“I must have missed the part ordering me to report to some voice.”

“It would be in all of our best interests if you were to cooperate.”

“Not how it works in my world. I’m a soldier. I have

chains of command. I don’t step outside them.”

“So you won’t share your investigation results?”

“You’ll have to take that up with the United States Army.”

“You hope to bring your brother in alive. I tell you that this is not possible.”

“Why?”

“This is not possible,” repeated the voice. “If you won’t cooperate then I am asking you to stand down.”

“I was ordered to investigate. I follow orders.”

“There are many outs for you on that score,” said the voice. “The command for you to participate in this investigation runs against every protocol the military has. You should not be part of this. You will ask to stand down on those reasons. Your objectivity has been compromised, and understandably so. It’s your brother, after all. The United States Army is many things, Puller. But it is not unreasonable.”

“And you would know this how?”

“Stand down, Agent Puller. That’s all you have to do.”

“The investigation will continue regardless of whether I’m part of it.”

“That is not your concern. Will you stand down?”

“No.”

“I will ask again. Will you stand down?”

Puller said nothing, because he had nothing else to add to what he’d already said.

“I can only add as an inducement that this is far bigger than a mere prisoner escaping from custody.”

“Care to explain that?”

“To answer that would require disclosures that I am not prepared to make. Suffice it to say, you have my word that I am a patriot. The good of the country is firmly in my mind for whatever actions have been taken in the past or will be taken in the future.”

“You didn’t say what country. I doubt it’s mine.”

“You were described to me as stubborn, and tough and honorable. Those are all ideal attributes for those in uniform. But this, I’m afraid, is the exception that disproves that rule. Once more, will you stand down?”

“No.”

“Then I’m afraid it’s out of my hands.”

“Now you’re threatening me?”

“If only it were a threat, Agent Puller. Now, I’m afraid, it is a fact.”

The voice cut off and the quiet returned.

And then he heard feet moving closer. And the rack on a weapon being slid back. Puller immediately tensed, his quads and calves bracing for what was to come.

The blindfold was taken off and he blinked quickly to adjust to the brightness provided by the overhead light.

A moment later Puller felt a gun muzzle placed against the side of his head.

And then the shots shattered the window and blew out the light.

Puller and the other man froze and then the man with the gun turned toward the window from where the shots had come. That was the only opening Puller needed.

He sprang sideways, thrusting his shoulder into the chest of the man holding the weapon. Bone, muscle, and cartilage met the same. Puller was the bigger man, with a forty-pound advantage on the other. They both flew backward in the direction from which Puller had attacked.

As Puller had hit the other man with his shoulder he’d locked one of his legs around the man’s thigh and the other around his upper calf. Now he ripped the thigh one way and the lower leg the other and listened to the man scream as vital parts of his knee went helter-skelter. He and the now disabled man hit the floor and their momentum propelled them along the smooth boards. The other man crashed headfirst into the far wall and was knocked out by the impact.

Puller’s hands were still tied behind his back. Very flexible for a big man, he turned the slide into a roll and slipped his bound hands under his legs so they were in front of him. He grabbed the toppled chair, swung it around, and crushed the piece of furniture into the chest of the second man who had just rushed into the darkened room. The man had managed to get two errant shots off before he took the chair to the chest and hurtled in the opposite direction and then flipped over a table. He lay there panting and moaning with pain.

Puller knelt next to the first man, searched his pockets, and found both his M11 and his cell phone. He snatched up the chair once more and flung it through the window. A second later he sailed through the shattered glass and landed outside. He was on his feet in an instant, looked in front of him, and then chose a path in under three seconds. When in doubt with people trying to kill you there was no perfect answer. There was only action.

He sprinted off in that direction and quickly reached a curve in the road that would put him out of the sightline of the house.

A minute later two men came careening out of the building where Puller had been held and looked around for their former captive. Not seeing him, they ran to the SUV, climbed in, and the driver started it up. They started to speed off but the vehicle began to wobble badly. The driver put the SUV in park and they jumped out to stare in disbelief at the four slashed tires.

Robert Puller watched all of this from the bushes on the right side of the house. He had fired his weapon through the window, shattering the light. It would have been a difficult pistol shot through glass, but the auto weapon he had was both devastating and incredibly accurate at short range. With the light shot out he knew his brother would have the advantage. Still, he had watched until the chair and then his brother came flying through the smashed window before retreating to his present location. He’d slashed the SUV’s tires before taking up his sentry post at the window.

He quietly retreated to where his truck was parked. He had kept the engine running because it was quieter than trying to later start it. He’d also backed into the spot so he could now pull straight out. He climbed in, slipped the truck into gear, released the brake, eased out, and then basically let the truck’s forward momentum take him where he wanted to go. Once he was sufficiently far away, he hit the gas and sped down the road.

Robert Puller had followed his brother from the motel where General Daughtrey had been found. Then he had continued to follow him all the rest of the day, ending at the place where his brother was staying. He had seen the men force John into the SUV and he had followed them here. He didn’t know what had gone on inside the house. He had heard snatches of a voice, but could not make out what had been said. He didn’t know who the men were. He had made a quick search of the SUV, but there was no registration or other identification documents.

He could have charged into the house, but even with the brutally efficient weapon he was carrying he thought the odds of his winning the battle were too low. And he didn’t want to jeopardize his freedom or his brother’s life on bad odds.

He knew his brother could run a mile in less than six minutes and perform the Army standard two-mile run in a bit under twelve minutes. He checked his watch. John Puller should reach the main highway shortly. He would have found some way to defeat his bindings. He had a gun. He was safe.

Robert Puller pulled off to the side of the road. He did this for two reasons. He wanted to see if anyone was coming after his brother. And he also wanted to give John time to reach the main road. If he passed him in the truck, his brother’s CID instincts would kick in, meaning he would memorize the license plate of the truck, the make and model, and every element of the driver that he could see under the current conditions. And Robert was still paranoid that his brother would be able to see through even his elaborate disguise.

He waited eight minutes and drove down the road at a slow pace until he reached the main road. As he pulled onto it his gaze swept in all directions. He saw him about fifteen seconds later. And he eyed with more than a bit of pride his brother walking along the road, his hands free.

Some people one could completely rely on. And his brother was one of them.

As Robert Puller drove slowly along he saw his brother take out his phone and start punching in numbers. Then he turned off the main road, crossed over a berm, and disappeared on the other side.

You’re welcome, bro. And keep your head d

own from here on. It’s not

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