True blue, p.19
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       True Blue, p.19
 

           David Baldacci

  cop and bandit here, she knew, was both as thin and as thick as it could get. No layperson would understand what she meant by that, but any cop instantly would.

  She looked up. It was straight ahead. Lodged in the middle of Six D like a glioblastoma among more ordinary tumors. It was an abandoned apartment building that had seen more drugs, death, and perversity than possibly any single building in the city. The cops had hit it time and again, but the bandits always returned, like an anthill after a blast of Diazinon granules. On the roof of this place she’d had her O.P., or observation post, set up, principally because no bandit would ever believe that a cop could infiltrate it. It had taken Mace a month of undercover work to wedge her way into this world, her camera and scopes hidden in her bulky clothing while she bought and sold drugs and fended off the sexual thrusts of an array of predators with her Glock 37 and a fast mouth. That was one of the good things about undercover work in that place. Not having a gun would have seemed suspicious, since everyone else was packing.

  The roof had a dead-on view of a drug dropoff used by a trio of Latino brothers who had run one of the most violent gangs in D.C. Mace had been in Major Narcotics at the time, but she was looking for far more than just another drug bust. These guys were suspected in more than a dozen murders. Mace was taking pictures and members of her joint task force were tapping their cell phone conversations in hopes of taking the Lats down for life.

  Nothing much had changed about the place. It was still a dump, still mostly abandoned, but no longer a beehive of criminal activity since Beth had placed a police satellite station on the first floor of the building. Two of the Lats had moved to the Houston area, or so she’d heard through the prison grapevine. The third brother had been found in Rock Creek Park, more skeleton than corpse. Word was his older brothers had found him skimming profits off their rock bag trade. Apparently, tough love started at home for those boys. Mace was convinced that the brothers had discovered her undercover surveillance either through the streets, dumb luck, or a mole at MPD and then exacted their revenge.

  Why couldn’t you have just put a round in my head? Quicker, less painful.

  It occurred to Mace now, more vividly than it ever had during her two years in prison, that the bastards who set her up were probably going to get away with it. While lying on that metal bed she’d constructed all these elaborate plans about how she would follow up the most insignificant clue, spend every waking moment on the case, until she got them. And then she would march triumphant to the police station with her captured bandits and all would be right with the world.

  Perched on her Ducati, she shook her head in bewilderment. Did I really believe that?

  Thirty percent of the D.C. blues thought she was guilty. That represented twelve hundred cops. Thirty sounded a lot better than twelve hundred. Mace knew she shouldn’t care, that it really didn’t matter, but it did matter to her. She eyed the alley where she’d stepped out late at night after staring through a telephoto lens for hours and her life had changed forever. The soaked rag over her mouth that turned her brain to jelly. The strong arms pinning hers to her sides. The squeal of wheels, the fast ride to hell. The needle sticks, the nose snorts, the liquid poured down her throat. The retching, the sobbing, the moaning, the cursing. But mostly the sobbing. They’d broken her. It had taken a lot, but they’d won.

  If I catch you, I will kill you. But it doesn’t look like I will. And where exactly does that leave me? Hoping a homeless vet goes down for murder so I can say I caught him and get my stripes back?

  And what about the key and the e-mail? How could Dockery have anything to do with that? There was obviously more there than what Mace had first thought.

  Her mental pirouettes were interrupted when she heard the sound near her moments before she saw him. Her hand went to her pocket. The guy was black with a shaved head, only a few inches taller than she, but about ninety pounds heavier with none of it fat. Bandits, she knew, tended to work out religiously, just so they could outrun and outfight the cops if it came down to it. And it usually did at some point.

  “Nice bike,” he said. He wore a hoodie, jeans, and tongue-out burgundy-and-white basketball shoes.

  Mace lifted her visor. “Yeah, I hear that a lot.”

  She knew he had a pistol in his right hoodie pocket, and the slight bulge in his pants bottom evidenced the throwaway strapped to the inside of his left ankle. Her hand tightened on the object in her own pocket.

  “I bet you do. Probably don’t hear this tho’.” He pulled out a bulky semi-auto that Mace knew with a glance was an inaccurate knockoff piece of crap, but then you didn’t have to be a Marine sniper to drop someone at a distance of two feet. “I want it.”

  “Can you afford the payments?”

  He pointed the muzzle at her forehead. “’Less they making helmets with Kevlar, I think I can. And pull your hand outcha coat real damn slow or I’ll kill you, bitch.”

