“You sure about this friend, Mecho?”
“I am sure.”
“What will happen to Lampert back in Bulgaria?”
“We have justice, just like you do here.”
“Do you have the death penalty?”
“We have worse.”
“Worse? Like what?”
“He’ll get to live. In a part of Bulgaria that no one would ever choose to live. He will get to live there for the rest of his life. And he will be busy every minute of every day of every year until he drops from being worked to death. We Bulgarians are relentless when it comes to people who hurt us.”
Lampert struggled to sit up, blood pouring from his mouth. “For God’s sake, Puller, you can’t let t
his happen. You’re a cop. You’ve got a duty. You can’t let this guy take me. He’s a foreigner. He’ll be kidnapping an American citizen. I’m a taxpayer. I pay your damn salary. You work for me.”
Puller ignored this and said, “And your friend is doing this for free? Why?”
“Not exactly for free. I promised him something, but I don’t know how to get it. I’m not even sure what it is.”
Mecho described his friend’s request. Puller smiled and glanced at Lampert. “That’s okay. I know what it is.”
Mecho looked surprised but also hopeful. “So you can get this thing?’
“I can get this thing,” said Puller.
Panama City, Florida, was known to generations of college students who invaded the town for spring break.
Port Panama City was a port with easy access to the Gulf along a nearly nine-mile-long channel.
Ocean liners disgorged tourists.
Cargo ships brought products to America through here and took American-made products to the rest of the world.
It was a busy place, even at night.
Puller stood on the dock holding a box and eyeing the Cyrillic writing on the side of the steel-hulled cargo ship as cranes lifted metal containers onto the ship, stacking them on top of each other.
As he continued to watch, a large wooden box was carried on board. There were two men carrying one end and one man carrying the other.
The one man was Mecho. He was cleaned up from his fighting, his wounds bandaged and mostly hidden under his clothes.
For those who looked closely, and no one did, the wooden crate had two holes for air drilled in it.
Inside the box was Peter J. Lampert. He was bound, gagged, and drugged.
He would wake up in about six hours.
By then the cargo ship would be well out in the Gulf. It would make its way around the southernmost tip of Florida and then begin the long trek across the Atlantic. The cargo ship would plow along at an average speed of ten knots. Seventy-six hundred nautical miles and a month later it would arrive in Bulgaria.
Once Lampert touched Bulgarian soil he would never leave it.
The crate secured on board, Mecho came back down the gangplank followed by a heavyset man who looked strong as a bull.
His thick-veined neck was the size of an average man’s thigh. His sleeves were rolled up and revealed forearms knotted with cords of muscles. He wore a skipper’s cap, and a cigar stuck out from his mouth at an angle.
They reached Puller and stopped.
Mecho introduced the man as his friend and the cargo ship’s captain.
The captain looked at Puller appraisingly. “Mecho tells me you have something for me.” Puller held out the box. “Ten bottles.”
The captain lifted the top of the box and looked inside it.
His smile was wide and immediate.
Puller handed him the box and the captain thanked him and carried it back on board ship. Mecho looked at Puller.
“So what is this thirty-year Macallan?”
“It’s a scotch. Actually a very good scotch.” “And it is thirty years old?”
“So they say.”
“Where did you get it?”
“Let’s just say that it was another opportunity for Peter Lampert to make restitution.”
Mecho’s jaw slackened in surprise. “You took it from his house? Weren’t the police around?” “They weren’t watching me too closely.” Mecho put out his hand and Puller shook it.
“I thank you for all that you have done.”
“I hope you find your sister.”
Mecho nodded slowly. “I will never stop looking.”
“But you can stop looking for Lampert.” Mecho smiled grimly. “I will always know right where he is.”
Mecho turned and walked up the gangplank. Halfway up he turned and waved back at Puller. Puller returned the wave.
A few moments later Mecho was gone.
An hour after that, the ship was gone too and Lampert had begun his long journey to his final resting place.
“Good riddance,” Puller muttered as he walked back to his car.
When Julie Carson opened her eyes the first thing she saw was the bright light overhead. The second thing she saw was Puller sitting next to her hospital bed.
He gripped her hand.
“I made it,” she said groggily.
“Never any doubt on my part. Docs say you’ll be good as new in no time.”
“Never got shot while wearing the uniform. Only while hanging out with you.”
“Seems to be an occupational hazard with me.”
She sat up a bit. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think I’m going on vacation with you anymore.”
“What happened to Landry?”
“In custody. Talking her head off. Bullock was thinking of retiring, but after this big bust he might run for governor.”
“So he’s getting all the credit?”
“Not something I care about, General.”
She squeezed his hand. “Julie. Off the clock now.”
“Julie,” he said.
“Colombians have already picked up her remains. She died a hero. They’ll see to that.”
“He made it through with a few dings, like me.”
She focused on his bandaged arm and leg. “Oh, God, John, I just remembered you were wounded too.”
“Just a few more scars to add to the package.” “Please tell me they caught Lampert. The last thing I remember is seeing him running away with his hands cuffed.”
Puller hesitated. “If I tell you the truth will you swear that you’ll never tell another soul? Even if you’re called on to testify?”
She sat up a little more and looked at him squarely. “What?”
“Maybe I should just let it alone. I don’t want you to have to perjure yourself.”
“What are you talking about?”