True blue, p.11
True Blue, p.11David Baldacci
ROY HEADED ALONG the riverfront, stopping near one of the piers where a forty-foot cabin cruiser was docked. What would it be like, he wondered, to live on a boat and just keep going? Watch the sunset and grab a swim when he wanted? See the world? He’d seen his hometown, lived in D.C., Charlottesville. He’d visited lots of cities, but only to bounce basketballs on hardwood before heading on. He’d viewed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at forty thousand feet. He’d seen Big Ben, and sand in the Middle East. That was about it.
He smelled him before he saw him.
He turned, his hand already reaching into his pocket.
“Roy.” The man gave him a quick salute.
The Captain was in his late fifties and the same height as Roy. However, whereas Roy was lean, the Captain was built like a football lineman. He must’ve outweighed Roy by eighty pounds. It had once all been muscle, Roy was sure, but the streets had made a fatty transformation of the man’s once impressive physique. His belly was so swollen now that the bottom three buttons on the jacket could no longer be used. And his body listed heavily to the left, probably as did his spine. Eating crap out of Dumpsters and sleeping on cement did that to you.
Roy called him the Captain because of the marks on his jacket. From what he’d learned of the man’s history, the Captain had once been an Army Ranger and had distinguished himself in Vietnam. But after returning home things had not gone well. Alcohol and then drugs had ruined what should have been an honorable military career. Apparently the VA had tried to help him, but the Captain had eventually fallen through the cracks and into a life on the streets of the capital of the country he had once defended with his blood.
He’d been homeless for over a decade now. And each year his uniform grew more tattered and his skin more permanently stained by the elements, much in the same way that buildings became filthy. However, there was no one to come and give him a good power wash. Roy had first met him when he’d worked as a CJA. Before he’d settled on G-town, the Captain’s foraging range was wider and his manner more aggressive. He’d had a couple of assault charges, mostly for harassing tourists or office dwellers for money or food. Roy had defended him once, gotten him probation, and then tried to get him help, but the VA was swamped with needy soldiers from current wars, and the Captain had never been good about follow-up.
It was sad, and yet all Roy could do was open his wallet, look into the darkened, grizzled face that housed a pair of dimming, vacuous eyes that indicated the owner was not all there, and say, “How about I get you some food?”
The Captain nodded, pushing a huge hand through his tangle of filthy gray and white hair. He wore tattered gloves that had once been white but were now even blacker than his face. As they trudged along together Roy looked down and noted that the Captain’s shoes were really pieces of cardboard held together with twine. He had survived the previous winter and the heavy spring rains, and the night chills were gone now. Yet Roy wondered, as the Captain coughed up some phlegm and spit it out into the Potomac, if the older man could survive another year out here. As he gazed at the Captain’s jacket and saw the Combat Bronze and other medals on his chest, including the designation for two Purple Hearts, he thought that a country’s warriors deserved better than this.
The Captain dutifully waited outside the café, like an obedient dog, as Roy bought the food. He came back out, handed the bag over, and watched as the Captain settled down on the curb and ate it all right there, drinking down the coffee last. He wiped his mouth with the paper bag and rose.
“What size shoe do you take?” Roy asked.
The Captain looked down at his feet. “Big. I think.”
“Me too. Come on.”
They walked back to the office building and into the underground garage. From the backseat of his Audi, Roy pulled out a pair of nearly new basketball shoes. “Try these on.” He tossed them to the Captain, who was quick-handed enough to snare them both.
He sat down on the cold floor of the garage and stripped off his cardboard and twine. When Roy saw the blackened, raw skin festered with lumps and green-colored cuts, he looked away.
“Good to go,” the Captain said a minute later. Roy was sure they would have fit if the man had had to cut off his toes. “You sure, Roy? Bet these cost probably a million dollars, right?”
“Not quite and I’ve got plenty.” He studied the Captain. If he gave him cash it would go for booze or some street drugs that the Captain didn’t need in his system. He had driven him to shelters on three occasions, but the man had walked out of each one within a day or so. Roy was not going to take him to live at his condo. His neighbors would probably not approve, and there was no guarantee that the former military man would not suddenly go nuts and use Roy for a cutting board.
“Come around in a couple days and I’ll have some more stuff for you, okay?”
“Yes, sir,” the Captain said amiably, giving him another snappy salute.
Roy suddenly noticed something missing and wondered why he hadn’t before. “Where’s your cart?” Like some homeless people, the Captain kept everything he had in an old rusted shopping cart with two busted front wheels. You could hear him coming a mile away just from the screech of metal.
“Some pricks stole it!”
“Do you know who?”
“Damn Vietcong. I’ll catch ’em. And then. Look.” The Captain reached in his pocket and pulled out a large clasp knife. It looked military-issued.
