True blue, p.23
True Blue, p.23David Baldacci
“I’m hungry. Got any food?”
“I’ll ask the guard in a little bit.”
“It’s nice and warm in here.”
“How long have you been staying in my building?”
“Ain’t good with dates.” He laughed. “I ain’t got no social calendar, Roy.”
“Okay, how did you get into the building? Not through the front doors?”
“Garage elevator. Snuck across the lobby. Picked the right time. Recon. I was a scout in ’Nam. I was damn good at recon.”
“And the guard?”
“He ain’t a good guard. He’s almost as fat as me.”
“Yeah, I know. Then up the fire exit stairs and onto the fourth floor?”
“Warm in there. And food. Got a fridge. And a toilet. Been a long time since I used a toilet, almost forgot how. I just took the Twinkies, Roy, and the tools. Swear to God.”
“How did you know they were doing construction there?”
“Heard some guys talking about it on their lunch break.”
“And the tools?”
“Just got three bucks for ’em. Some A-rab on the street. Bet the sonofabitch cheated me. I can give ’em the three bucks and call it square,” he added hopefully.
“I don’t think they’ll go for that.”
“’Cause of the damn Twinkies, right?”
“Tell me what happened on Monday, Captain, around six in the morning.”
“Monday?” The Captain shook his head. “Monday?” he said again, his brow furrowed, his eyes vacant.
“The day before I gave you the shoes and bought you the food.”
“You were in the building?”
“Oh yeah, always in the building.”
“When did you leave?”
“I got me a watch.” He held up his arm and slid back his coat sleeve to show it.
“The guard comes in at six.”
“He ain’t a good guard. He ain’t hear nothing. He’d never made it in ’Nam.” He added in a knowing tone, “He’d be dead.”
“There’s a security camera in the lobby.” The Captain stared blankly at him. “You didn’t know about that?”
The Captain shook his head. “Did it see me?”
“Apparently not. Getting back to Monday, did you see anyone at the building?” The Captain shook his head again. “What time did you leave?”
“Show me on your watch.”
The Captain hesitated and then pointed to the six.
“Okay, six o’clock. Can anyone vouch for that?” The man looked confused. “Did you see anyone who I can talk to that saw you leave at six, or who you might’ve talked to right after you left the building?”
“No, sir, ain’t nobody like that,” he said in a carefree tone.
“Where’d you go?”
“Down to the river. Sat on the wall and watched the sun come up. I like watching the sun come up. Ain’t as cold that way.”
Roy took a photo out of his pocket. “And you never saw this woman?” He showed him a picture of Diane Tolliver.
“Do you know her?” The Captain shook his head. “Did you see her on Monday?”
“Nope, but I seen her go in the building sometimes.”
“But not on Monday morning?”
“Did you hear the elevator? You must’ve been getting ready to leave by then.”
“I didn’t hear nothing.” The Captain wiped his nose with his hand. “You think they got something to eat in this place? I’m real hungry.”
“Okay, I’ll see about it. So you’re sure you didn’t see anyone when you left?”
“Went out the garage.”
“No cars coming in or out or parked there?”
Roy took a long breath and nearly choked. In the close confines of the room, the Captain’s “aroma” was overpowering.
“I just scoot out. I’m real good at scooting.”
Roy put his pad and pen away and stood. “I’m sure you are. I’ll go check on that food for you.”
“Twinkies if they got ’em. And coffee.”
After arranging for some food, Roy left and called Mace.
“How’s it look?” she asked.
“An insanity defense is pretty appealing right now.” His tone sharpened. “All right, I want to know about Watkins. You just dropped a bombshell and then—”
“Not over the phone, Roy. Let’s meet later.”
“Where are you?”
“Heading out to start my new job.”
THANKS FOR MEETING with me on such short notice,” Beth said.
She sat down across from the two men in a small conference room. Sam Donnelly, the nation’s director of intelligence, was as elegantly dressed as ever. Jarvis Burns, his right-hand man, looked just the opposite. His suit looked like it had been pulled from the bottom of a trunk after a months-long journey. The DNI had offices in various places. Today, Beth was in downtown D.C. not far from police department headquarters, in a nondescript building that on the outside looked like nothing special. That was sort of the idea, she knew.
She’d been issued a radio frequency badge on arriving here. It had been encoded with her security clearance levels, which were very high. Still, they weren’t high enough. Every room she’d entered, silent alarms had gone off, red lights installed on the ceiling had twirled, and computer screens automatically darkened because she was not cleared to see any of what was going on here.
“Always a pleasure, Beth.” Donnelly fiddled with a ring on his finger while Jarvis rubbed his leg.
“Getting worse on you, Jarv?” she asked, eyeing the limb.
“I would not advise anyone getting shot and then stabbed with a bayonet wielded by an enormously skilled and suitably mad Vietcong infantryman. I was lucky enough to have killed him before he killed me. But at least he didn’t have to endure this level of pain for the last three decades.”
“Nothing they can do?”
“What they did on the battlefield back then sort of sealed my fate. Nerve and bone damage that were basically wrapped in Band-Aids, ruptured blood vessels that were rerouted in crude ways.” He slapped his thigh. “It is what it is and you didn’t come here to hear me complain about it. What can we do for you?”
“There was a U.S. attorney found dead in D.C. His name was Jamie Meldon.”
Donnelly nodded. “A real tragedy. We were briefed on it.”
“Who by?” she said quickly.
Donnelly shook his head. “Sorry, Beth. I can’t say specifically, but any such criminal act would come to the attention of the DNI through various channels.”
“The crime scene was closed off to us and the FBI. We have no idea who took over the investigation. I’ve heard that the directive came from the White House?” She paused and looked at Donnelly expectantly.
“That’s a neither confirm nor deny answer, Beth.”
He held up a hand. “All right, I can say that I have heard nothing that would connect this to the White House. And I think I would have.”
“So who can it be? These guys basically walked off with Meldon’s body based on waving around their driver’s licenses. And the mayor told me in no uncertain terms to back off. Okay, sometimes that happens. But the FBI got called off too.”
Donnelly glanced at Burns. “That is very unusual. Would you like me to look into this for you?”
“You’re the first person I thought of to do it.”
“We’ve always had a good working relationship,” he said. “Your spirit of partnership with the federal side is much appreciated, I can tell you that.”
“We have to keep the capital safe.”
Burns’s features darkened. “If terrorists can successfully attack this city, no American anywhere will feel safe. And the other side would have won.”
Burns said, “By the way, how is your sister adjusting to life?”
“She’s adjusting. But Mace always goes her own way.”
After Beth left, Donnelly returned to his office. Jarvis Burns continued to sit at the table and rub his bad leg. He stopped long enough to type in a text on his BlackBerry and a minute later the door opened. The man with long white hair had changed from jeans and the tuxedo shirt that he’d worn while searching Andre Watkins’s apartment into a suit and tie.
“Mace Perry?” said Burns. The man nodded. “And the lawyer?”
“She’s probably confirmed that you’re not Watkins.”
“Should I have just killed them?” the man asked matter-of-factly.
Burns sat back and frowned. “Give me the briefing.”
MACE PUNCHED the code in the gate box and drove her Ducati through. Altman was waiting for her in the front courtyard. He was dressed as casually as before, but now his hair was tied back in a ponytail. In a backpack Mace carried some clothes and a few other essentials. He escorted her over to the guesthouse and waited while she put her things away before showing her how to operate the TV and stereo system and pointing out the computerized HVAC and alarm system controls. There was even a TV that rose up out of a beautifully carved cabinet at the foot of the California king-size bed in the master suite.
“Pretty snazzy place, Abe.”
“My late wife, Marty, designed all this. She had such vision, such style. I can barely match my socks.”
“I’m right there with you. So what now?”
“Let’s go back to the main house and talk strategy.”
Over cups of tea Altman outlined his plan in greater detail.
“I’ve been working with some wonderful folks at Social Services. They’ll be expecting you and will lend you their full cooperation. They have background files on all the people of interest that I’ve already reviewed. As I told you before, I’ve selected ten people for the initial phase out of all the possibilities submitted thus far. It will be up to you to make the initial contact with them.”
“Okay, what sorts of questions do you want me to ask?”
“Nothing too probing. I want you to set them at ease but at the same time let them know that you understand their situation and that we’re not in any way prejudging choices they have made or not made. I’m not trying to take them out of their current world.”
“But you are, aren’t you?”
“I’m attempting to give them an opportunity to change their circumstances in their world for the better.”
“That’s sort of splitting words, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is. And if you question it, they certainly will. They will be very suspicious of my motives. The last thing I want is for them to think this is some sort of freak show. You have to convince them that this is a legitimate endeavor with the goal of making their lives better with the hope that they in turn will make the lives of others in similar circumstances better. There are many success stories out there, but the media almost never want to highlight them.”
“Bad news gets better ratings.”
“Yes, well, we need positive examples to be heard too.”
“Most people I know down there are just looking to survive, Abe. I’m not sure how altruistic they’ll be about helping others.”
“You may be surprised. But you’re right in certain respects, and that’s fine, that’s to be expected. It’s only the initial contact. But it is still critical.”
Mace’s features clouded. “I’m just a little concerned, you know?”
Altman smiled. “That you have no real experience in this field and the hopes of a nation are riding on your ill-prepared shoulders?”
“Couldn’t have said it better myself.”
“The answer to that of course is that I know no one who’s better prepared to do this than you, Mace. No one. If I did, I would’ve asked that person. I owe you much to be sure, but this project represents in many ways my life’s work. I would not risk it all by choosing someone ill fitted for it. It’s simply too important.”
“Then I’ll do my best for you. That’s all I can promise.”
“Now, I can have Herbert whip up some lunch. He does an amazing tuna salad.”
“Thanks, but I’ll take a pass. I’m going to grab a shower at the guesthouse. Then I’ll hit some of these contacts.”
“Excellent. I really appreciate this.”
“Not any more than I do. My options were a little thin.”
He put a hand on her shoulder. “Darkest before the dawn. A terrible cliché, I know. Yet so often true. And you may find you like the social sciences even more than police work.”
“Actually, police work is basically social science only with a Glock and body armor.”
“I think I see your point.”
“It’s all about respect, Abe. At MPD I was a member of the biggest gang out there. But because we were the biggest, we could never, ever afford to lose a battle.”
Altman looked very interested. “How did you manage that?”
“By never going into a situation that I knew I couldn’t win.”
“I can see that.”
“With a toot on my radio I could get help when I needed it faster than any other gang out there. I had to hold my own in a fight for three minutes, that was all. And if I had to thump somebody because they spit on me, I did, because once one blue lets disrespect slide by it endangers all the other blues on the street. Spit now, bullets in the back later. You either love me or hate me, but you will respect the uniform. But the same notion works for the bandits. Most of them are just trying to make a living and the blues are trying to catch them. Rolling Cheerios for a couple thousand a day versus tossing meat at Mickey D’s for minimum.”
“OxyContin. They’re just like you and me but they made different choices.”
“And had limited opportunities.”
“Right. Each side knows the rules. The bandits don’t give a crap about getting their ass kicked or being arrested, or getting shot or being put in prison. Happens to them every day. But don’t disrespect them. That is the one unforgivable.”
“I think I just learned more in two minutes than I have in the last ten years.”
True Blue by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes