True blue, p.21
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       True Blue, p.21

           David Baldacci
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  “That’s what they told me inside.”

  Mace groaned. “Great. My Ducati’s probably been chopped and shopped all over the Northeast by now.”

  “I doubt your sister would let that happen. My Audi, on the other hand, was pretty beat up. Should we cab it over there?”

  It took a few minutes to run down a dilapidated taxi. The cabbie seemed surprised to see them flagging him down.

  “What’s his problem?” asked Roy.

  “Well, we don’t look like we belong around here, do we, Roy?”

  “Why, because we’re white?”

  “No, because we’re not shoving a gun in his face and asking for all his money.”

  When the cab pulled from the curb she turned to him. “Okay, how did you show up last night? You followed me, right?”

  “Not exactly, no.”

  “How not exactly?”

  “I was waiting for you at the spot where the car came after you.”

  “I’m not liking where this is going.”

  “Hey, I’m not in cahoots with the guys in the black sedan.”

  “Oh, good, glad that’s all cleared up. I think this is where you and I part company.” She tapped on the cabbie’s shoulder. “Hey, buddy you can let me—”

  “Mace, will you hear me out! I almost got my head blown off last night.”

  She turned back to him. “Okay, I’m listening.”

  “You said you were going downtown. I knew what that meant, or at least I thought I did. To the place where you were kidnapped.”

  “How did you even know where that was?”

  “I Googled you on my iPhone.”


  “I Googled the stories. Two of them had the street location where it happened. I went there and waited, figured you’d show up at some point. You did. Then the car came at you and I, well, I…”

  “Came to my rescue?”

  “A little better than I did with the Captain, I guess.”

  “So you didn’t see Razor, then?”


  “Never mind. So why did you do it? I mean, you going there at that time of night in your fancy-pants Audi was pretty stupid.”

  “As stupid as a chick on a Ducati?”

  “That’s different.”

  “Anyway, they’d probably just assume I was looking to buy drugs or a hooker.”

  She folded her arms across her chest and her suspicious look faded. “I’d be in the morgue right now but for you. Thanks. I owe you.”

  “I also got us arrested with my big mouth.”

  “I ran to the hoodle, you were just following.”

  “You think it was somebody from your past shooting at you?”

  “Don’t see many street crews using suppressor cans and piloting Town Cars. Their usual method is a double tap to the head and then the sounds of running feet.”

  “Okay, what now?”

  “I get my bike back, hopefully in one piece. And you get your Audi back in several hopefully repairable chunks.”

  “What about the key to the mailbox at A-1? You want me to check it out?”

  “No, I’ll check it out.”

  “What if we check it out together?”

  “People are watching, you know. They see you with me, probably not good.”

  “Hell, I’ve spent more time with you over the last couple days than I’ve done with every girlfriend I’ve ever had.”

  “Really? Then no wonder things never worked out for you.”

  The cab dropped them at the impoundment lot. Beth had made arrangements so they weren’t charged any fees. Mace’s Ducati was parked right next to the small office building. A thick chain wrapped in plastic was wound around the front forks and the other end padlocked to a ten-foot-tall steel post. The bike was in pristine condition. It even looked like someone had washed it.

  “Like I thought, your sister was looking out for you,” said Roy. Mace was staring at something. “But I don’t think she has the same level of commitment to you.” She pointed up ahead.

  Across the lot Roy’s Audi was parked next to a rear section of fence. The entire left side was crunched from the collision with the Town Car and the heavy trash cans. But someone had obviously come in the night to do some more damage. All its wheels were gone along with the passenger door. Someone had also keyed the entire body of the vehicle multiple times and slashed the convertible top. As they walked over and looked inside they could see that the steering wheel, gearshift, CD player, and built-in navigation system were also missing. The seats were ripped open and the foam torn out. Someone had dumped what looked to be antifreeze on the floorboards, where it had mixed with the glass fragments and two used condoms. The trunk had also been jimmied and the spare taken. All Roy’s expensive basketball gear was also gone.

  “I’m really sorry about your car,” she said.

