True blue, p.12
True Blue, p.12David Baldacci
Sunday around nine in the morning but did not speak to her. She lived in an end-unit town house with a garage. She could come and go without interacting with anyone, as she apparently had the weekend before she’d been killed.
There were dirty dishes in the dishwasher and trash that indicated she had eaten in over the weekend. She had a cleaning service that came three times a week, but not over the weekend. Her home phone records showed no calls going out, and the only messages on her voice mail had been from solicitors. She, like many people, apparently used her cell phone to communicate most of the time.
They couldn’t find her iPhone because it had presumably been in her purse. But they had requested the phone records from her carrier. She’d made many calls on her cell phone over the weekend. None of them had been to friends or coworkers, though. These were all normal things that one did during a weekend. Tolliver had not known, of course, that it would be the last weekend of her life.
The previous Friday, her last full day at the office, had been spent in meetings with various clients. Three of them were local and had been interviewed, but had told them nothing of interest. Tolliver had seemed perfectly normal to them. Two of her client meetings had been with men from overseas. Both men had flown out Friday night and were now in the Middle East. Neither was obviously her killer.
Her cell phone chirped.
“You working late?” said Mace’s voice.
“Had a community outreach event but it got canceled. What are you offering?”
“Dinner, on me. Pick a nice place. I mean really nice, where you actually have to wear shoes and everything.”
“Did Altman give you an advance on your salary?”
“No, I just cleaned out my bank account.”
“Mace, what about your creditors?”
“I’ll start paying them off with my first paycheck. Let’s just have a nice meal.”
“Mom was that bad?”
“She’s still alive and so am I, so how bad could it be?”
“Okay. How about eight-thirty? I’ll call you with the place.”
Mace clicked off and Beth went back to her notes.
Her office phone rang.
She picked it up and listened for two minutes.
There’d been another murder.
And this one had cut close to home. A U.S. attorney was dead. Mona Danforth wasn’t the one killed. Beth managed to avoid tacking “unfortunately” onto the end of this thought. But they had just discovered Jamie Meldon’s body in a Dumpster in northwest Washington.
ON THE DRIVE over Beth spent the time thinking about the dead man. Jamie Meldon was one of Mona Danforth’s top assistants and was as unlike his boss as it was possible to be. He was a fine, diligent lawyer who’d made enemies in the criminal world as all good prosecutors did. And one of those enemies might have murdered him. She obviously was not going to make dinner with Mace. But if there was one thing her sister would understand it was that in their line of work the job trumped everything else.
When she got to the crime scene she was not surprised to see the FBI there along with her people. Meldon was a U.S. attorney and thus his murder was a federal crime. What did shock her was seeing her police and forensics personnel packing their stuff up to leave.
“What’s going on?” she asked the officer in charge.
“We’ve been told in no uncertain terms that this is a federal investigation and we are persona non grata.”
“Like we’ve never worked a homicide with the Bureau. Where’s the SAIC?” she asked, referring to the special agent in charge.
He pointed to a man in a suit near the Dumpster.
Beth marched over with two of her district homicide detectives in tow. “Can I ask what’s going on?”
The man turned around to look at her. “Hello, Beth.”
Beth recognized him as soon as she saw his face. “Steve? I didn’t think the AD came out to homicides.”
Steve Lanier, the assistant director of the FBI’s Washington Field Office and a man Beth worked with closely, said, “Well, I can’t say the same about you because I know you come to every one.”
“Did you know Jamie Meldon?”
“So why are you here, then?”
He glanced over at a group of men in suits. “Do you know who they are?”
“No, should I?”
“They will be coming over here shortly and informing you that national security interests are at stake and the police will not be involved in this investigation.”
“What does national security have to do with a prosecutor’s murder?”
“Well, I don’t suppose we’ll ever find out.”
“We? They might be able to pull the rug out from under us, but you’re the FBI.”
“In ordinary circumstances that would be true.”
“So what’s extraordinary about this?”
“All I can tell you is that it came straight from Pennsylvania.”
“The White House?”
“And don’t bother asking who they are. They won’t tell you.”
Beth looked puzzled. “CIA? Langley has no law enforcement jurisdiction. Hell, they can’t even operate domestically.”
“It may not be the CIA.”
“Steve, are you saying you don’t even know which agency they’re from?”
“Then how the hell did they get access to a restricted crime scene?”
Lanier smiled glumly. “They showed their driver’s licenses.”
“Are you shitting me! Their driver’s licenses?”
“The FBI director himself told me that they would be here, what their names were, and that they should have unfettered access to the crime scene, because they were taking over the investigation. So they didn’t have to show me their creds.”
“This is unbelievable.”
“Yes it is.”
“Chief Perry?” said one man in his forties and who was the apparent leader of this little group of unknowns.
“Yeah?” Beth said in a stern tone.
“Perhaps the assistant director here has filled you in on… things?”
“That you’re trumping my jurisdiction based solely on your legal right to drive a motor vehicle? Yep, he mentioned it, but maybe you can run me through it with particulars, including your names and the agency you work for.”
