True blue, p.24
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       True Blue, p.24

           David Baldacci
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  “I’ll see you, Professor. Keep the lights on for me.” She turned back. “Oh, one more thing. My Ducati sticks out a little bit. Do you have a ride I can borrow?”

  “Certainly. Do you want the Bentley or the Honda?”

  “It’s a close call, but I’ll go with the Japanese.”


  MACE SHOWERED at the guesthouse and thoroughly washed her grimy hair. That was one bad thing about motorcycle helmets: your head sweats like hell in one. As she wrapped herself in a thick robe and strolled around the palatial house that was not even a third the size of the really palatial house next door, it occurred to her that it would be quite easy to get used to this sort of life if you were a normal person, which of course she wasn’t. Yet she couldn’t help but admire the quality of the furnishings and the high-level skill and attention to detail that had gone into the design and construction. Marty Altman must have been quite talented. It was easy to see from his comments about the lady that Abe had worshipped her.

  What would it be like to have a guy worship me?

  She dug through her backpack and pulled out a dog-eared notebook. In it she kept a list of contacts she’d used when she was on the police force. She found the name and made the call. It took several handoffs by other people, but she finally reached the lady.

  “Charlotte, it’s Mace.”

  “Mace Perry!”

  “Come on, do you know any other Mace?”

  “Are you still in that awful prison?”

  “No, I’m done and out.”

  “Thank God for that.”

  “You still enjoying DMV?”

  “Oh yeah,” Charlotte said sarcastically. “I turned down all those movie offers from Hollywood so I could stay right here and deal with angry people all day long.”

  “So how would you like to deal with a happy one?”

  “That’s usually a precursor to you wanting a favor.”

  “I’ve got a name and address. And I’d love to get a photo of the guy.”

  “You’re not back on the police force. I would’ve heard.”

  “No, but I’m trying.”

  “It’s harder to help out these days, Mace. Electronic eyes everywhere.”

  “How about an old-fashioned fax?”

  “Now there’s a novel idea.”

  “So you’ll help me? Once more? For old times’ sake?”

  Mace heard a short sigh. “Give me the name. And your fax number.”

  Ten minutes later Mace was standing next to the fax machine in the small office on the second floor that Altman had shown her. Two minutes later the fax did its thing and the inked paper slid into the catch bin. Mace snatched it up. It was a copy of Andre Watkins’s driver’s license.

  The real Andre Watkins had short, thick dark hair, wore glasses, and had no beard. His height was listed on the license and she saw that he was also several inches shorter than the guy they’d seen. So she’d been right. She wondered if the real Watkins was indeed an escort. It was such an out-of-the-mainstream occupation that Mace tended to think he probably was. That meant the imposter had dug into the man’s background.

  Heading back downstairs, she happened on a four-person Jacuzzi tub tucked in a private glass-enclosed space set off from a small den. Hesitating only for a moment, Mace raced to the kitchen, opened the wine chiller set into the wall there, uncorked a bottle of Cab, and poured out a glass. Then she hurried back to the Jacuzzi, figured out the buttons, heated it up, dropped her robe, and slid naked into the hot foamy water. A minute later she snagged her cell off the edge of the tub and phoned Roy.

  “Where are you?” she asked.

  “I’m at work. I do have a job, remember?”

  “Okay, Mr. Grumpy. Guess what I’m doing.”


  “Pampering myself.”

  “How. Taking target practice? Or zapping homeless people with those knuckle things for laughs?”

  “I’m sitting in the buff in a Jacuzzi at Altman’s guesthouse drinking a glass of red wine.”

  “I thought you were going to start your new job?”

  “I met with Altman and went over stuff. I’m rewarding myself because I also managed to confirm through DMV that that was not the real Andre Watkins at the apartment today.”

  “So you were right.”

  “Yeah, but that leaves a lot of unanswered questions. When will you be done at work?”

  “Four-thirty,” he said. “I’m checking out early.”

  “I’ll pick you up from work. I’ll be in Altman’s Honda.”

  “What happened to the Ducati?”

  “Decided to give it a rest. Did you get a rental?”

  “All they had available was a Mercury Marquis. It’s as big as my condo.”

  “And your Audi?”

  “Can you say totaled?”

  “I’m sorry, Roy.”

  “So where are we going at four-thirty? And what do you need my help on?”

  “I’ll fill you in when I see you.”

  “Does it involve getting shot at?”


  “Okay, one request then.”

  “Tell me.”

  “The next time you call me while sitting naked in a Jacuzzi sipping wine, you can expect some company.”

  “Wow, Roy, you’re so sexy when you go alpha on me.”


  ROY SLID into the front seat of the Honda. “You look nice and refreshed.”

  “Beats the crap out of the prison showers.”

  “Got the photo of Watkins?”

  She pulled it from her jacket and handed it over.

  “He doesn’t look like an escort.”

  “What is an escort supposed to look like?”

  “I don’t know. Sort of like a model.”

  “Maybe she went for brains and sensitivity over hunky looks.”

  “I’m assuming you do the same?”

  She hit the gas but the old Honda merely puttered away.

  “Just doesn’t project the same image as the Ducati, does it?” noted Roy.

  “It was either this or the Bentley.”

  “What tipped you that he wasn’t the real Watkins?”

  “He didn’t want to go down to the Starbucks to talk even though that would have been the safest thing to do from his perspective. I think he was afraid someone from the building who knew the real Watkins might have overheard us and fingered him as an imposter.”

  “Or he just doesn’t like coffee.”

  “And the guy didn’t match the apartment. Three-hundred-dollar shoes, a Hickey Freeman shirt, and professional manicure do not compute with particleboard furniture. And the place had been tossed. Didn’t you see the indentations in the carpet from where the hutch, the credenza, the TV cabinet, and the shelving system had been moved?”

  “Uh, no, I guess I missed that.”

  “You notice he grilled us on what we knew and what we were guessing about? We weren’t interrogating him so much as he was us.”

  “So who are they?”

  “The only thing I know is they’re good.”

  “What would they have been looking for?”

  “Whatever Diane Tolliver left with Watkins.”

  “So that’s why you told him you were hanging up the investigation.”

  She nodded. “It buys us some time. And for all I know that dude is mixed up with the guys who were trying to kill me last night. If they think we’re harmless and raising the white flag, well, that’s not a bad thing.”

  “So it looks like this might go a lot further than the Captain. They took his DNA, by the way.”

  “Let me guess. They used the fresh cup of coffee ploy?”

  “How’d you know?”

  “They’ll check it against the sperm they found on Diane and that’ll clear him.”

  “So it was a rape?”

  “Apparently so.”

  “But, Mace, then it was probably just a random thing. Otherwise why would the
bandit rape her?”

  Mace gave him an exasperated look. “To make it seem like a random crime, Roy.”

  “But they left sperm behind?”

  “And you can bet it won’t match up to any database. Just like a weapon can be sterilized, so can sperm, no pun intended.”


  “If it is connected I’m wondering why the shooters came after me.”

  “You were at the crime scene.”

  “Along with a hundred other cops.”

  “Okay, you’ve been hanging out with me.”

  “So why not target you? You worked with her. You were down there in Six D all alone waiting for me. They could have easily popped you.”

  “That’s nice to know.”

  “We need to get into her house.”


  “I struck out in her office. There has to be something at the house.”

  “I’m sure the police searched it.”

  “Then we need to search it again.”

  “Mace, if we get caught, you’ll have violated your probation. Can’t your sister help us?”


  “Why not?”

  “I’ve got my reasons.”

  “I’d like to hear them.”

  Mace sighed. “She’s not exactly thrilled with me right now. So how do we get into Tolliver’s house? Do you have a key?”

  “No, why would I have a key to her house?”

  “Well, we have some time to muddle that. Right now we’re heading over to check out some stuff for Abe.”

  “Is that why you wanted me along?”

  She glanced at him. “What, you mean for protection?”

  “I’m not that stupid. I clearly failed the bodyguard test.”

  “Not when you put your car between me and the shooter. Those rounds could easily have hit you. That took real courage. But I thought you might enjoy hanging out with me. And bring you back to your old, wild CJA days.”

  “Long way from Georgetown.”

  “A lifetime, Roy. A lifetime.”


  THE PEOPLE at Social Services working with Abe Altman were both extremely helpful and laudatory of the wealthy professor.

  “He’s a man with vision,” said the supervisor, Carmela, a young Hispanic woman with straight dark hair and dressed in a pleated skirt and blouse and flats. “He gets it.”

  “Well, I hope I get it too,” said Mace.

  They were sitting in the woman’s office, a ten-by-ten square with a rusty window AC unit that didn’t work. There were water stains on the ceiling and walls. The furniture looked like it had been rescued from the dump and the clunky computer on her desk was at least a decade old. The government purse had clearly not been opened very wide to outfit this place.

  She said, “Mr. Altman mentioned that you used to be a cop.”

  “Don’t hold that against me.”

  “I won’t. My older brother drives a scout car right here in Seven D.”

  “Then he’s got his hands full.”

  “You know this area?”

  “Used to be my old stomping ground.” Mace glanced down at the sheaf of papers in her hand. “So these are all the names?’

  “Yes. We’ve made contact and they will be expecting you at whatever meeting times you give us. After you called to say you were on your way, I made contact with Alisha, the first on the list. She’s expecting you in the next thirty minutes.” She glanced at Roy. “You look like a lawyer.”

  “Mr. Kingman is assisting me in this project.”

  The woman gave him an appraising look. “You ever been down this way?”

  “Was down in Six D just last night if that counts.”

  She looked surprised. “What for?”

  “Looking for some excitement. And I found it.”

  “I bet. Well, the places you’ll be going are a little rough.”

  “I assume that’s why we’re going to them,” answered Mace. “We’ll be okay.”

  “How rough?” Roy wanted to know.

  “Even my brother doesn’t like taking calls at some of the places on your list, unless he has a couple units as backup.”

  Roy glanced at Mace with a worried look. “Really?”

  “Thanks, Carmela,” said Mace, tugging on Roy’s arm. “We’ll be in touch.”

  They climbed back in the Honda. Mace read through the file and said, “Okay, Alisha Rogers here we come.”

  Roy had been reading over her shoulder. He said, “She’s only sixteen and already the mother of a three-year-old?”

  “Don’t sound so stunned. We left the world of Leave It to Beaver a long time ago.”

  He read off Alisha’s address. “Do you know where that is?”

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