  “It’s just a phone.”

  “Show me.”

  She edged out her phone and held it up. “See, just a Nokia 357.”

  “You a funny bitch.”

  “You haven’t heard the punch line.”

  “Yeah? What’s that?”

  The burst of pepper spray hit him in both pupils. He screamed, dropped his gun, and fell back on the sidewalk clawing at his eyes. She pocketed the pepper spray cannon that looked like a phone that she’d bought from Binder’s personal defense shop. “I got the all-inclusive caller plan with self-defense add-on.”

  She snagged his pistol, dropped the mag, cleared the chamber of the lead round, and tossed the gun into a garbage can. His throw-away, an old .22 wheel gun, got the same treatment after she managed to tug up his pants leg and snag it from the ankle strap while he was gyrating uncontrollably. She got back on her bike and stared down at him still rolling and yelping on the pavement. “What’s your name?”

  “My eyes are burning out my head, bitch!”

  “Then stop trying to rob people. Now what’s your name?”

  “I’ll kill you, bitch. I’ll kill you.”

  “Interesting, but not getting us anywhere. Name?”

  “I ain’t telling you my damn name.”

  “Tell me your name and I’ll give you something to make the sting go away.”

  He stopped rolling, but his hands were still crammed against his eye sockets. “What!” he screamed.

  “It’s in my other pocket. Name?”

  “Razor.”

  “Real name.”

  “Darren.”

  “Darren what?”

  “I’m dying here!”

  “Last name?”

  “Shit, dammit. Kill you, muther!”

  “Name?” she repeated calmly.

  “Rogers! Okay! Rogers!”

  “Okay, Darren Rogers.” She pulled a small spray bottle from her other pocket. “Look at me.”

  “What?”

  “Look at me, Darren, if you want the burn to go away.”

  He stopped writhing and sat up on his haunches, his fists still buried in his face.

  “It doesn’t work that way. Open your eyes and look at me.”

  He slowly pulled his hands away and managed to keep open his teary, inflamed eyes while his entire body shook with the effort. She sprayed both pupils with the liquid from the bottle. Within a few seconds, Darren sat back and took a deep breath. “What the hell is that shit?”

  “Magic.”

  “Why’d you do me like that?”

  “Call me overly sensitive, but it might have been the whole gun-robbery-kill-you-bitch thing.”

  “You even know where the hell you are? You from Iowa or something? Ain’t no monuments ’round here, lady.”

  “Actually, I was born in D.C. and my office was right here for years.”

  Darren stood and started to rub his eyes, but she snapped, “You’ve got the pepper crap on your hands, Darren. Rub your eyes you go right back to screaming, and magic may not strike twice.”
r />   He let his hands swing at his side. “What’d you do with my guns?”

  “In the can over there. Took the ammo out. By the way, the slider on your semi is for shit; jams every second shot. And your .22 throw-away is only good for a laugh.”

  “I paid two hundred bucks for that semi.”

  “Then you got ripped off. It’s also about as accurate as a TEC-9 at a thousand yards, which translates to anything you hit with it is sheer luck.”

  “You know a lot ’bout guns?”

  “In many ways, they were once my best friends.”

  “You a crazy bitch.”

  “There’s that word again.”

  “What the hell you want to know my name for?”

  “You live ’round here?”

  “Why, you a cop?”

  “No, just curious.”

  “Grew up couple blocks away,” he said sullenly.

  “What crew you with? Lots to choose from down here.”

  “Ain’t got no crew.”

  “What, you failed the initiation?”

  “Ain’t got no crew,” he repeated stubbornly.

  “Okay, maybe there are a few freelance gun toters around here and maybe you’re one of them.”

  “So what if I am?”

  “So with crappy weapons and no crew how come you’re still alive?”

  “Why you think they call me Razor?”

  “Let me take a wild guess and say because you’re really sharp?”

  “I get by.”

  He took a menacing step toward her, one hand shielding his face.

  She held up the phone. “Don’t even think about it, Darren. This button turns my little phone into a one-million-volt Taser and you into a Fry Daddy.”

  He dropped his hand and took a step back.

  “You got family?” she asked.

  “Can I get my crappy guns out the trash now?”

  “After I’m gone. They don’t call me Razor but I’m pretty sharp too.”

  “What you doing down here?” He looked around. “Like you say, lotta crews.”

