True blue, p.29
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       True Blue, p.29

           David Baldacci
 

  Beth cut him off. “I’ve played the national-security-trumps-everything game with the best of them. What I don’t appreciate is being completely cut out of the loop on a homicide committed in my own backyard. I earned my badge and my creds, and I don’t like getting blindsided by assholes with shields from DMV.”

  Reiger said, “We think Meldon was killed by domestic terrorists.”

  Beth leaned forward. “Domestic terrorists? What’s the connection to him?”

  “Case he was working. Remember the guy who tried to blow up the Air and Space Museum almost a year ago using four pounds of Semtex and a cell phone detonator?”

  “Roman Naylor? How could I forget? It was one of my officers on K-9 duty that nailed the son of a bitch before he could kill a thousand kids from the Midwest who were there on a summer tour.”

  “Meldon was prosecuting the case. Naylor has groups of supporters in various states. United Sons of the American Patriot was one of them. They’ve been linked to three bombings of federal property in the last two years. We think that was just the warm-up act for something that will rival 9/11. A bunch of these homegrown whack jobs went underground after we and ATF came after them on a joint op. We suspect that three of Naylor’s cronies were in D.C. last week to participate in a protest in front of the federal courthouse where he’s being tried, and now they’ve disappeared.”

  “Wait a minute, Mona told me she’d reviewed Meldon’s caseload and there was nothing he was working on that would account for his murder.”

  “And you trust Danforth?”

  “Not really.”

  “Good, because that lady would lie to her grandmother on the woman’s deathbed if she thought it would help her career. The fact is, we put Danforth on a short leash and suggested that she pass off the baton to you. She really didn’t seem to mind. Lady doesn’t like getting her nails dirty.”

  “Understood, but why did you suggest it?”

  “Because we’d much rather deal with you than her.”

  “So you really think Naylor’s cronies killed Meldon?”

  “Doesn’t take a big stretch.”

  “How did he die?’

  Hope passed across a single sheet of paper. “This is a summary of the autopsy results. Contact gunshot wound to the back of the head, execution style. We got the slug. It was a .40-caliber round. But we’ll never find a gun to match it to. His ride was found in western Maryland with only Meldon’s prints on it. No trace at the crime scene. Neat and clean and the killers long gone.”

  “But if these guys were in D.C. how come I didn’t get notice? How come Meldon didn’t get protection?”

  “We said suspected, not confirmed. And if it’s the three we think it is, we didn’t have anything to hold them on anyway except speculation and gut instincts, and the courts don’t look too favorably on that. But we believe that they’ve been tasked to do the next Oklahoma City.”

  “If so, why risk it all by killing Meldon?”

  “They were tight with Naylor. So it could simply be personal revenge. Now that the guy’s dead the trial will be delayed.”

  “Any leads on these three?”

  “Not yet. But we’re running it down.”

  “And will I be in the loop when you do?”

  “We can ask, Chief, that’s all we can do.”

  “So by not really telling me anything, why did you call the meeting?”

  “We told you our theory on who killed Meldon. And we gave you as much hard info as we could. Let me tell you, it was hell even getting that autopsy summary released.”

  “If you give me pictures of the three suspects, four thousand police officers can start looking for them.”

  “I highly doubt they hung around town after doing Meldon.”

  “Surprise, I also know police chiefs in other cities. And I even have some Feds I call friends.”

  “We have all that covered.”

  “So, again, why did you want to see me?”

  “Professional courtesy,” said Reiger. He paused. “And a high-up buddy of yours asked us to fill you in.”

  It didn’t take Beth long to come up with the answer. “Sam Donnelly?”

  “He’s not the kind of guy who likes to take credit for stuff, but I won’t deny it.”

  “I owe him.”

  “I’m sure he’ll call in a favor from you one day. And I know this sounds unfair as hell, but if you get any leads we’d appreciate a heads-up.”

  Beth opened the door. “You’ll get it.”

  “That easy?” said Reiger.

  “Unlike you guys, I just want to catch the bandits. I don’t really give a damn what agency gets the credit. Why don’t you try to pass along that philosophy in your specialized division?”

  A few seconds later Cruiser One was rolling with the tail car right behind.

  As she drove out of sight Reiger looked at Hope, who said, “What do you think?”

  “I think we did what we were told and now we report back.”

  “And the sister and the lawyer?”

  “I’m not calling the plays on this thing, Don. I just execute them. But let me tell you, the further we go on this thing, the less I like it. I didn’t sign on for this shit and I know you didn’t either.”

  “They’re paying us four times what we normally earn.”

  “Yeah, to kill our fellow Americans?”

  “During the vetting Burns told us that we might have to go all the way. But it’s to keep the country safe. Sometimes the enemies come from within. Hell, you know that.”

  “I still wanted to puke when I put that round in Meldon’s head.”

  “Burns told us he was a traitor, showed us the proof. But if the truth came out, it would ruin years of intelligence work. He had to be taken out. This is black ops stuff, Karl, the old rules don’t apply.”

  “Keep telling yourself that, you might start believing it.”

  Reiger steered the sedan out of the parking lot.

  An unmarked car pulled slowly out of an alley opposite the lot and followed Reiger’s sedan. The guy riding in the passenger seat said into the radio, “Mobile Two rolling and on their six.”

  Beth Perry’s voice crackled into the car. “Where they go, you go. I don’t care if it’s hell and back. Chief out.”

  CHAPTER 66

  REMEMBER ME, Doc?”

  Mace stood in the front lobby of the police forensic facility. Roy was waiting out in the car. Lowell Cassell, the chief medical examiner, smiled.

