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The Escape (John Puller 3) - Page 84

“Did he have anything to add to the party mix?”

“He did.”

When he said nothing else she snapped, “Well, can I hear it too, or is it some secret brother thing?”

He looked at the phone still clutched in her hand. “Aren’t you going to make the call?”

She looked at her cell phone for a long moment, as though it were a gun she was debating firing or not, before sliding it back into her pocket.

“Not now. Maybe later,” she added warningly. “So fill me in.”

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When he was done she said, “Malcolm Aust? He’s sure it was him?”

“Yes. So do you know Aust?”

“Not personally, no. But I certainly know of him. He’s a renowned expert in WMDs. He’s rooted them out all over the world. And he’s one of the top UN inspectors in recent memory.”

“So why have dinner with Reynolds?”

“Your brother said Reynolds was lovey-dovey with him. Could it just be th

at?”

“Bobby doesn’t think so. He said that would never be enough for Reynolds.”

“He’s probably right about that.”

“So what has Aust done over the years?”

“He was outspoken about Saddam having no WMDs, although he was pretty much ignored. He’s also done work in North Korea, Iran, Libya, and Pakistan. He also helped oversee the destruction of Assad’s chemical weapons in Syria. Although I doubt it was the entire stockpile.”

Puller interrupted her. “Did he have anything to do with START?”

“Of course. It was before my time, but I know about it. We had our team, the Russians had theirs, and Aust headed up an independent observation group sent out on behalf of a number of other interested countries.”

“To make sure the big boys played by the rules.”

“Yeah, and what exactly were they going to do if we didn’t? I doubt France would have declared war against the U.S.” But then her expression changed. “Reynolds was part of that verification team. Do you think she could have met Aust then?”

“I don’t know. I do know what Dan Reynolds told me.”

“That his dad was ticked off at some guy on the verification team.”

“Right. Only what if it wasn’t sexual? Or at least not that alone?”

“Meaning Adam Reynolds might have thought his wife was a traitor back then?”

“And then he dies.”

“But Malcolm Aust is as straight as they come, Puller. He’s never had a hint of scandal. And he’s independently wealthy. He wouldn’t be doing it for the money.”

“What happened with START?”

“Some nukes were dismantled. But things fell apart. Both the U.S. and Russia have substantial stockpiles left. And because Russia isn’t as meticulous in securing nukes as we are, Moscow has the rogue WMD potential. Particularly in some of the former Soviet bloc countries. Those countries don’t have much money and their ability to adequately protect their warheads is seriously in doubt, at least in the eyes of the international community.”

“You think Aust might be upset about that? After all, he was there observing all of it. And when it fell apart? And now we have potential for nuclear material to get into the hands of terrorists?”

“I guess it’s possible.”

Something else occurred to Puller. “And if he was really ticked off that everybody ignored him when he said Iraq had no WMDs, this could be a way to get back at them.”

“But what would his endgame be?” she asked.

“To maybe teach the big boys a lesson they’ll never forget.”

CHAPTER

61

YOU NEED TO take me to your brother, Puller, and you need to do it now.”

“Is that right?” he replied impassively.

Knox had pulled back onto the road. “Where is he?”

“I don’t know.”

“But you obviously have a way of contacting him.”

“I do.”

“Then contact him and arrange a meeting.”

“Why? You plan on putting the handcuffs on him?”

“I don’t arrest people, Puller. I talk to them. I gather intelligence, not fingerprints and suspects.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but how do I know I can trust you?”

“You can’t trust me, that’s sort of the point. But you also have zero options. So you either take me to him or I make my speed dial and you go to the stockade. And I’ll still find your brother. But by then I won’t be nearly as nice. Am I making myself clear?”

“I get the gist of it,” he conceded.

Puller slipped out his phone and sent a coded text to his brother. “I’ll have to wait to hear back from him.”

“Yeah, well, he better not beat around the bush. And if you sent him a warning in that gibberish I just saw you type, then your military career is over.”

“And here I thought you liked me.”

“I don’t like anybody that much,” replied Knox. And she clearly wasn’t joking.

Puller heard back from his brother ten minutes later. He had included a warning in the text. But his brother had chosen to ignore it.

The message was short and to the point: Where and when?

“Tell him to meet us at my hotel room at the W. Number 406. In one hour. That is if he’s sufficiently caught his breath from the NASCAR ride.”

“Do you think that’s a wise meeting place?”

“I doubt anyone would be looking for your brother right down the street from the White House. ‘Hiding in plain sight’ is the phrase, I think. And I assume he’s changed his appearance.”

“Yes, he has.”

“Well, then?” she said expectantly, lowering her gaze to his phone.

Puller typed it in and sent the message off. He looked at Knox. “You like calling the shots?”

“No. I love calling the shots. Now let’s get going. I need to prepare to meet the famous, or perhaps infamous, Robert Puller. And I want to look my best.”

Puller sat in a chair by the window. Knox was perched on the edge of her bed. Someone knocked on the door. Knox motioned to Puller. “Probably better if he sees your face first.”

Puller rose and answered the door. His brother quickly stepped in and Puller closed the door behind him.

Robert Puller was holding his duffel. He gazed around the room before settling his eyes on Knox. She had removed the bandages and done her hair. She had also showered and changed her clothes. She had on jeans, a blouse, and calf-high boots.

She didn’t stand when Robert came in, nor did she extend her hand. She just gazed up at him, an inscrutable look on her face.

No one seemed to want to disrupt the silence. Both Pullers’ faces showed the strain they were feeling. Puller knew that if Knox decided to drop the hammer, his brother would be back at the DB tonight. And Puller would probably be right there with him. And there would be nothing he could do about it. His gaze sought out Robert’s and he could tell by his brother’s expression that he was thinking pretty much the same thing.

It was Knox who finally broke the silence. She said to Robert, “You could get a job in the hair and makeup department at any studio in Hollywood. And I’m speaking from experience. We use some of their techniques in my line of work.”

Robert said nothing to this and Knox pointed to a chair next to the one Puller had been occupying. “Why don’t you gents take a seat and we can have a nice chat about things.”

The brothers looked at each other and then took their seats.

Knox began without preamble. “I’m in military intelligence, which means I like listening a lot more than I do making speeches. But this time I’m going to make an exception. Point one: I should turn you both in. You have enough charges against you that it would take me six months to fill out the friggin’ paperwork. Which is a good enough reason in itself not to. But I’m very much into quid pro quo.” She settled her gaze

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