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The Escape, Page 2

David Baldacci

  “Okay, what?”

  “That’s a fair amount of alcohol you’ve had.”

  “Shit, I can drink twice that and still drive a Paladin.”

  “I’m not talking about driving a Paladin.”

  “Then what?” demanded Rogers.

  Puller continued in a calm tone, “You’re about a hundred and seventy pounds, so even with the adrenaline spike I’m guessing that your intoxication level is about a point one, and maybe higher with the shot of Beam. That means you’re legally too drunk to drive a moped, much less a twenty-seven-ton howitzer.”

  “What the hell’s that got to do with anything?”

  “Alcohol impairs fine motor skills, like the kind required to aim and fire a weapon properly. With what you’ve had to drink, we’re talking a serious degradation of marksmanship skills.”

  “I sure as hell ain’t missing your ass from ten feet.”

  “You’d be surprised, Rogers, you really would be. I calculate you’ve lost at least twenty-five percent of your normal skill level in a situation like this. On the other hand, my aim and fine motor skills are perfect. So I will ask you once more to put down your weapon, because a twenty-five percent reduction pretty much ensures that this will not end well for you.”

  Rogers fired his gun at the same time he yelled, “Fu—.” But he was unable to complete the word.



  JOHN PULLER DROPPED his duffel on the floor of his bedroom, took off his cap, wiped a bead of sweat off his nose, and dropped onto the bed. He’d just gotten back from the investigation at Fort Sill. The result had been his tracking down PFC Rogers in that alley.

  And when Rogers, despite Puller’s requests for him to stand down, had started to squeeze the trigger of his Army-issued sidearm, Puller had stepped slightly to the right while narrowing his target silhouette and firing at the same time. He hadn’t actually seen Rogers start to pull the trigger. It was the look in the man’s eyes and the curse that had started coming out of his mouth—only half finished because of the M11’s punch. Rogers was true to his word—he wasn’t leaving the alley without a fight. Puller had to admire him somewhat for that. He was no coward, although maybe it was just the Jim Beam talking.

  Rogers’s round had slammed into the brick wall behind Puller. The slug’s impact chipped off a sliver of brick that shot out and ripped a hole in Puller’s sleeve but drew no blood. Uniforms could be mended with thread. Flesh could too, but he’d take the hole in the uniform over one in him.

  He could have killed Rogers with a headshot, but while the situation was dire, he had been in worse. He pointed his gun downward and shot the PFC in the right leg just above the knee. Shots in the torso allowed someone to fire back because sometimes they didn’t completely incapacitate. Shots around the knee region, however, reduced the toughest men to screaming babies. Rogers dropped his weapon, fell to the ground, and shrieked, clutching his damaged leg. The man would probably walk with a limp for a long time, but at least he would be alive.

  Puller had triaged the man he’d shot, called in the paramedics, ridden to the Army hospital with the wounded man, and even let Rogers try to crush his hand when the pain got too bad. Then he had filled out the requisite mountain of paperwork, answered a slew of questions, and finally jumped on a military transport flight for home.

  The man Rogers had shot down in the street after a drug deal gone bad now had some semblance of justice. The Rogers family back in Pittsburgh had a son and brother to support and cry over. The Steelers would still have a fan to cheer them on, albeit from an Army stockade. It shouldn’t have happened. But it had. Puller knew it was either him or the other man. Still, he always preferred to put the cuffs on instead of pulling the trigger. And shooting a fellow soldier, criminal or not, didn’t sit well with him.

  All in all, a pretty crappy day’s work, he concluded.

  Now he simply needed some shut-eye. All he was asking for was a few hours. Then it was back on duty, because at CID you were really never off duty, though he would be confined to a desk while an incident investigation was performed over his use of extreme force in that alley. But after that he would just go where they told him to go. Crime did not keep a schedule, at least to his knowledge. And because of that he had never punched a time clock during his Army career, because combat wasn’t a nine-to-fiver either.

  Puller had barely closed his eyes when his phone buzzed. He looked at the screen and groaned. It was his old man. Or, more accurately, it was the hospital calling on behalf of his father.

  He dropped the phone on the bed and closed his eyes once more.

  Later, tomorrow, maybe the next day, he would deal with the general. But not now. Right now he just wanted some sack time.

  The phone started buzzing again. It was the hospital. Again. Puller didn’t answer it and the phone finally stopping ringing.

  Then it started buzzing again.

  These pricks are just not going to give up.

  And then his next thought was jolting. Maybe his father had … But no, the old man was too stubborn to die. He’d probably outlive both his sons.

  He sat up and grabbed the phone. The number on the screen was different. It wasn’t the hospital.

  It was his CO, Don White.

