True blue, p.31
True Blue, p.31David Baldacci
standing one. You know that.”
Don Hope spoke up. “But it’s not guys with turbans we’re killing here. It’s Americans. It’s different. We’ve already killed three of them and we want new orders.”
“Where is it written that Americans can’t be terrorists?” asked Burns pointedly. “Are you telling me that Timothy McVeigh wasn’t a terrorist? I don’t give a damn if he’s wearing a turban or looks like my son. I don’t give a shit if he’s from Iraq or Indiana. If his goal is to harm Americans it’s my job to stop him. And I will do so with every means at my disposal.”
“All I’m saying is after this is over Karl and I need the get-out-of-jail-free piece of paper. So if you want it done, we need docs for each one with their names spelled out. We’re not taking the fall for this. No Abu Ghraib low-level-grunts-run-amuck bullshit. Top down. We all go down. That’s just how it’s going to be or your sterilized weapons remain in the holster. That’s just how it’s going to be,” he said again firmly.
“You are being compensated at four times your original salaries. You both will be wealthy by the time this is over.”
“The paper or it doesn’t get done. Period!”
Burns pursed his lips. “All right. You’ll have it as soon as possible by secure courier.” He returned to his computer screen.
Reiger eyed Hope and then cleared his throat.
Burns looked up, obviously irritated. “Something else?”
“How many people in this building know about the op?”
“Counting you, me, and your partner there?”
The tail car on Hope and Reiger had radioed in the results of their surveillance. Beth Perry was there within ten minutes. She slid out of her car and into the backseat of theirs. She was dressed not in stars and bars but in jeans and her FBI Academy hoodie. She trained her binoculars on the building.
“You’re absolutely sure they went in there?”
“Chief, it’s pretty damn hard to miss.”
What she was looking at through her optics was the biggest office building in the world, with a footprint like no other, five-sided, in fact. She slumped back.
What the hell is the connection to the Pentagon?
YEAH, I remember Ms. Tolliver. Used to come in here all the time.”
Mace and Roy were seated at a table at Simpsons. The man speaking to them was a waiter. They’d made inquiries, and by luck this same fellow had waited on Diane Tolliver on Friday night.
“She wasn’t alone, right?” asked Mace.
“No, a guy was with her. Damn shame what happened to her.”
“Can you describe the guy?” asked Roy.
The waiter turned to him. “You think he had something to do with her death?”
“Haven’t ruled out anything yet.”
“Are you with the cops?”
“Private eyes,” said Mace. “Hired by her family. Have the cops been by yet?”
The man nodded. “Yep.”
“So you were going to describe this guy?” prompted Mace.
“White guy. Around fifty, salt-and-pepper hair, cut short and thinning. Not as tall as you,” he said, indicating Roy. “About five-ten. Dressed in a suit.”
Mace showed him Watkins’s DMV photo.
He shook his head. “Wasn’t that guy.”
“You didn’t get a name?” she asked.
“No, Ms. Tolliver paid the bill.”
“See him with her before?”
“How were their appetites?”
“Real good. Ms. Tolliver had the filet mignon, mashed potatoes, and a side of veggies. Coffee but no dessert. The guy had the salmon with a salad and a cup of clam chowder beforehand.”
“She had a glass of the house merlot. He had two glasses of char-donnay.”
“Not really. When the police came, I went back and looked at the ticket.”
“You remember the times Tolliver and the guy came in and left?” asked Roy.
“In about seven-thirty, left over two hours later. I remember looking at the clock when they sat down because my cousin said he was going to stop by around quarter till and have a drink at the bar, and I knew it was getting close to that time.”
“And you’re pretty sure on when they left?”
“It was Friday night, but we’ve only got fifteen tables and traffic was slow. In fact, there were only two other tables occupied, so I did notice. And the bill has a time and date stamp when it comes out of the computer. They didn’t hang out after she paid the bill. Bussed their table myself.”
“Did either of them appear nervous or anything?” asked Mace.
“Well, they didn’t come in together. She was here first and then he came in. They sat at that table over there.” He pointed to an eating space in a small niche. “Pretty private because of the wall there.”
“Did they leave together?” Roy asked.
“No. She went first, then he did. And he was kind of looking down the whole time, like he didn’t want anyone to get a good look at him.”
They asked him a few more questions, and Roy left his business card in case the waiter remembered anything else. As they walked along outside Mace pulled the reports she’d gotten from the ME from her pocket and glanced through them.
“What?” asked Roy.
“I don’t know. