True blue, p.13
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       True Blue, p.13

           David Baldacci
 

  Roy shook his head. “No.”

  Mace stared down at the key with such intensity that it seemed that she expected the bit of metal to suddenly confess all its secrets. “And you had no other communication from her?”

  Roy started to say no, but then he stopped. He clicked some keys and turned the screen around for her to see. “She sent me an e-mail late on Friday night.”

  “Do the police know about this?”

  “Yep, because they already questioned me about it today. I told them I didn’t know what it meant.”

  Mace read the line. “You sure nothing rings a bell?”

  “No, but it’s awkwardly phrased. ‘Focus in on’? Why not just say ‘focus on’?”

  “I don’t know. You’re the guy that gets paid by the word. Any viable candidates for ‘A’?”

  “Too many. But I didn’t think you were on the police force anymore.”

  “There’s no law that says a private citizen can’t investigate a crime.”

  “But—”

  “Getting back to the key and e-mail, any thoughts?”

  “Well, you can’t hold me to anything.”

  “Just tell me, Roy.”

  “Chester Ackerman. He’s the managing partner of the firm. I spoke with him yesterday. He was really nervous, upset.”

  “One of his lawyers got stuck in the fridge, there’s a lot to be upset about.”

  “I know, but, and this is just my gut, he seemed scared beyond what the situation would compel, if you know what I mean.”

  “Like he was scared for his own skin?”

  “And I think he was lying about something too.”

  “What?”

  “I don’t know. Just something.”

  “What do you know about him?”

  “He’s from Chicago. Has a family. Brings in tons of business.”

  “Okay, so basically you’re telling me you know nothing?”

  “I’ve never had a reason to dig much deeper on the guy.”

  “So maybe now you do have a reason.”

  “You want me to spy on the managing partner?” he said incredulously.

  “And anybody else who seems productive.”

  “For what is most likely a random killing?”

  “Your partner got stuffed in a fridge. Who’s to say it doesn’t have something to do with this place?”

  Roy picked up his rubber ball, and shot at the basket. And missed.

  “Mechanics are off. Murder closeup sometimes does that.” She perched on the edge of his desk and used the tissue to go through the book page by page. “No mob players on the old client list by chance?”

  He shook his head. “We don’t do criminal work here. Just deals.”

  “Business clients get into legal trouble all the time.”

  “Like I told you before, if it’s litigation, we farm it out.”

  “To what firm?”

  “Several, on an approved list.”

  “We’re not making much progress here.”

  “No, we’re not,” Roy agreed.

  “How much do you make?”

  His eyes widened slightly. “Why do you keep asking me that?”

  “Because you haven’t given me an answer. Don’t look all pissed. It’s a legit question.”

  “Okay, more than Altman is paying you.”

  “How much more?”

  “With bonus and profit-share and bennies, nearly double.”

  “An entry-level cop on MPD pulls less than fifty thou a year.”

  “I never said life was fair. But just so you know, as a CJA I never made close to fifty a year.” He studied her. “So why did you want to know how much I make?”

  “Your firm clearly has money, so that’s a motive to kill.”

  “Okay. Maybe I can look into some stuff and get back to you. What are you doing tonight?”

  “Dinner with big sis. But I’m free after that.”

  “What, you never sleep?”

  “Not for the last two years.”

  She pocketed the key still wrapped in tissue.

  Roy looked nervously at her. “I don’t want a withholding evidence charge leveled against me.”

  “And I want to find out what the hell is going on around here. I’m like addicted to things that seem to make no sense.”

  “But you’re not a cop anymore, Mace.”

  “So everybody keeps reminding me,” she said, as she left his office.

  CHAPTER 29

  MACE SAT on her bike with material evidence from a homicide investigation ripping a black hole in her jacket pocket. She had just committed a felony in a city where her sister was the top enforcer of the law.

  “You are an idiot,” she muttered as the Ducati idled at a stoplight. “A moron. A reckless piece of crap that never knows when to say, ‘No, don’t do that!’” She’d promised her sister she would not do exactly what she was doing. Meddling in the case.

  But something had happened to her in prison that not even Beth knew about. She’d read an old news article about an FBI agent who’d been convicted of witness tampering, aiding a mob boss, and helping to transport weapons across state lines. He had protested his innocence the entire time, claiming he’d been framed but to no avail. He was tried, convicted, and served his full sentence. On getting out he’d moved to another state, secretly gone undercover, and infiltrated a violent drug ring. He’d collected a mountain of evidence at great personal risk and turned it all over to the Bureau, who’d made the bust. He’d even gone on the stand to testify against the ringleaders. The media had picked up the story and run with it and the public outcry had been immense.

