True blue, p.14
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       True Blue, p.14

           David Baldacci

  The space had one odd feature, a large dumbwaiter that had been built especially for the mailroom. Shilling & Murdoch also had office space on the fifth floor, and this motorized dumbwaiter ran directly into a storage room set up there for the firm’s archives. It was more convenient to keep the materials on-site for ready access. And it was far more efficient to send heavy boxes down a straight shaft than cart them through the office and then down the elevators.

  As he stood there a weird thought occurred to him.

  He rode the elevator to the fourth floor. When the doors opened the sounds of nail drivers and power saws hit him right in the eardrums. He stepped off and was immediately met by a wiry guy with Popeye forearms covered in colorful tattoos and wearing a yellow hard hat.

  “Can I help you, buddy?”

  “I work at the law firm on the sixth floor.”

  “Congratulations, but you can’t be here.”

  “I’m also on the building’s oversight committee. We’ve been notified that there have been some thefts of property from your work site and I was asked by the committee chairman to come down to get further details. It has to do with our property and casualty insurance reporting requirements and also our D&O rider, you understand?”

  It was as though the minute he’d passed the bar Roy’s ability to bullshit on demand had clicked to a whole new level. Or maybe that was why he’d gone to law school in the first place.

  It was painfully clear from the expression on Hard Hat’s face that he hadn’t comprehended one syllable Roy had uttered.

  “So what does that mean?”

  Roy said patiently, “It means I have to look around and report back and maybe your company will get some money from our overlap insurance coverage to help cover some of the losses.”

  The man tossed a hard hat to Roy. “Works for me, I’m just the carpenter. Only watch your step, dude. Lawyers fall down and get a boo-boo, I don’t even want to think about what that would cost.”

  Roy slipped on the hat and started walking around the space. One of the passenger elevators had been fitted with pads so the construction crew could bring its materials in because the building didn’t have a dedicated freight elevator.

  Roy didn’t know how many of the construction crew had been given key cards. He found the carpenter and asked this question. The guy was driving screws into a metal wall stud.

  “Crew chief has one. He lets me in if I get here before the building opens. Most guys report at eight-thirty, so they can just walk right in.”

  “When does everyone leave?”

  “Right at five-thirty. Work rules.”

  “No overtime? Weekends?”

  “Not for me. I don’t want it. I like my downtime. Have to ask the crew chief if anybody else works off the clock.”

  “Where is he?”

  “Long lunch.” The man put down his power screwdriver and tipped his hard hat back. “See, that’s what I want to be when I grow up. A crew chief.”

  Roy continued to walk around the space. He heard a machine whirring and was surprised to see the building’s day porter. He was standing in front of a microwave set up in a little cubby off the main work area where there was also a fridge.

  “Hey, Dan, what are you doing here?”

  Dan, a slender man with silver hair and a matching mustache, was dressed in a neat blue work uniform. “Missed lunch. Just warming up some soup, Roy.”

  “You come up here often?”

  The microwave dinged and Dan took the bowl out and started spooning tomato soup into his mouth. “They’re paying me a little on the side to keep the place tidy.”

  “Who? The crew chief?”

  “Yep. Worked for him before on a job a couple years ago before I got this gig. He remembered me. Few extra dollars don’t hurt. I mean, I get all my work done for the building first, Roy,” he added quickly.

  “I’ve got no problems with that. But I hear they’ve been having some problems?”

  Dan nodded. “Stuff missing. Some wrenches and some food. I told the crew chief not to keep food up here, but the guys don’t listen. They cram their munchies all over the place. And stuff in the fridge there.”

  “They ever think of hiring a security guard?”

  “Too much money for this small a job. I come up here in the evenings to clean up, but I’m always gone by seven. Never seen or heard anything.”

  “They work weekends?”

  “No, client won’t pay the overtime. Monday to Friday, according to my buddy.”

  “Any theories on who might be stealing?”

  “Not a clue. But I doubt it’s anybody from your place, unless you got some folks who’ll risk their six-figure careers over a package of Oreos and cans of Pepsi.”

