An instant before they fired he slammed on the brakes, smoking his wheels, and the SUV flew past him. The guns roared and a line of parked cars was suddenly full of bullet holes, hissing radiators, flattening tires, and the sounds of car alarms screaming.
Puller looked around for a cop but again saw not a single one. He expected to hear sirens in the air, but all he heard was his heart hammering in his ears. What, were they all on a break? Was the president out and about in his motorcade and the cops were clearing the streets for the man?
Cars in the lanes ahead had seen what was coming and had pulled off the road, horns blaring.
He cut the wheel to the right and slid in behind the SUV.
They couldn’t fire through the glass in the rear of the SUV, but they might fire out through the side windows. He gauged the height of his hood and that of the SUV’s bumper. Well, he was about to find out if his math was good or not.
He rammed down the gas and the Malibu surged ahead, hit the SUV’s bumper, and stuck there. He kept his foot on the gas and the hood of the Malibu crumpled and then slid downward and under the SUV’s bumper. He kept the gas flat to the floor.
The gun muzzles reappeared at the side windows pointing backward. Puller dropped sideways in his seat as his windshield exploded, covering him with shards of glass. But because the two vehicles were now coupled, he didn’t really need to see to drive. The SUV was steering for him. He was just providing the horsepower.
He waited for their fire to subside and then popped back up and hit the gas harder. The Malibu slid farther under the rear bumper.
One inch, two inches. His hood was crumpling badly; his front bumper was but a memory back in the road.
But now what he had wanted to happen did. The Malibu’s engine chassis, far stronger than the car’s hide, started to bear the weight of the SUV’s rear.
And then the back wheels of the SUV began to rise slightly. He didn’t need them to be completely off the road, just not hugging it.
Then the SUV’s rear window started to open. That could only mean one thing. They were getting ready to fire again and the driver was making sure they would get a direct sightline this time.
Well, we can’t have that, thought Puller.
He whipped the wheel of the Malibu back and forth and had to grin when the two unbuckled gunmen, who were trying to take aim at him through the rear opening, collided with each other like pinballs. He cut the wheel twice more and their heads thunked together. One of them fell over. The other dropped his weapon and clutched his head, cursing.
The driver of the SUV undoubtedly could sense what Puller was doing, because he heard the SUV’s engine slow and he felt the truck decelerate. The only problem with that was that Puller was running the show now, not the other vehicle. He kept the gas pedal jammed to the floor mat, and the SUV was propelled along by the Malibu’s motion.
Puller eyed what was coming up and gauged the trajectory.
He counted off the seconds in his head, hoping that his brother had long since turned off this road and was gone for good. He couldn’t see around the SUV to check.
He stopped counting at ten, said a silent prayer, and then ripped the wheel to the right.
The Malibu’s front broke free from the SUV’s rear. The truck’s nose went hard to the left. When its back wheels fully touched down they caught right in the middle of the cut. Neither the driver nor the truck was apparently ready for this wild mix of gravitational and centrifugal forces. The SUV corkscrewed, hit the curb, then a parked car, and then a steel bench anchored to the pavement.
And finally, for an exclamation point, it flipped.
It landed on its top, which caved in, and then it rolled, which crushed the driver’s side. It came to a stop on its side after colliding with the corner of a brick-and-masonry town house.
Puller kept rolling and never looked back. He turned left up ahead, then right, and then checked his dot. His brother was up ahead, two streets over and going fast.
Eschewing any more texts, Puller called him.
“You okay?” his brother said anxiously.
“Both bogeys gone and I’m in one piece, although my car’s trashed. You?”
“They made me somehow, John. I have no idea how. I was watching Reynolds eating dinner and then I was suddenly surrounded.”
“Couldn’t be. I switched them out.”
“They couldn’t have recognized you.”
“No. When I went to her house Reynolds never saw me.”
Then it hit Puller.
“Her house! Bobby, she has a pretty intricate security system. You think she has exterior video cameras?”
“Shit. That must be it. I didn’t see any, but I didn’t check that closely either. She could have seen the images and known what I look like now. I didn’t put my ski mask on until I got to the front door. And I took it off when I left.”
“And a surveillance camera could have picked up your truck on her street. That’s how they might have spotted it tonight.”
“That was a big screwup on my part.”
“The lady’s good, we have to give her that.”
He took a deep breath. “It seems I’m not very good on the ground with this cloak-and-dagger stuff.”
“They haven’t caught you yet. And it was pretty nifty how you sent me a real-time map of where you were.”
“Simple, actually. It’s just software.”
“Still, I never would have found you without it.”
“I saw what you did back there. I’d be dead tonight if you hadn’t shown up.”
“Then we’re only even. Did you see anything helpful tonight?”
Robert told him about the dinner between Reynolds and Malcolm Aust.
“So a big cheese in the WMD world?” said Puller.
“One of the biggest. I just don’t how it all fits in. I can’t believe Aust is part of any conspiracy.”
“Who the hell knows, Bobby? The only person I know I can trust is you.”
“So what now?”
“Find a new place to stay and text me with it. Get rid of the truck.”
“I need transportation.”
“I’ll try to find you something. Only after I turn this wreck in the Army might never let me check out another vehicle. I’ll circle back to you as soon as I can.”
“They almost got us tonight,” said Robert. “And don’t say some shit like ‘close only counts in horseshoes.’”
“I won’t, because this ain’t horseshoes. It’s combat only without a declaration of war.”
“We need to go on the offensive instead of just reacting.”
“When you think of a way to do that, be sure to let me know, big brother.”
“Yeah,” said Robert glumly. “Will do, Junior.”