The car Puller was taking cover behind was riddled and a number of the rounds passed right through the thin metal and nearly took Puller’s limbs off. He had no choice but to retreat.
Carson laid down fire to allow him to do this and thus she became the next focal point of the enemy force.
Her position was obliterated by the concentrated firepower. She was not so lucky in her retreat. She went down with wounds to both her leg and arm.
Puller did not rush to her side, because that would have kept the enemy guns on her. He fired back from his new position and the counterfire once more swiveled to him.
He ran farther away from Carson’s position, dodging gunfire by running unpredictably. After doing it for years in the Middle East the muscle memory was well established in his limbs. He almost seemed to know where the aim of his opponents was going.
The men confronting him now should have mapped out fire grids and placed rounds in every conceivable path Puller could choose. Then he would be dead.
But they didn’t and he wasn’t.
He made it to safety before turning and firing back with his MP5.
It was only he and Mecho left now. Two against nearly twenty.
But that was about to change.
Puller’s cell phone vibrated. He pulled it out, glanced at the screen.
He thumbed a one-word response.
General Julie Carson’s orders were about to be executed.
All heads turned as though connected by string to the sounds coming from the north of them.
The MH-60L DAP was basically a modified Black Hawk chopper with major firepower added, including Hellfire antitank missiles, rockets, and 7.62 miniguns. Operated by the Army’s 160th Special Ops Aviation Regiment, nicknamed the “Night Stalkers,” it was a versatile battle platform. Fortunately for Puller, there had been one stationed at Eglin for a joint Army-Air Force exercise. It thundered over the wall and into the Lampert estate. Its 30 mm cannon zeroed in and then lined up on the clusters of men crouched with their weapons waiting to overrun a vastly smaller opponent.
Some of the men pointed their guns at the chopper. When two of them stupidly fired at the aircraft, Puller thought to himself, Wrong move.
He lay flat on the ground, his hands over his ears.
The 30 mm cannon opened up. It could lay down compact fields of fire at over six hundred rounds per minute. It created what the Army termed a nonsurvivable event. In less than ten seconds nearly twenty mostly obliterated men lay on the ground.
The chopper landed and Puller raced to it after laying his MP5 down. The last thing he wanted was a 30 mm cannon pointed at him.
The door of the chopper slid open.
“We need a medic,” shouted Puller over the whine of the blades. “Got a one-star with gunshot wounds.”
After grabbing bags of equipment a doctor and a medic jumped off the chopper and followed Puller over to where Carson lay.
Her face was white but she was conscious.
Puller knelt down next to her as the doc and medic prepared their equipment. He gripped Carson’s hand as they hooked up bags of blood and saline and stuck IV lines into her.
She opened her eyes and looked up at Puller.
“You’re bleeding,” she said, reaching out slowly and touching his arm.
“Lot of that going around.”
“Am I going to make it?” she asked.
Both slugs were still in her. She’d lost too much blood. She was pale and weak and when Puller glanced at the doctor he looked grim.
But Puller looked at her straight in the eye, squeezed her hand, and said, “You’re going to make it.”
The human spirit was the strongest medicine on earth. And sometimes all it needed was a little encouragement to pull off a miracle. Puller had seen it countless times on the battlefield, and even been the recipient of such positive words when an IED had nearly ended his life in Iraq.
You're going to make it. Sometimes that was all it took.
She squeezed his hand back and closed her eyes as the painkiller the doctor administered took effect.
Puller stood and jogged back over to where Landry sat on the ground, her hands still secured behind her.
“Don’t forget our deal, Puller,” she said. “I delivered you Lampert.”
“Yeah. You can console yourself with that fact when you’re eighty years old and still in prison. And I don’t think they have paddleboards there.” He motioned to a soldier heading over to them, and flashed his creds and badge.
Puller said, “Sergeant, this woman is a prisoner of the United States Army until she can be turned over to local authorities.”
The sergeant trained his weapon on Landry.
Puller heard a noise.
He turned, at first thinking Lampert had reappeared and was trying to make a getaway.
But it wasn’t Lampert. It was Mecho.
He was running hard and already near the dock that led down to the beach.
Puller set off at a dead run.
He knew exactly what the man was going after.
Peter J. Lampert.
And so was Puller.
Lampert had run as hard as he could. It wasn’t easy with his cuffed hands behind his back. He was in decent shape, but not combat fit. He’d never fired a weapon in his life. He hired others to do that for him. He had never before had to run for his life.
He was paying for that now.
The sounds of the gunfire had stopped. All Lampert heard now was the breakers on the beach.
His boat was docked about a quarter mile out.
He would live to fight another day.
It just wouldn’t be in this country.
That was okay. He was getting tired of living here anyway.
He pressed his forearm against a stitch in his side and kept his feet pointed toward the dock.
His twenty-foot tender was out there.
He could see his yacht from here.
He believed he could manage to pilot the boat out to the yacht. If Landry could make it all the way out to the oil platform in a tropical storm, he could make it out to the yacht in calmer seas.
He had a knife on board that he could use to cut the plasticuffs off. Then it was a straight shot out. The tender was sturdy and the waves were diminishing as the winds died down. Yeah, he could make it.
He was almost at the dock when he saw it.
At first he didn’t register what it was.
But then it hit him.
He was looking at the conning tower of a submarine.
Rojas’s sub. He had mentioned it during the meeting on his yacht. It could hold lots of people.
So that was how the gunmen had made it to his estate. They had come by sub.
Now taking the boat was problematic. What if they came after him? The seas were still rough. If the sub struck the tender, capsized it, and he went into the drink? He would drown.
He stopped, still pressing at the dull ache in his side. He should