True blue, p.3
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       True Blue, p.3

          

  THE SUN was starting to come up when the Town Car turned down a quiet residential street that dead-ended in a cul-de-sac. A few seconds later they rolled to a stop in the driveway of a comfortable-looking two-story frame house with a wide front porch that sat at the very end of the road. The only giveaway that this was where the highest-ranking cop in D.C. lived was the security stationed outside and the portable barricades that had been moved out of the way when they’d turned onto the street.

  “What the hell is this for, Beth?” Mace asked. “You never had a security detail at your house before. You usually don’t even have a driver.”

  “Different world and the mayor insisted.”

  “Has there been a threat?”

  “I get threats every day. Stalkers at HQ, here at home.”

  “I know, so what’s changed?”

  “Not for you to worry about.”

  The car slowed and Beth Perry rolled down her window and exchanged a few words with the officers on duty, and then she and Mace headed into the house. Mace dropped the duffel bag containing everything she’d brought to prison with her and looked around. “You’re not going to tell me the truth about all the new security?”

  “There’s nothing to tell. I don’t particularly like it, but like I said, the mayor insisted.”

  “But why did he—”

  “Drop it, Mace!”

  The sisters did a staredown and Mace finally backed off.

  “So where’s Blind Man?”

  As if on cue, an old fifty-pound mutt with gray, black, and tan markings came into the room. As it sniffed the air, it gave a yelp and bounded toward Mace. She knelt and scratched Blind Man behind the ears and then gave the dog a lingering hug, pushing her nose into its smooth fur as Blind Man happily licked her ear.

  “I think I missed this guy almost as much as I missed you.”

  “He’s been pining for you.”

  “Hey, Blind Man, you missed me, man, you missed me?”

  “I still can’t believe they were going to put him down just because he can’t see. That dog’s nose is so keen it’s better than having two pairs of twenty-twenties.”

  Mace rose but continued to stroke Blind Man’s head. “You always have been one to bring in strays with special cases. The deaf cat, and three-legged Bill the boxer.”

  “Everybody and everything deserves a chance.”

  “Including little sisters?”

  “You’ve lost weight, but otherwise you look to be in great shape.”

  “Worked out every day. Only thing that kept me going.”

  Beth looked at her strangely. It took Mace a few moments to interpret. “I’m clean, Beth. I was clean when I went in and I didn’t touch anything while I was in there, although let me tell you there were more drugs in that place than at Pfizer’s world headquarters. I exchanged meth for endorphins. I’ll take a pee test if you want.”

  “I don’t, but your probation officer will as a post-release condition.”

  Mace took a deep breath. She’d forgotten that she was now officially on probation for a full year because of some complicating factors in her sentencing. If she screwed up they could send her right back for a lot longer than twenty-four months.

  “I know the guy. He’s okay. Plays fair. Your first meeting is next week.”

  “I thought it would be sooner than that.”

  “It usually is, but I told him you’d be staying with me.”

  Mace stared fixedly at her sister. “Any news on who set me up?’

  “Let’s talk about it later. But I’ve got some ideas.”

  There was something in her voice that made Mace decide not to argue. “I’m starving, but can I grab a shower first? Two minutes a day of cold drizzle over two years gets to you.”

  “Towels, soap, and shampoo are all set upstairs. I’ve got the rest of your clothes in the guest bedroom.”

  Thirty minutes later the two sisters sat down in the large, airy kitchen to scrambled eggs, coffee, bacon, and toast that Beth had prepared. The chief had changed into jeans and a sweatshirt with “FBI Academy” stenciled on the front. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she was barefoot. Mace had on a white long-sleeved shirt and a pair of corduroy pants she’d last worn over two years ago. Snug before, they now rode low on her narrow hips.

  “You’re going to need new things,” said her sister. “What are you now, about one-fifteen?

  “A little less.” She ran a thumb inside the waist of the saggy pants. “I didn’t know I was such a porker before.”

  “Yeah, a real porker. You could sprint circles around most of the force even back then. No donut runs for Mace Perry.”

  As sunlight spilled through the windows, Beth watched as Mace took her time with each bite and drank the coffee in careful sips. Mace caught her sister eyeing her and put her fork and cup down.

  “Pathetic, I know,” Mace said.

  Beth leaned across and wrapped long fingers around her sister’s forearm. “I can’t tell you how good it is to have you back safe. What a relief it is—”

  Beth’s voice faltered and Mace saw the tall woman’s eyes suddenly tear up; the same eyes that had stared down the worst the city had to offer. Like Mace, she’d started as a beat cop in the toughest neighborhoods of D.C. that no tourist would ever have ventured into unless he was tired of living.

  The chief hurried over to the counter and poured another cup of coffee, gazing out the window into the small backyard while she regained her composure. Mace returned to her meal. In between bites she asked, “So what was it you kept for me?”

  Relieved by this change in subject, Beth said, “Follow me and I’ll show you.”

  She opened the door to the garage and nudged the light on with her elbow. It was a two-bay arrangement. In one parking slot sat Beth’s black Jeep Cherokee. The vehicle sitting in the other space caused a grin to spill over Mace’s face.

  A Ducati Sport 1000 S motorcycle painted cherry red. It was the only thing Mace had ever splurged on. And still she’d gotten it dirt cheap and secondhand from a portly cop who’d bought it after going through a midlife crisis only to realize he was terrified to ride the damn thing.

  She stepped down to the garage floor, ran her hand along the upside-down high-performance Marzocchi front forks forged from glorious brushed aluminum. Then her fingers slipped over the Sachs shocks that had softened journeys over some rough terrain when she’d used her private ride to chase down some bad guys off-road. The bike had a removable tailpiece cover to give it a sporty, aerodynamic look, but if you popped it off, it revealed a seat and became a two-person ride. However, Mace liked to ride solo. It had a six-speed gearbox, Marelli electronic fuel injection, L-twin cylinders, and its engine generated nearly a hundred horses at eight thousand rpms. She’d kept the bike far longer than any man she ever had, because she loved this machine far more than any guy she’d ever dated.

  “How’d my creditors miss this?”

  “I assigned it over to myself, so there was nothing to miss. I did it in lieu of payment for administering your affairs.” She held out the key. “Your license still valid?”

  “Even if it wasn’t, you couldn’t keep me off it.”

  “Nice thing to tell the chief of police sworn to uphold and protect.”

  “Just uphold that thought, I’ll be back.”

  Mace slipped the helmet on.

  “Wait a sec.”

  She looked over in time to see Beth toss her a black leather jacket she’d bought for her when she’d gotten the bike. Mace slipped it on. Her shoulders had widened enough to where it was a tight fit, but it still felt wonderful, because those shoulders and the rest of the body attached to it were now free.

  Mace engaged the engine.

  From behind the door to the kitchen there came the sounds of claws scratching and then Blind Man started to howl.

  “He’s always hated you on that thing,” Beth yelled over the roar of the bike’s engine.

  “But God, it sounds so good,” Mace shouted back.

  Beth had already hit the control for the garage door. Good thing, because a few seconds later the Ducati roared out of the bay and into the crisp morning air, leaving its signature mark in burned-off tread on the cement.

  Before the security detail could even react and move the barriers, Mace had already whipped around the staggered portable walls, angling the Ducati almost parallel to the ground. The machine responded flawlessly, like she and it had already fused into one organism. Then she was gone in a long exhale of Italian-engineered exhaust.

  The security detail scratched its collective heads and turned to look back at the chief. She raised her cup of coffee in mock salute to their dedicated vigilance and returned to the house. She kept the garage door open, however. Four years ago she’d lost one garage door to her little sister’s overeager entry. She did not plan on repeating that mistake.

  CHAPTER 7

  MACE KNEW that D.C. was the sort of town where on one block you were as safe as you would be in the middle of a small town in southern Kansas on Sunday afternoon in front of the local Methodist church. Yet one block over, you better have Kevlar covering every square inch of your body because chances were very good that someone was going to get shot. That was where Mace wanted to be. Her brain was wired to run toward the gunfire instead of away from it. Just like her sister.

  She’d been working another assignment when a slot had opened with the Narcotics and Special Investigations Division. She’d applied. Her arrest record was stellar, her late-to-work and tardies nonexistent. She’d impressed the brass board and gotten the position. She’d worked 4D Mobile Force Vice, though it was now called Focused Mission Unit, which to her didn’t sound nearly as cool.

  She’d started doing jump-outs as a plainclothes, which basically meant you cruised looking for dealers and when you saw them you jumped out and arrested as many as you could. In certain areas of D.C. you couldn’t miss them. She could hang as many as she wanted. The only thing holding her back was how much paperwork she wanted to do and how much court OT she could stomach.

  She’d cut her teeth on street-level dealers hand-selling rocks and making two grand a day. They were small fish to be sure, but they also shot people. Then there were the scratch-offs. They were either checking a rock of crack in their palm or doing a lottery card, it was virtually the same hand motion. And lots of lottery tickets were sold where Mace worked. Yet she’d gotten so good that she could tell by the motion of the index finger at twenty feet whether it was a rock or merely Lotto. Later, she’d gone undercover in the drug and homicidal hell of the Sixth and Seventh districts. That’s when all the trouble really began. That’s why two years of her life had vanished.

  Mace flew through block after block enjoying her first free day in nearly twenty-four months. Her dark hair whipped out from under the racing helmet as she quickly moved from the fortress of solitude around her sister’s house, to fairly decent and safe D.C., then to a neighborhood whose turf battle had not yet been fully decided between cops and bandits, and finally onto ground where the thin blue line had failed to establish even a beachhead.

  This was the Sixth District, or Six D in the MPD’s carved-up fiefdom. If Mace had a hundred bucks for every time she’d seen a PCP zombie running naked screaming through the streets here at midnight, she wouldn’t have been so ticked about losing her police pension. In certain sections of Six D there were shuttered houses, trashed buildings, and cannibalized cars on blocks. At night on virtually every corner here something bad was going down and gunfire was as ubiquitous as mosquitoes. All of the honest hardworking citizens—and that constituted most of the folks who lived here—just stayed inside and kept their heads down.

  Even in daylight people moved around on the streets with furtive looks. It was as though they just knew stingers launched from nickel-plated Glocks with drilled-off serial numbers or else hollow-points exploding out of virgin pistols looking for first kills could be heading their way. Even the air here seemed to stink, and the sunlight felt degraded by a cover of hopelessness as thick as the carbon emissions eroding what was left of the ozone.

  She slowed the Ducati and watched several of the people walking by on the street. The homicide rate in D.C. was nowhere near what it used to be in the late 1980s and early 1990s when young drug kingpins wearing brutish crowns formed from the tendrils of the crack cocaine era enjoyed their reign of terror. Back then a body violently dropped on average over once a day, every single day of the year, including the Sabbath. Yet currently nearly two hundred mostly young African American males every year required a medical examiner’s certification as to their cause of death, so it wasn’t exactly violence-free either. The men around here craved respect, and they seemed to believe they only would get it in increments of nine-millimeter ordnance. And maybe they were right.

  She stopped the bike, lifted off her helmet, and shook free the static from her hair. Normally coming here on a fat-cat motorcycle at any time of the day or night was not smart, particularly if you were white and weaponless, as Mace was. Yet no one bothered her, no one even approached her. Maybe they figured a woman not of color coming here alone on a Ducati was obviously psychotic and thus apt to blow up herself like some suicide bomber.

  “Hey, Mace! That you?”

  She twisted around on her seat to look behind her.

  The gent coming toward her was short and stick-thin with a shaved head. He had a pair of two-hundred-dollar LeBron James sneakers on his feet minus the shoelaces.

  “Eddie?”

  He approached and looked over the bike.

  “Nice, nice shit. Heard you were in.”

  “I got out.”

  “When?”

  “About five seconds ago.”

  “Just a deuce, right, so you just be an inmate.” He grinned at this insult.

  “Just two years, that’s right. Not a con. Just a lowly inmate.”

  “My little brother’s already done ten, and he’s only twenty-five. No family court crap for little bro. Hard time,” he added proudly.

  “How many people did he kill?”

  “Two. But them assholes both had it coming.”

  “I bet. Well, two years was plenty long enough for me.”

  He patted the Ducati’s gas tank and grinned, showing teeth so white and perfect that she assumed he’d gotten a nice deal on some veneers, probably bartering some prescription pills for them. Being seen talking to even a former police officer was not smart around here. However, Eddie was just a bottom-level huckabuck, a street thug. Not too bright and not connected at all, and the most illegal thing he’d ever done was to retail bags of processed weed, a few Crocks, and handfuls of stolen OxyContin pills on the street. The real players here knew that, and they also knew that Eddie had no information about their operations that he could possibly sell to the cops. Still, Mace was surprised he was alive. The dumb and the weak around here were usually eradicated extremely efficiently. So maybe he was wound tighter than she thought. Which could make him useful to her.

  “Neighborhood all the same?”

  “Some things don’t change, Mace. People pop and drop. You know that.”

  “I know someone screwed me.”

  His grin faded. “Don’t know nothing ’bout that.”

  “Yeah, but maybe you know somebody who does know.”

  “You out now, girl. Ain’t no good looking in the rearview mirror. There might be something you ain’t want to see. Besides, your sister already had her boys come down through here with a fine-tooth comb. Hell, they were just down here last week.”

  “They were? Doing what?”

  “Asking questions, doing their CSI thing. See that’s the cool thing having a police chief in the family. Cold case don’t never go cold. But I bet she gets some shit for it anyway. Not everybody loves the top blue, Mace.”

  “Like what shit?”

  “How the hell I know? I just on the street getting by.”

  “Her guys talk to you?”

  He nodded. “And I told ’em the truth. I ain’t know nothing ’bout nothing.” He patted the Ducati’s gas tank again. “Hey, can I take it for a ride?”

  She removed his hand from the Ducati. “There’s an old saying, Eddie, to go forward, you have to go back.”

  “Whoever said that ain’t from ’round here.”

  She eyed his windbreaker, the way his left elbow was clenched tight to his side, and how he leaned ever so slightly that way because of the weight of what was in his pocket. “You know, bro, if you want to carry a gun and not have the cops know, you’re gonna
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