Kirk said, “Do you trust her? I mean do you really trust her?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well, I don’t. That’s why I held a few things back.”
Puller shot her a glance and said, “My car’s over there.”
They walked to his sedan and climbed in. Puller said, “Okay, what do you have?”
“Two facts, one from Todd Landry and one from Doug Fletcher, the prosecuting attorney. Which do you want first?”
“In addition to the computer evidence there were two witnesses who testified against your brother at his court-martial.”
“Witnesses? Who were they?”
“People he worked with at STRATCOM.”
“What did they say?”
“One testified that he saw your brother meeting in a car with a man who was later identified as being an agent for the Iranian government.”
“That’s not possible.”
“And the other witness testified that she saw Robert Puller burn something onto a DVD from a secure area at STRATCOM’s satellite facility in Kansas and try to take it with him.”
“And why did the prosecuting attorney point these things out to you? They sound pretty damning and certainly wouldn’t help Bobby.”
“At the court-martial they were severely damaging. No, Fletcher pointed them out because of something in both witnesses’ written statements.”
“What was it?” asked Puller, his gaze steady on Kirk.
“What they said, what they both said in those statements.” She cleared her throat and recited, “‘It was clear to me at the time that Robert Puller was acting very mysteriously.’”
Puller kept staring at her. “They both said that?”
“To the word. What do you think the odds are of that happening naturally?”
“Slim and none. What did the prosecuting attorney do with that?”
“The statements were made available to defense counsel, of course, under the discovery rules for court-martials. But it’s not the job of the prosecutor to do his adversary’s job. So he didn’t do anything about it. But two years later it obviously had been sticking in his craw.”
“And Landry did nothing with it?”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t at the court-martial and the prosecuting attorney didn’t elaborate on that point. And who knows if anything would have come of it. The other evidence they had was pretty conclusive. Similarities in witness statements probably wouldn’t have carried the day.”
“So did Fletcher think the witnesses were lying? That they were told to say that?”
“He wouldn’t go that far, and neither would I if I were in his shoes and someone asked me. If they were lying it was a little sloppy of them to say the exact same thing. Whoever’s behind this could be a micromanager, but definitely not a lawyer. People do compare witness statements just for that reason.” She paused. “And reading between the lines, Puller, I think that’s why an Article 106 spying case became an Article 106a espionage case. I think defense and prosecutor came to an agreement on that because they both thought something strange was going on. If your brother was put to death, that could never be rectified. If he were alive, albeit in prison, then maybe one day another explanation would come to light. At least that’s what I think happened.”
“You said ‘whoever’s behind this’? So you believe my brother was set up?”
“Let me tell you what the defense counsel told me. And let me warn you that it might not be easy for you to hear. And it’s the main reason I flew out here. I wanted to tell you this face-to-face.”
Puller stiffened slightly. “Okay.”
“Near the end of the court-martial, Landry wanted your brother to testify on his own behalf. The trial was not going well and Landry thought Robert would be a good witness. He was incredibly intelligent, patriotic, and articulate. Landry thought he would present well to the panel.”
“Did he testify?”
“Why? What would he have to lose if things were going against him anyway?”
“He let something slip to Landry, and the ‘let slip’ part is defense counsel’s observation, not mine.”
“What did my brother say?”
“That he couldn’t risk it.”
“Risk it? He was fighting for his life!”
“He apparently wasn’t worried about himself.”
“Who then?” demanded Puller.
“This was the let slip’ part. He said he couldn’t risk it because if he was found innocent his family would suffer.”
There was a long moment of silence in the car, until Puller said, “My father and I are the only family he has. So he was talking about us? That we would be in danger if he got off?”
“Someone threatened him. Unless he takes the fall, we get killed?”
“Landry said your brother changed during the course of the court-martial. Going from confident and indignant to, well, afraid.”
“And nobody did anything?”
“What could they do? Your brother never specifically said he had been threatened. Or that someone was going to hurt his family. In fact, when Landry pressed him on it he clammed up, wouldn’t say another word about it and swore him to secrecy. That meant Landry could not share it with the prosecutor or the court.”
Puller slumped back in his seat. He felt like someone had taken a jackhammer to his skull and then parked an Abrams tank on his chest. He felt as cold as death.
My brother has been rotting in prison to protect me?
Kirk said, “You shouldn’t feel guilty, Puller. You knew nothing about it.”
Puller stared out the window at a young couple walking past holding hands. “Maybe I didn’t want to know,” he said at last. “I could have found out. I’m an investigator. I could have found out. That’s what I do.”
“Better late than never,” replied Kirk. “What are you going to do now?”
“I need the names of the witnesses. Do you have them?”
“Yes. But what will you do with that information?”
“Find out the truth. That’s what I really do, Shireen. I find out the truth. And maybe this time I can save my brother if I do find it.”
“Well, you also might find a lot more than you bargained for.”
I APPRECIATE YOUR filling me in on this, Puller,” said Knox.
They were sitting in the lobby bar of the hotel where Shireen Kirk was staying. Kirk was upstairs in her room getting some sleep. Puller had met Knox here for a drink and then told her all that Kirk had disclosed to him in the car.
“You needed to know.”
She sipped on a glass of Prosecco while he nursed a beer.