True blue, p.28
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       True Blue, p.28

           David Baldacci
slower 1  faster

  “Uh, nothing.”

  Her tone softened. “Look, it’s just been awhile. The last few years did a number on me. Made it hard to have a normal relationship. Hell, if I ever could in my line of work.”

  “I understand that.”

  “But I like hanging with you. And you put a lot on the line for me. I won’t forget that.”

  Mace leaned forward and made marks on a cloth napkin with her sticks. “Diane Tolliver’s office.”

  “You want to go back to there? Why?”

  “Something happened, Roy. Those guys came after me right after I was there.”

  “How would they have even known you were there? I was the only one up there with you and I didn’t tell anybody.”

  “We also need to get into Diane’s house.”

  “Won’t the police have it taped off?”

  “It’s just tape.”

  “No, it’s just a felony. More than one, actually. You could go back to prison.”

  Her face eased into a hard mask. “I’m already in prison, Roy, but I’m apparently the only one who can see the damn bars.”

  “What do you hope to find at her house?”

  “She wanted us to talk to Andre Watkins. The bandits beat us to it. So we have to get that information from another angle.”

  “Come on, shouldn’t we leave this to the police?”

  “Some jerks tried to kill me. I’m not walking away from that.”

  “You have no idea if that’s connected to what happened to Diane.”

  “My gut is telling me different. And I listen to my gut.”

  “It’s never wrong?”

  “Not on the important issues, no.”

  Roy eyed the immense gymnasium facility Altman had shown them across from the guesthouse.

  “You up for a little B-ball?”

  “What? You didn’t have enough with Psycho?”

  “I would assume it would be a little friendlier than that.”

  “Never assume. Remember how you described my play? I can hard-foul with the best of them. But I didn’t bring my uniform.”

  “I bet a guy like Altman has all that stuff.”

  “What do you have in mind?”


  “I saw what you did to Psycho. You’re out of my league.”

  “Come on, I’ll take it easy on you.”

  “Gee, just what I wanted to hear.” She paused. “How about a game of HORSE instead?”


  “Yeah, you know the game, right.”

  “I think I played it once or twice.”

  “Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I spent the last two years of my life playing it every day. Still game?”

  “No problem.”

  “Don’t sound so confident. What are we playing for?”

  “Playing for?”

  “I’m not getting all hot and sweaty for nothing.”

  “You up for anything?”

  “Not if the loser has to give the winner a full-body massage while naked, or some crap like that.”

  “No nakedness or bodily touching. I promise.”

  She looked at him warily.

  “Come on, Mace, trust your gut.”

  “Okay, my gut says whatever you propose I accept.”

  “Okay. You win, we both keep investigating this thing without the cops. I win, we go to the cops and tell them everything and let them handle it.”

  Mace looked at him with a stony expression.

  “You’re not going to back off your gut, are you?” he said.

  “I guess I expected a little more from you, Roy.”

  “I think you’ll thank me at some point. You ready?”

  Mace stood. “Better bring your A-game, Kingman.”


  I FEEL LIKE I’m back in college,” said Roy as they gazed in awe at the facility Abe Altman had built with Warren Buffett–fueled riches.

  “You were on a major college team. I only played girls’ high school ball in a Catholic league, meaning we had no money. This is like hoops heaven to me.”

  Roy pointed to the rafters. “He even has a facsimile of the NCAA championship banners the men’s and women’s teams won at Maryland.”

  They spent a few minutes checking out the pool, full-size locker room with showers, sauna, steam room, and exercise room equipped with the latest machines. There was one room with workout clothing neatly laid out that looked like it had never been worn. Rows of athletic shoes lined one wall.

  “This is like some sports fantasy,” he said.

  “Let’s get down to business, because I’m really looking forward to kicking your ass,” said Mace.

  “Now who’s overconfident?”

  “You must really want out of this.” Her tone was flat and hard.

  “How about wanting to keep both of us alive? Doesn’t that count for something?”

  She bumped him with her shoulder. “If you want to call it living.”


  “Being a chickenshit.”

  “So why’d you go along with the bet?”

  “Like I said, because I really want to kick your ass.”

  They found a large room filled with all the athletic gear one could want, from baseball mitts to boxing gloves. There were at least fifty basketballs placed neatly on racks, many with college logos on them.

  Mace pulled out one. “For old times’ sake.”

  He looked down to see the familiar UVA Cavaliers logo painted on it.

  They walked out to the court, where Roy did a mock cheer from the invisible crowd. She threw the ball hard at his gut. He easily caught it before impact. “So what was it like to play in front of thousands, Mr. Superstar?” she asked.

  “Greatest time of my life.”

  “Glory days?”

  “Being a lawyer pays the bills. It’s not like I get out of bed every day thanking the Lord Almighty for the opportunity to make rich people even richer. It’s not like what you used to do as a cop.”

  “Then get out of it. Go back to being a CJA, or join the public defender’s office.”

  “Easier said than done.”

  “It’s only hard if you make it.”

  “I’ll keep that in mind. Ladies first.” He bounced the ball to her.

  “Shall we just dispense with the layup portion of the program?”

  “Whatever you want.”

  She marched off fifteen feet at a hard right angle from the hoop. She set up and fired. Nothing but net.

  Roy clapped. “I’m impressed. Not even warmed up.”

  “Oh, au contraire. I had the hot sauce on my noodles. And your loser bet made me even hotter. I’m like fire inside.”

  “Mace, I really think you’ll thank me later for—”

  “Just shoot!”

  Roy took his place and swished it.

  Twenty feet out at a forty-five degree angle Mace banked it in.

  “About the limit of your range?” he asked. “Guess you’ll find out.”

  He made a swish.

  Mace said, “Okay, that’s H for you.”

  “What the hell are you talking about? I made the shot.”

  “I banked my shot, Roy. You swished it. You got an H.” He stared at her openmouthed. “What?” she said. “You thought I banked it because I couldn’t do it clean from twenty?”

  She grabbed the ball from him, set up at twenty, and hit nothing but the bottom of the net.

  “Okay, I’ve got an H,” he said sullenly.

  “Yes, you do.”

  After nearly an hour, over eighty shots and very few misses, each stood at H-O-R-S.

  Mace set up her shot and banked in an arced twenty-five-footer.

  “So just to be clear, do I need to bank or can I swish?” he asked.

  “I’ll take it easy on you, wimpy boy. You can choose.”

  Roy bounced the ball twice, took aim, and released. His shot missed not only the net but the rim as well.

e bent down, picked up the ball, and looked over, open-mouthed.

  “That’s E,” said Roy. “I lose. We keep working the case without the cops.”

  “So did you intend to lose on purpose all the time?”

  “I guess that’s something you’ll never know. So what’s our next move?”

  “Are you sure about this?” She bounced the ball to him.

  He bounced the ball back to her. “Don’t ask me again. And don’t get all mushy on me—not that that’s likely to happen.”

  “Okay, Tolliver left the office on Friday around seven. The garage record told us that. And then she returned a little before ten.”

  “But she lived in the south end of Old Town. Why drive all the way out, turn around, and come back?”

  “I called in a favor and found out that the cops pulled a credit card receipt. Diane ate at a place in Georgetown on Friday night called Simpsons. Do you know it?”

  “Little hole-in-the-wall a block off M Street toward the river. I’ve been there. Good food. Was she alone?”

  “No. The bill showed there were two meals served.”

  “Who was she with?”

  “Don’t know.”

  “Aren’t the cops going to check with the people at the restaurant?”

  “I don’t know. They have the Captain in custody.”

  “But when the Captain turns out to be innocent?”

  “Then we’ll be ahead of the curve. But I’ve got to make one stop first.”


  “To see an old friend.”


  BETH WAS PILOTING Cruiser One alone tonight, although she had a couple of uniforms in an unmarked car behind her as she sat in the deserted parking lot of a school. She was in uniform and still had her Glock 26 in its holster. Her policy was, when she wore the stars she carried the firepower too. Her radio hung from a clip on her shirt.

  Most days the four stars on each shoulder felt like they weighed a ton apiece, and this day was no exception. This meeting tonight might add immeasurably to her professional pain. Yet she sat calmly and idly tapped a tune on her steering wheel as she listened to the police radio. By force of habit she was still monitoring the dispatches and responses from her officers. There’d been a shooting about six blocks from her location. Normally she would’ve gone to the scene. But tonight she was waiting. And not liking it.

  She stopped tapping when the black sedan pulled into the parking lot. It just screamed FBI Bucar. She knew the shouts of “Five-oh” and “whoop-whoop” had started up the second the sedan had entered Five D. All Bucars looked the same, sounded the same, and even smelled the same. She knew that drugs, guns, gangs, and whores had silently pulled back into the shadows to let the Fibbies pass before they took up their illegal business once more. The sedan pulled to a stop next to her ride, hood to trunk. The driver’s-side window slid down.

  She saw the creds and badge first, the face second.

  “Special Agent Karl Reiger.” A second face appeared behind his. “My partner, Don Hope.”

  Beth said, “Your creds are Homeland Security. Danforth said you were Bureau.”

  “Misunderstanding. Happens sometimes. We actually were with the FBI up until a few years ago. Now we’re assigned to a specialized division of DHS tasked to counterterrorism measures.”

  “Specialized division?”

  “Yep. After 9/11 there’re lots of them.”

  “Okay, let’s talk.”

  “Our office or yours?”

  Beth popped open her door, nodded to her men in the tail cruiser, and slipped into the backseat of the Town Car. Closing the door, she said, “Mona didn’t really fill me in, so I’d appreciate a briefing.”

  Reiger and Hope turned sideways to look at her. Reiger said, “Up front, you have to know it’s going to be limited.”

  “Not what I wanted to hear. When I get read into something I like all the pages.”

  “We’ve got orders just like everybody else.”

  “Specialized, you said?”

  “Joint task force with a limited circle of need to know.”

  “That’s just another name for ‘you can’t tell me.’”

  “National security.”

  “That excuse I hate even more. The guys who pulled the crime scene plug on me, who where they?”

  “Part of the task force.”

  “I’ve been doing this nearly twenty years. I have never seen someone waltz past the police tape simply by showing their damn driver’s license.”

  “We don’t like it any better than you.”

  “I doubt that. Did this all really come from the White House?”

  “Who told you that?” Reiger said sharply.

  “Sorry, can’t read you in on that. I’m not sure you’re cleared for it.”

  “Look, Chief, I know you’re pissed. And I would be too, but national security—”

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