  “They’re too busy popping each other to worry about me. But thanks for the concern.”

  “I don’t give a shit if you get your head blown off. Why should I?”

  “Not a reason in the world. Go get your crappy guns, Razor, and enjoy what little time you’ve got left.” She hit the gas and the Ducati roared off.

  CHAPTER 43

  MACE HEARD the car long before she saw it.

  She checked her side mirror. Black sedan, tinted glass, big motor, and the rear passenger-side window easing down. Never a good scenario, especially in this part of D.C.

  She hit the throttle and the Ducati leapt forward, but the sedan still muscled up closer. She saw the gun muzzle with a suppressor can through the slit of the open window. The shooter took aim through the scope on his sniper rifle while his partner handled the wheel with an expert touch. The crosshairs settled on Mace’s helmet and the man’s finger closed on the trigger. Sensing that the shooter had drawn his bead, Mace was about to jump the curb when there was a squeal of rubber. Another car flew between the sedan and Mace, and banged against the big car.

  The man fired right at the instant the collision occurred and his shot got screwed. Instead of the round drilling a black hole in Mace’s head, the driver’s-side window of the car between Mace and the shooter exploded, with glass fragments propelled outward like tiny meteors.

  Mace recognized the car that had saved her. “Roy!” she screamed.

  The shooter cursed and fired again while his partner slammed the sedan into the smaller Audi. Roy ducked down as the second round zipped over his head and shattered the passenger window. He cut the wheel hard to the left and the Audi punched the sedan’s front fender at just the right angle to send the bigger car into a counterclockwise spin. The shooter pulled his rifle back and closed the window while the driver tried to steer the car out of the spin.

  Roy hit the gas and the Audi pulled next to Mace. Roy looked at her through the open window.

  “I’ve got your back,” he said gamely, glassy debris in his hair, his eyes wide with adrenaline and fear.

  Mace lifted her visor and yelled, “Are you nuts!”

  “Apparently, yeah,” he said a little breathlessly.

  “What the hell are you doing here?”

  “Like I just said, watching your back.”

  “They could’ve killed you.”

  “But they didn’t. Right?”

  Mace checked their six.

  The sedan had pulled out of the spin and was bearing down on both of them, its eight cylinders popping.

  “Well, here they come again.”

  Roy looked behind him. “Oh, shit. Now what?”

  Mace shouted, “Follow me, Roy.”

  CHAPTER 44

  THE DUCATI hit ninety on a straight strip of road and then Mace decelerated and leaned into the turn at sixty. The battered Audi barely made the cut, its left rear taking out a line of trash cans on the curb, catapulting days-old garbage in all directions as Roy fought the wheel and finally righted the slide and fell in behind her ride.

  Mace flicked her gaze in the mirror and saw the sedan take the turn while barely slowing. Her mind galloped as her observations roared into deductions. Pro driver. So probably pro shooter in the rear seat. She didn’t want to find out how good he was. The third shot would not be all that charming for her or Roy.

  Mace’s knowledge of the area served her well. Whenever she saw the sedan edging up on Roy, she would rip down a side street, forcing the bigger car to fall back a bit. They did this dodge and dart for three more blocks while passing bandits doing business, but not a single blue working the streets that Mace could see.

  Lazy asses!

  She had no choice but to go for it. Up ahead was the church parking lot. She spied two cruisers still at the hoodle. She leaned into the turn, hit the lot, went fully airborne over a speed bump, and soared right at the twin rides of D.C.’s finest. She braked hard, almost laying the Ducati down, but the rear wheel tread fought the torque and held to the asphalt. The Audi torched the pavement with burned rubber as Roy smashed down on the brakes. Before Mace even got her helmet off or Roy leapt from his car, the cops were out, frozen in classic firing stances, gun muzzles aimed at Roy’s and Mace’s foreheads.

  “Hands on your heads, fingers interlocked, and down on your knees. Now!” screamed one of them.

  With slight panic Mace noticed that Tony and his rookie were not among this group. He must’ve gotten a call and left. She studied the four cops aligned against her. All men, all big, all looking pissed off. And she didn’t know a single one. She glanced at Roy, who was taking a step forward, gallantly trying to put his body between her and them. She stopped his gallantry by driving her elbow in his side and pushing him behind her. She knew the look in the cops’ eyes. She’d had it herself plenty of times. They were one second and one wrong move from unloading with double taps to the head and heart. Even shitty shooters couldn’t miss at this
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