And then Puller realized what that entailed. He and Carson carried the exact same stink. The wind changed, carrying their smell the other way.

“Down,” he roared as shots flew overhead.

He sank into the sand but did not return fire. He had no clear target and with only five rounds left he had none to waste.

He just hoped that Carson had heard his warning in time.

He waited, his heartbeat hammering in his ears.

He wanted to call out to Carson, but that would do neither of them any good. He had already told the other side there was more than one of them by calling out to her.

He gazed ahead, sweeping the area in grids.

Carson had the goggles. She would be able to see things he couldn’t.

He decided to play off whatever she did.

He looked over and saw Carson on her belly gliding forward. The sound of the breakers covered this movement.

He did the same. Her movements became faster and Puller, shot up as he was, was hard pressed to keep up with her. Then it occurred to him that she wanted to get there first, to absorb the attack or counterattack before he would be in harm’s way.

“Screw that,” he muttered and redoubled his efforts.

It all came to an end several seconds later. Carson jumped to her feet and aimed.

Puller got there a millisecond later and did the same, his rifle finding and fixing on the target.

One gun was pointed at Carson.

One gun was pointed at Puller.

Mecho faced Puller.

Chrissy Murdoch confronted Carson.

Mecho and Puller recognized each other at the same instant.

Carson and Murdoch did not have the same advantage.

Puller said, “Who the hell are you?”

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Mecho looked back at him, his finger a bare millimeter from the trigger of his weapon.

Murdoch kept her gaze dead on Carson. The women’s gun muzzles were barely six feet apart. Murdoch said, “Who the hell are you?” “Brigadier General Julie Carson, United States Army.”

Puller said, “Special Agent John Puller, Criminal Investigation Division, United States Army.” Mecho did not take his gaze off Puller.

Puller did not take his gaze off Mecho. He said, “Now who the hell are you?”

Mecho again said nothing. Puller eyed Murdoch. “The last time I saw you, you were in your bathrobe at Lampert’s estate and your name was Christine Murdoch.”

“That is my cover name. I’m actually Lieutenant Claudia Diaz with the Colombian National Police. I’m assigned to a joint task force between my country and yours.”

“For what purpose?” asked Puller.

“Antislavery efforts. It has been authorized by your State Department.”

“And him?” asked Puller, motioning at Mecho.

“He’s assisting me.”

“He doesn’t look Colombian to me.”

“That is because I am not Colombian,” snapped Mecho.

“But you saved my butt the other night,” said Puller. “Why?”

“I didn’t like the odds. Too many against one.”

“Did you know who I was?”

Mecho shook his head.

“Why are you helping her?” Puller asked.

“That is my business,” replied Mecho.

“Can we all show some creds?” said Carson.

Puller, Carson, and Diaz pulled out their badges.

Mecho pulled nothing.

“Where are you from?” asked Puller.

“Not from here,” said Mecho.

“You’re making this a lot harder than it has to be.”

“That is not my problem.”

Diaz said, “We were attacked by a half dozen of the slavers.”

“Seems to be going around,” said Carson. “So were we.”

“And you obviously survived,” said Diaz.

“As did you,” replied Carson. “We carried the bodies out to the ocean. I would recommend we do the same for you,” said Diaz.

“Why?”

“To cover our tracks. So the big fish do not get away.”

“I’m afraid they already have,” said Puller. “The truck with the people got away.”

“Damn,” said Diaz, and she was the first to holster her weapon.

Carson followed suit.

The two men did not budge; their guns remained pointed at one another.

Diaz said to Mecho, “Stand down, Mecho. They’re obviously not with the slavers.”

“Puller, lower your weapon,” said Carson.

“Screw that! Him first.”

“The same,” snarled Mecho.

Carson and Diaz looked at each other with exasperated expressions.

“Men,” said Diaz. “They have too much—” “Testosterone,” finished Carson. “Shall we?” she added, and Diaz nodded.

The women walked over and stood between the men’s pointed weapons.

“Stand down,” they said in unison.

With their targets obstructed, Puller and Mecho slowly lowered their weapons.

Diaz looked at Puller. “You’ve been shot!” “Yeah, that one I had figured out. You two have some filling in to do.”

Diaz said, “But we also don’t have much time. If the truck got away, they know what’s happened. They will pull out of all their operations. And we’ll lose any evidence we might have.” Puller glowered at Mecho. “Then we don’t have any time to lose, do we? And I hope you can change a tire, big guy.”

CHAPTER 81

Mecho changed the tire on the Tahoe and plugged the gas tank hole while Carson and Diaz patched Puller’s wound.

“You still need to get real medical treatment, Puller,” said Carson.

“She’s right,” added Diaz.

Puller put his shirt back on and stared at each of them. “Okay, first we get the bad guys and then I go get stitched up. Deal?” He glanced over at Mecho. “You done yet?”

Mecho gave the last tire lug one final turn and then rose holding the tire iron in one big hand.

“I’ll drive.”

“No, I’ll drive,” said Puller. “You just tell me where.”

The women rode in the back and cleaned and reloaded all of their weapons.

Mecho sat next to Puller and gave him directions to the warehouse.

“Can you fight with your wound?” Mecho asked Puller without looking at him.

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