True blue, p.22
True Blue, p.22David Baldacci
We had to send it out back then.”
“But not now. Now you have that fancy lab with all those fancy machines.”
“We went back over the chain of custody on the sample found in the deceased and confirmed there was no tampering or alteration. We received the sample from Dockery.” He paused and Beth could almost see his grin across the phone line. “You haven’t used the coffee ploy in a while.”
“I’m getting more impatient in my old age.”
“It’s not that easy pulling DNA off a sperm sample. The sperm heads are hard.”
“As hard as the heads of the guys shooting them into women who don’t want them to.”
Cassell continued, “Then there is the amplification of the DNA and instrumentation. Next comes interpretation of the results. That’s where mistakes are made. I don’t want to blow up your case because of an error.”
“You won’t make a mistake, Doc, you’re too good.”
“Everyone’s human. Normally, the protocols I just described take a full week.”
“On TV the forensics team does it every episode in like ten minutes.”
“Don’t get me started on that.”
“So give me the bottom line time-wise.”
“I’ve put all other work aside and you’ll have it by tomorrow. The next day tops.”
“I’ll take it tomorrow, thanks, Doc.”
She clicked off and leaned back in her seat. A moment later they passed a corner that she instantly recognized. She’d been a rookie beat cop riding solo for only two weeks when a bandit had come tearing out of an alley with a TEC-9 and opened fire at a group of people in front of a shoe shop. To this day no one knew why.
Instantly, Beth had gotten her cruiser between the bandit and the crowd. Using her engine block as cover she’d pulled her sidearm and given him two taps in the head. She hadn’t bothered with a torso shot because she’d spotted the edges of body armor poking out of his shirt. It wasn’t until thirty seconds later, after she’d run over and confirmed the kill, that she discovered that the last TEC-9 round had killed a ten-year-old boy who’d been holding tight to a box containing his new pair of basketball shoes.
The other eight people in the crowd, including the boy’s mother, had been saved by Beth’s swift actions. The city hailed her as a hero. Yet she went home that night and cried until the sun rose. She was the only one who knew the truth. She had hesitated before firing. To this day she didn’t really know why. Civilians could never understand what went through a cop’s mind before they pulled the trigger.
Am I going to die today? Will I be sued? Will I lose my job? Can I get a clean shot off? Am I going to die today?
No more than two seconds went by before she’d ended the nightmare scenario. Yet it was enough time for the bandit to get off one last round. The killing round, as it turned out.
Her most vivid image was the box with the new shoes lying in a pool of ten-year-old blood. After calling in the ambulance she did everything she could to bring the little boy back. Tried to stanch the bleeding using her jacket. Breathed hard into his mouth. Pumped his small chest until her arms felt like they would fall off. But she knew he was dead. The eyes were flat, hard. The mother was screaming. Everything was happening in slow motion. Waiting for help to come; the paramedics pronouncing the boy dead; then the gauntlet of stars and bars, the captain, the district commander, and then, finally, the chief himself. It was the longest wait of her life, and all of it, from beginning to end, barely took ten minutes.
She still could feel the heavy, comforting hand of the chief on her trembling shoulder. He said all the right things and yet all Beth could see were those hard, flat eyes. Ten years old. Dead. Two seconds’ hesitation. That’s all it took. A deuce of seconds. A pair of eye blinks. That was apparently the difference between going home and playing hoops in your new shoes or heading to the morgue to get your chest cavity emptied.
One more crime stat for the books. And yet it wasn’t just a stat. His name was Rodney Hawks. Beth had a photo of him from his fourth-grade class in her office on her shelf. She looked at it every day. It pushed her to work harder, try harder, to never leave anything to chance. To never again hesitate when her gun was cocked and locked on a target that required killing.
The shoe shop was no longer there. It was now a liquor store. But for her it would always be the place where she’d allowed Rodney Hawks to die. Where Beth Perry, who had never failed at anything, had failed. And a little boy had lost his life because of it.
