“Putting up a barrier to my investigation? Sending me a message I don’t understand as yet? Just messing with me? Take your pick.”

“We talked to a lot of people yesterday. They all know you’re on the case. Maybe you made somebody nervous.”

He shrugged. “Maybe I did. The question is, who and why?”

Knox looked over as they lifted Daughtrey from the bed, put him in a body bag, and carried him out on a gurney. The OSI team was congregated in a corner going over their notes, Puller could see. There was little evidence to be collected here, other than the body. The local cops, with really nothing else to do, trailed the gurney out of the room.

One of the OSI team came over to Puller and Knox.

“Chief Puller, I’d like to know more about your relationship with General Daughtrey.”

“I didn’t have a relationship. I had an assignment.”

“Was he the only one who assigned it to you?”

“As I said before, there were others, but I’m not at liberty to disclose their names.”

“Well, I’m going to have to insist that you do. This is a murder investigation, Puller. We’ve checked you out. You’re CID. You know how this works. Murder trumps all.”

“Not necessarily,” said Knox, and the OSI man turned his attention to her.

She flashed her creds.

“You gave Puller his alibi.”

“No, I told the truth. And there were lots of people in the restaurant where we ate. You can get their statements.”

“Already working on it. I don’t see INSCOM personnel every day.”

“I would hope not.”

“Is there something bigger going on here that I don’t know about? And could it have to do with a high-profile prisoner going missing from DB who was also in the Air Force?” He glared at Puller. “And who happens to have the same last name as you?” He shook his head, apparently at the perceived absurdity of the situation.

Puller said, “I don’t want to impede your investigation, because it would piss me off if someone were obstructing mine. Let me make some calls and then I’ll tell you all I can tell you. But I take orders too. From a higher authority than either of us.”

The OSI agent stared at him fixedly and then nodded. “I look forward to your call.” He put a hand on Puller’s shoulder. “And you don’t plan to leave the area?”

“Not right now,” said Puller. “But that could change.”

“Don’t let it change without contacting me,” the man said firmly.

After he walked off Knox said, “You should make that call, because the OSI guy doesn’t look to be of a patient nature.”

Puller pulled out his phone and walked outside.

Thirty minutes later Puller was sitting across from Schindler and Rinehart at a facility just off base from Leavenworth. Schindler looked harried. Rinehart looked calm but subdued.

Puller had given them a succinct report of his investigation so far, but leaving out, for his own reasons, the part about the blown transformers being taken by “people.”

“Okay, you’re filled in. Now you need to tell me what you want me to do,” said Puller. “OSI wants names. Your names.”

Rinehart shook his head. “That won’t be happening, Puller. I’ll run the interference on that. They’ll back off.”

“Right,” said Puller, not sounding convinced of this. “You’ve got the facts. Your guy was shot somewhere else and left in my room. If it was done to try to incriminate me, it was done pretty amateurishly, because I have a rock-solid alibi.”

“For God’s sake, can we first focus on who would want Daughtrey dead?” interjected Schindler.

Puller noted the man’s tie was askew, his hair ruffled, and he kept picking at his fingernails. He’d expected stronger stuff from the NSC.

“Okay,” he said. “When was the last time you saw him?”

Schindler and Rinehart exchanged glances. Rinehart said, “Shortly after we left you, Daughtrey left us.”

“So around eleven a.m. yesterday?” Puller glanced at his watch. It was now eleven in the morning and he hadn’t yet gone to bed.

“Correct,” answered Rinehart.

“Did he say where he was going? What he was going to do? Someone he was going to meet?”

“No,” said Schindler. “We flew in early yesterday morning, had our meeting with you, and then went our separate ways.”

“Where was he staying? At Leavenworth?”

“No. At the Hilton downtown. I did hear him mention he was going to make a run down to McConnell AFB in the next couple of days.”

“The Air Force base near Wichita?” asked Puller, and Schindler nodded. “He was a one-star, wasn’t he traveling with a staff? Entourage? Security?”

“If so, they traveled here separately,” said Schindler, and Rinehart nodded in agreement. “We flew out together on an Army jet. General Rinehart had his people with him. He’s staying in officer quarters at Leavenworth. I’m also staying at Leavenworth as a guest of the general’s.”

Puller nodded and wrote all of this down. “So who would want to kill Daughtrey? Any ideas?”

Neither man said anything.

“Does that mean you have no ideas, or you can’t tell me the ones you do have?”

“Every man of his rank has made an enemy of someone,” said Rinehart. “But I wouldn’t think to such a degree that they’d blow a hole in his head.”

“He was assigned to STRATCOM?” said Puller suggestively. “Maybe the reason comes from there.”

“I’ll make inquiries,” said Schindler.

Rinehart added, “STRATCOM, after all, is why the three of us were interested in this in the first place.”

“OSI will be on to that angle as well, you can count on that,” said Puller.

“As I said, I will run the interference on that,” said Rinehart.

“Different branch of service,” Puller pointed out, putting away his notebook.

“I’m not without influence over there,” said Rinehart. “And the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was the best man at my wedding right out of West Point.”

Schindler said, “Puller, your mission is still to find your brother. His escape may not be connected to the death of General Daughtrey.”

“Or it may be the reason for it,” replied Puller.

“Or,” said Schindler, “your brother might have been the one who killed him.”

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