  He sighed. “Hey, this is why people buy insurance policies. You hungry?”


  He checked his watch. “I know this place. Eggs are good, the coffee hot.”

  “I guess you need a ride?”

  “Guess so. But I don’t have a helmet. And I’m not looking to getting busted again. Once a week is about my limit.”

  “Not a problem.”

  Mace walked back to the impoundment lot office and returned a few minutes later carrying a motorcycle helmet. A police motorcycle helmet.

  “How’d you swing that?” he asked.

  “You don’t want to know.”

  She slipped her hand into a small black zippered pocket she’d had built years ago under the Ducati’s seat and pulled out her pepper-spray cell phone and zap knuckles.

  “Didn’t really want the cops to find these on me.” She put them in the pocket of her jacket. “Popped them in there while we were running from the bad guys.”

  “Good thinking,” said Roy. “Because something tells me you might need them.”


  THE EGGS were good, the toast slathered in butter, the bacon crispy, and the coffee steamy. They ate their fill and then Mace and Roy sat back. He patted his stomach. “Gotta start playing ball again before I get a gut.”

  “So the Captain wants you to rep him?”

  He took a sip of coffee and nodded. “I don’t have any details yet.”

  Mace fingered her cup. “But you don’t think he did it?”

  “No, but I’ll admit that my judgment is probably a little biased. I like the guy.”

  “Big teddy bear?”

  “With a combat bronze and two Purple Hearts,” he said sharply.

  “I’m not making fun of him. It’s shitty that a war hero is on the streets.”

  “But if he did kill Diane?”

  “Then it’s over, Roy, friend or not.”

  “At least he won’t be living on the streets anymore.”

  “So you going to rep him?”

  “I’m not sure. I work for Shilling & Murdoch. They don’t do criminal defense work. I don’t do criminal defense work anymore.”

  “There’s always pro bono. Your firm can’t have a problem with that.”

  “I thought you believed he was guilty?”

  “Everybody deserves a good defense. Least I heard that somewhere.”

  “I’ll meet with him, go from there.”

  She pulled the key out. “Do you want me to let you know what I find?”

  “Like I said, I’m going with you.”

  “You don’t have to do this.”

  “I’ll probably lose my license to practice before this is all over.”

  Mace looked confused. “But you still want to come with me? Why?”

  “I have no rational basis for answering that question.”

  “Meaning you have an irrational basis?”

  Roy put some cash down for the meal.

  “So how are you going to find out which box was Diane’s?”

  “When I think of it you’ll be the first to know. By the way, how much do I h
ave left on my buck retainer?”

  “After last night, ten cents. Use it wisely.”

  When Mace and Roy came out of the diner, Karl Reiger picked them up from his observation post tucked inside the mouth of an alley. Farther down the block Don Hope sat in a pale blue Chevy van, his glass on the same target. When Roy and Mace climbed on her bike and drove down the street, Hope eased the van forward and followed. Reiger backed down the alley, came out on the next street over, and ran a parallel course on their tail. They radioed back and forth on a secure communication line and switched out the surveillance every three blocks to knock down the odds of Mace picking up the tail.

  Reiger settled back in his seat. It should have been over last night. And it would have been if the punk lawyer hadn’t screwed his shot. That would not happen again. Reiger didn’t like killing people, especially fellow Americans, but above all, he was going to survive this, even if no one else did.


  THERE WAS ONLY one person working behind the counter at A-1 when Roy and Mace walked in. He was young with ear buds and lines dangling to an iPod hung on his belt. His head was swaying to the music as he sorted the mail on the counter. Mace led Roy over to the wall of mailboxes. A quick check showed that while they were numbered, none of the digits on the boxes matched the one Mace had written down from the original key.

  “Plan B,” she whispered to Roy.

  Mace walked over to the guy at the counter. “Hey, dude, got a question.”

  The kid took one ear bud out but his head kept swinging. “Yeah?”

  Mace held up the key. “My aunt fell down the stairs and broke her tailbone. That’s the good news.”

