True blue, p.16
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       True Blue, p.16

           David Baldacci

  “Not drug dealers then?”

  “Lock up druggies you’re just padding crime stats. CP went after the burglars, the armed robbers, the murderers, and the drug dealers turned exterminators. That was where the action was.” She paused. “Now I’m on probation and working for a college professor. And I can’t even dream about holding my Glock 37 again without heading back to lockup. Whoop-de-do.”

  “I know we don’t know each other that well, but if you ever want to talk about things, Mace, I’m here.”

  “I’m more of a forward thinker.” She stood. “Ladies’ room,” she said. “Be back in a minute.”

  After doing her business Mace came out of the stall, went to the sink, and splashed water on her face. As she stared in the mirror Beth’s words came at her like hollow-points.

  Quit screwing up. Trust me.

  Mace didn’t want to screw up. She did trust her sister. She sure as hell didn’t want to go back to prison. Agent Kelly’s words also came back to her, though.

  She groaned. This was a total mental conflict. Her head felt ready to explode from the pressure.

  At least you’ll have a shot.

  She splashed more water on her face and looked at herself in the mirror again.

  “Scrub as hard as you want, the scum won’t come off.”

  Mace whirled around to see Mona Danforth standing by the door.


  ARE YOU following me?” Mace snapped at D.C.’s chief prosecutor.

  In response, Mona locked the door to the ladies’ room.

  “If you don’t open that door I will use your head to crack it open.”

  “Threatening an officer of the court?”

  “Engaging in unlawful detainment?” Mace shot back.

  “Just thought I’d do you a little favor.”

  “Great. You can slit your wrists in the stall over there. I’ll call the EMTs once you’ve fully bled out.”

  “I know all about Beth’s little plan.”

  “Really? What little plan might that be?”

  Mona snapped open her tiny purse, sauntered over to the mirror, and reapplied her makeup and lipstick while she spoke. Mace so wanted to stuff her in a toilet, blond hair first.

  “Why, getting you reinstated, of course. You were set up, drugged up, forced to commit all those crimes, blah blah blah. Poor little Mace. The same crap the jury refused to believe.” Mona closed her purse, turned and leaned her butt against the sink counter. “So Beth is sending her best detectives to work on the case in the hopes that some miracle will occur that will prove your innocence.”

  “I am innocent.”

  “Oh, please. Save it for someone who cares. But it won’t work because I’m way ahead of her. In fact, I’m so far ahead of her that I don’t mind telling you all about it. Then you can go running to Beth and tell her like you always do when you’re in trouble.”

  Mace tried her best to keep her voice calm. “Tell her what exactly?”

  Mona eyed her with clear contempt. “There are six people who would need to sign off on your reinstatement even if Beth finds some evidence of your innocence.”

  “And if she does I would assume these people would sign.”

  “It’s not that simple. Slam-dunk evidence is never going to happen. If she finds an eyewitness I’ll convince them the testimony was coerced by an overzealous police chief who will stop at nothing to see her beloved little sister exonerated. And anything else she brings to the table I’ll show it was tainted or even fabricated for the exact same reason. And since I’m not a believer in letting the other side hit first, I’ve already spoken with all of the necessary signatories, including the dear mayor, who had me over for dinner last week, and laid the groundwork for the overwhelming validity of my argument.”

  “They’ll never believe Beth would invent evidence. That’s your M.O., not hers.”

  Mona flushed for an instant at this jab but then regained her composure. “They’ve come to understand, after much coaching by me, that the usually rock-solid Beth Perry is incapable of thinking clearly when it comes to you. She will do anything, even break the law, to help you, though you don’t deserve it. I have to admit, Beth has some talent. You, on the other hand, are worthless.”

  “I’m done listening to this crap.” Mace started to move past Mona. The attorney made the mistake of putting a hand on Mace’s shoulder to stop her. The next second, Mona’s arm was twisted behind her back and Mace had pulled the woman right out of her three-inch heels and pushed her face first against the tiled wall of the restroom, the DA’s lipstick smearing it.

  “Don’t ever lay a hand on me again, Mona.”

  “Let go of me, you bitch,” shrieked Mona as she struggled to free herself, but Mace was far stronger. With one more twist of the arm Mace let her go and headed to the door. A furious Mona straightened her dress and bent down to put her heels back on. “I can have you arrested for assault. You’d go back to prison, where you belong.”

  “Go ahead and try. Your word against mine. And then the public can get into the debate of why you followed me into the ladies’ room and locked the door. Hell, I was the one in prison, Mona, don’t tell me you’re liking the girls now.”

  “Actually, I prefer to let things just play out. It’ll be more fun.”

  Mace stopped with her hand on the doorknob. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  “I can bag two Perrys for the price of one. Beth tries to get you reinstated. I show she crossed the line. She gets dumped from her job and you never wear the uniform again. It’s the Christmas that keeps on giving.”

  Mace slammed the door behind her.


  WHEN MACE returned to the table Roy obviously sensed something was wrong. “You okay?”

  “Yeah, there was just something really disgusting in the ladies’ room.”

  As she finished her Coke in one gulp Roy said, “The cops came and got the key.”

  “Yeah, I know. Messed up there.”

  “I did?”

  “No, I did. I forgot how smart my sister is.”

  “She knew you’d taken the key?”

  Mace nodded. “And if it happens again my butt will be right back in prison.”

  “Your sister is not going to arrest you.”

  “You don’t know Beth then.”


  “Drop it, Roy!”

  “Okay.” He fiddled with his drink. “I’ve been thinking about Abe Altman.”