“Don’t do that, Captain. Let the police handle it.”
The Captain just stared at him. Finally he waved a big hand at Roy. “Thanks for the shoes.”
UNFORTUNATELY, her mother’s husband, Timothy, was there. Fortunately, he wasn’t wearing a kilt. To Mace, he looked like a person of leisure who desperately wanted to be perceived as a man of the land with a British twist. This translated into an outfit consisting of tweeds, an old-fashioned shotgun vest with holders for the shells, a cute pocket kerchief that exactly matched his checked shirt, and nearly knee-high brown leather riding boots, though there wasn’t an equine in sight. When Mace saw him she felt her cheeks begin to quiver and had to look away quickly before the next sound that was heard from her was a snort.
An older woman in a maid’s uniform brought coffee and little sandwiches out to the faux English conservatory they were sitting in. She looked as though she would rather be driving tenpenny nails through her skull with a hammer than playing maid for Timothy and Dana. The sandwiches weren’t nearly as wonderful as the spread Abe Altman had offered. Still, Mace filled her belly and had her caffeine fix.
The little Yorkie, whose name Mace had been told was Angelina Fernandina, sat on a plump pillow in front of her own little gold tray of high-end vittles, happily nipping away with teeth the size and shape of splinters. Mace inclined her head at precious Angelina. “Do you dress her in clothes too?”
Dana answered, “Only when we travel. Our jet makes her cold.”
“Poor thing,” said Mace.
“So does Beth still have a menagerie of misfits?”
“Just me and Blind Man, but he’s going strong. Probably be alive and well when you’re planting old Angie there in the dirt.”
Timothy sucked in a breath at this remark and gave Angelina a little pat with the back of his hand, which told Mace that he didn’t actually like dogs, hair-teased or not.
“So, how’s the rural aristocratic life treating you both?” Timothy daintily patted his lips with a monogrammed napkin and glanced at Dana, apparently waiting for her to respond.
“Timothy has been elected to head up the local planning commission. It’s an important position because you wouldn’t believe what people want to do out here development-wise. It’s a travesty.”
You mean like putting up a twenty-thousand-square-foot Scottish castle smack in the middle of farmland and raising your working-class neighbors’ property taxes tenfold?Mace thought. But she said, “Congratulations, Timoth
His chest puffed out a bit as he swallowed the last bit of sandwich. When he spoke it was as though he were addressing an adoring audience of thousands. “I will endeavor to carry out my duties to the best of my abilities. I take the stewardship that has been granted to me very seriously.”
God, you are the biggest prick.“I’m sure you do,” Mace said pleasantly.
Dana said, “So what are your plans, Mason?”
Mace slowly put down her coffee cup. “I’d actually considered stripping on Internet webcams for food, but then a job offer came along.”
“What sort of job offer?”
“An assistant to a college professor.”
“Why would a college professor want you as an assistant?” scoffed her mother.
“He’s blind, on a tight budget, and I’m apparently cheaper than a seeing-eye dog.”
“Will you please be serious for once in your life, Mason!”
Okay, I tried playing patty-cakes and I don’t like it.“What does it matter to you what I do? I’m sure we can agree that you’re a few decades late on playing mommy.”
“How dare you—”
Mace could feel her ears burning. She didn’t want to go there. She really didn’t. “Oh, I always dare. So just back off, lady.”
“Then let me explain to you quite clearly why it is my business. If you can’t support yourself, guess who you’ll be running to with your hand out?”
Mace formed fists so tight all of her finger joints popped. She leaned into Dana until their noses were only separated by a bare inch. “I would gnaw off my hand before I came to you or Scotch Bonnet Boy over there for one freaking dime.”
A scarlet-faced Timothy scrambled to his leather-booted feet. “I think I’ll go do some yoga. I feel my balance is off.”
Dana immediately put out her hand for him to take. “All right, dear. But remember, we have dinner tonight with the mayor and his wife at the French Hound.”
The moment he’d fled the room, Dana whirled on her youngest daughter. “It’s nearly impossible to believe, but I think prison has actually made you worse.”
This barb was so weak that Mace simply ignored it and studied her mother in silence for a few moments. “So why are you still all so kissy-kissy to him? You’ve got the ring. You’re legally locked to Lord Bonny Butt.”
She said stiffly, “He’s a Scottish earl, not a lord.”
The truth suddenly hit Mace. “Bonny Butt’s got a kick-ass prenup, doesn’t he?”
“Shut up, Mason! This minute.”
“So how does it work? You vest a few diamond bracelets, some cash, and a bushel of Triple A bonds for each year of matrimonial bliss?”
