True blue, p.10
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       True Blue, p.10
 

           David Baldacci

  She finally rolled over, sat up, and backed her way into a corner. She squatted there in a defensive ball, her hands made into fists, her eyes looking out at the dark, her breath coming in waves of uneven heaves. Blind Man lay in front of her in the darkness, his thick reddish nose probably taking in each and every dimension of her scented fear.

  An hour later she was still there, her spine digging into the dry-wall that her sister had painted a soothing blue especially for her return. Only she wasn’t thinking of Juanita or the gut-chick Rose. Her images were of herself, strung out on meth, huddled in a corner, her body going through shit it had never suffered before.

  She’d never seen any of them, none of the bandits who’d snatched her out of an alley where she had set up an observation post on a drug distribution center in Six D. After they’d injected her multiple times with stuff for three days running she didn’t even know her own name. The next thing she vaguely remembered was climbing in and out of cars, holding a gun, going into stores and taking what didn’t belong to any of them.

  Once, shots had been fired. She recalled pulling the trigger on her weapon by instinct, only no round had come out of the barrel; turned out her weapon wasn’t loaded and never had been. She was finally arrested holding an unloaded Sig and enough evidence to put her away for a long time while the rest of her “gang” conveniently had disappeared.

  So the little sister of the D.C. police chief was busted for armed robbery while caked on meth. Some dubbed her the Patty Hearst of the twenty-first century. The arrest, the trial, the sentencing, the appeals galloped by in a blur. Mona had gone for the carotid, and the female legal threshing machine had come within one appeal of putting Mace away for twenty years at a max a thousand miles away from D.C. She’d argued forcefully that Mace had gone so deeply undercover that she had eventually succumbed to the dark side. Mace remembered sitting in the courtroom watching the vitriolspewing DA pointing her finger at her and pounding the counsel table demanding that this “animal” be sent away for good. In her mind, Mace had killed the bitch over a hundred times. Yet when she finally had gotten the twenty-four-month sentence, just about everybody had turned on her and her sister.

  When the van that had taken Mace in shackles arrived at the prison the news trucks were all lined up. It seemed the warden was reveling in the national spotlight, because he’d personally escorted Mace through the gauntlet of media and the hostile crowd. Trash was thrown at her along with insults of every conceivable degree of vulgarity. And still she’d shuffled along, her head as high as she could hold it, her eyes dead ahead, staring at the steel outer doors of her home for the next two years of her life. But even for tough Mace, the tears had started to gather in her eyes, and her lips had started trembling with the Orwellian strain of it all.

  Then the crowd of onlookers had suddenly parted and a tall figure in full dress blues and four stars had marched out and started walking right next to Mace. The stunned look on the warden’s face showed that this development was totally unexpected. The crowds stopped screaming. Nothing else was thrown at Mace. Not with Chief of Police Elizabeth Perry with her gun and her badge striding right next to her sister, her face a block of granite as she stared down the crowd, willing them from hostility to numbness. That image, that final image of her sister next to her before Mace entered the house of hell, was really the only thing that had kept her going over those two years.

  It was with this last thought that Mace finally fell asleep right on the floor. Two hours before dawn, she woke with a start, staggered to the bathroom, washed the crusted blood off her face in the bathroom, and got back into bed. Exhausted, she slept for nearly three hours, until her sister gently shook her awake.

  Mace sat up in bed, looked around the room with an unsteady gaze.

  Beth handed her a cup of black coffee and sat next to her. “You okay?”

  Mace drank some of the coffee and lay back against the head-board. “Yeah, I’m good.”

  “You look a little out of it. Bad dream?”

  Mace tensed. “Why? Did you hear anything?”

  “No, just thought it was probably normal. Your subconscious probably thinks there are still bars on the doors and windows.”

  “I’m fine. Thanks for the java.”

  “Anytime.” Beth rose.

  “Uh…”

  Beth looked down at her. “Something on your mind?”

  “I remember what a media circus it was when I went to prison. I was just wondering.”

  “Why there wasn’t a media army camped outside on your return?”

  “Yeah.”

  “The easy answer is you’re old news. It’s been two years. And every day there’s some national or international crisis, big company collapsing, people getting blown up, or some psycho with automatic weapons and body armor gunning people down at the local mall. And since you’ve been away hundreds of newspapers have folded, existing ones have cut their staff in half, and the TV and radio folks usually chase stuff far more bizarre than you to get the big ratings. But just in case, I sort of pulled a reverse strategy on the media grunts.”

  Mace sat up. “What do you mean?”

  “I offered to make you available to them for a full interview. I guess they figured if it was that easy, why bother?”

  “That’s pretty slick, Beth. Busy day today?”

  “Nope, didn’t you hear? Last night all crime miraculously went away.”

