“Don’t be. Your father was a hard man, John. He was used to commanding men in the most difficult thing there is, combat. He was used to whatever he said being done. That doesn’t work in a marriage. That didn’t work with your mother. In some ways she was even more strong-willed than her husband.”
“But why would you think he would kill her?”
“Because Jackie was afraid of him. She was afraid he would do something to her.” She paused for breath. “And your mother was thinking about leaving him.”
Puller froze. “She was going to leave my father?”
“She wanted custody of you and your brother.”
“She told you that?”
“She told me a lot of things, John.”
Puller sat down again. “My mother went out that night. Did she come to see you?”
“Do you know where she was going or who she might have been going to see?”
“She had several other friends among the officers’ wives. It might have been one of them.”
“Might she have confided in them too?”
“It’s possible. She was a very private person, your mother. But she was also getting desperate.”
“Did the CID talk to you back then?”
“They came by and asked their questions, like you are now. But I could tell they were not focused on your father. They said he was out of the country.”
Puller did not mention that Hull had found evidence to contradict this belief.
“Well, I told them that the Pullers had a marriage like many others. They fought. And they made up.”
“You didn’t tell them of the abuse? About her wanting to leave him and take my brother and me? That would have been a pretty powerful motive for killing her.”
“No, I didn’t tell them that.”
“Because my husband was in your father’s command and wouldn’t hear any word
s against him,” she said bluntly.
“So you withheld information from the CID because of your husband?”
The words, perhaps now fueled by the meds instead of inhibited by them, came out in rush. “It was different back then. I was different. I had seven kids to raise. And I couldn’t do anything that would jeopardize Stan’s career. He was the breadwinner in the family, John. So, no, I didn’t really tell them what I thought or knew.”
“So why did you raise it all now?”
She ran a hand over her forehead and Puller could see that it was shaking.
She said, “I’m a devout Catholic. All of my children were raised in the Catholic faith. I’ve attended Mass every week for as long as I can remember.” She paused to catch her breath. “So I cannot go to my death without doing something to right a great wrong. I wanted to avenge my friend.”
“Your husband doesn’t agree with you.”
“Stan didn’t know anything about it. Jackie would never have confided in him. And besides, like I said, he would never have heard a word against your father.”
Puller could understand that this would very likely be true.
“But why are you sure that he harmed her? I mean, you must have been to write that letter all these years later.”
Once more she lifted herself up on the pillow and focused on him.
“I said that the CID never focused on your father because he was out of the country.”
“Well, that was wrong. He was not out of the country. He was in Hampton on that day.”
Puller felt his chest tighten. “How do you know that?”
“Because I saw him!”
“I was out running an errand. I saw your father drive down the street. He wasn’t in your family car. He was driving another Army-issued vehicle.”
“You’re sure it was him?”
“I was six feet from him. He didn’t see me but I saw him. And he looked quite upset.”
“What time was this?”
“Around two-thirty in the afternoon.”
Puller let out a breath. “Why didn’t you tell the CID agents?”
She dropped back onto her pillow and shook her head. “I told Stan. But he told me I had to have been mistaken. He showed me your father’s official schedule. It showed he was in Germany for another day. I guess he convinced me that I was wrong.” She shook her head wearily. “But I knew I wasn’t wrong. It was your father.” She paused and gasped, “And that’s why I wrote the letter.”
Puller wanted to keep going but he could see that the woman was quickly tiring. And really, what more could she tell him? His father had been in town that day. He rose. “I appreciate your meeting with me. I really do.”
Lynda Demirjian put out a hand, which Puller gently took.
“I’m sorry it came to this, John. It just seemed to me to be the right thing to do.”
“I understand. Do you need anything?”
She shook her head. “When you get to the point I’m at, how much do you really need anyway? But I’ve got my faith. So I’m in a good place.”
Puller quietly left the room and walked slowly down the hall. His spirits didn’t brighten when he reached the sunshine outside. They actually faded.
Fights? Abuse? He and his brother shuttled off to friends so they wouldn’t hear? His mother leaving his father?
It was like he had been listening to someone else’s life. Someone else’s childhood. This is what his brother must have meant about selective memory. He and Bobby couldn’t have been shuttled off every time his parents had fought. That would have been impossible. So he must have witnessed some of it.
He walked to his car and leaned against the front fender. He sunk his chin to his chest and closed his eyes.
Somewhere in the dimmest recollections he had were buried things that apparently he would no longer allow himself to remember.
So how could he ever find the truth if he couldn’t even admit it to himself?
PAUL ROGERS OPENED his eyes and looked at the ceiling of his car. He had crossed into Virginia last night. It was now early morning.
And he had just realized he’d made a big mistake. In addition to letting the little boy live.
I hit the son of a bitch too hard. I killed Donohue too hard.
His hand slid to the knife in the holder on his belt.
How many inches through the chest? Donohue was big, thickset.
And the knife blade had hit the wall of the trailer and sunk into it, pinning Donohue to the wood.
He groaned, rubbed his eyes, climbed over into the front seat, started the car, and drove off.
He didn’t have to do it that way. He could have struck with half as much force and killed the man. But he couldn’t undo it, so he forgot about it.
He needed new wheels. If anyone had seen this car come out of the dirt road where the body and the boy were it would not be too good for him.
He drove his car behind a strip mall that was not yet open for business. He grabbed his bag, and put the vintage M11 into it. He tossed the box the gun was in inside a Dumpster, unscrewed the license plates from the car, slid them into his bag next to the gun, and walked off.
He slept under a bridge, awoke the next morning, and set out on foot. About an hour later he reached a small town in mountainous southwest Virginia. He found the local library, sat at a computer