a zigzag route as though traversing a minefield.

The shots rang out almost immediately from the two men.

Puller had chosen his angle well.

It had made the two men step out from cover in order to draw a bead on him.

Carson popped off four shots. They were well placed, compact rounds, designed for close-quar- ter battle and max damage.

Two shots hit one man in the torso. The other two hit the other man in the exact same spots.

Double tapped, they dropped to the sand.

But so did Puller.

CHAPTER 80

“John!”

Carson raced forward through the sand.

She reached him in seconds. He had already risen to one knee.

“Where?” she said automatically.

“Left side. In and out,” he said. “I think it was the first guy who fired. He obviously knows how to grid shoot.”

“Let’s make sure it’s out.”

She pulled up his shirt, felt around for the entry and exit points, and found them both.

“You’re bleeding pretty heavily.”

“I’ll be okay.”

“We need to get you to a hospital.”

“I’m not arguing with that. In my duffel in the Tahoe I’ve got some medical supplies. I’ll patch myself up.”

“I can patch you up, Puller.”

He looked over her shoulder.

“Okay, but right now, keep low, get your gun ready, and turn around.”

She flinched, but just for an instant.

“The boat?”

“The boat,” he replied.

“Shit.”

She turned and saw what he had already seen.

The boat was beached on the shore. There was no one in it.

“Looks like the opposition has already deployed,” said Puller.

“It’s not a RIB. Maybe fewer people.”

“More than two is problematic. We’re clearly not at full strength.”

“Can you manage?” she asked.

“Not the first time I’ve been shot.”

“I know.”

Puller took off his shirt and wound it around his middle to try to stanch the bleeding. He gripped the rifle and stood.

“How many rounds do you have in the Mu?” he asked.

“Ten. You?”

“Five and then I’m out.”

“How do you want to do this?”

“Seek and destroy. I go left and you right. You see me fire, you fire at whatever I’m targeting. I’ll do the same with you.”

“Let’s manage our ammo carefully.”

“We need to kill what we can when we can, General. Hand-to-hand after that if it comes to it.”

“They hit you one time on your wound you’re going down.”

He turned to stare at her and said quietly, “It’ll take more than one time.”

Her lips parted, she eyed the bloody shirt and said nothing before looking away.

They split up. Carson moved toward the water, Puller the opposite way. Fifteen meters apart they stealthily advanced, their gazes rotating side to side, up and down.

Puller stopped when he smelled it.

Sulfur.

It was coming from his right, meaning Carson’s left. They were up ahead. The stench on the clothes of whoever was out there was being driven into his nostrils by the breeze.

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