  “Yes sir?” he answered.

  “Puller, there’s a situation. Maybe you haven’t heard.”

  Puller blinked and then tied his CO’s ominous statement to the calls from the hospital. His father. Was he really dead? It couldn’t be. Fighting legends didn’t die. They just… were there. Always.

  His voice dry and scratchy, he said, “Heard what, sir? I just got back in town from Fort Sill. Is it my father?”

  “No, it’s your brother,” said White.

  “My brother?”

  His brother was in the most secure military prison in the country. Now Puller’s mind turned to other possibilities involving his sibling.

  “Has he been injured?” Puller didn’t know how that could be. There were no riots at the DB. But then again, one of the guards had slugged Bobby once, for a reason he had never shared with his brother.

  “No. It’s a little more serious than that.”

  Puller drew a quick breath. More serious than that? “Is he…is he dead?”

  “No, apparently he’s escaped,” White answered.

  Puller drew another quick breath as his mind tried to come to terms with this statement. But one didn’t escape from the DB. It would be like flying to the moon in a Toyota. “How?”

  “No one knows how.”

  “You said ‘apparently.’ Is there some confusion on the point?”

  “I said ‘apparently’ because that’s what DB is saying right now. It happened last night. I can’t imagine they wouldn’t have found him by now, if he were still on the premises. DB is big, but it’s not that big.”

  “Is any other prisoner missing?”

  “No. But there’s something else. Equally troubling.”

  “What could that be, sir?”

  “That could be an unidentified man found dead in your brother’s cell.”

  An exhausted Puller could barely process these words. Even with ten hours of sleep behind him he doubted he could have done much with them.

  “An unidentified man? Meaning not another prisoner, guard, or other person working at the prison?”


  “How exactly did he escape?” asked Puller.

  White said, “Storm knocked out the power and then the backup generator failed. Reinforcements from the fort were called in to make sure order was maintained. They thought everything was fine until they did the head count. One head was missing. Your brother’s. And then another head was added—the dead guy. The Army Secretary, I’m told, just about had a coronary when he was briefed.”

  Puller was only half listening to this as another disturbing thought pushed into his tired mind. “Has my father been informed?”

  “I didn’t call him, if that’s
what you’re asking. But I can’t speak for others. I wanted you to know as soon as possible. I was just informed myself.”

  “But you said it happened last night.”

  “Well, DB didn’t exactly give a shout-out that they had lost a prisoner. It went through channels. You know the Army, Puller. Things take time. Whether you’re trying to storm a hill or bang out a press release, it all takes time.”

  “But my father could know?”


  Puller was still in a daze. “Sir, I’d like to request a few days’ leave.”

  “I thought you might. Consider it granted. I’m sure you want to be with your father.”

  “Yes sir,” said Puller automatically. But he preferred to be involved with his brother’s dilemma. “I suppose CID is handling the case?”

  “I’m not sure about that, Puller. Your brother is Air Force. Was Air Force.”

  “But DB is an Army prison. No territorial fights there.”

  White snorted. “This is the military. There are territorial fights over the men’s room. And considering your brother’s crime, there may be other interests and forces at play here that might trump all the usual interbranch bullshit.”

  Puller knew what the man meant. “National security interests.”

  “And with your brother on the loose any number of responses might be triggered.”

  “He couldn’t have gotten far. DB is smack in the middle of a military installation.”

  “But there’s an airport nearby. And interstate highways.”

  “That would mean he’d need fake IDs. Transportation. Money. A disguise.”

  “In other words he’d need outside help,” added White.

  “You think he had that? How?”

  “I have no way of knowing. But what I do know is, it’s quite a coincidence that both the main power and the backup generator failed on the same night. And how a prisoner was able to simply walk out of a max military facility, well, it makes one wonder, doesn’t it? And tack on the fact that a dead guy was in his cell? Where the hell did he come from?”

  “Do they have a cause of death?”

  “If they do, they haven’t shared it with me.”

  “Do they think Bob—my brother killed the man?”

  “I have no idea what theories they’re entertaining on that score, Puller.”

  “But you think he had inside as well as outside help?”

  “You’re the investigator, Puller. What do you think?”

  “I don’t know. It’s not my case.”

  Don White’s voice rose. “And rest assured, it will never be your case. So during your leave, you stay the hell away from this sucker. You do not need that over your head. One Puller in trouble is enough. You hear me?”

  “I hear you,” said Puller. But he thought, I don’t necessarily agree with you.

  Puller put the phone down and watched as his fat tabby, AWOL, glided into the room, jumped up on the bed, and rubbed her head against Puller’s arm. He stroked AWOL and then picked up the cat, holding her against his chest.