  Roy left the fourth floor and went back to his office. He had spent nearly an hour learning absolutely nothing. He hoped Mace was having better luck with the key.


  PERFORMING THIS particular test at Beth’s house was out of the question even for a risk-taker like Mace. So here she was in the ladies’ room at a Subway restaurant.

  She’d brought in her backpack, locked the door, put on latex gloves, sprinkled the dye on the key, put on her contrasting spectacles, and turned off the light. She powered up her handheld blue-light wand, and her fifty bucks paid to old Binder scored an immediate dividend.

  “Friction ridges, come to Momma,” she said softly. There were fingerprints on the key. She hit the surface with a magnification lens she had also pried from Binder’s cold fingers. During her career Mace had looked at enough inked islands, dots, ending ridges, and other fingerprint ID points to be considered an expert. This print was good and clean with minutiae including a hook, a ridge crossing, and even a trifurcation. The other side of the key wasn’t quite as good, but there was still plenty enough for a match.

  Thumb and index she assumed, since those were the fingers one normally used to hold a key. She was thinking that the prints probably belonged to Diane Tolliver. How that advanced the investigation she wasn’t sure, but at least it would show whether the dead woman had held it. She was surprised that the prints hadn’t been wiped away by the key being pressed between the pages of the book, but sometimes the good guys got lucky.

  Now she had one more favor to call in before she was done with this piece of evidence. Thirty minutes after visiting this last stop and getting some free service from yet another old “friend,” she headed back to Roy’s office after placing the key in a plastic baggie to protect the prints. She left the key with Roy and instructed him to turn it over to the police with the explanation of how he’d gotten it. As she was walking across the lobby to leave the building she noticed Ned staring at her. Mace changed direction and headed toward him.

  “You’re Ned, right?”

  “That’s right. I saw you and Roy Kingman ride off on your motorcycle yesterday.”

  “What an eagle eye you have. I bet you see everything that goes on around here.”

  His chest puffed up. “Not much that I miss. That’s why I do what I do.”

  “Security, you mean?”

  “That’s right. Thinking about joining the police force, though. Kicking bad guys’ asses. You know.”

  Mace ran her gaze over Ned’s fat frame, perhaps a little too obviously because he hastily added, “Gotta drop a few pounds before I do, but it doesn’t take me too long to get back in shape. I played ball in school.”

  “Really, what college?”

  “I meant high school,” Ned mumbled.

  “Good for you.”

  “Hey, weren’t you in here with the cops yesterday?”

  “Yes, I was.” Before he could ask whether she actually was a cop she said, “So do you have a theory on what happened?”

  He nodded, leaned toward her, and said in a hushed tone, “Serial killer.”

  “Really? But wouldn’t that involve more than one murder?”

  “Hey, even Hannibal Lecter had to start somewhere.”

bsp; “He was a fictional character. You know that, right?”

  Ned nodded a little uncertainly. “Cool movie.”

  “So why a serial killer?”

  “His M.O.,” Ned said confidently.


  “Modus operandi.”

  “Yeah, I know what the term means. I was referring to how you were using it in this situation.”

  “Stuffed his victims in a fridge, right? That’s pretty original shit. I bet any day now we’re gonna be reading about folks crammed in freezers, or meat lockers, or you know, like… um…”

  “Other cold places?”


  “Maybe small people in under-the-counter fridges.”

  Ned laughed. “Like Popsicle Mini-Me’s. Hey, maybe he’ll call himself the Stone Cold Killer. Get it?”

  “Yeah, that’s real clever.”

  He leaned over the counter and assumed what he no doubt considered was an ultra-cool expression. “Hey, you ever go out for a drink?”

  “Oh, lots of times. I’m one party girl.”

  “Well, maybe sometime we should do it together, party girl.”

  “Maybe we should.”

  He pointed a finger at her and pulled an imaginary trigger with his thumb and made a clicking sound with his mouth. At the same time he winked.

  These were the moments when Mace so desperately missed her Glock 37 that chambered .45 G.A.P. “one-shot-and-you-drop” cartridges. The standard issue for MPD was the Glock 17 nine-millimeter, and undercover officers usually got the Glock 26 nine-millimeter, which regular officers routinely carried as their off-duty weapon of choice. Mace had dutifully carried the 17 as a cop, but her off-duty and undercover sidearm had been the 37, a gun she wasn’t supposed to have. But she had never been that great at following rules, and the 37’s superior .45 stopping power had saved her life on two occasions. Now, of course, she could carry no gun at all.

  “Hey, Ned, piece of advice, when pointing even a pretend gun at someone, be prepared to duck or you might end up taking a double tap right here.” She twice poked a spot dead center of his forehead.

  He looked confused. “Huh?”

  She merely winked and started to walk away.

  “Hey, babe, I don’t even know your name.”

  She turned back. “Mace.”


  “Yeah, like the fire-hot spray in the eyes.”

  “You got my interest, babe.”

  “I knew I would.”


  THE PLACE Beth had chosen for dinner was Café Milano, one of D.C.’s most chic restaurants, where folks loved to go see and be seen, in a Hollywood-esque sort of way. It had a wall of windows looking out onto a quiet street, although tonight there was a string of Carey cars and black government SUVs parked up and down its narrow confines.

  The bar emptied out into the dining area so it was a little noisy, but Beth’s high-ranking position garnered her a table in what was probably the quietest corner in the place. She had changed out of her uniform and was dressed in a knee-length skirt and a white blouse open at the neck, her blond hair splayed over her shoulders. Her work shoes had been replaced with black heels. The bulk of her security detail waited outside, although two armed plainclothes were at the bar enjoying multiple glasses of ginger ale.

  Mace roared up in her Ducati, shook off her helmet, and slipped inside, dodging past a party of suited men and their rental dates, all of whom would have failed a breathalyzer test in any state in the country. Her cop’s eyes watched them until they climbed into a white stretch Hummer driven by a sober driver in a black suit.

  Mace scanned the room and saw her sister waving. She sat down and slid her bike helmet under the table. The tablecloth was white and starched, the aromas wafting from the kitchen pleasing, the crowd an interesting mix of young, middle-aged, and old, variously dressed in suits, jeans, sneakers, and spike heels.

  “You clean up nice, sis,” she said.

  Beth smiled and gazed at Mace’s clothes. Black slacks, low-cut gray clingy sweater, and high strap heels. “Did you do some shopping today?”

  “Yep. Like you said, I’ve lost some weight.”

  “How were the stilettos on the Ducati’s gear shifter?”

  “No problem. I just skipped over the even ones.”

  The waiter came over and Beth ordered them two glasses of wine. After he left she said, “Since you’re paying, and driving, let’s go easy on the vino. And the list here can get pretty expensive.”

  “Sounds good. I guess you’re not packing tonight.”

  “Not while drinking alcohol; that’s still department policy.”

  “Is your off-duty carry still the .40 caliber or the Glock 26?”

  “Twenty-six, same one I carry on duty.”

  “Must be nice.”

  “Nothing nice about having to carry a gun, Mace. It’s a necessity in our line of work.”

  “In your line of work.”

  “Well, tonight, we’re both out of bullets.”

  When the wine came they clinked glasses and Beth said, “Here’s to many more decades of the Perry sisters hanging together.”

  Mace had regained her good humor. “Now that’s something I can drink to.”

  Beth stared over her wineglass. “So your buddy Kingman found a key in a book that Tolliver sent him.”

  Mace munched on a hard olive roll and tried to look surprised. “Really? Key to what?”

  “We don’t know.”




  “Yes again, how’d you know?”

  “Assumed if she sent it, she had to touch it.”

  “Why did you go and see that sleazeball Binder today?”

  Mace took a long slurp of wine before setting her glass down. “Are you having me followed, Beth?”

  “I would not call it followed, no.”

  “Then what the hell would you call it?”

  “I’m having you hovered.”

  “Hovered? Has the world changed so much in two years that I’m supposed to know what that means?”


  They both turned to see the mayor standing there, his entourage columned behind him. He was young and good-looking and had by most accounts done a good job for the city. Yet he was a cagey politician, meaning that the person he looked out for the most stared back at him in the mirror every morning.


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