PULLER SAT IN a chair and stared over at his brother. Robert had been filled in on what had happened at the Pentagon.
Knox sat between them on the edge of the bed. It was dark outside. Rain was falling. Knox’s hands shook a bit.
“The sound of the damn rain makes me think about what could have happened at the Pentagon today,” she said.
“The biohazard squad managed to detach the canisters from the water pipe,” said Puller. “They’re cleaning everything up, checking it all out.”
“So did they change the aerosolized Ebola to a water-based bioweapon?” asked Robert.
“I don’t know, Bobby,” Puller said wearily, rubbing his face. “They’re figuring it all out. The threat has been neutralized, but the problem isn’t solved.”
“Because of Reynolds and Bok,” Robert replied.
Knox added, “Everyone is looking for them. They won’t be able to hide for long.”
“Don’t be too sure of that,” said Puller in a cautioning tone. “They’ve managed to do just about everything they wanted to so far.”
; “Except kill everyone in the Pentagon,” she shot back.
“Where do you think they might be?” asked Robert.
“Well, they don’t strike me as the types to just walk away from a fight, especially after we screwed up their plan,” said Puller.
“So they hang around to try to do something else. A Plan B?”
Puller shrugged. “A guess would only be that—a guess.” He quieted and gazed solemnly across at his brother. “It’s time, Bobby.”
“Time for what?” said Knox quickly.
“To turn myself in,” answered Robert quietly.
Knox shot Puller an incredulous glance. “What? Are you crazy?”
Puller said, “There’s no other way, Knox.”
She stood. “Listen to yourself. We still don’t have proof that he’s innocent. They’ll put him right back in DB. And this time he won’t get back out.”
“My brother’s right,” said Robert.
“So you’re just going to waltz in and surrender?”
“Not exactly,” said Puller. “Groundwork needs to be laid.”
“What sort of groundwork?” asked Knox.
“You ask a lot of questions,” said Puller.
“I usually do when I don’t get any answers,” she retorted.
Robert said, “How do you want to do this, Junior?”
Puller rose. “I’ll need a little time to put the pieces together. Stay put.”
Knox stood. “I’m coming with you.”
“You don’t have to,” he said.
“I’m quite aware of that. It’s my choice to come with you.”
“I can plead my brother’s case.”
She smiled demurely. “I never said you couldn’t. But it’s always better to have someone with you who can talk out of both sides of her mouth. And suffice it to say, I can.”
“You mean lie,” said Puller.
“I mean present the best case possible using whatever facts or near facts are handy.” She held up her car keys. “Let’s go.”
After what had happened at the Pentagon, Rinehart saw them at once. Puller spoke for twenty minutes. Then Knox did so for another five.
When she fell silent, Rinehart said nothing. He sat there in his chair, his large hands clasped together and resting on his desk.
More than once Knox glanced at Puller, but he simply sat there watching Rinehart.
Finally, the three-star cleared his throat and said, “I can’t say I approve of what you’ve done, because I don’t. You were tasked to bring Robert Puller in, not to work with him. You disobeyed that order.”
“I did, sir.”
“For that you could be court-martialed. By harboring a fugitive you could be sent to DB.”
“I could, sir.”
“Where is he?”
“At a motel in Virginia.”
“And you say he’s been helping you?”
“He was the one who pinpointed the Pentagon as the target. But for him—”
Rinehart interjected, “The virus would have been unleashed. Thousands of people would have died. This country’s military leadership would have been decimated.”
“All true,” said Knox, glancing anxiously at both men. “I think he’s more than redeemed himself.”
“It’s not a question of redemption,” barked Rinehart. “It’s a question of the law.” He looked at Puller. “You need to bring him in. Right now.”
“I’ll do so under one condition.”
Rinehart gave him a molten look. “You’re in no position to lay out conditions, Puller.”
“I know what you’ve done, soldier. You’ve risked your life to save lives. But you are dancing perilously close to the edge.”
“You need to give my brother protection.”
“He can’t go back to DB. Not yet.”
Knox said, “They’re still out there, sir. Reynolds and Bok and God knows who else. They got into the Pentagon. They have spies, it seems, everywhere. They will know that Robert Puller blew up their plan.”
“Well, so did the two of you. If he needs protection, so do you both.”
Knox looked at Puller. “It might not be a bad idea, at least for a little while,” she said.
“And what about Reynolds and Bok?”
“We’re going to get them, Puller,” replied Rinehart. “We have thousands of agents looking for them. We have every possible way in and out of this country covered. They won’t get away.” He paused. “I’ll match your condition with my own. You two will join your brother in protection. That way you stay safe and we can have time to sort this out. You’ve done enough.”
“I don’t like this,” said Puller. “I owe these people, sir. I owe them a counterattack with everything I have.”
“I understand that, soldier. But the three stars on my shoulders mean I outrank you by a landslide. And you will stand down. Because I order you to. And I’m not in the habit of repeating myself. Do you understand?”
When Puller didn’t acknowledge this, Knox grabbed his arm. “Puller, it’s the only way. You don’t have a choice. You can’t throw everything away now. You’ve fought too hard.”
Puller looked away for a moment and then swung his gaze back to Rinehart.
“I understand, sir.”
GENERAL RINEHART SAT across from Robert Puller at the safe house where they were being kept. It was a three-bedroom house at the end of a cul-de-sac in a Maryland neighborhood that had suffered multiple foreclosures during the economic collapse. That made it isolated, but also more secure. The safe house itself had a perimeter security force and also personnel in the house. A chopper did a pass over the area every two hours.
Rinehart was in uniform; Robert Puller was in jeans and a sweatshirt. Yet the men seemed on roughly equal footing.
Rinehart said to Robert, “I want to believe that you are innocent of all charges, Puller. I don’t want to see you go back to DB. But that’s not up to me.”
“I understand, sir.”
Puller and Knox hovered in the background, listening intently.