  “I was both surprised and thrilled when they told me you were here.”

  “I see you’re still in the habit of working late.”

  “Your sister has cut down considerably on the homicide rate, but unfortunately my backlog is still full.”

  They shook hands and then did a quick hug.

  “It’s so good to see you, Mace.”

  She smiled. “I missed you too, Doc.”

  Mace looked around. “They were just about to finish this place when I… went away.”

  Cassell nodded. “Yes. I hope Beth communicated my sentiments on that subject to you?”

  “Loud and clear.”

  “So tell me, what can I do for you?”

  “Well, I wanted to come by, see you, see this place.”

  “And?”

  “I was wondering about a certain investigation.”

  “Diane Tolliver?”

  “How’d you guess?”

  “Let’s discuss this in private.”

  A minute later they were seated in his office.

  “Diane Tolliver?” Mace prompted.

  “It’s an ongoing investigation.”

  “That I know.”

  “Then you also know it’s not something I can really talk about.”

  “Look, Doc, I know I’m not with the blues anymore.”

  “If it were up to me I’d show you the entire file, but it’s not up to me.”

  “Beth told me some things already.”

  “She’s the c
hief, I’m simply a worker bee.”

  “Anyway, hypothetically speaking, if I were working the case I’d like to see the autopsy report, list of trace found at the site, tox report, rape kit results, you know, the usual.”

  “If you were working the case.”

  Mace stood and paced. “Thing is, I can’t work the case because I can’t be a blue. At least with a felony conviction hanging over my head.”

  “That’s right.”

  “Unless circumstances change.”

  He looked intrigued. “How would they change?”

  “I prove I was innocent. Or else.”

  “Or else what?”

  “I solve a case. A big case.”

  “I see. Wasn’t there an FBI agent years ago who did something like that?”

  “He actually came to visit me in prison.”

  “Then I can see your motivation.”

  “Doc, being a cop is all I know. Beth could be anything. She could be running some Fortune 100 company if she put her mind to it, or else be president of the United States. I’m a blue, that’s all I can be.”

  “Don’t short-change yourself, Mace.”

  “Let me rephrase that. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to be.”

  “I can understand that. Especially considering what happened to your father.”

  “You knew him, didn’t you?”

  “I had that privilege. And it makes it doubly hard to accept that Mona Danforth is right this moment occupying his old office.”

  “When I was in prison all I thought about was getting out and seeing Beth. And then proving my innocence and getting back on the force. It seemed so possible in there.”

  “But now?”

  “Not so possible,” Mace said resignedly.

  “But you have to try? Even if it means you might go back to prison?”

  “I don’t want to go back. God knows I don’t. But living free outside the uniform?” She paused, searching for the right words. “It feels like I’m right back in the box with bars even though I’m free. I guess that’s hard to understand.”

  “No, it’s actually not.”

  “So I’m here asking for your help. Because I can’t solve this case without some forensic information.”

  She sat down, her gaze squarely on him.

  He stared back at her for a moment before rising. “I don’t have the tox report or the DNA match results back yet.”

  “Okay.”

  He opened a file cabinet, took out some documents, and put them on his desk. “I need to use the restroom. Damn prostate. Be grateful you don’t have one. I’ll be back in a bit.” Before he left, he lifted the cover on the tabletop copier on a credenza behind his desk. “Just replaced the toner and loaded in a full supply of paper.”

  He closed the door behind him. A second later Mace was copying as fast as she could.

  CHAPTER 67

  YOU LOOK HAPPY,” said Roy as Mace climbed in the car and he pulled off.

  “I am. And you’re right,” she said. “This Marquis really is huge. You could fill it with water and use it for a pool.”

  He glanced at the papers she had in an expandable file. “What’s that?”

  “That is the result of a good friend taking a huge risk for me.”

  “What do you want to do now?”

  “You drive us to your office and I’ll read.”

  Twenty minutes later Roy pulled into the parking garage of his office building and Mace turned over the last page of the file she’d copied.

  “And?” Roy asked. “She was raped, but Beth already told me that. The DNA results from the sample taken from your buddy the Captain aren’t back yet and neither is the tox report.”

  “How did she die?”

  “Someone crushed her brain stem.” She looked up. “Back of the neck. It would’ve taken a really strong person probably with some special skills to do that.”

  “Like a former Army Ranger who weighs about three hundred pounds?”

  “You said it, I didn’t.”

  “What else?”

  “Trace and soiling on her clothes matched samples they took from the Captain.”

  “So that’s why there’s been no court appearance scheduled yet for him. They’re waiting to see if they hit a home run on the DNA. Normally there’s a presentment hearing within twenty-four hours of arrest.”

  “When they do charge him what are you going to plead?”

  “Regardless of whether it’s burglary or murder, we scream ‘not guilty’ and go from there. The prosecutor doesn’t need any help from me.” He glanced at the file. “Anything that doesn’t point to the Captain?”

  “Not really.”

  “But the DNA sample is going to come back as not a match. They can get the Captain on the burglary, but I’ll take that over murder in the first.”

  “Who wouldn’t?” Mace said.

  “But Diane had dinner with someone on Friday night and it sure wasn’t the Captain.”

  “Maybe it was this guy Watkins. The real Watkins, I mean.”

  “Hopefully, we’ll find out.”

  They rode the elevator up to Shilling & Murdoch and Roy swiped his card across the contact pad, releasing the doors.

  A minute later they were looking through the dead woman’s space. Mace sat down at Diane’s desk and stared into the large Apple computer screen. “Nice system.”

  “I’m surprised the cops didn’t take her computer.”

  “They don’t have to anymore. They just download everything to a
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