“That won’t be happening,” said the man pleasantly. “The mayor should be e-mailing you—”
Beth’s BlackBerry started buzzing.
“Right about now,” said the man, smiling.
Beth checked her device. The mayor was polite and diplomatic but the message was clear. Back off now.
“Can I expect copies of reports?” she asked.
“Can I see the body?”
“Same answer,” said the fellow.
“Will you tell me when and if you find the killer?”
“We’ll expect you and your people to be gone in the next two minutes.”
The men turned and left.
Beth looked at Lanier. “Do you hate them as much as I do, Steve?”
Lanier said, “Oh, even more than you do. Trust me.”
“Care to give me their names? I’m assuming you remember them from the driver’s licenses.”
“Sorry, Beth, I got my marching orders too.”
She stalked back to her car. At least she’d be having dinner with her sister tonight after all.
AT THE SOUND of the knock Roy looked up from a contract he was reviewing.
The door opened and a young man dressed in corduroy pants, striped shirt, and a cheap paisley tie stood there holding on to the front bar of a mail cart. It was old-fashioned, but even in the digital age sometimes lawyers still needed materials that were actually contained in books or written on real paper.
“Just put it on the desk, Dave.”
Dave came forward clutching the book. “Creepy.”
Roy shrugged. “I doubt whoever killed her is going to come back.”
“Not what I meant.”
Dave put the book down on the desk.
Roy leaned back in his chair. “Okay, don’t keep me in suspense.”
Dave tapped the book. “This is from Ms. Tolliver.”
Roy snatched up the book. “When did she put it in the mail room?”
“Why don’t you know? I thought there were procedures.”
“Most of the time folks call and we come and pick up the package. They have a delivery sheet filled out and we put it in the pipeline.”
“So why don’t you know when this book came in?”
“It was just in the mail room with the sheet filled out. She must’ve done it herself. I checked with Ms. Tolliver’s secretary and she didn’t know anything about it.”
“But she was killed Monday morning. It’s now Tuesday afternoon and I’m just getting this?”
“We didn’t deliver the mail yesterday because the police were all over the place. Just getting to it now. I’m sorry.”
Roy examined the cover of the book. It was on contract law, an out-of-date edition. Lawyers never sent old textbooks to each other. What would be the point?
“Did you see it in the mail room on Friday?”
“Don’t think so.”
“But you’re not sure?”
“No. I’m not.”
“Okay, but did you see it in the mail room on Monday morning?”
“Can’t really say. It was so crazy around here. But it had to be there on Monday morning. I mean, she couldn’t have done it after she was dead.”
“If she was the one who put the book in the mail room, Dave. We have no way of telling if she physically did it or not.”
“Oh, right.” Dave looked at him nervously. “Am I in trouble?” Roy sat back, his sudden flame of anger gone. “Probably not. Thanks, Dave. Sorry I got testy. I guess we’re all a little stressed out.”
After Dave closed the door, Roy looked at the mail slip clipped to the book. It was in Diane’s neat handwriting that he’d seen on many documents. The mail form had a date and time-of-day box to show when it had gone into the system; however, Diane had not filled in this information. The form did have his name on it as the recipient, so the book was meant for him. There was no reason for her to send it to him. But she had. He flipped through some pages, but it was just an old book.
His phone rang. “Yeah?” His mouth formed a smile when he heard the voice.
Mace said, “You must’ve billed nearly a hundred hours so far today.”
“I told you this is a humane law firm. We don’t have to lie by the hour.”
“You got time to talk?”
“How about now?”
His door opened and Mace waved to him. Roy shook his head and put down his phone. “Are you always this weird?”
“You haven’t begun to see my weird side.”
“That is truly terrifying.”
“I know. I get that a lot.”
MACE CLOSED the door behind her and sat across from him. “Thanks for repping me last night with old Abe.”
“Just wait until you get my bill.” He held up the book. “Diane Tolliver sent this to me in the office mail.”
“Like very recently. But she had no reason to. It’s an old textbook.”
“Put it down. Now!”
He quickly set the book on his desk.
“Who else has pawed it, other than you?” she said severely.
“At least one other, the mail room guy.”
“He didn’t know any better.”
“But you should have known better.”
“Okay, maybe I should have. But I didn’t. So now what?”
“You got a hanky?”
“No, but I do have some tissues.”
He handed some over. Mace used one to open the book slowly. “I glanced through a couple of pages, didn’t see any cryptic writing. But we could pour lemon juice on it and see if the invisible ink is revealed.”
“Or we could just do this.” She held the book by the spine and swung it back and forth, the pages flapping open.
A small key fell out and landed on the desk.
“Don’t!” Mace cautioned as Roy reached for it.
Using the tissue, she picked up the key by its ridged end.
Mace said, “Not a safety deposit box key, maybe a post office box.”
“That narrows it down to a few hundred million. And we don’t even know if this key came from her.”
“She ever mention a post office box?”
True Blue by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes