“I have no way of knowing what Robinson told him. If he did tell him something that might have led Bobby on to something else.”

&nb

sp; “What about Susan Reynolds? You think he’s going to visit her?”

“Maybe, if he hasn’t already.”

“Don’t you think we would have heard if he had?”

“Not necessarily. If Reynolds is on someone else’s payroll then she might not want her official superiors to know because it would direct attention onto her. She might have only told her coconspirators. Or maybe she did tell people and no one bothered to tell us. Or she called Robinson and told him. I guess that’s all possible.”

As they were walking along, Puller’s phone buzzed. He looked at the screen and his demeanor changed.

“Bad news?” asked Knox, who was watching him closely.

“Doug Fletcher was as good as his word.”

“What?”

“He just sent me the copy of the letter my dad filed with the court during Bobby’s court-martial.”

Knox put a hand on Puller’s arm. “Look, you go up to your room, finish packing up, read your letter, take all the time you need. I’ll check out and be down in the lobby waiting.”

Puller looked across at her. “I appreciate that.” He hesitated. “And I’m sorry that I was shitty to you this morning.”

“Forget it. I’m not a morning person myself. And I can be an asshole too.”

“You said you weren’t close to your dad, but do you ever see him?”

“That would be kind of hard, because he’s dead.”

“Sorry, I didn’t know.”

“He drank too much, withered away, fell into depression, ended up all alone, and ate a round from a Glock without bothering to leave behind a note.”

“Damn, that must have been tough.”

“Not as much as you might think. We’d been estranged a long time by then.”

“Still, he was your father.”

“Actually, in my mind at least, he had lost that title. It’s not supposed to be simply granted, Puller, because a sperm happened to hit an egg. You have to earn it. He chose not to. And he suffered the consequences. It’s incredibly sad, but it wasn’t my choice, it was his.”

“I admire the fact you can be so… analytical about it.”

“That only happens after you spend about ten years of your life crying about it. Once the emotions are gone, analytics are all you have left.”

But as she said this Knox turned away from him and stared directly in front of her.

They had reached the hotel by now and she pushed him toward the entrance. “Go do what you have to do. I’m going to run next door to the pharmacy and pick up some things I need. Meet you in the lobby.”

Puller looked at her for a moment and then walked into the hotel.

Knox looked frantically around for a few moments and then spotted the narrow alleyway behind the hotel. She slid into it, turned away from the street, and began to cry.

CHAPTER

44

ROBERT PULLER SAT in a seedy motel room next to a strip mall on Route 1 in south Alexandria staring at the beaten-down strip of carpet but not really seeing it.

Last night he had watched Niles Robinson’s brains being splattered on the wall at Union Station. He had worked with Robinson for several years at STRATCOM, first in Nebraska and then in Kansas. He had considered Robinson a friend. He had watched the man on the witness stand testifying against him. He had seen that his friend was mired in conflict over what he was doing.

While Puller had been sitting in the courtroom that day when Robinson was on the stand, his mind had visited Robinson’s office, going over everything in it. In the odd way his brain worked, once Puller saw something it always stayed with him, safely ensconced in a little corner of his gray matter.

In his mental meandering he had stopped at the photograph of Ian Robinson when he had been sick, head shaven and tubes running all over his frail body. Puller and Niles had talked often about the boy, his condition and dire prognosis. It had been heartbreaking, truly. And while he couldn’t agree with what Niles had done, he could understand why he had done it.

But now, while Ian would grow up, he would do so without his father.

And Puller was blaming himself for that. Robinson had been followed. Puller should have anticipated that possibility. Yet he had never envisioned that they would have killed the man in such a public place.

But he could do nothing for Robinson now. And what Robinson had told him was tantalizing. Some didn’t like the fact that Puller was being groomed for great things in the intelligence field. But could it be just that? Maybe Robinson didn’t know the whole story.

Ruining my career and putting me in prison just because you didn’t like me or were jealous? No, there had to be something else. And what did he mean by he “had tried to make it right”? How?

Puller lay back on the bed and stared at the ceiling now instead of the threadbare carpet. He couldn’t make heads or tails of what Robinson had meant, so he moved on.

Puller had headed east because of a change in command at STRATCOM. Daughtrey was moved up and brought on. And then he was murdered. With the reassignment, other changes had taken place in the pecking order of command. Chiefly, Martin Able had gotten his fourth star and become head of the NSA. It was a plum assignment.

Yet maybe not so much now. The NSA was embroiled in controversy after the Snowden revelations. The former NSA operative had accused the agency of conduct that was unprecedented and that had cast a shadow over the whole intelligence community of the United States.

Puller had not been directly involved with the NSA during his time at STRATCOM, though the agencies worked closely together. But the revelations that had come out over the past year or so had not been related to a drastic sea change in how the NSA did its job. The recently publicized and now denounced tactics and surveillance had long been in place.

Many people would not have wanted those revelations to come out, but come out they still had. And that’s where Puller had made his miscalculation. He had suspected his old boss, Martin Able. That was why he had headed east. But this could have nothing to do with the issues at the NSA, and by extension, STRATCOM. He was sitting in a cell at the DB and had been for over two years. All during that time no one had bothered with him. No one.

And then recently a man had come into the prison with the task of killing him. There had to be a reason. And if he could just figure out that reason, he could by extrapolation figure out everything else.

So that brought him back to those people Robinson had mentioned, who did not want to see Puller move ahead and eventually land the top spot. That couldn’t have included Martin Able. He had been well on his way to heading the NSA. And he had clearly wanted Puller to succeed; his mentoring had shown that.

Now, Susan Reynolds had obviously been no fan of Puller’s and had conspired to do him in for money and perhaps a professional grudge. But she couldn’t be the leading force behind this. She didn’t have the position or brains.

At this point Puller’s thoughts turned elsewhere. To the gap that existed between Daughtrey, the one-star, and Able, the now four-star. When he had left STRATCOM, it had opened up the top spot there. A quick Google search had told Puller that an admiral had taken over Able’s job at STRATCOM. He had not been promoted internally, but had come in from another command. Below him at the leadership level was a three-star who was deputy commander, a chief of staff who was a two-star, and a command sergeant major who was the senior enlisted leader.

It didn’t stop there. There were also the HQ and component commanders, which was composed of a hodgepodge of three-stars, two-stars, and one-stars, rear admirals, colonels, majors, captains, and also civilians. It was a bewildering array of possible suspects, each of them doing the professional dance, hoping to move up in rank and power before the music stopped.

Puller opened his laptop and went online. He studied the professional bios of each of these people, running his eye down the list again and again hoping that something would pop.

He had one critical time point.

The decisio

n to kill me at DB. What happened to trigger that? It would have taken planning, say a couple of months to manage all the necessary details. The trigger for it could have come anytime before that, I just don’t know how long before it. But I have another critical point that might lead me in the right direction.

He hacked a secure database to search for Susan Reynolds’s internal and nonpublic c.v.

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