True blue, p.2
True Blue, p.2David Baldacci
It was said that she liked this place much better than she ever had her world on the outside. In here Juanita was queen bee. Out there she was just another GED-less fat chick to punch the hell out of, courier drugs and guns through, or make babies with before the man abandoned her. Outside prison Mace had known a thousand Juanitas. She was doomed from the moment she’d tumbled from the womb.
That might have explained why Juanita had done enough crazy stuff inside here, including two aggravated assaults and a weapons and drugs bust, to tack twelve more years onto her original sentence. At that rate the woman would be here until they hauled her carcass out and slipped it into a potter’s field somewhere. Her fat and bones would soon fertilize the earth and no one would either care or remember her.
However, that left the living woman with nothing to lose, and that’s precisely what made her so dangerous, because it carved normal societal inhibitors right out of her brain pattern. That one factor turned mush to titanium. No matter how many reps or laps Mace did, she could never match what Juanita had. Mace still had compassion, still had remorse. Juanita no longer had either, if she ever did.
Mace held the fork ready. Her gaze drifted for a moment to Juanita’s wide hand planted flat on the table, orange nail polish muted against her skin that was obscured only by a tattoo of what looked to be a spider. An obvious target, the hand.
Not tonight. I already two-stepped with Beer Belly. I’m not dancing with you too.
Mace kept walking and slid her tray and utensils into the dirty bin.
Only as she was leaving did she glance over at Juanita, to find the woman still watching her. Keeping her gaze dead on Mace, Juanita whispered something to one of her crew, a gangly lily white named Rose. Rose was in here for nearly decapitating her husband’s sexy plaything in a bar restroom using the gutting knife hubby kept for his fish catches. Mace had heard that the husband hadn’t come to Rose’s trial, but only because he was so upset she’d ruined his best blade. It was definitely more the stuff of Jerry Springer retro than Oprah couch chatter.
Mace watched as Rose nodded and grinned, showing the nineteen teeth she had remaining in her gaping mouth. It was hard to believe she was perhaps once a little girl playing dress-up, sitting on her father’s knee, forming her cursive letters, cheering at a high school football game, dreaming about something other than one hundred and eighty months in a cage playing second fiddle to a bloated queen bee with the mental makeup of Jeffrey Dahmer.
Rose had visited Mace on the second day she’d been here and told her that Juanita was the messiah and what the messiah wanted, she got. When the cell door opened and the messiah appeared, she would like it. Those were the rules. That was just the way it was in Juanita Land. Mace had declined Juanita’s offer several times. And before things had truly gotten out of hand, Juanita had suddenly backed off. Mace thought she knew why but wasn’t sure. Yet it had led to two years of fighting for her life every day, using her wits, her street smarts, and her newly found muscle.
Mace trudged to Cell Block B and the doors slammed into place behind all of them at precisely seven p.m. So much for another exciting Sunday night. She sat on the steel bed with a mattress so thin laid over it that Mace could almost see right through the damn thing. Over the two years she’d slept on it her body had absorbed every buckle and bend in the old metal. She had three more days to go. Well, now really only two, if she made it through the night.
Juanita knew when Mace was getting out. That’s why she’d tripped her, tried to bait her. She didn’t want Mace to leave. So Mace sat in her cell, crouched into a hard, tight wedge in the corner. Her fists were clenched and there was something shiny and sharp in each one of them that she kept hidden in a place not even the guards could find. The darkness came and then strengthened into the time of night when you figured nothing much good was going to happen because the evil that was coming scared all the good away. And then she waited some more. Because she knew, at some point, her cell door would open as the guards on the night shift looked the other way in consideration for drugs or sex, or both.
And the messiah would appear with one goal in mind: to never again let Mace experience the light of a free day. For two years she’d been building herself up for this moment. Her buffed body waited with anticipation as adrenaline pumped with each exhalation of breath.
Three minutes later the cell door slid open, and there she was.
Only it wasn’t Juanita.
This visitor was tall too, over six feet with the one-inch polished boots she wore. And the uniform was not like that of the guards. She wore it well, not a baggy part or dirt stain to be seen. The hair was blond and smelled good in a way that no hair in here ever could.
The visitor took a step forward, and though it was dark, there was enough light coming from somewhere out there that Mace could see the four stars on each shoulder. There were eleven ranks in the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department, and those four stars represented the highest one of them all.
Mace looked up, her hands still clenched, as the woman looked down.