  Mace said absently, “What about him? Want to renegotiate my deal?”

  “I was thinking that there is no way he got a research grant that would pay an assistant six figures.”

  Now Mace looked curious. “I was wondering that too. What do you think?”

  “That he’s not taking a salary and he’s giving those dollars to you. I mean, it’s not like he needs the cash.”

  “Still nice of him, though,” she pointed out.

  “Well, it sounds like he wouldn’t be here except for you.”

  “He was exaggerating.”

  “Why do I think that’s bullshit?”

  Mace shrugged. “Think what you want.”

  “I heard a snippet on the news that a DA was found murdered.”

  “Jamie Meldon. Did you know him?”

  “No, you?”

  She shook her head.

  “I guess your sister has her hands full. That’s a high-profile case.”

  “Actually, she’s not working it.”

  “Why not? He was found in D.C.”

  “Above everybody’s pay grades, apparently.”

  Mace sat there staring off, mulling Mona’s words. She finally looked over at Roy. “Did you have time to do any snooping around your firm?”

  “I did.”


  “Ackerman’s office was clean. In fact, I’m not sure the guy does anything.”

  “What do you reckon he makes for doing nothing?”

  “Seven figures,

  “I hate lawyers.”

  “But he’s a rainmaker. The biggest in the firm. He brings major deals in like clockwork. The worker bees like me get paid well. But the rainmakers get the gold.”

  “Good for him. What else?”

  Roy brought her up to speed on the rest of what he learned, including his inspection of the fourth-floor construction site and his conversation with the construction supervisor and later discussion with the building’s day porter.

  Mace jumped to her feet. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me that before?”

  “Tell you what before? I just talked to the guy this afternoon.”

  “That was the day porter. You said you talked to the supervisor a lot earlier.”

  “Okay, so?”

  Mace dropped some cash on the table for the drinks.

  “Where are you going?”

  “We’re going to your office building. Right now.”

  He stood and grabbed his windbreaker. “My office? Why?”

  “Not your office, your office building, and hopefully you’ll get to see why.”

  “You want to follow me on your bike?”

  “No, I need to hide in the floorboard of your car.”

  “What? Why?”

  “Because I’m apparently being hovered!”


  THEY RODE up in the elevator to the front lobby from the garage.

  “What exactly are we looking for here?” he asked as he followed Mace across the lobby to the office elevators.

  “A case I worked about five years ago.”

  God, if it could only be. Nail the bastard. Get back on the force. To hell with Mona. And they couldn’t touch Beth. It would be all me.


  “Just hang tight. I don’t like questions while I’m on the hunt.” She slipped her hand into her jacket pocket.

  “Are you carrying a gun?”

  “No, but a girl can protect herself, right?”

  They got in the elevator. When Roy moved to hit the floor button for Shilling & Murdoch, Mace grabbed his arm.

  “I said office building. We might do your office later.”

  “Do what in it?”

  “You’re a real funny guy, Roy.”

  She pushed the button for the third floor. Moments later they both peered out into the semi-darkened space.

  “Now what?” Roy said in a confused voice. “Do we push all the floor buttons and then go running from the building laughing hysterically and look for a car to teepee?”

  “Which way are the fire exit stairs?”

  He led her down the hall past darkened offices and pointed to a door near the end of the corridor. Mace yanked it open with Roy right behind. She pointed to a door set into the wall by the fire exit door. She opened it. It was a broom closet.

  “Are there more of these?”

  “There’s one on the first floor too.”

  “Boy, this place has great security,” Mace said. “You arm the front doors, hire a security guard, albeit a loser one, and then secure the office elevators and the office suites and you don’t secure the garage elevators? And then you have a perfect hiding place for some scumball right in the building?”

  “The original building developer declared bankruptcy and the people who took it over finished construction on the cheap, and that didn’t include secure garage elevators. No one wanted to pay for a retrofit.”

  “Well, I bet they will now. Okay, even if you come in through the garage you have to pass by the security desk to get to the fire exit stairs. You said the construction crew checks out at five-thirty and they don’t work weekends. Ned comes on at six and exits at six. Exterior doors, office elevator, and your office suite all go secure at eight p.m. and go off at eight a.m. That leaves a huge window.”

  “Window for what?”

  “Oh come on. Did you hit your head on the basketball rim one too many times?”

  They continued up the stairs and the next door she opened was to the fourth floor. It revealed almost total darkness. Mace scooted forward and crouched down behind some building materials. Roy knelt next to her. “What are we looking for?” he whispered.

  “Know it when I see it.”

  They crept forward with Mace in the lead. Roy noted that she moved like a cat, no noise, no unnecessary movement. He tried as best he could to mimic her. He did find that his hands were growing sweaty, and his pulse banged in his eardrums.

  A minute later she stopped and pointed. Roy saw the dim wash of light coming from a far corner of the space where it wouldn’t be directly seen from the windows.

  Mace reached in her pocket and pulled something out. Roy couldn’t see exactly what it was.

  “Now what?” he murmured.

  “You stay here. If somebody other than me comes flying past, trip them and then bash them on the head with like a two-by-four or something.”

  “Bash them on the head? That’s a felony assault. And what if he has a gun?”

  “Okay, sissy boy, let him kill you and then your survivors can file a civil suit against the bastard for wrongful death. I’ll leave it up to you.”

  She headed on while he took cover behind a large toolbox on wheels. He looked around the floor and picked up a block of wood. His fingers gripped the chunk tightly and he mumbled a prayer that no one would come running by.

  And I am not a sissy boy.


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