  His brother had been at the DB for more than two years. The trial had been swift and he’d been convicted by a panel of his peers. That was just the military way. You were never going to take years to try a case like that, nor were there endless appeals. And the media had been kept largely at arm’s length. Fancy civilian lawyers more interested in million-dollar payoffs and selling book and film rights than actually achieving justice had no place at such a trial. The uniforms had handled it all and the wagons had circled early and effectively. Sure, you had dirty laundry in uniform, but it was never going to be hung on a clothesline for all to see and smell. It was going to be buried in a landfill masquerading as a prison.

  Puller had not even been at the trial. He’d been thousands of miles away on CID deployment in the Middle East, where half the time he was playing soldier again and toting a rifle against the enemies of the United States. The Army didn’t care about his family problems. He had a mission to perform and perform it he would. By the time he’d gotten back stateside his older brother was already at the DB, where he would be staying for the rest of his life.

  But maybe not now.

  Puller stripped off his clothes and took a shower, letting the water beat down on him as he rested his forehead against the moist tile wall. His breathing was usually slow and steady, like the tick of a clock. Now it was erratic and too fast, like a wheel freed from a car, bouncing crazy-ass down an embankment.

  He could not accept that his brother had escaped from prison, for one compelling reason—that meant he truly was guilty.

  This was something that Puller had always been unwilling to believe or accept. It just wasn’t apparently in his DNA to do so. Pullers weren’t traitors. They had fought, bled, and died for their country. Puller had relatives going back to George Washington’s day who had taken musket balls to the chest to be free from England. Corporal Walter Puller had died repelling Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg. Another ancestor, George Puller, had been shot down while flying a British Sopwith Camel over France in 1918. He’d parachuted out and survived, only to die four years later in a training accident while flying an experimental aircraft. At least two dozen Pullers had served in all military branches in the Second World War, with many not coming home again.

  We fight. We don’t betray.

  He turned off the water and started to towel off. His CO had a good point. It did seem like an amazing coincidence that both the main power and backup generator would go out on the same night. And how could his brother have escaped without help? The DB was one of the most secure prisons ever built. No one had ever escaped before. No one.

  And yet his brother apparently had.

  And left a dead man in his wake whom no one could identify.

  He dressed in clean civilian clothes and headed out to his car after letting AWOL out to run around a bit in the sunshine and fresh air.

  Now Puller had to go somewhere, a place he did not want to go.

  He would almost rather have returned to combat in the Middle East over where he was headed. But go he had to. He could imagine the foul temper his father would be in, if he even truly understood what had happened. Puller imagined that being around his old man when he was not happy was like being around another military legend, George Patton, when he was pissed off. It was not going to be a pleasant ride for anyone within earshot.

  He climbed into his Army-issued white sedan, cranked the engine, rolled down the windows to help dry his short hair, and drove off. This was not how he planned to spend his first day back after shooting a fellow soldier in an alley. But then again, in his world nothing was predictable except that each upcoming moment could be the challenge of a lifetime.

  While driving to see Fighting John Puller Sr., USA Ret., he decided he would dearly love to have the tanks of Patton’s Third Army as an escort. He might very well need both the armor and the firepower.



  THE STORAGE UNIT’S overhead door was thrust up, the rusted wheels and track groaning in protest. The man flitted inside and closed the door behind him, exchanging the darkness of the night for the deeper obscurity of the unit’s interior. He reached his hand out and flicked on a light, illuminating the ten-by-ten room’s concrete floor and sheet metal sides and ceiling.

  Two walls were covered with shelves. There was an old metal desk and matching chair set against the other wall. On the shelves were neatly stacked boxes. He drew closer to them, examining their labels. His memory was good, but it had been a while since he had been here—well over two years, in fact.

  Robert Puller was dressed in Army fatigues and combat boots with a cap covering his head. This had allowed him to blend in well in what was clearly an Army town. But now he needed to completely change his appearance. He opened a box and pulled out a laptop. He set it down and plugged it in. After more than two years he knew the battery would be dead, but he was hoping it would still charge. If not, he w
ould have to buy a new one. He actually needed a computer more than he needed a gun.

  He opened another box and took out a pair of hair clippers, a mirror, shaving cream, a towel, a gallon of water in a sealed plastic jug, a bowl, and a razor. He sat down in the metal chair and set the mirror on the desk. He plugged the clippers into an outlet on the wall and turned them on. Over the next few minutes he shaved off his hair, right down to the stubble. Then he coated his scalp with shaving cream, poured the water into the bowl, and removed the stubble with the razor, dunking the blade periodically in the bowl to clean it and then wiping it off on the towel.

  He studied the results in the mirror and came away satisfied. The