  The thinking was, why would a guilty man have done something like that? He must’ve been innocent. There had been a clear miscarriage of justice. The public pressure filtered to the politicians on Capitol Hill, resulting in the Bureau going against its own rules and reinstating the agent despite his being a convicted felon. The man had gone on to head up an FBI office in the Midwest and his career had been full of accolades and achievements.

  The agent’s name was Frank Kelly and a desperate Mace had written to him from prison and explained her situation. Kelly had actually come to West Virginia to see her. He was a big, solid fellow with a no-nonsense attitude. He’d read up on her case and told her he believed her to be innocent. But while commiserating with her situation he’d been blunt. “You’re never going to get your record clean. Too many obstacles and crap in the way. Even if you do find out some stuff, proving it to the level necessary will be pretty much impossible. There will always be people aligned against you, people who don’t want to believe you. But what you can do is get back in the saddle when you get out. You go out on your dime and nerve, no cop shop backing you up, and lay your ass on the line like I did. Then you have a shot at being able to clean your record de facto, in the court of public opinion. There are no guarantees,” Kelly had added. “And I have to tell you I got real lucky. But at least this way you can control your own destiny a little. You at least have a shot. Otherwise, you’ll never be a cop again.”

  “That’s all I ever asked for,” Mace had told him. “A shot.”

  He’d shaken her hand and wished her luck.

  That’s all I want, a shot to be a true blue again.

  There were those on the police force who believed that because she was Beth Perry’s sister Mace received preferential treatment, when actually the reverse was true. Beth had gone out of her way not to show favoritism and had actually driven Mace harder than anyone else under her. Mace had earned every promotion, every commendation, and every scar, including those hidden and those in plain sight. She’d graduated from the Metropolitan Police Academy with some demerits but a far greater number of superlatives. Instructors who’d handed out these black marks also thought she was, hands down, the best police recruit to join the capital city’s thin blue line since, well, since her sister had graduated at the top of her class years earlier.

  In record time she’d gone
from rookie beat cop to sergeant, and then made the leap to CID, or the Criminal Investigations Division where she’d been assigned to the Homicide and Sex Offenses Branch. She’d cut her teeth on stacks of gruesome murders, sex assaults, and cases so cold the files had turned blue along with the bodies. She’d made up procedures on her own, and while she’d sometimes been dressed down for doing so, many of these same methods were now part of the investigative techniques curriculum taught at the police academy.

  During her career she’d made friends because she was loyal and had never rolled on any of them even if they deserved it. And she’d made enemies that she would keep until the day she or they croaked. But Mace had also made enemies who could be convinced that they owed her. That was why she was here.

  Mace parked her Ducati in front of the shop with the fancy red awning over the top of which was the name of the establishment: Citizen Soldier, Ltd.

  Cute.

  She tugged open the door and walked in.

  Shelves lined the walls and were filled with pretty much every conceivable personal defense item on the market. Behind barred wall cabinets were shotguns, rifles, and assault weapons just waiting for itchy trigger fingers to set them free. Inside belly-button-high locked display consoles were a wide variety of auto and semi-auto pistols and old-fashioned wheel guns.

  “Hey, Binder,” she called out to the man in the back near the cash register. “Still selling whack jobs SBRs built from reconfigured AR-15 pistols without getting ATF approval and paying the appropriate taxes?”

  Binder wore cammie pants and a tight-fitting black muscle shirt that showed off his buffed pecs, delts, and biceps. Military boots were on his feet. They were worn down and looked like the real deal. That’s because they were, she knew. He’d pulled years in the uniform of Uncle Sam but also had some stockade time and a dishonorable discharge because of a little drug dealing on the side that had nearly cost two fresh-from-boot-camp grunts their lives from injecting ill-cooked crystal meth. He wore his hair in a big throwback afro that reminded her of a young Michael Jackson. This was quite remarkable-looking since the man was white, had nearly pupilsize freckles all over his face, and his hair was flame red except where it was edged with gray at the roots.

  “Send in the clowns,” she sang under her breath.

  Binder wheeled around. A Garrett handheld scanner was in one hammy fist and a tactical folding knife in the other.

  “Wow, you look really happy to see me,” she said.

  “When the hell did you get out?” This came out more like a hurled piece of spit than a question formed with words.

  “I didn’t. I escaped. You want to turn me in for the reward?”

  He put the tact knife on a shelf containing a pile of other blades, all with price tags attached. “I’m busy,” he grunted. “I know you ain’t a cop anymore more, so harassment time is over.”

  Instead of leaving, she dug into the pile of blades on the shelf and picked up a knife that had twin wooden handles. With a flick of her wrist she flipped free the six-inch razor-edged shaft. “Whoa, a channel-constructed handmade Filipino Balisong with an IK Bearing System. Very cool. But unfortunately their importation into the U.S. was banned in the eighties.”

  Binder didn’t look impressed by this information. “Is that right?”

  “And the Balisong can technically be considered a gravity or butterfly knife or a switchblade. They’re illegal in D.C. and Maryland and you can’t sell ’em in Virginia.”

  “Somebody forgot to send me the memo. I’ll talk to my lawyer.”

  “Good, while you’re doing that I’ll call the Five D commander and let him run a second set of eyeballs over your inventory list. If you want to dress in drag I can recommend a very nice facility in West Virginia for the next few years.” She eyed his bushy redtop. “And the really good news is you won’t even have to get a haircut.”

  Binder leaned down into her face. “What the hell do you want, woman!”

  “Some equipment. And I’ll pay, just not full price because I’m poor and cheap.”

  She held up the Balisong and with a flick closed the blade. “And next time, Bin, hide the plainly illegal shit in the back. I mean, at least make the CID guys work for it. Otherwise they’ll get rusty.”

  “What kind of equipment?”

  “My wish list starts with a UV blue-light lamp, fluorescent dye, and contrasting spectacles. FYI, pulling out the cheap made-in-China crap will not make me happy. I got enough lead in my system from eating prison food.”

  “I’ve got a nice kit for three hundred plus tax,” he mumbled.

  “Great, I’ll give you fifty for it.”

  His broad face swelled with anger, making his freckles look like giant amoebas. “That’s a ripoff. You know what my damn rent is here?”

  “You won’t have any rent in prison. But I do know the Aryan Nation scuzzballs are partial to redheads.”

  Binder deflated as quickly as he’d inflated. “What else?” he said sullenly.

  “Well, let’s have a look-see at all the goodies,” she said sweetly.

  After she’d finished, she loaded her purchases in a large backpack she’d made Binder throw in for free. A belt with an extra feature loaded in the clasp that she’d purchased from him had already been slipped around her waist and tightened down. She’d paid and was heading to the door when he called out, “Twenty bucks says you’re back in prison in six months.”

  She whipped around. “And I’ve got fifty that says any illegal shit left in this place gets confiscated in forty-eight hours by MPD’s finest.”

  Binder slammed his fist against the counter. “I thought we had a deal!”

  “I don’t remember anything about a deal. I just mentioned switchblades and you gave me a really nice discount. I thought it was like a code word for preferred customers.”

  “You… are… a… bitch!”

  “Took you all these years to figure that out, scumball?”

  He eyed the backpack. “What the hell are you going to do with all that stuff?”

  “I’m not sitting on the sidelines, Bin.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  “Two years in hell, and the blue ripped right out of my heart, that’s what that means.”

  CHAPTER 30

  ROY CLOSED the door softly behind him. Playing snoop while homicide detectives were still on the premises was not the smartest career move he’d ever made. Yet there was something about Mace Perry that just made him not want to disappoint the woman. Maybe it was the fact that she could probably kick his ass anytime she wanted.

  Chester Ackerman’s office looked as though the man never did a lick of work, and without billable hours to be counted up, there was no way to tell if he did or not. Still, he brought in more business than any partner in the firm and in the legal world that was the big stick. It was also principally why he was managing partner. As quickly and as efficiently as he could, Roy opened file and desk drawers, checked the pockets of the man’s suit coat that hung on the back of the door, and tried but failed to access his computer records.

  He heard footsteps coming and started to panic before those sounds eased away down the hall. He listened at the door and slipped out. He bypassed his office and headed to the mail room. He talked to Dave again, gained no useful information, and next questioned the other mail room guy, who was similarly clueless. He waited until both men headed out with items for delivery before searching through the mail room but finding nothing.

 
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