Him staring down at her, his hands around her throat. Hands that she knew better than anyone could crush the life out of her in a second.
He wanted to see her looking back at him. He wanted her to know that things had come full circle. That he had come back and done what needed doing.
Ridding the world of her.
JERICHO COULD NOT meet with them until that evening, so it was after nine and well dark when they arrived at Fort Monroe.
Puller and Knox were escorted into Building Q by one of the armed guards who had been posted outside. The building was clearly closed for the night, the workers having apparently all gone home; the parking lot was empty of cars.
They passed down a long corridor and were led into a small conference room and left alone. They heard the guard’s heels tapping on the floor as he went back to his post.
They sat side by side at a small round conference table. Knox glanced at Puller and then her gaze drifted to a small camera lens sunken into a corner of the ceiling.
Puller had already noted this. He nodded at her.
They waited in silence until the door opened again.
Framed in the doorway was a petite woman in her late fifties with short graying hair, dark glasses, and dressed in a navy blue skirt and matching jacket and a white high-collared blouse. On her feet were low-heeled black shoes. She looked to Puller like a veteran banker or lawyer.
She nodded to them both before sitting down across from the pair.
“My name is Claire Jericho. I was the one who called you, Agent Puller.”
Puller nodded and then indicated Knox. “This is—”
“I know who she is. Very nice to meet you, Agent Knox. Your reputation precedes you, as does your colleague’s.”
Knox and Puller exchanged glances before settling their gazes on Jericho.
She looked back at them impassively, cleared her throat, and said, “May I offer some refreshments? Tea, coffee, bottled water? I believe we also have sodas.”
They both declined.
She leaned forward and rested one hand on top of the other.
“I know that both of you are exceptionally busy, so I won’t waste your time. The fact is your interaction with one of my employees, Anne Shepard, has been reported to me. I have interviewed Ms. Shepard personally. The result was she was terminated this morning.”
“Why?” asked Puller.
“For the same reasons you told her last night, Agent Puller. She was frequenting an establishment and behaving in a way that breaches the terms of the contract she had with us. There was no remedy other than immediate termination.”
“Is that why you called? To tell me that? You could have done that over the phone.”
“I like to convey important information face-to-face.”
“Josh Quentin works here, doesn’t he?” asked Puller.
“Well, he was at the bar too. Apparently he goes all the time. He has his own room upstairs. He goes there with a bunch of women. There’s a bedroom up there. Does that violate his contract?”
“I wouldn’t know, not having seen his contract. He’s the CEO of Atalanta. So he outranks me.”
“And yet you’re certainly older than he is,” noted Knox.
The inscrutable face turned to her.
Jericho said, “Titles are not based on age. They’re based on many factors. Mr. Quentin has an impeccable reputation in the field. He has risen quickly no doubt, but solely on his merits.”
“And what do you do here?” asked Puller.
“We do contract work with DARPA. Our mission is solely military support. It’s no secret.”
“It’s actually very secret,” said Puller. “I couldn’t find anything on Atalanta Group at all. You don’t even have a website.”
“We have no need for any of that. We have our work and we have our client and we do our job.”
“After you called I checked on you. I couldn’t find anything on you either. And I know where to look.”
Jericho stared impassively back at him. “I just wanted to let you know that the matter with Ms. Shepard has been dealt with.”
“She was lucky,” said Puller. “Right after she left a bunch of guys shot up the bar.”
“Really? Was anyone hurt?”
“You hadn’t heard about it?” asked Knox. “It didn’t happen that far from here.”
“I was focused on other things.”
“Well, as a matter of fact, quite a few people were killed and injured.”
“That is tragic,” Jericho said, her features still impassive.
“Were you aware that four women were murdered in this area thirty years ago?” asked Puller.
“I don’t really understand the segue, Agent Puller. I thought we were talking about the present.”
“The murders were never solved.”
“That is unfortunate, but I don’t see the relevancy to what we were discussing.”
“We’re looking at a possible connection between the Army and the murders,” said Knox, the remark drawing a quick glance from Puller.
“And why would you be doing that?” asked Jericho.
“Because we think the killer might be connected to the military in some way. Perhaps to this installation.”
“This is no longer a military installation.”
“But back then it was. And this building was operational back then, wasn’t it?”
“This connection, do you have any idea what it might be?”
Knox looked at her, bemused. “It’s an ongoing investigation. I’m not at liberty to speak about details.”
Jericho let out a small sigh. “I rather hoped this would not be necessary, but I see that it is.” She focused on Puller. “There is no investigation. Neither of you have been authorized to perform any such investigation having to do with any murders that may or may not be connected to this installation.”
“And how could you possibly know that?” asked Knox.
Jericho continued to stare at Puller. “I would have hoped, Agent Puller, that you would have had more respect for the institution for which you wear the uniform than to try to smear its reputation in a misguided attempt to clear your father of murdering your mother.”
Puller said nothing, while Knox glanced back and forth between the two.
Jericho continued, “It gives me no pleasure to have to say these things to you. I am aware of your father’s current condition. I know of the allegations made by Lynda Demirjian. I know that your father arrived back in this country a day before he told authorities he did. I make no judgment on his guilt or innocence. I would hope that he is innocent, though, because his heroism while in uniform is indisputable. And one Puller being in prison was one more than necessary, wasn’t it?”
“My brother was cleared of all charges,” said Puller tightly. “He was wrongfully convicted.”
“And his exoneration was due largely, I am told, to your extraordinary investigative skills and tenacity. And therefore I wonder why you’re not exerting those same skills on behalf of your country during the course of authorized casework.”
She cut him off. “You were told that matter has been dealt with and the inquiry concluded. Mrs. Demirjian is deceased. Your father’s reputation will not suffer in the least.” She looked at him inquiringly. “I knew your father. Did you know that?”
Puller felt like she had slapped him in the face. This odious woman had known his father?
“No, I didn’t know,” he said tersely.
“Although we didn’t exactly see eye to eye on things, he was an outstanding soldier. I understand you are too. Which brings me to the point: Why are you doing what you’re doing?” She glanced at Knox. “And why is this very valuable agent of our country wasting her time helping you do it?”
Puller said, “My mother was never found. I want to know what happened to her.”
“So why then
has it taken you all this time to delve into the case? Surely you’ve had many opportunities to do so.”
“The letter from Lynda—”