True blue, p.18
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       True Blue, p.18

           David Baldacci
slower 1  faster


  She sighed and looked out Roy’s office window. Marked and unmarked cars were slung around the front with uniforms and plain-clothes standing around, probably wondering when they could either go back on patrol or return to their hoodles and wait for their radios to bark.

  No one was coming out of the building yet, so Mace sighed and lifted her gaze from the front entrance to the building across from where she was.

  When she saw the neon, at first she couldn’t believe it.


  She looked down at her key and back at the flashing sign. How in the hell had she missed it? It was purple! But then again she’d never looked out this window at night. But still. Some detective she was.

  She snatched the phone from her pocket and fired off a text to Roy.

  Come on, Roy, we need to talk like right now.


  ROY SNATCHED a peek at his phone after it started to vibrate in his pants pocket. This did not escape the attention of Beth, who was standing near him.

  He looked up from the screen and found her gaze on him.

  “Dubai calling?” she said coolly.

  “No, just a bud in town.”

  “Bud’s up late.”

  “We’re both night owls.”

  “Good for you,” she said, her tone of skepticism delivered like a cannon shot.

  “Are we done here, Chief?”

  “For now. But next time you hear strange sounds, call the police.”

  “You have my word.”

  “It’s a good thing you don’t do trial work anymore.”

  “Why’s that?”

  “Because your bullshitting skills aren’t that good.”

  She turned and marched out of the building while Roy sprinted for the stairs.

  Mace was waiting at the front doors to the law firm.

  “What the hell is it?” he said as she grabbed his arm and pulled him into the suite. “Your sister was still with me when you sent the text.”

  “Come on.”

  They hustled to Roy’s office.

  Mace went to the window, Roy beside her. She pointed out. “Tell me what you see.”

  He scanned the darkness. “Buildings. The street. A pissed-off police chief.”

  “Think Viagra.”



  He saw the large purple neon sign over the door of a ground-floor shop in the building directly across from his. “A-1 Mailboxes! That’s what the key’s for?”

  “That’s right, genius. Focus in on? Try key on A-1. Right across the stupid courtyard.”

  “She must’ve figured it was outside my window and the e-mail she sent would be enough for me to figure it out.” He looked chagrined. “I’ve been looking out this stupid window all day. But you figured it out.”

  “Don’t feel too bad. If I hadn’t looked out the window to see if my big sister was scaling the building like King Kong to grab my butt I never would’ve seen it.”

  “But now we can’t do anything. The police have the key.”

  “Roy, Roy, I’m disappointed.” She held up her key.

  “You made a copy?”

  “Of course I made a copy.”

  “Mace, that’s evidence tampering. That’s illegal.”

  “Now do you understand why I put you on retainer? So you can’t squeal on me.”

  “I could lose my license over this!”

  “Yeah, but you probably won’t.”

  “Probably again? I don’t like those odds.”

  “Fine, you can sit this one out. I’ll check out the mailbox tomorrow.”

  “But you don’t know which mailbox was hers.”

  “Roy, again, I’m very disappointed in you.”

  “You have a way to find that out?”

  “There’s always a way.”

  “Just so you know, your sister clearly didn’t buy my cover story.”

  “Of course she didn’t. Contrary to popular belief, one does not get to be police chief of a major city by being either stupid or gullible.”

  “Mace, what if she finds out you’re investigating this thing on your own?”

  “Well, there’s always suicide.”

  “I’m being serious.”

  “Look, I know it’s risky and stupid, but I’ve got my reasons.”

  “What are they?”

  “Let’s just say I had a revelation while taking a pee in the ladies’ room. Now give me a ride back to the hotel. I need to pick up my bike.”

  “Okay, I need some shuteye too.”

  “I didn’t say I was going to bed.”

  “What are you going to do?”

  “Until we can check out the mailbox I need something else to occupy my mind. So I’m going to see some old friends.”

  “At this hour?”

  “They do their best work in the dark.”

  He stared at her for a long moment. “You’re not a cop anymore, Mace. You don’t have the shield to back you up. These gangs are dangerous.”

  “As you should have realized by now, I can take care of myself.”

  “I’ll go with you then.”

  “No. Me they’ll tolerate. You, they’ll kill, okay?”

  “Don’t do this. It’s nuts.”

  “No, this is my world.”


  MACE SLOWED her ride and then stopped. She’d changed in the hotel bathroom, trading in her Café Milano outfit and strappy heels for worn jeans, leather jacket, and her favorite pair of ass-stomping boots that an FBI Hostage Rescue Team assaulter with a crush on her had had made especially for her. She’d bolted through a series of main roads, back streets, and several alleys that she knew all too well. If anyone still had been tailing her, she was pretty sure that they no longer were. She waited three minutes and then reversed her route just to make certain. Nothing. She smiled.

  Hoverees, one, Hoverers, zip.

  Mace lifted her visor and did a quick recon. The part of D.C. she was in right now, within smelling distance of the Anacostia River, was not listed on any official map of the area for the simple reason that robbed, assaulted, or murdered out-of-towners were never good publicity for the tourism industry. Even with the new ballpark and attempts at gentrification in nearby areas, there were sections of turf here that even some of the blue tended to avoid if they could. After all, they wanted to go home to their families at the end of the day too.

  Mace hit the throttle and moved on. She knew there were eyes everywhere, and she was also listening for the sounds of “whoop-whoop” or collective cries of “Five-O.” This was the way the folks around here let it be known that blues were in town. The bandits’ network even knew which fleet the MPD used for unmarked cars. Since the fleet purchases were large, the police force had to keep them for about three years. Before Mace had gone to prison, the array of unmarked cars had all been blue Chevy Luminas. Every night she’d heard the whoop-whoops as soon as she pulled down the street in her glow-blue ride. She’d gotten so ticked off she’d started renting cars with her own cash.