Beth took a deep breath and pushed these images from her mind. She looked down at her notes and focused on the present situation. Had the homeless vet raped the power lawyer and then stomped on her neck hard enough to crack her brain stem? And then stuffed her in the fridge and gone about his business? The soiling on her clothes and the bits of fabric found at the crime scene also matched what was found on Dockery’s clothing. But that didn’t really matter. DNA was better than a print. And DNA from sperm was the gold card, particularly when it was found inside the woman. Taken together with the bruising in her genitals, there was no defense lawyer on earth who could spin that one into a positive.
She put the file down and picked up the phone and called her sister. There was no answer so she left a message letting Mace know that they would have the DNA results back soon. If it matched, Lou Dockery would spend the rest of his life in prison. Beth’s mind turned to how Dockery’s conviction might get Mace her old job back. Despite Mona putting obstacles in their way, if they could convince… Beth suddenly dropped this train of thought.
There was one loose end.
She flipped open the Tolliver file once more and looked at two evidentiary items.
A key. And an e-mail.
We need to focus in on A-
There was more here obviously than a homeless vet on a rampage. Yet the real question was, were they connected?
And then there was a shooter in a Town Car with tinted windows, no plates, and a can on the rifle muzzle aiming right at Mace. Was that from Mace’s past or tied to this case?
A deuce of seconds. That’s all it took.
She was not going to lose her sister again.
THERE WAS NOTHING in the mailbox. Nothing, that is, until Mace felt around the top of the inside of the box and her gloved hand closed around a piece of paper taped there. She unfolded it and read the brief contents.
“A name, Andre Watkins. And there’s an address in Rosslyn. I guess for him.” She looked up at Roy. “Ever heard of this guy?”
“No, and Diane never mentioned him.”
“Did she go out a lot?”
“She liked to go to the Kennedy Center; she liked to eat out.”
“Well, she probably didn’t go alone.”
Mace put the paper back inside the box and closed the door.
“Leaving it here?”
“So the police can follow it up if they figure it out.”
“Or we could go and tell them about the letter right now.”
“We could,” Mace said slowly.
“But you want to solve this yourself?”
“It’s a long story, Roy. Don’t rag me about it. I’m not sure my answers will make any sense anyway.”
Twenty minutes later, Mace had parked her bike in an underground garage and she and Roy were zipping to the tenth floor of the apartment building. A man answered the door on the second knock after looking at them through the peephole. This wasn’t a guess, because Mace knew that he had. He was as tall as Roy, though about thirty years older, with a trim white beard to match his thinning hair. He was handsome and his skin was tanned a deep brown. He wore jeans that looked like they’d been ironed and a tuxedo shirt with the tail out. His bare feet were in a pair of black leather Bruno Magli shoes. He looked to Mace like the perfect image of the carefree and elegant aristocrat.
“Andre Watkins?” Mace said.
“Can I help you?”
“I sure hope so. Diane Tolli
“What about her?”
“I know that. Who are you? The police?”
“Then I have no reason to talk to you.”
He started to close the door, but Mace jabbed her foot in the way. “She had a P.O. box that had a piece of paper with your name and address on it.”
“I know nothing about that.”
“Okay, we’ll just turn it over to homicide and they can run with it. They’ll be by to either talk to you today or arrest you. Or probably both.”
“Wait a damn minute. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Well, you’re sure acting like you did.”
“You knocked on my door, two people I don’t even know, and you start asking questions about a dead woman? What the hell did you expect me to do?”
“Okay, let’s start over. This is Roy Kingman. He worked with Diane at Shilling & Murdoch. She sent him a clue. That clue turned out to be you. You could be in danger.”
“And how do I know you’re not the ones who killed Diane?”
“I have to tell you, if we’d wanted to kill you, you’d already be dead. One shot through the peephole.” Watkins looked at her inquiringly. “I saw the door shift just a millimeter when you leaned against it to see who was there.”
“I think I’m going to end this conversation right now.”
“We can go to the Starbucks in the lobby and talk if you’ll feel safer. All we want is some information.”
