“Not that I can think of right now.” She straightened in her seat. “And why are you asking me that?”

Puller tapped the steering wheel as he stared straight ahead. “I got a text.”

“About what?”

“About you.”

“What about me?”

“That you’re not what you appear to be. That I shouldn’t trust you.”

Knox glanced away, frowning. “Who sent the text?”

“I don’t know. I called the number but no one answered. I’ll try to trace it, but it might be a burn phone. In fact, I’d be surprised if it weren’t.”

“So that’s why you were acting that way this morning?”


“So you believed the text even though you don’t even know who sent it?”

“I’m not sure what I believed.”

“That’s bullshit. You did believe it. Even after we were attacked in that alley and almost killed.”

“If I did believe it I would have done something about it. And I sure as hell wouldn’t have told you about it.”

“But you didn’t tell me right away.”

“No, I didn’t,” he conceded. “But I’m not a perfect man, either.”

She crossed her arms and sank back into her seat. “Well, I’m not a perfect woman, that’s for damn sure.”

“Anything bothering you? I’ve got time to listen.”

“Nothing on my end.”

They drove a few more miles before Knox said, “I might tell you about it sometime, Puller.”

“That’s fine.”

“And maybe the text was right, maybe I’m not who I appear to be.”

“Text or no text, I never thought you were who you appeared to be, Knox.”

She shot him a glance. “Then why—”

“Let’s just leave it at that for now.”

“I don’t get you, Puller, I really don’t. Every time I think I’ve got you figured out you throw me a curve.”

“You said I was predictable.”

“But I’m coming to learn that you’re not. At least not in all ways.”

“A good soldier never stops learning.”

She snuggled back into her seat again and shut her eyes. “Did you read the letter your father had written?”



“And it’s made me understand that none of us are who we appear to be. Now get some sleep. I’ll wake you when we get close.”

A few minutes later her breathing became regular and her arms slid to her sides.

The rain picked up and so did the wind. Puller had a job keeping the car straight on the highway but managed it with both of his big hands clamped around the wheel.

Once they were past the worst of it, his mind could wander from the demands of driving in a storm to the written words of a three-star fighting legend who was supposed to have lost his mind at a VA hospital.

If Puller Sr. had meant everything that he had written in that letter maybe there was hope.

For all of them.

And he wanted his brother to be able to read those words.

He wanted that very much.

It could make up for a lot. Perhaps, even in an imperfect world, it could make up for just about everything.



AS THEY APPROACHED the D.C. area a little over six hours later, Puller woke Knox by gently nudging her in the side. She came to as he would, calm, alert, and ready to go, or pull the trigger, as the case might be.

“It didn’t occur to me,” he said. “Where are you staying?”

“You can drop me at the W Hotel downtown. It’s centrally located. I’ve stayed there before.”

“Right near the White House. You going to have a powwow with the president?”

“It’s not on my schedule for today, no.”

Puller glanced sharply at her. The way she said it, she seemed serious.

“The W it is.”

“What about you?” she asked.

“Heading to Quantico to get some fresh clothes and other stuff I might need. And to check in.”

“I’m going to do the same at the hotel.”

“So how will they take the fact that you’ve shot two people and killed one?”

“I think they’ll take it rather well considering the alternative. But I know I’m going to have a roomful of forms to file. And I’ll have to go back to North Carolina and Kansas to deal with it at some point.”

“I’m hoping they can find the guy you shot in Charlotte.”

“Yeah, that would help. Maybe he’s lying dead in some other alley down there.” She added sarcastically, “They can do another follicle test. If there’s ice there, he might be from Alaska. Or maybe Siberia.”

Puller’s phone buzzed again. He checked the screen while they were stopped at a red light. He slipped it back into his pocket.

“Anything important?”

“General Rinehart and Mr. Schindler want to meet.”


“They came back east too. Dinner at the Army-Navy Club downtown. Eight-thirty tonight. You up for it?”

“I don’t think they want to meet with me.”

“I don’t care if they do or not. You’re on my team. So you get to come and report in too.”

“I hear Rinehart can be a bear.”

“Any guy busting his hump for the fourth star can be a bear. I’ll need to get my dress blues. I can pick you up a little after eight and we can drive over together. Sound good?”

“Sounds good, Puller. And I’m flattered.”

“About what?”

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