  “That she broke her tailbone?” said the kid, perplexed.

  “Yeah, because but for that she wouldn’t have gone to the hospital and they wouldn’t have checked her out and discovered she had like this weird form of leprosy she contracted in Africa or some crazy place. That stuff’ll eat your skin right off. And it’s like so contagious that if she like breathes on you, your eyeballs fall out. I’ve never seen anything like this crap. It’s got some long-ass medical name.”

  “Damn, that sucks,” said the kid, his head still swinging to the rhythm.

  “Anyway, this is her key and she asked me to get her mail. Only she can’t remember which box was hers.”


  “Yeah. So I can’t get the mail. And she has some checks and medical bills she needs. It’s a hassle but I’m the only relative she has.”

  “What’s her name?”

  “Diane Tolliver.” Mace crossed her fingers, hoping that the kid had not read of the woman’s murder.

  He clicked some keys on the computer. “Yeah, she’s got a box here.”

  “So what’s the number?”

  The kid took out the other bud from his ear and his expression hardened. “I’m not really supposed to give out that info. Mail regs or something. You know, like terrorist stuff.”

  “Damn, never thought of that.” She looked at Roy. “Well, hell, you better go get Auntie and bring her in here then so she can show some ID.” She turned back to the kid. “They couldn’t keep her in that hospital anymore because they’re not set up for contagious crap like that. So we’re driving her to Johns Hopkins. We just got going and then she started screaming about her mail. Between you and me I think this stuff messes with your mind too. You know, like forgetting your mailbox number? I know it screws up your sex drive. Docs say it kills the libido like dead, especially in younger people. Anyway, she’s out in the car with boils popping all over the place. And her face? It’s like tar sliding off. Now, we got inoculated against this shit so we’re good, but if I were you, I’d go hide out in the back or something. And anything she touches in here make sure you clean it up with like Clorox or something. The bacteria can live for like weeks on pretty much anything. An orderly at the hospital found that out the hard way.” She looked at Roy again. “Go on and get her. Make it fast. I don’t want to get caught in traffic going to Baltimore.”

  Roy turned to head out the door but the kid blurted out, “It’s Box 716. Second to the left on the top row over there.”

  “You sure?” asked Mace. “I don’t want you getting in trouble. And Auntie’s right outside. She can walk but she falls a lot because of the boils bursting and her feet slipping in the juice. You ought to see the backseat of my car. It’s beyond gross.”

  The wide-eyed kid took a step back. “No, it’s cool. Go on ahead and open it up. Your auntie ain’t got to come in here.”

  “Hey, thanks, man.” Roy put out a hand for him to shake. The kid took another step back and picked up a large tub of mail. “Yeah, dude, you’re welcome.”

  Roy and Mace headed to Box 716.


  BETH WAS in the front seat of a patrol car heading to a meeting when she finished reading over the e-mail from Lowell Cassell. The medical examiner was comparing the DNA on the sperm left inside Diane Tolliver with the sample they’d taken from the residue of a cup of coffee they’d given to Lou Dockery. It was an old police trick. They had enough to hold Dockery until the test results were back. And even if this DNA sample was suppressed by defense counsel motion they could easily get a search warrant. It wasn’t like Dockery could change his DNA in the interim. Beth had ordered the coffee cup tactic because she didn’t want to waste time with him unless he was the guy who’d raped and murdered Diane Tolliver.

  Her multitasking mind shifted gears for a moment. She was monitoring the radio calls in the Fifth District and did not like the paucity of responses from the scout cars to the dispatcher’s calls. She picked up the radio.

  “Cruiser One rolling in Five D. Cruiser One rolling Five D. Chief out.”

  Within seconds the chatter picked up and at least five scout cars were responding to each dispatch. Her driver glanced at her.

  “Pays off working your way up from the pavement, Chief.”

  “You think?” she answered absently. Beth punched in the number. The ME answered on the second ring.

  “How long?” she said.

  Cassell said, “Beth, you asked me that not ten minutes ago. If it had been before the new lab opened, I’d say two to four weeks.
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