Watkins looked over his shoulder into his apartment for a moment and then turned back. “No, that’s all right, we can do it in here.”
The interior of the residence didn’t match the elegance of the man; it was sparsely furnished with what looked like rental pieces, and there was even a purple futon. They sat in the small living room that fronted a sliver of kitchen.
“So how did you know Diane?” Roy asked.
“When she wanted to go out, she’d call me.”
“So you two were dating?”
“No, I’m an escort.”
Mace and Roy exchanged a glance. “An escort?” said Roy.
“Yes. Diane liked to go out. But she didn’t like to go alone. It’s fun. And it pays well.”
Mace ran her gaze over the cheap furniture. “Work dried up for you?”
“My two ex-wives seem in no hurry to get married again. That’s actually why I got into the business. Escorting gives me all the fun of marriage without all the hassle.”
“But you two got along?”
“I liked Diane very much. I was devastated when I heard she’d been killed.”
“Who told you?”
“The anchorwoman on Channel Seven.”
“So no one else knew you two were seeing each other?”
“I don’t suppose Diane broadcast it around. She was attractive and smart. I knew she was divorced too. Maybe she’d had it with relationships. I know I have.”
“So we’re here because Diane left a clue that pointed to you.”
“But she never told me anything important.”
“Never about work or anything?” asked Roy.
“Well, I knew she was a lawyer at Shilling & Murdoch.”
“She didn’t talk about anyone she was afraid of? Phone calls or threatening messages she’d gotten? A man who was stalking her, nothing like that?” asked Mace.
“No. Our conversations usually were limited to the events we were attending.”
“The police have a man in custody,” Roy blurted out.
Mace scowled at Roy and spoke up. “I’m sorry, we can’t fill in those details.”
“So you have no theories for what happened to Diane?”
“No,” Roy admitted. He handed Watkins a card. “If you think of anything, please give me a call.”
Watkins fingered the card. “This man in custody? He killed Diane?”
“We’ll know soon enough. But whatever Diane was trying to get at, it’s a dead end,” said Mace. “She must’ve been mistaken, and anyway the case is closed, at least it is for me. Thanks for your time.”
Roy started to speak when they were outside, but Mace whispered, “Wait.”
When they were back in the garage Roy turned on her and snapped, “You’re just going to drop it? What the hell are you thinking?”
She looked up at him. “I’m thinking that the real Andre Watkins is probably already dead.”
The big fellow looked up. “Hey, Roy. I messed up.”
“Why don’t we talk about it?”
“Okay, I ain’t going nowhere.”
Roy looked at the guard next to him. “I need to talk to my client. Alone, please.”
The door clanged shut behind Roy as the officer left.
He sat next to the Captain, opened his briefcase, and pulled out a legal pad and a pen. “Why don’t you tell me what happened.”
“Like I said, I messed up. Took some food. I like the Twinkies. And some tools. Sold ’em. Dumb, huh, but they had lots of tools. Didn’t think they’d mind.”
Roy looked at him blankly. “Do you know why you were arrested?”
The Captain was staring off now. “Still cold at night. Warm in that building. Guess I shouldn’t ate the Twinkies. They were pissed about that, right? And the tools. But it was just a couple of wrenches. Only got three bucks for ’em.”
Roy leaned back in his chair. “Did they take anything from you?”
“Prints, bodily fluids?”
“They took my fingerprints.” He chuckled. “Had to clean off my fingers so they could make ’em black again. And they gave me some coffee but then they came and took it before I was done. Ticked me off.”
“Cheap trick to get your DNA.”
“But you told them you wanted a lawyer, right?”
“That’s right. Ain’t no dummy. Twinkie shit. Need a lawyer.”
“Okay, maybe we have something to work with in case the DNA comes back bad. But then they’ll either just get a search warrant or grand jury subpoena.”
“Okay,” the Captain said, though it was clear he had no idea what Roy was talking about.
“I checked with the police, they haven’t formally charged you with trespass or anything else. But you were in the building unlawfully.”
True Blue by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes