True blue, p.15
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       True Blue, p.15

           David Baldacci
 

  “Hello, Mayor, you remember my sister?”

  They shook hands. He leaned down and said in a low voice, “Good to see you. Let me know if I can be of any assistance. Right. Take care. Stay out of trouble.”

  This came out in such a blur of polished speech that Mace doubted the man had stopped for a breath or even heard what he’d actually said.

  He stood straight. “Having a girls’ night out, are we?”

  “I guess we are,” said Beth.

  “Excellent. How we doing on the Tolliver case?”

  “You getting calls?”

  “I always get calls, I’ve just learned the ones to pay attention to.”

  “And these are such calls?”

  “Just keep me in the loop.”

  “We’re making progress. The minute I know more, so will you.”

  “Good, good.”

  “About that other case?”

  “Right. Sorry about that. Above my pay grade.” He turned and was gone as quickly as he’d appeared. His staff shuffled off behind their leader, each with a cell phone out, talking, no doubt, to suitably important people.

  “That guy will be in office for life,” said Mace.

  “Long after I’m gone,” replied Beth.

  “So, getting back to hover.”

  Beth playfully crossed her eyes. “I thought this was a celebration.”

  “Fine, but I’m going to need another glass of wine. To celebrate being hovered.”

  “No, one is enough. And you’re going to have plenty to eat and get some fresh air before you ride off on that bike.”

  “And here I was thinking Mom lived all the way out past Middleburg.”

  “Mace, please.”

  “I’m not going to embarrass you further.”

  “That’s not what I meant. A DUI gets you sent back.”

  “Then let’s order before I get totally wasted and you have to perform a field sobriety test right here on the table.”

  The food was excellent, the service attentive, the people coming up to greet the chief only a dozen or so in number and polite for the most part, except when they were either complaining or groveling.

  “You’re popular,” remarked Mace. “Just think if you were in uniform.”

  “Maybe I’m too popular.”

  “What?”

  “Don’t look now, but here comes our favorite DA.”

  “Ah, hell, and I’ve only had one glass of wine and not a single controlled substance all day.”

  They both turned to watch Mona Danforth marching toward them.

  CHAPTER 33

  THE LADY was wearing a dress that looked like it cost more than Mace’s Ducati. The makeup and hair were perfect, the jewelry tasteful but heavyweight enough to still retain the “wow” factor. The only thing marring the package was the woman’s expression. For a beautiful woman Mona Danforth could look very ugly.

  “Hello, Mona,” said Beth pleasantly.

  Mona snagged another chair from an adjacent table, unmindful of whether anyone was actually using it or not, and sat down. “We need to talk.”

  The statement was directed at Beth, but Mace answered first. “Really, Moan, you’ve learned to actually do that? Congratulations.”

  Mona didn’t even bother to look at her. “This doesn’t concern you.”

  Mace started to shoot something back, but Beth nudged her leg under the table. “I’m assuming this has something to do with Jamie Meldon’s death?”

  “Why else would I be sitting here?”

  “You know, Mona, we are on the same team here. Police, prosecutor? Do you sense a pattern?”

  “I heard you got bumped from the case.”

  “Didn’t even have time to step on any shell casings. Go talk to the mayor. You just missed him. Or the CIA, I’m sure Langley would love to fill you in.”

  Mace, not knowing what they were talking about, merely hunkered down and listened attentively as she would at any contest where one of the players has the potential to go home all bloody.

  “One of my people was murdered in your jurisdiction. And you’re not going to do anything about it?”

  “I didn’t say I wasn’t going to do anything. But while we’re on the subject, what exactly do you want me to do?”

  Mona looked incredulous. “You’re asking me how to do your job?”

  “I know you’ve just been dying to tell me all these years. So here’s your chance. Fire away.” Beth sat back and looked expectant.

  “This is unbelievable. I’m not a cop.”

  “But you are the interim chief of the largest federal prosecutor’s office in the country outside of DOJ. So if you don’t have a suggestion on how to do my job, let me give you some help on how to do yours.”

  “Excuse me?” snapped Mona.

  “You’re pissed that the case was snagged from MPD? In any event, since Jamie was technically a federal employee his murder falls under the jurisdiction of the FBI. Normally we would support that effort, but for some reason we got a muzzle thrown on us. So here’s what you can do. Go talk to your high-up contacts at Justice and find out why we were pulled from the case. Do the same at the legal counsel’s office at the Bureau. From there it’s a short hop to the intelligence community. It was intimated to me that it was the CIA who yanked the cord, but I don’t believe everything I’m told. Maybe it was DHS. You know folks over there. In fact a photo of you and the DHS director was in the Style section of the Post just last week. Your dress and cleavage were stunning and his drool was unmistakable. I’m sure his wife really enjoyed seeing that. And when you have everything in a nice box with a big red bow, you bring it all to me and I’ll run with it. How’s that sound?”

  “It sounds like I’m wasting my time.”

  “Do you want to find out who killed Meldon?”

  “Don’t be condescending!”

  “Then work your contacts. And I’ll work mine and maybe we’ll meet in the middle. But keep in mind that you may run into a wall at some point. Or you may tick somebody off. And your career might take a hit.”

  Mona stood. “I’m not listening to any more of this garbage.”

  Beth continued unperturbed. “Your career might take a hit,” she repeated firmly. “But I know that in the interest of bringing Jamie’s killer to justice you wouldn’t have any compunction about professional sacrifice, right?”

  “Don’t make an enemy of me over this, Beth.”

  “By the way, how’s Jamie’s family doing?”

  “What?”

  “His wife and kids? I visited them earlier today, to express my condolences and to see if they needed anything. I’m assuming you did that too, wonderful, compassionate leader that you are.”

  With what could only be termed a snarl, Mona stalked off.

  Mace leaned across the table and gave her sister a kiss on the forehead. “I bow before your powers of transforming mere words into machine-gun rounds.”

  “It didn’t really get me anywhere.”

  “But it was so fun to watch. So what’s this about a dead DA?”

  Beth filled her in on Meldon’s homicide.

  “So you don’t know anything other than his body was in a Dumpster?”

  “A bit more than that. Like I said, I talked to his wife. He’d been working late Sunday night. She was surprised when he wasn’t home on Monday morning, but not overly concerned since he slept at the office sometimes. When she didn’t hear from him by late morning she called the police. His body was finally found this afternoon.”

  “And the CIA is involved?”

  “Actually, that’s not substantiated yet. I was actually told that the pushback directive came from the White House.”

  “The White House! But you didn’t tell Cruella de Vil that.”

  She smiled. “No, I didn’t.”

  Beth finished her second glass of wine. “Would you like another round?”

  “And risk a DUI and being sent to the big house?” Mace said with mock terror.

/>   “You can ride with me. I’ll have them load your bike in a pickup truck and bring it to the house.”

  “You mind if I take a rain check on that offer?”

  “Plans later?”

  “Maybe.”

  “Would those plans be Roy Kingman?”

  “And is that a problem?”

  “I already stated my opinion on that subject.”

  “I know.” Mace rose from the table. “I paid the bill. I did it when I went to the ladies’ room.”

  “You really didn’t have to do that, Mace.” Beth paused and added, “But it was very sweet.”

  “Hey, we need to do this more often. But maybe we can aim for fast food next time. Easier on the wallet. Prices have really gone up over the last two years.”

  Mace turned to leave, but Beth reached over and placed an iron grip on her sister’s arm, pulling Mace abruptly back into her seat. In a low voice that still managed to conjure images of razor wire, Beth said, “The next time you remove evidence from a crime scene, I will personally pistol-whip you before I arrest you for obstruction, are we clear on that?” There was not a trace of mirth in the woman’s eyes. This was Chief Elizabeth Perry talking now, not sweet sister Beth.

  Mace just gaped at her, unable to form a response.

  “My techs found minute traces of fluorescent dye on the key. I heard old Binder was running a special on his blue-light print kit this week. I think I might pay him a personal visit tomorrow and shut him down.”

  “Beth—”

  “You went over the line. After I told you not to. I told you to let me handle it. Maybe you don’t think I’m good enough to get this done.”

  “It wasn’t that.”

  Beth squeezed her sister’s arm. “You get arrested for interfering in a police investigation, you’re going back to prison for a lot longer than two years. And then there will be no way you’ll ever be a cop again. I don’t care if the president of the United States has your back. Is that what you want?”

  “No, of course not. But—”

  “Then quit screwing up!” Beth leaned away from her and let go of the arm. “Now get out of here.” As soon as Mace stood, Beth added, “Oh, and tell Kingman I said hello.”

  Mace nearly ran out the door.

  CHAPTER 34

  DRINKS ON the rooftop lounge of the Hotel Washington,” said Mace as she and Roy sat at a table overlooking what was one of the nicest views of D.C.

  “It’s actually called the W Washington now,” he said, as he freed three olives from a toothpick and dropped them one by one into his mouth and chewed slowly.

  She pointed straight ahead. “Look, you can just make out the countersnipers on top of the White House.” She looked at the street. “And there goes a cruiser on a call. Probably a lousy D&D at a bar.”

  “Could be a shooting.”

  “Gunshots get a minimum of two patrol units responding. We’d be hearing a lot more sirens. Probably burglar alarm D.C.”

  “Burglar alarm D.C.?”

  “Burglar alarms go off, you respond, and you find out it’s a malfunction. That’s the principal action around here in ‘safe’ D.C. You want bullet banging or PCP zombie sprints, head to Sixth or Seventh district. They put on a great show there.”

  “You’re a walking encyclopedia of local crime minutiae.”

  “That’s all I am anymore,” Mace said resignedly.

  “Problems?”

  “No, Roy, my life is five-star all the way.”

  “That didn’t come out right.”

  “It never does with guys.” She stood, leaned over the half-wall, and pointed to her left. “Right over there was the first bust I ever made on my own around here. I’d just been certified to ride alone. Spotted a guy in a suit buying a bag of rock from a punk huckabuck. Turns out he was a congressman high up on some anti-drug committee. What a shocker, right?”

  As she turned back around, Roy quickly shifted his gaze away from her derriere. There was a tattoo of a cross partly visible where her sweater had ridden up, with the lower half of the cross well down on one butt cheek.

  The tattoo artist must’ve had fun doing that one, thought Roy.

  She sipped on her beer and munched some nuts. “So do you want to comment on my butt since you were staring at it for so long?”

  Bumps of red appeared on each of Roy’s cheeks. “Actually it left me pretty speechless.”

  “There was a prison guard who was really partial to it too.”

  He flicked a gaze at her. “Did he ever do anything to you?”

  “Let’s just say he kept his pants on and leave it at that.”

  “So you got a tattoo of a cross?”

  “Don’t all good Catholic girls have a cross on their backsides?”

  “I don’t know. I’ve never dated a Catholic girl. My loss, I guess.”

  “Yes, it is.”

  “You know, I thought about joining the police academy after college.”

  “Drive fast and shoot guns?”

  He grinned. “How’d you know?”

  “Way it is with most guys. There were forty-one recruits in my class. Sixteen-week course. Half washed out before the end. Ex-athletes with beer bellies couldn’t even do a push-up. Academy was okay. Learned the phone book, spit and polish, a few training scenarios, but not much about actually being a cop.”

  “Phone book?”

  “Policies and procedures, general orders. Paperwork basically. Plus physical training. Near the end they put me on a Christmas detail in Georgetown by myself with no gun and no orders.”

  “What’d you do?”

  “Wandered around, wrote some parking tickets, and smoked some cigarettes.”

  “Law school was boring too.”

  “I started out on the north end of Georgia Avenue. They called it the Gold Coast, because it was relatively safe.”

  “And?”

  “And I hated it. Didn’t put on the shield and gun to be safe. I wanted to get into Crime Patrol. They hit the whole city, not some lousy five-block radius. They went after the good stuff.”

 
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