going to get any easier. It’s only going to get worse. Trust me. If you still can.

Robert Puller punched the gas and sped on.

CHAPTER

23

JOHN PULLER CHANGED motels once more.

At this rate he thought affordable lodging opportunities in Leavenworth might be extinguished far sooner than he would like. He spent some time with AWOL, who had taken the move better than he had. If only the feline could talk, for AWOL had been the only one other than Daughtrey to see the Air Force general’s killer.

He didn’t know if the police had come in answer to his 911 phone call, not that it would have mattered. He wasn’t planning on reporting his kidnapping. The local cops would not be able to figure it out and Puller wanted to play all these recent cards very close to his vest.

He did call Knox and asked her to meet him the next morning at the same diner where they’d had dinner.

At seven a.m. he was sitting in the same booth when the door opened and she walked in, dressed as usual in a dark pantsuit with a white blouse. He watched her spot him and walk over. As her long legs ate up the ground Puller knew he had to do one of two things: trust her or not trust her. And despite her seemingly sincere and graphic display of her war wounds, he did not trust easily. That was because his trust had too often been either misplaced, outright broken, or both.

She sat down and ordered coffee from the hovering waitress, and when the old woman had gone off to fill the request Puller leaned forward and recounted to her what had happened. He watched her closely to see if her surprise was genuine.

He concluded that it was. But Puller also knew that whatever he was dealing with was so full of deceit and fraught with peril that even the slightest misstep could be disastrous. He was also beginning to doubt his normally reliable judgment.

After her coffee came and the waitress drifted away she spoke. And Knox’s first question intrigued him.

“Who fired the shot that killed the light?” she asked. “Because whoever did that probably saved your life.”

“Shots,” corrected Puller. “At least six. I’m thinking an M4A1. The M4 has a max three-round burst option. I’ve fired enough of them to know the sound it makes. But you’re right. The shooter did save my life. And whoever did it had followed us up there.”

“So did that person have you under surveillance or the other guys?”

“Fair question. But I don’t have an answer.”

“An M4 is a standard Army issue,” she noted.

“It used to be a mainstay of Special Forces. I carried one when I was a Ranger. All infantry units use it heavily too.”

“Do you think these guys are the ones who killed Daughtrey?”

“I don’t know. Could be. But something about what the voice said made me think.”

“Think what exactly?”

“That he’s not simply a criminal,” said Puller.

“Because he talked about having the good of the country in mind?”

“Only what country, Knox? Maybe he’s in the intelligence field.”

“Puller, American intelligence agencies do not kidnap and try to murder federal lawmen.”

“You sure about that?”

“I can’t believe you’re even asking me that.”

“Really? After everything that’s happened?”

She gazed down, seemingly unable to meet his eye. She tapped her spoon against her coffee cup. “If the person is in the intel field, maybe it’s for one of our enemies, like you suggested.”

“Maybe.”

“There is one thing you should know.”

“What?” he said, reading her tone to mean that whatever she was about to say would not be good news.

“Al Jordan, the maintenance guy who had the blown transformers?”

“Yeah, did you talk to him? Find out who took them?”

“I tried to talk to him.”

“What do you mean, ‘tried’?”

“He’s been transferred.”

“Transferred! Where?”

“I can’t get a straight answer on that.”

“He’s a maintenance guy. He’s been here for fifteen years. I checked his file. There would be only one reason to transfer him, Knox.”

“To get him out of the way so he couldn’t tell anyone what he knows—as in who took the damn transformers!” she finished angrily. “And I checked the substation. All the debris has been cleaned up. Even if we go out there we won’t find anything.”

Puller sat back and looked around the diner before giving her a piercing stare. “And you’re jacking me around for being paranoid?”

Now she looked up at him. “Maybe I just didn’t want to believe it was possible,” she said quietly.

“I thought in the intelligence field allies became enemies on a daily basis.”

“That is grossly exaggerated by the press and in the movies and on TV.”

“I guess I’ll have to take your word for it.”

“I guess you will. So where do we go from here?”

“Fort Leavenworth.”

“And what are we looking for there?”

“How a guy not connected to the United States military ended up as part of the response team to the incident at DB and was found dead in my brother’s cell. And I’m not leaving there until I find an answer.”

“And the people who kidnapped and nearly killed you?”

“They can only surprise me once, Knox. They come after me again, someone’s not walking away.”

“Well, let’s hope it’s not you.”

He looked at her. “And I can count on you to cover my back?”

“You have to ask?”

“I wouldn’t be asking if I didn’t think I had to.”

“Yes, I’ll have your back. Will you have mine?”

“I’ve had your back ever since you showed up, Knox.”

CHAPTER

24

SINCE PULLER AND KNOX both had DoD creds they could access the fort through the east or west gates, named Hancock and Sherman respectively, after long-dead Civil War Union Army generals, rather than the main gate, which was how visitors, newcomers, and commercial traffic entered the post.

The fort had been around since 1827, when it was established by Colonel Henry Leavenworth to be a forward base protecting the fragile and highly dangerous Santa Fe Trail. It had been named Fort Leavenworth after then Brigadier General Leavenworth in 1832. The fort had never been attacked by an enemy force, not even during the Civil War. And residing smack in the middle of the country, it never would be, unless the United States had imploded.

They entered through the Hancock Gate. Puller had arranged to meet a representative of the 15th MP Brigade, which had responsibility for securing the fort.

Knox looked around as they drove along the road.

“Nearly nine square miles of Army,” she said. “Seven million square feet of space, a thousand buildings.”

“Fifteen thousand personnel on post, thousands off post, eighty thousand-plus visitors a year,” added Puller.

“Which equals a needle in a haystack,” she concluded.

“A needle we’re going to find.”


Tags: David Baldacci John Puller Thriller
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