coast. But the state of Florida objected to the gas being mined and the Feds put the kibosh on it in the early 2000s. But there were some platforms built out there in anticipation of the gas being brought up. Energy companies usually have to dismantle the platforms within a certain amount of time. But I think there was litigation involved with those platforms. Nothing moves fast when the lawyers get involved.”
Puller stared at her. “How do you know so much about it?”
“I did a white paper on it for the DoD. I told you that we were looking into things like that for national security purposes. They were worried about terrorists using the abandoned platforms to enter this country. So I mapped pretty much every platform in the Gulf. And there are thousands of them that are abandoned and in the process of being either dismantled or turned into reefs for marine life. Those are basically the two options for them.”
“Did the DoD act on your paper?” asked Puller.
“No. It went into the black hole where most white papers go. But we never thought about slavers using them.”
“It’s sort of like the opposite of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War,” noted Puller. “Ferrying people to slavery instead of freedom.”
Diaz said, “We never thought of slavers using the oil platforms either.”
“Why should you?” asked Mecho. “People like Rojas and Lampert spend every minute of their lives trying to stay one step ahead. Money. That is all they care about.”
“So the last oil platform before here,” began Puller. “Do you know how to get back there?”
“I believe so, yes,” said Mecho. “I tried as best I could to fix its position in my mind.”
“We can call in the Coast Guard,” said Carson. “They can send a cutter right at these guys. There’s no way they can match that sort of firepower, I don’t care how badass Rojas and Lampert are.”
“A cutter is a big ship,” countered Mecho. “They will see it coming from miles away. They will kill all the prisoners and be gone before the cutter even gets close. The same for aircraft.” “Well, we have to do something,” said Carson. “We can’t just let these people get away.”
“A small force. Stealth. At night,” said Puller. “That’s our only shot.”
“There’re only four of us,” Diaz reminded him.
“A small force, like he said,” observed Mecho. “Small in number, big in fight.”
“But can’t we at least call in some help from the locals?” said Carson.
Diaz said firmly, “I do not trust anyone.” “Neither do I really,” said Puller. “But we’re going to do it anyway. But first I have a phone call to make.”
“A phone call? To who?” demanded Carson.
“I need an answer. And this is the only way to get it.”
They pulled into the parking lot of the Paradise Police Department headquarters. It was after four in the morning and the town was quiet and dark.
That was to be expected.
But the police department was supposed to be a twenty-four/seven operation.
And it was dark too.
That was not expected.
“How many officers do they have?” asked Carson.
“Not that many, apparently,” said Puller. “But I’ve never been here in the middle of the night either.”
Puller looked back at the dark station. He glanced toward the street when a pair of headlights turned the corner and headed their way. Carson said, “That’s a police cruiser.”
“Yes, it is,” replied Puller.
The car pulled into the parking lot, stopped, and Cheryl Landry climbed out. She was in full uniform and had apparently been on patrol. She looked hot and upset.
Puller opened the door and got out.
“Puller?” Landry said, squinting at him in the darkness.
“Yeah. Where is everybody?”
“What do you mean?”
He pointed at the police station. “Don’t you have someone here day and night?”
“Oh, no, not anymore. Budget cuts. Even in Paradise.”
“What about 911 calls?”
“Outsourced. But we do have people on patrol at night, of course. That’s what I was doing. Until you called me. What’s up?”
“Riding solo? Where’s Hooper?”
“Good question. He didn’t bother showing up to work. I came on at eight last night and I’ve got another four hours to go on my shift. So why did you want to meet at this hour? You didn’t say over the phone.”
Puller pointed to the Tahoe. “Got some friends over there. We need some help.”
Landry eyed the SUV. “What friends? And what help do you need?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“I just do.”
“Home in bed would be my guess.”
“How many uniforms in the department?” “Including Bullock, sixteen.”
“Small town. We’ve also got four admins and one forensics tech that you already met. Now, answer my questions. What friends? And what help do you need?”
“Paradise has a big problem.”
She looked at him skeptically. “What’s that?” “People disappear.”
“Come on, Puller.”
“And Paradise is part of a pipeline for slaves being brought into the U.S.”
Landry froze and blurted out, “What?”
“Right down the road from here. At the beach that smells like sulfur.”
“I know that stretch of sand. No one goes there.”
“You’re wrong. People do go there.”
“No one from Paradise, I meant.”
“So the police don’t patrol there?”
“It’s not part of the town. It’s a no-man’s-land between Paradise and the next municipality over.”
“That makes it perfect for a pipeline, then.” “And you have proof of this? Then let’s call in the Feds. Right now.”
“We don’t have proof. The proof is getting away as we speak.”
“So what are you doing here, then?”
“We need another gun.”
Landry once more looked at the SUV. “Who the hell is in there?”
“Carson. The big guy who saved my life at the Sierra. And one other person who I can vouch for. Are you with us?”
“I’m on duty. I’m on patrol. I can’t just up and leave on some wild-goose chase with you.”
“It’s not a wild-goose chase. And you can get someone else to relieve you.”
“Puller, I can’t.”
“Can’t or won’t? Look, Landry, we nail this group you can write your own future in law enforcement.”
“I like it just fine here.”
“Then you’ll be helping us catch some really bad people. It’s why you carry the badge, right?” “Does this have to do with your aunt? And the Storrows?”
“I think it does, yes.”
“Slavers killed them?”
“Yes. Because they found out what was going on.”
Landry drew a deep breath.
“Come on, Landry. We need you to get this done. You’re the only one here I’d ask.”
“Let me make some calls, see if I can get someone to cover for me.”