He didn’t answer until he’d reached the curve and cleared it. Then he turned and looked back.
“Completely out of the sightline of the guard shack. And it would have been fairly dark.”
“Meaning our guy could have been waiting there and when Misec comes out the first time the guy climbs into the trunk and Misec drives him onto the base. He gets out and lays low with his riot gear until the call comes from DB. Then he joins the four platoons, rides over there, and ends up dead in my brother’s cell.”
“Where exactly would he lay low on an Army base and not be noticed? Particularly if he were wearing riot gear.”
“Probably had the gear in a duffel. This base has thousands of soldiers. To a certain extent they look alike, particularly in uniform. And there are plenty of places here to hide. And I’m sure that Mesic had scoped one out
for him and probably drove him right to it. Maybe one of the base churches. That time of night it might have been empty.”
Knox looked unconvinced. “This is all quite a leap of logic. We don’t even know if this Mesic guy is involved.”
“He left early? Orders from home? What could be that important in Croatia to call him back early? And coincidentally on the day the storm was forecast and all hell broke loose at DB?”
“And if the guy did infiltrate the response team, why? What was his motive for going into DB?”
“I’ve been giving that some thought.”
“And?” asked Knox.
“And it seems to me his mission was to kill my brother.”
“Whoa, where the hell did that come from? And you said mission?”
“That’s right. This was all carefully planned with a lot of moving pieces. This guy didn’t just walk into this. He was sent here to kill my brother.”
“But he ended up dead.”
“Because my brother killed him first.”
“I don’t see where you’re getting all this.”
Puller said, “Before the power went out my brother was sitting in his cell reading a book. I read his body language. It wasn’t hard. For him this was a night like any other night he’s spent here. He wasn’t tense. He wasn’t anticipating anything more than falling asleep once he’d finished reading.”
“And then the power went out,” said Knox slowly.
“And all hell breaks loose. Sounds of gunfire and a bomb going off, when neither thing actually happened.”
“And your brother?”
“He’s smart beyond smart. I think he figured out what was coming and was ready when the guy burst into his cell to kill him.”
“Snap-crackle-pop,” said Knox. “So you did teach him that move.”
“Yeah, I did.”
“But if what you say is true, your brother still willingly escaped from DB. He took the guy’s clothes, climbed onto a truck, rode it back to Leavenworth, and then walked away.”
“Look at it from his point of view. He’s just killed a guy. He doesn’t know the man isn’t an MP. But he somehow knows the guy was trying to kill him. But who’s going to believe that? He stays at DB and they find the dead guy, my brother is probably looking at a guaranteed death penalty. And while they haven’t executed anyone there since the 1960s, I think they’d make an exception for something like that.”
“But they’d know the dead guy wasn’t an MP,” Knox pointed out.
“Who cares? He’s still dead. And maybe you don’t know this, but there were some in the military community who thought my brother should have been put to death for treason after his court-martial. I heard plenty of scuttlebutt afterward. This would give them the perfect opportunity to push for it again.”
Knox considered all this and finally said, “I admit, I can’t find an obvious flaw in your logic, but there’s still a ton that doesn’t make sense to me. And how does this tie in with Daughtrey’s death?”
“It may not.”
“And why would a Croatian military man be involved in sneaking an assassin onto a U.S. base?”
“I wish Mesic were around so I could ask him. If he’s even still alive.”
“You don’t think he made it back to Croatia?”
“Oh, I don’t think he was ever headed to Croatia. Now let’s take a ride. I have something I want to show you, Knox.”
“Is it important?”
PULLER WAS SITTING on the hood of his car in the parking lot of the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery. To the immediate east was the Missouri River, and on the other side of the river was the state of Missouri. A bit north of here the river began its long bend, shaped much like a bell curve. Inside this curve were Sherman Airfield and Chief Joseph Loop.
Knox stood next to the car looking curiously at Puller.
“What are we doing here?” she asked, gazing around at the white tombstones under which lay over thirty thousand dead.
“Lincoln established this cemetery back in 1862, when the Union was losing the Civil War. It was the first of twelve national cemeteries he set up.”
“Okay, and the reason for this history lesson?”
Puller slid off the hood and his feet hit the ground. “He knew it was going to be a long and deadly conflict. But losers don’t establish national cemeteries. A president presiding over a fractured country doesn’t set up a national anything unless he truly believes he’s going to win the war and the country will be reunited.”
“Lincoln was nothing if not confident, I guess,” said Knox, who still looked perplexed by Puller’s words.
“People who lack confidence rarely win anything,” he noted.
He strode into the cemetery and she followed. He walked the rows of tombstones before stopping and pointing at one.
“Read the inscription,” he said.
Knox glanced down. “Thomas W. Custer. Two Medals of Honor. Captain 7th Ohio Cavalry.”
Puller said, “He was the first of four double Medal of Honor winners in the Civil War, and one of only nineteen in American history. Both of his medals came from charging enemy positions and capturing Confederate regimental flags. With the second one he took a shot right to the face, but grabbed the regimental colors and rode them back to his line with blood all over him.”
She looked up at Puller. “Wait a minute. Custer? Was he—”
Puller knelt on his haunches in front of the tombstone. “He was George Armstrong Custer’s younger brother. He died at age thirty-one with his big brother and a battalion of men from the 7th Cavalry at Little Big Horn. Also killed was their younger brother, Boston Custer. From a tactical perspective George Custer blew it. He knowingly split his force and refused additional soldiers and firepower. He went up against an opposing force that dwarfed his in number of men and guns, and also held the better ground. But his brother Tom won a pair of Medals of Honor. He was a good soldier. Maybe a great soldier. He’d been in innumerable battles and he could see what his brother could see. And more.”
Knox’s brow furrowed as she thought about this. “But he still went into battle with his brother…even though he knew they would…lose,” she said haltingly.
“Even though he might’ve known they were going to be massacred,” amended Puller.
“So family trumps brains?” said Knox.
“Family just is,” replied Puller.
“Are you saying you’re Tom and Robert Puller is George? You’re following your older brother blindly to disaster?” Her voice rose as she spoke.
He glanced up at her but said nothing in response to her statement.
She looked at him sternly. “And your objectivity? Your role as investigator searching only for the truth, regardless of where it takes