  In one ear she had a bud connected to a police radio she wore on her belt. She was scanning calls to see where the action was. So far it was a quiet night, at least by D.C. standards. She figured she might find some useful intel at a hoodle.

  Along the way she passed a bunch of hoopties, old junked cars lining the street. Many of them, she knew from experience, were probably stolen, used for a crime, and then dumped here. Yet enclosed spaces were popular around here for multiple reasons, so from habit, Mace peered in a few as she passed by. One was empty, one had a syringe shooter getting happy juice up his arm, and the last one was a fornication feature starring two girls and one very drunk guy who she knew would wake up in about an hour with his wallet gone.

  Mace pulled slowly into a church parking lot and spotted a trio of cruisers parked side by side hood to trunk. This was a hoodle, the place where cops who’d made their rounds went until the dispatcher’s sq
uawk over the radio brought them back to fighting crime. She knew better than to zoom into this little circled wagon train. You didn’t want to get drawn down on because you interrupted the rest of a stressed-out patrol officer. She stopped her bike well in front of one of the cruisers facing her, took off her helmet, and waved. Chances were good that she knew at least one of the blues in these rides, and her hunch was proven correct when one of the cop cars blinked its lights at her.

  She slipped off her Ducati and walked over. The driver of the first cruiser slid down his window and the man leaned out his head.

  He said, “Damn, Mace, heard you got your ass lifted out of West Virginia. Good to see you, girl.”

  Mace leaned down and rested her elbows on the ledge of the open window. “Hey, Tony, how’s hoodle time?”

  Tony was in his mid-forties with a thick neck, burly shoulders, and forearms the size of Mace’s thighs, all the result of serious gym time. He’d been a good friend to Mace and had provided her with flawless backup on more than one occasion when she’d been with Major Narcotics. Next to him was a Panasonic Toughbook laptop that was about as important to a cop as a gun—although the most important piece of equipment any cop carried was his radio. That was his lifeline to call in help when needed.

  Tony flashed a smile. “Quiet tonight. Not so quiet last night. Did the circuit, been here twenty minutes, listening to some tunes.” He looked over at the young female cop next to him. “Francie, this is Mace Perry.”

  Francie, who had short strawberry red hair and braces and looked like she was about fifteen, smiled at Mace. Yet she had a blocky build with buffed shoulders that told you not to mess with her. Both officers wore gloves thick enough that a syringe couldn’t penetrate easily. The last thing you wanted was to stick your hand under the front seat of a car you were doing a stop-and-search on and pull it back out with a needle sticking in it. Mace had known one beat cop who’d become HIV-infected that way.

  “Hey, Francie, how long you been riding with this big old bear?”

  “Six weeks.”

  “So he’s your training officer?”


  “You could do a lot worse.”

  Tony said, “Throwing arrests her way left and right. Getting in her courtroom OT. Being a real gentleman and teacher.”

  Mace smacked him playfully on the arm. “Hell, you just don’t want to do the paperwork.”

  “Now don’t go disillusioning the girl.”

  “Sometimes I still miss roll call.”

  Tony cracked a grin. “You’re crazy, Mace. Same old, same old. Just doling out bodies and wheels and running around trying to find some damn car keys.”

  “Beats staring at a wall for two years.”

  Tony stopped smiling. “I bet it does, Mace, I bet it does.”

  “Same old same old bandits around here too?”

  “Except the ones who’re dead.”

  Mace glanced at the other cruisers. “Anybody I know?”

  “Don’t think so. They send folks all over the place now.”

  “So remind me how big your kids are?”

  “One in college, two in high school and eating me out of house and home. Even when I pull my full twenty-five and get pensioned out, gonna have to get another job.”

  “Go into consulting. Doesn’t matter what, it pays a lot better.”

  “So why don’t you tell me what the hell you’re doing out here at two a.m. on your fancy bike with no gun.”

  “How do you know I’m not packing?”

  “Can you say probation violation?”

  Mace grinned at Francie. “You see why he’s such a good T.O. Nothing gets by this guy. He looks like a musclehead but the dude’s got brains.”

  “Seriously, Mace, why here?”


  Tony laughed. “Go look in a photo album if you want that. Streets ain’t never fair, especially around here.” He turned serious. “You know that better than anybody.”

  “You’re right, I do. Only they never found out who ripped me. That’s not right.”

  “I know.”

  “So how many blues think I’m dirty?”


  “Only way that matters to me.”

  Seventy-thirty on your side.”

  “I guess it could be worse.”

  “Hell yes it could be, considering who you share DNA with.”

  “Beth is a cop’s cop. She came up right from the pavement, just like I did.”

  “But she’s also a gal and you know some still don’t like that.”

  “Well, hang in there, Tony, four more years.”

  “I’m counting, baby, every damn day.”

  She looked over at Francie. “And if Tony does pull his gun, just remember to duck. The son of a bitch never could shoot straight.”


  MACE RODE ON, venturing ever more deeply into an area that she, even with all her risk-perverse ways, shouldn’t have gone near without a weapon and a two-cruiser backup. Yet she knew exactly where she was headed. She had to see it; she wasn’t exactly sure why, only that she had to. It might have been what Mona had revealed in the bathroom. Mace could accept going down and maybe going back to prison, but what she could not accept was taking Beth with her.

  She slowed her bike, very aware of silhouettes on the streets, pairs of eyes at curtained windows, heads eased against tinted car windows, all wondering what she was doing in this area at this hour. The human ecosystem here was both fragile and extraordinarily resilient, and also one that most citizens would never experience. Yet it had fascinated Mace for most of her life. The line between
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