  Mace showered and changed and checked her hair, face, and clothes in the mirror. Then she got mad at herself for even doing this. No matter what she looked like, her mother would find something wrong with her appearance. And frankly, it would be easy pickings for the woman.

  Minutes later she fired up the Ducati. Immediately, Blind Man started howling from behind the door. She smiled and revved the gas. Soon she was heading due west, left D.C. proper, and entered Virginia over Memorial Bridge. As she cut in and out of traffic, Mace started to think about the upcoming encounter with the woman who had given birth to her over three decades ago.

  Part of her would take prison again over that.

  CHAPTER 21

  MACE RACED DOWN the straightaway of Route 50, weaving in and out of the dregs of the morning rush hour. The one traffic light in Middleburg caught her and she geared down the Ducati, finally braking to a stop. The street parking here leaned to Range Rovers and Jag sedans with an occasional Smart car thrown in for green measure. The small downtown area was hip in an upscale rural way. And here one could, for millions of dollars, purchase a really swell place to live. Years ago Mace and Beth had visited their mother, seen the fancy estate, dined at a nice restaurant, done some window shopping, and then gone back to busting bandits in D.C. One visit for Mace was truly enough.

  Though Beth Perry was only six years older than her sister, she had played far more of a nurturing role for Mace than their mother ever had. In fact, the first person Mace could ever remember holding her was Beth, who was already tall and rangy at age nine.

  Though he’d died when Mace was only twelve, Benjamin Perry had left quite an impression on his younger daughter. Mace could vividly recall sitting in her father’s small den doing her homework while her dad put together his legal arguments, oftentimes reading them to her and getting her input. She had wept harder than anyone at his funeral, the casket closed to hide the gunshot wounds to his face.

  As she flew past lavish estates residing majestically on hundreds of acres, Mace knew that her mother had ascended to this level of wealth principally by design. She had methodically hunted and then snared a fellow who’d never worked a day in his life but was the only child of a man who had earned a fortune large enough to allow his offspring to live decadently for several generations. By then both daughters were grown and gone, for which Mace was enormously grateful. She was more coach fare and Target than private wings and Gucci.

  Beth had gotten her height from her mother, who was several inches taller than her husband. Mace had always assumed that she inherited b
oth her father’s average stature and his pugnacity. Benjamin Perry’s career as the U.S. attorney in D.C. had been tragically cut short, but during his tenure he’d prosecuted criminals through some of the most violent years in D.C. history, quickly becoming legendary for his scorched-earth pursuit of bandits. Yet he also had a reputation for always playing fair, and if exculpatory evidence came along, defense counsel always saw it. He had told Mace more than once that his greatest fear was not letting a guilty person go free, but sending an innocent one to prison. She had never forgotten those words, and that made the appointment of Mona Danforth to her father’s old position even more difficult for her to accept.

  Benjamin Perry’s murder had never been solved. His daughters had taken various cracks at it over the years, with no success. Evidence was lost or tainted, witnesses’ memories faded away, or they died. Cold cases were the toughest to solve. But now that she was out of prison Mace knew, at some point, she had to try again.

  A few miles past Middleburg proper she slowed the bike and turned off onto a gravel path, which would become a paved cobblestone road about a half mile up. She drew a deep breath and pulled to a stop in front of the house. They called it by some Scottish name because hubby was Scottish and took great pride in his clan back home. While Mace and Beth were there previously he had even entered the room dressed in a kilt with a dagger in his sock and a bonnet on his head. That had been bad enough, but the poor fellow had caught his skirt on the sword handle of a large armored warrior standing against one wall, causing the skirt to lift up and reveal that the lord of the manor wore his kilt commando style. It was all Mace could do not to blow snot out of her nose from laughing. She thought she had carried it off fairly well. However, her mother had sternly informed her that her husband had not taken kindly to Mace rolling on the floor gasping for air while he was desperately trying to pull his skirt back down to cover his privates.

  “Then tell Mr. Creepy to start wearing underwear,” Mace had shot back in earshot of her stepfather. “I mean, it’s not like he’s got anything down there to brag about.”

  That had not gone over very well either.

  As she rounded a bend the manor came into full view. It was smaller than Abe Altman’s, but not by much. Mace walked up to the front door fully expecting a uniformed butler to answer her knock. But he didn’t.

  The thick portal flew open and there stood her mother, dressed in a long black designer skirt, calf-high boots, and a starched white embroidered tunic shirt over which a gold chain was hanging. Dana Perry still wore her whitish-blond hair long, though it was held back today in a French braid. She looked at least ten years younger than she was. Beth had her mother’s facial structure, long and lovely, with a nose as straight and lean as the edge of an ax blade. The cheekbones still rode high and confident. Her mother cradled a comb-teased Yorkie in one slender arm.

  Mace didn’t expect a hug and didn’t get one.

  Her mother looked her up and down. “Prison seems to have agreed with you. You look to be lean as a piano wire.”