“Hey, sis,” said the D.C. chief of police. “What say we get you the hell out of here?”
ROY KINGMAN pump-faked once and then darted a bounce pass between his defender’s legs and into the paint, where a giant with rockets in his legs named Joachim stuffed it home, the top of his head almost above the rim.
“That’s twenty-one and I’m done,” said Roy, the sweat trickling down his face.
The ten young men collected their things and shuffled off to the showers. It was six-thirty in the morning and Roy had already gotten in three games of five-on-five full-court at his sports club in northwest D.C. It had been eight years since he’d suited up for the University of Virginia Cavaliers as their starting point guard. At “only” six-two without rockets in his legs, Roy had still led his team to an ACC championship his senior year through hard work, smart court sense, good fundamentals, and a bit of luck. That luck had run out in the quarters of the NCAA when they’d slammed headfirst into perennial power Kansas.
The Jayhawks’ point guard had been a blur of cat quickness and numbing agility, and, at only six feet tall, could easily dunk. He’d poured in twelve threes, mostly with Roy’s hand in his face, dished off ten assists, and harassed the Cavs’ normally solid point man into more turnovers than baskets. It was not exactly how Roy wanted to remember his four-year collegiate career. Yet now, of course, that was the only way he could recall it.
He showered, dressed in a white polo shirt, gray slacks, and a blue sports jacket, his standard work wear, threw his bag in the trunk of his silver Audi, and headed to work. It was still only a little past seven, but his job demanded a long, full day.
At seven-thirty he pulled into the parking garage of his office building in Georgetown located on the waterfront, snagged his briefcase off the front seat, chirped his Audi locks shut, and rode the elevator car to the lobby. He said hello to Ned the thirty-something heavyset guard, who was cramming a sausage biscuit into his mouth while leisurely turning the pages of the latest Muscle Mag. Roy knew that if Ned had to get up from his chair and simply shuffle fast after a bad guy, he not only would never catch him but someone also would have to perform mouth-to-mouth on old Ned.
As long as it’s not me.
He stepped on the office elevator and punched the button for the sixth floor after swiping his key card through the slot. Less than a minute later he reached his office suite. Since Shilling & Murdoch didn’t open until eight-thirty, he also had to use his key card to release the lock on the law firm’s glass doors.
Shilling & Murdoch had forty-eight lawyers in D.C., twenty in London, and two in the Dubai office. Roy had been to all three places. He’d flown to the Middle East in the private plane of some sheik who had business dealings with one of Shilling’s clients. It had been an Airbus A380, the world’s largest commercial airliner, capable of carrying about six hundred ordinary people or twenty extraordi
He walked down the hall to his office. The law firm’s space was nice, but far from ostentatious, and downright slum-dogging it compared to the ride on the A380. All Roy needed was a desk, a chair, a computer, and a phone. The only upgrade in his office was a basketball hoop on the back of the door that he would shoot a little rubber ball into while yakking on the phone or thinking.
In return for ten- or eleven-hour days and the occasional week-end work he was paid $220,000 per annum as a base with an expected bonus/profit share on top of that of another $60,000, plus gold-plated health care and a month of paid vacation with which to frolic to his heart’s content. Raises averaged about ten percent a year, so next cycle he would ratchet to over three hundred grand. Not bad for an ex-jock only five years out of law school and with only twenty-four months at this firm.
He was a deal guy now, so he never set foot in a courtroom. Best of all, he didn’t have to write down a single billable hour because all clients of the firm were on comprehensive retainers unless something extraordinary happened, which never had since Roy had worked here. He’d spent three years as a solo practitioner in private practice. He’d wanted to get on with the public defender’s office in D.C., but that was one of the premier indigent representation outfits in the country and the competition for a slot was intense. So Roy had become a Criminal Justice Act, or CJA, attorney. That sounded important, but it only meant he was on a court-approved list of certified lawyers who were willing basically to take the crumbs the public defender’s office didn’t want.
Roy had had his one-room legal shop a few blocks over from D.C. Superior Court in office space that he’d shared with six other attorneys. In fact, they’d also shared one secretary, a part-time paralegal, one copier/fax, and thousands of gallons of bad coffee. Since most of Roy’s clients had been guilty he’d spent much of his time negotiating plea deals with U.S. attorneys, or DAs, as they were called, since in the nation’s capital they prosecuted all crimes. The only time the DAs wanted to go to trial was to get their in-court hours up or to arbitrarily kick some ass, because the evidence was usually so clear that a guilty verdict was almost inevitable.
