place where folks get turned away unnecessarily or get hassled or beat up, okay? That’s also not good for business.”

“I understand.”

“Each night we have a list of VIPs who you’ll let bypass the line. I sent the list to your phone earlier. They’ll come up and show ID. You match it to the name on the VIP list and in they come. They’ll be escorted to a special section of the bar by people inside. You’re to stay at the exterior door at all times unless you’re called inside. You are the first line of defense.”

“Who are the VIPs?”

“That’s no concern of yours,” she replied firmly. “Just clear them at the door. That’s your responsibility, all right?”

Rogers rubbed the back of his head. “All right.”

“You clean up well,” she said, running her gaze over him. “You’re in amazing shape. How old are you anyway?”

“Older than you probably think.”

“You must work out a lot. Insanity? P90X? MMX?”

He shook his head. “Good genes.”

She smiled. “Lucky you.”

Yeah, lucky me.

“You do not drink on duty. You can have whatever you want after you get off, for free.”

“I’m not much of a drinker.”

“Suit yourself. Well, good luck tonight.”


Rogers walked out and sat at the bar, counting down the minutes to when the place opened for business. He asked for a glass of water with a lime and the bartender poured it out for him.

There was a TV on the wall behind the bar. The news was on. A man killed in West Virginia near the Virginia border. A young boy left fatherless. A rare gun stolen.

The newscaster looked particularly indignant as he recounted the cold-blooded murder.

The police were following up leads. A car might have been seen leaving the site of the killing. The little boy had survived but emotionally was not doing well, apparently having witnessed the entire thing.

The bartender had turned to watch the screen with Rogers as he wiped down glasses. “Friggin’ sociopaths out there,” he muttered, glancing at Rogers. “Death penalty’s too good for ’em.”

Rogers didn’t reply. He had other things on his mind.

A car might have been seen.

He had ditched the car but used the same license plates from it. If someone had seen the plates?

Would the cops even look at a white van? They might. They might glance at the plates regardless; recognition might come. He would have to fix that.

He retreated to a corner of the room and sat at a table. He took out his phone and looked at directions to the Outer Banks. But he didn’t have Chris Ballard’s exact address.

A young waitress passed by and he said, “Got an old buddy I’m trying to find. I’ve got his name and area where he lives but not the street address or phone number. Anything on this phone that can help me with that?”

“You can try a search on the area and name. And Google has street view so you can see the house too when you find it.”

“Can you show me how to do that? I’m an old fart still uses a calculator. Just pick a name.”

She grinned, then sat and went through the key clicks.

Rogers quickly picked it up. He thanked her with a twenty-dollar bill and she went off carrying a tray of clean glasses.

He put in his search and refined it as he went along, adding as much information as he could remember. Finally, an address came back. He used street view to see the place.

It was a mansion on the water behind high walls with an imposing steel gate. He saw what looked to be a security shack right outside the gate.

Ballard had obviously retired a very rich man after spending his career selling stuff to Uncle Sam.

Rogers committed the address to memory and cleared the search from his phone.

He next tried to find Claire Jericho’s address. He found what he expected: nothing. He doubted that she had retired to the Outer Banks in a big house behind high walls.

Well, if he couldn’t find her on his phone, he would have to rely on Chris Ballard to fill in the blanks.

Rogers didn’t care if Ballard didn’t want to tell him.

The man would tell him.

He sat back, closed his eyes, and counted off the time until his career as a professional bouncer began.

He rubbed the back of his head hard, as though to tell the thing there to cool it. He didn’t need a loss of control right now. That would ruin everything.

And he had waited far too long to be stopped now.



WHAT ARE YOU doing here?” said a clearly stunned Puller.

Veronica Knox slid off the hood of his Malibu.

His gaze roamed over her. She was tall, around five-nine, with a lean, athletic build topped by auburn hair that had grown out some since Puller had last seen her. He also knew that she carried scars from a shrapnel wound on one of her hips and butt cheeks from a too close encounter with a mortar round in the Middle East.

She worked in American intelligence. Puller had never been fully clear for which agency. They had parted ways at Thomas Custer’s tombstone at the graveyard at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. In his dress blues he had invited her to spend a week’s leave with him in Rome. She had politely declined. And he hadn’t seen her since.

He had finally told himself he no longer cared. But seeing her, his gut was telling him that that was not true. Just the sight of the woman made his skin tingle a bit and his breath quicken.

She stopped within a foot of him.

Knox was wearing her usual official outfit, black pantsuit and white blouse with nearly every button buttoned and the collar turned up. He knew from experience that she was armed at the waist and with a throwaway at her ankle.

“Like I said, I heard you could use a friend.”

“And who did you hear that from?”

“You should know by now that I can’t reveal my sources.”

He relaxed and studied her. “I thought I’d hear from you before now. I called a dozen times. I texted and emailed. If I had an address for you I would have been on your doorstep.”

“I know, Puller. I’m sorry about that. Job gets in the way of a lot of things. I’ve been out of the country more than in.”

He took a step back and crossed his arms. “How much do you know about what’s going on?”

“Letter full of allegations against your father. The case of your mother’s disappearance reopened. Your father perhaps the main suspect because of the new fact that he was back in the country that day.”

“Your sources are pretty good,” he conceded.

“And since you’re here at Fort Monroe I assume that you are headlong into the investigation?”

“Not officially. But the CID agent on the case knows I’m around. I think he wants to collaborate.”

“Ted Hull?”

“You know him?”


“So, again, Knox, what are you doing here? And don’t use the friend line again. I’m not sure you have any.”

Her features hardened. “I consider you a friend. You and your brother. We went through a lot together.”

“Friends return calls. My brother, as busy as he is, returns my calls.”

She assumed a pointed look. “Is this about Rome? My declining to go?”

“This is about you being here right now. I don’t believe you’re here for me. So there must be another reason. I would just like to know what it is. Simple enough.”

“I came here to help you, Puller. I know our last meeting was not a positive one. But your offer…it meant a lot to me. And you don’t know how close I came to accepting it. And not a day goes by that I don’t regret not going with you.”

This frankness made Puller’s features soften. “Are you being genuine, Knox? I want to know. Just tell me.”

“Let me put it this way. I’m not supposed to be here. But I am here.”

She gazed over at the Malibu. “Care to go for a ride? We can talk?”