  “I would’ve preferred a gym membership, actually.”

  Her mother pointed a long finger at her. “Your father must be turning over in his grave. Always thinking of yourself and never anybody else. Look at what your sister’s accomplished. You’ve got to finally get it straight, little girl, or you’re going right down the crapper. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

  “Do you actually want me to come in, or will your ripping me a new one on the front porch satisfy as a visit so I can get back to the real world?”

  “You actually call that garbage pit of a city the real world?”

  “I’m sure you’ve been tied up the last two years, so I can understand you not bothering to come see me.”

  “As though seeing you in prison would’ve been good for my mental health.”

  “Right, sorry, I forgot the first rule of Dana, it’s all about you.”

  “Get in here, Mason.”

  She had lied to Roy Kingman. Her father hadn’t named her Mason. Her mother had. And she’d done it for a particularly odious reason. Chafing under the relatively small salary her husband drew as a prosecutor, she’d wanted him to turn to the defense side, where with his skill and reputation he could have commanded an income ten times what he earned on the public side. Thus, Mason Perry—Perry Mason—was her mother’s not-so-subtle constant reminder of what he would not give her.

  “It’s Mace. You’d think after all these years you might get that little point.”

  “I refuse to refer to you as a name of a weapon.”

  It was probably a good thing, Mace thought as she trudged past her mother, that she could no longer carry a gun.

  CHAPTER 22

  ROY KINGMAN had skipped basketball that morning. He passed by Ned, who looked far more attentive than usual and even had the tie on his uniform tightened all the way to his fleshy neck. Ned gave him a jaunty two-finger salute and a confident dip of the chin as though to let Roy know that not a single murderer had slipped past him today.

  You go, bro.

  Roy took the elevator up to Shilling & Murdoch. The police were still there and Diane’s office and the kitchen were taped off while the cops and techs continued to do their thing. He had snatched conversations with several other lawyers. He had tried to play it cool with Mace, who’d obviously seen far more dead bodies than he had, but finding Diane like that had done a number on his head. He kept replaying that moment over and over until it felt like he couldn’t breathe.

  He walked by Chester Ackerman’s office but the door was closed and the man’s secretary, who sat across from her boss’s office, told him the police were in there questioning the managing partner. Roy finally went to his office and closed the door. Settling behind his desk, he turned on his computer and started going through e-mails. The fifth one caught his eye. It was from Diane Tolliver. He glanced at the date sent. The previous Friday. The time stamp was a few minutes past ten. He hadn’t checked his work e-mails over the weekend because there had been nothing pressing going on. He had intended to do so on Monday morning, but then Diane’s body had tumbled out of the fridge. At the bottom of the e-mail were Diane’s initials, “DLT.”

  The woman’s message was terse and cryptic, even for the Twitter generation.

  We need to focus in on A-

  Why hadn’t she finished the message? And why send it if it wasn’t finished?

  It could be nothing, he knew. How many flubs had he committed with his keystrokes? If it had been important Diane would have e-mailed again with the full message, or else called him. He checked his cell phone. No messages from her. He brought up his recent phone call list just in case she had called but left no message. Nothing.

  A-?

  It didn’t ring any immediate bells for him. If it was referring to a client, it could be any number of them. He brought up the list on his screen and counted. Twenty-eight clients beginning with the letter A. And eleven of them were ones that he and Diane routinely worked on together. They repped several firms in the Middle East, so it was Al-this and Al-that. Another lawyer at the firm? There were nearly fifty here, with twenty-two more overseas. He knew all of the D.C. folks personally. Doing a quick count in his head, there were ten whose first or last names started with A. Alice, Adam, Abernathy, Aikens, Chester Ackerman.

  The police, he knew, had already copied the computer files from Diane’s office, so they already had what he had just found. Still, should he call them and tell them what he’d just discovered?

  Maybe they wouldn’t believe me.

  For the first time Roy knew what his clients had felt like when he’d worked criminal defense. He left his office and took the elevator down, with the idea of simply going for a walk by the river to clear his head. On the fourth floor the doors opened and the sounds of power saws and hammers assailed him. He watched as an older man in slacks, short-sleeved white shirt, and a hard hat stepped on the elevator car.

  The fourth floor had bee
n gutted and was being built out for a new tenant. All the rest of the building’s occupants were counting down the days until completion, because the rehabbing was a very messy and noisy affair.

  “How’s it coming?” he asked the man, who was holding a roll of construction drawings under one arm.

  “Slower than we’d like. Too many problems.”

  “Guys not showing up to work? Inspectors slow on the approval?”

  “That and things going missing.”

  “Missing? Like what?”

  “Tools. Food. I thought this building was supposed to be secure.”

  “Well, the uniform at the front desk is basically useless.”

  “Heard about some lady lawyer getting killed here. Is it true?”

  “Afraid so.”

  CHAPTER 23

 
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