Her mother snapped, “I don’t even know why I invited you here.” Mace rose. “Oh, that one is easy, actually. You just wanted me to see how fabulous your life is. Well, I’m duly impressed. I’m happy that you’re so obviously happy.”
“You’re a terrible liar. You always were.”
“I guess that’s why I became a cop. I can just pull my badge and figure out who’s trying to screw with me.”
“But you can’t be a cop anymore, can you?” This came out as a clear taunt.
“Not until I figure out who set me up.”
Dana rolled her heavily made-up eyes. “Do you really think that’s going to happen?”
“I don’t think. I know it will.”
“Well, if I were you, I’d work very hard for your little college professor. Because I see ‘assistant’ as being as good as it gets for you from here on.”
“Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll see myself out.”
But her mother followed her as far as the front door. As Mace strapped on her helmet, Dana said, “Do you know how much trouble you’ve caused for your sister?”
“Yeah, actually I do.”
“And of course you don’t care at all, do you?”
“If I told you otherwise would you believe me?”
“You make me sick with your selfish ways.”
“Well, I learned from the master, didn’t I?”
“I spent the best years of my life with your father. We never had any money. Never went anywhere. Never did a damn thing. And we never would.”
“Yeah, punishing the wicked and making the world a better place for all was just the pits, wasn’t it?”
“You were only a child. You had no idea.”
“Oh, I had more than an idea. Talk about me? You’ll never have it nearly as good ever again. I don’t care how many rich Timothys you marry.”
“Oh, you think so?”
Mace lifted her visor. “Yeah, because Dad was the only man you ever really loved.”
“Just please go away!”
Mace noticed the slight tremble in her mother’s right hand. “Do you know how lucky you were to have a man that good so in love with you? Beth never had that privilege. And I sure as hell haven’t.”
She thought she saw her mother’s eyes turn glassy before the door slammed shut.
Mace mangled the Ducati’s gears in her sudden panic to get out of this place. Maybe her mother was right. Maybe she would never be a cop again. Maybe this was as good as it would ever get for her.
BETH READ THROUGH the report on her computer screen three times. This was something her father had taught her. Read through once for general conceptualization and then a second time for the nitty-gritty details. And then read it a final time, at least an hour after the first reading, but do so out of order, which forced your mind and your eyes from their comfort zones.
Beth refocused. They had scrubbed Diane Tolliver’s computer at work and at her home without revealing any surprises. The work computer had yielded a mass of legal documents and research items and correspondence on dozens of complicated deals. The woman’s town house in Old Town Alexandria had yielded no clues or leads. They would work outward now, from her job and personal life. Murders were almost never random occurrences. Family, friends, acquaintances, rivals, spurned lovers—those were the categories from which the takers of human life were most often spawned.
She looked down at the one interesting item on Diane Tolliver’s work computer. The e-mail she’d sent to Roy Kingman Friday night. The missive was cryptic and she was hoping that Kingman could explain it, but when interviewed by her detectives over the phone he claimed to have no idea what it meant or why it had been sent to him.
They also knew from the electronic records from the garage that Tolliver had left the office Friday night at two minutes before seven and returned at a little before ten, leaving again around ten-forty. The cleaning crew had come in at seven-thirty and left around nine-thirty. They had seen nothing unusual.
What did people do for a few hours on a Friday evening? They had dinner. The fact that she had driven showed it was too far to walk. They were accessing the woman’s credit card records to see what restaurant she’d gone to. That would only work if she had paid the bill, of course, but it was a viable lead.
Need to focus in on A-
That was the message she’d sent to Kingman that he claimed not to understand. Was that the whole message or had it been cut off? She might have been interrupted. If so, by whom at that late hour? But she’d been alive on Monday morning. Beth frowned as she thought about her sister hanging around Kingman. Could he crack a brain stem? Yeah, he probably could.
There were other messages Diane had sent over the course of the weekend, all from home. Just routine ones to various friends, and she’d ordered some items for her home from two vendors. Her BMW 735 was in the parking garage in her normal space, and the gate record showed she’d accessed the garage at six a.m. on the dot. Her car had been searched without revealing anything of use.
Tolliver’s purse had not been found, so robbery couldn’t be ruled out. Yet she’d been raped; that might have been the primary motivation. And then killed to prevent her from fingering who’d done it. No one at Shilling & Murdoch had come into the off
From what Beth had learned, Tolliver usually got in around nine. So why had she come to the office so early on Monday? They were interviewing everyone who worked at the law firm to verify where they were on Monday morning. However, Beth was really counting on getting a database hit on the sperm.
They could find no one who’d talked to Diane over the weekend. One neighbor reported that he saw her drive off in a hurry on
True Blue by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes