“Yeah, pretty high-up stuff. Anyway, they approached me with a lot of questions, none of which I had answers for. But I think they want me to get answers. And to do that I need information.” Puller went back over in his head what he had just said and came away confident that he had told her no outright falsehood. Not that that would help him much if the hammer came down. However, he did feel guilty for asking the woman to help him. But her next words made him forget this concern.
“I don’t see how I can help, John. I don’t really have access to much.”
He sat back. “Know anyone who might and who might be willing to talk to me?”
“There’s one of the guards. He’s actually been talking to me about applying to CID. Maybe it could be a scratch each other’s back sort of thing.”
“Maybe it could. What’s his name?”
“Aubrey Davis, PFC. Nice guy. Young, single. He likes his beer but I hear he’s also serious about getting ahead in his career.”
Puller slid his card out and handed it to her. “Tell him to give me a call on my cell, okay?”
She took the card and nodded. “I will. But I can’t guarantee he’ll help you.”
“No one can guarantee that. Most leads fizzle out. I just try to keep plowing through the ones I have and hope they lead to new ones. Thanks again.”
He left her there and returned to his car. Okay, it would take some time for that angle to work out, he knew, if it ever did. If he were really unlucky, this PFC Aubrey Davis might report the inquiry and up the line it would go at top military speed, resulting in Puller’s getting a call from his CO or probably someone even higher up the chain. If he were calamitously unlucky it would not be a phone call, but a truckload of MPs to haul him in to hear the charges read against him for disobeying an order. But in the meantime he had other things to check out. Namely, how the DB had lost both sources of power on the very same night, letting a highly valued prisoner simply walk out.
And leaving a dead man, who was not supposed to be there, behind.
It was impossible the way he had stated it. So in some way he had to have stated it wrong.
And the only way to get it right was to start digging.
With a very big shovel. Without anyone knowing.
A tall order, he knew.
But this was family, which meant he didn’t really have a choice.
PULLER DROVE A circuitous route that took him around the perimeter of the DB and Fort Leavenworth as a whole. His gaze ran over the transmission lines. He had no way of seeing the natural gas generator configuration since that was behind cinderblock walls and the lines themselves were located underground.
He observed a power crew working inside a chain-link fence enclosing what looked to be twin transformers that might have been connected to the prison. This was probably the substation where the transformers had blown. But he couldn’t officially question them about it. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and contemplated what to do. And that’s when he noticed the Hummer pulling in behind him.
The MPs had arrived. Puller sighed, slid his ID out of his pocket, and waited.
Two armed men in uniform climbed out of their vehicle. They put on their caps and approached, one on each side of the car. Puller kept his hands in plain sight and made no sudden moves. He hit the window button with his elbow when the MP on the left reached him.
“What can I do for you?” he asked. “I’ve got my ID here. I’m—”
“We know who you are, sir. And we’ve been instructed to bring you into Fort Leavenworth for a meeting.”
Puller slowly put his ID away. “You want me to follow you? Or would you rather I went in your ride?”
“Ours, if you don’t mind, sir. Just pull yours a little farther off the road. We’ll make sure it’s here when you get back.”
Well, at least he didn’t say if I get back.
Puller rode in the rear seat with one MP next to him. They were both young, in their twenties, ramrod straight, stubborn chins, bulging necks, and eyes that did not see one inch farther than the orders they’d been given. Puller didn’t try to talk to them. They were just the hunting dogs retrieving him to the hunter.
They drove to Fort Leavenworth, where he was handed off to a female lieutenant smartly dressed in her Class B Blues.
They exchanged salutes and she said, “Follow me, please, Chief Puller.”
Well, it seemed everyone knew who he was.
They walked down a long corridor while Army life went on all around them. Military installations were centers of nonstop activity, and yet Puller wasn’t distracted by any of it. He had no idea whether he was walking to his professional death or a stint in the stockade. Or something else entirely. Questions like that got a man to focus.
She opened a door, ushered him in, closed it behind him, and he heard her regulation heels tapping back down the hall. And then he forgot about the lieutenant. Sitting facing him across the small table were the same three gents as before: Army general Rinehart; Schindler, the NSC suit; and the Air Force one-star Daughtrey. Schindler, Daughtrey, and Rinehart, thought Puller. Sounded like a law firm, which didn’t make him feel any better at all.
“Enjoying your visit to Kansas?” began Schindler.
“Up until about ten minutes ago, sir.”
“Why don’t you take a seat and we’ll tell you what you’re going to do,” said Daughtrey tersely.
Puller sat down across from them.
Schindler took a moment to adjust his tie and apply balm to his chapped lips. Then he said, “We understand that you disobeyed a direct order from your CO.”
“What would that be, sir?”
“That would be your driving here through the night with the purpose of investigating your brother’s escape from prison.”
“Well, so far you’ve spoken with a woman who works in administration at the prison, Chelsea Burke. And you were hoping to talk with a PFC Davis, who might be able to provide you with some leads. And then you were out observing an electrical substation connected to DB.”
Puller stared across the width of the table, silently marveling at how quickly they had been able to pounce on all this.
“You know all the stuff in the papers about the NSA spying and all, Puller?” said Daughtrey, a tiny smile playing over his lips.
“I read about it.”
“Tip of the iceberg, but ninety percent of an iceberg is hidden underwater. You used your credit card to buy gas and food. We tracked you that way.”
“Good to know, sir,” Puller said sarcastically.
Schindler said, “Intelligence keeps us all safe.”
“So spying on our own people keeps us safe?” said Puller more forcefully than he probably intended. r />
Schindler waved a hand derisively at this comment. “You don’t think there are Americans working with our enemies? Some of our fellow citizens will do anything for money. Hell, some of the biggest banks and hedge fund concerns in this country have been laundering cartel money and aiding terrorism for decades, and all for the almighty dollar.”
“I’ll take your word for it. So what now?”
“Well, now you have a decision to make, Puller,” said Schindler.
“And what’s that?”
“Basically, work for us or face the consequences.”
“And how exactly would I work for you?”
Schindler glanced at his colleagues before continuing. “Doing exactly what you want to do, what you’re here to do, in fact. Investigate your brother’s escape. But the difference is we’re kept in the loop the entire way. You step outside that box, your career is over.”
Rinehart added, “The decision is yours, Puller. And we’ll respect whichever way you choose to go. But if you choose not to work for us,