He’d dreamed of playing in the NBA until he’d finally accepted that there were a zillion guys better than he would ever be, and almost none of them would make the leap to professional hoops. That was the principal reason Roy had gone to law school; his ball skills weren’t good enough for the pros and he couldn’t consistently knock down the threes. He wondered occasionally how many other tall lawyers were walking around with the very same history.
After getting some work lined up for his secretary when she came in, he needed some coffee. It was right at eight o’clock as he walked down the hall to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. The kitchen staff kept the coffee in there so it would stay fresher longer.
Roy didn’t get the coffee.
Instead he caught the woman’s body as it tumbled out of the fridge.
THEY RODE in a black Town Car, an SUV loaded with security behind them. Mace glanced over at her older sister, Elizabeth, known as Beth to her friends and some of her professional colleagues. However, most people just called her Chief.
Mace turned and looked at the tail car. “Why the caravan?”
“No special reason.”
“Why come tonight?”
Beth Perry looked at the uniformed driver in front of her. “Keith, turn some tunes on up there. I don’t want you falling asleep. On these roads we’ll end up driving off the side of a mountain.”
“Right, Chief.” Keith dutifully turned on the radio and Kim Carnes’s jagged voice reached them in the backseat as she crooned “Bette Davis Eyes.”
Beth turned to her sister. When she spoke her voice was low. “This way we avoid the press. And just so you know, I’ve had eyes and ears in that place from day one. I tried to run interference the best I could for you.”
“So that’s why the cow backed off.”
“You mean Juanita?”
“I mean the cow.”
She lowered her voice further. “I figured they’d planned on giving you a parting gift. That was the reason I showed up early.”
It irritated Mace that the chief of police had to have the radio playing and whisper in her own car, but she understood why. Ears were everywhere. At her sister’s level, it wasn’t just about law enforcement; it was about politics.
“How’d you manage the release two days ahead of schedule?”
“Time reduced for good behavior. You’d earned yourself forty-eight whole hours of freedom.”
“Over two years, it doesn’t seem like that big an accomplishment.”
“It’s not, actually.” She patted Mace on the arm and smiled. “Not that I would have expected it from you.”
“Where do I go from here?”
“I thought you could crash at my place. I’ve got plenty of room. The divorce was final six months ago. Ted’s long gone.”
Her sister’s eight-year marriage to Ted Blankenship had started to unravel before Mace had gone to prison. It had ended with no kids and a husband who hated his ex principally because she was smarter and more successful than he ever would be.
“I hope my being in prison didn’t contribute to the downfall.”
“What contributed is that my taste in men sucks. So I’m Beth Perry again.”
“Still married to Moneybags and the same pain in the ass as always.”
“She never came to see me. Never wrote me a single letter.”
“Just let it go, Mace. That’s who she is and neither one of us is going to change the woman.”
“What about my condo?”
Beth glanced out the window and Mace saw her frown in the reflection off the glass. “I kept it going as long as I could, but the divorce took a big slice out of my pocketbook. I ended up paying alimony to Ted. The papers had a field day with that even though the file was supposed to be sealed.”
“I hate the press. And for the record I always hated Ted.”
“Anyway, the bank foreclosed on your condo four months ago.”
“Without telling me? They can do that?”
“You appointed me as your power of attorney before you went in. So they notified me.”
“So you couldn’t tell me?”
Beth glared at her. “And what exactly would you have done if I had?”
“It still would’ve been nice to know,” Mace said grumpily.
“I’m sorry. It was a judgment call on my part. At least you didn’t end up owing anything on it.”
“Do I have anything left?”
“After we paid off the legal bills for your defense—”
“That was the other reason I couldn’t keep paying on the condo. The lawyers always get their money. And you would’ve done the same for me.”
“Like you ever would’ve ended up in a pile of crap like this.”
“Do you want the rest of the bad news?”
“Why not? We’re on a roll.”
“Your personal investment account got wiped out like everybody else’s in the economic freefall. Your police pension was history the moment you were convicted. You have a grand total of one thousand two hundred and fifteen dollars in your checking account. I talked your creditors into knocking your debt down to about six grand and got them to defer payments until you got back on your feet.”
Mace was silent for a long minute as the car rolled along winding roads on the way to the interstate that would eventually carry them into Virginia and then on to D.C. “In all your free time while you were running the tenth largest police force in
“I did manage to keep one thing for you.”
“You’ll see when we get there.”
True Blue by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes