“Do you think the higher-ups care about that?” he said. “And she screwed up big-time.”
“You mean the phone call? That was nothing.”
“We listened to the calls. Right, calls. Because she spoke to you again after I left the shop. After I told her you were suspected of being a spy. She not only enabled you to follow me right to the safe house, but it was clear on the phone call that she knew you were involved in something criminal. And your financing her dream business? A jury would easily believe that it was in payment for her helping you to spy on this country. And maybe even to launder funds. Terrorist funds. Because the Pentagon plan was not an act of war, it was an act of terrorism. And that makes everyone associated with it, American citizen or not, a terrorist. And that means many relevant legal rights go right out the window.”
Reynolds’s jaw tightened and she looked like she might be sick.
tinued, “She might not have known exactly what you and Bok were doing, but that’s clearly enough to get her as an accessory to a terrorist act. Her life is over, Susan. Unless you do the right thing by your little girl.”
Puller slapped the table once more with the palm of his hand. “Let me just give it to you straight, Reynolds. I came in here principally to get my brother exonerated. But I also came in here to give you one last shot at saving Audrey. I believe she’s innocent. And innocent people shouldn’t go to prison. Like my brother! But this is a national security case and they are out for blood. You almost wrecked the military leadership of this country! So they are going after anyone within spitting distance of this thing. And that includes your daughter. The government lawyers are right outside that door waiting for your answer. If you don’t sign this confession right now this deal goes away forever. And your little girl gets to spend the next sixty years of her life in a max federal prison. And it will be your fault and only yours. And you can take that thought to the death chamber with you.”
Puller placed the pen on top of the confession and sat back watching her.
Reynolds stared at him for a moment longer before her gaze went back to her daughter on the screen.
“So you’re going to coerce me, threaten me into a confession?” she said dully.
“No, I’m encouraging you as best I can to tell the truth. The facts that you will provide to corroborate the statements in the confession will leave no doubt as to your guilt. And if your testimony leads to other spies or traitors being caught, so much the better.”
“And you think the Russians won’t try to kill me if I do cooperate?” she shot back.
“Solitary confinement in a federal prison, Susan. We’re the best friends you have right now. That’s the only place they won’t be able to get to you.”
Slowly, very slowly, her right hand reached out and took up the pen. After she signed the document she looked at him. “You really are a heartless prick.”
“That must be why we get along so well,” he said back. “Because so are you.”
He scooped up the paper and pen, rose, and walked out the door without once looking back.
PULLER ADJUSTED HIS tie and then slipped on his jacket. He buttoned it up, made sure every one of his decorations was in the proper place, and then picked up his cover and put it under his arm.
His brother was waiting for him in the kitchen, also in his dress uniform, his cap riding under his arm too. His other arm was still in a sling from the injury.
“You ready, Colonel Puller?”
“I’m still technically a major, Junior. Lieutenant colonel status hasn’t come yet.”
“Matter of time. Bet you’re one of the youngest one-stars in Air Force history.”
Robert plucked an errant thread off his brother’s jacket. “We’ll see. I’ve got two years’ worth of catching up to do.”
“You ready to head out?” asked Puller.
“Let’s take a minute,” said his brother.
Puller was surprised by this. “Not having second thoughts, are you?”
Robert sat down. “No, it’s not that.”
“Knox told me you talked to her about Mom.”
Puller sat down, his features turning angry. “I told her that in confidence.”
“Blame me, Junior. After that exchange I heard between you before she staged killing me, I asked her about what had happened between you two.”
“Nothing happened,” snapped Puller.
“But I take it something could have?”
Puller didn’t answer right away. “Yes, it could have. But how does that tie into Mom?”
“Knox told me the most memorable moment from that night was your opening up about our mother. Knox had never seen that side of you. She told me it astonished her how sensitive, how loving you sounded when talking about Mom.”
Puller said nothing to this. He just stared down at the floor.
Robert said, “I miss her too, Junior. Think about her every day. Wondering if she’s still alive. And—”
Puller broke in, speaking forcefully. “And whether it was her choice to leave us?”
“What do you think?” asked Robert.
“I think,” began Puller, “that it’s one mystery I’ll never solve.”
Robert put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Well, now you have me back to talk about it with. To talk about a lot of things. And you don’t have to fly to Leavenworth to do it.”
“A dream come true, Bobby. To have my big brother back.”
Robert rose. “I was thinking the very same thing, little brother. Now let’s go do this.”
They drove north. Puller parked in the lot and the two brothers walked into the facility together, removing their caps as they did so. They walked down the hall. As they drew closer to their destination Robert slowed.
“Do you really think this is a good idea?” he said.
“Yes. And you did too, apparently, until about two seconds ago.”
“I guess I’m just a little nervous.”
“Join the crowd. I’m nervous every time I come here. I’d rather take on a convoy of damn Taliban.”
Puller nudged his brother’s elbow and they kept walking. Puller nodded at a nurse he knew.
She said, “He’s up in his chair.”
“Does he know we’re coming?”
“I told him. Whether it registered or not, I don’t know.”
She looked up at Robert. “I’m glad you were able to come, sir.”
“Finally able to come,” said Robert.
Both brothers drew deep breaths and Puller opened the door and stepped in. Robert followed.
The door swung shut behind them and the two stood side by side in their pristine dress uniforms.
Across the room, in his chair, sat their father.
John Puller Sr. was dressed differently today. Usually his outfit consisted of a T-shirt and blue hospital scrub pants with slippers on his feet. His white hair was typically in disarray, his face unshaven.
This morning he had been shaved, his hair was combed, and he was dressed in pants and a collared shirt. Loafers were on his feet.
Robert looked at Puller, who was staring in amazement at his father.
“Something different today?” whispered Robert.
“Definitely,” replied Puller.
“General,” said Puller. “We’re here reporting in, sir.” He pushed Robert ahead of him. “I brought along a new man today. He’ll be reporting in to you regularly now.”
Puller Sr. turned to face them, though he didn’t get out of his chair. His gaze moved up and down both men’s uniforms before coming to rest on Robert’s face.
“Name?” said Puller Sr.
Robert glanced at his brother and received an encouraging nod before saying, “Major Robert W. Puller, USAF.”
Puller Sr. stared hard at him for a few moments before looking at his other son.
In that gaze, for the first time in a long time, Puller saw recognition. Not just seeing something. Recognition. He stepped forward and said softly, “Dad?”
Robert glanced sharply at Puller. His brother had filled him in on the subterfuge he normally employed with his father. Playing the role of XO to his father’s three stars and head of a corps.
Puller took another hesitant step toward his father.
Puller Sr. slowly rose from his chair. His legs trembled a bit and his knees creaked, but he finally righted himself and stood tall and firm. His gaze left his younger son and went back to his older boy.
He took a few halting steps toward Robert.
The old man’s eyebrows were bunched together, the eyes sharp and penetrating. But at the edges Puller saw something he never had before,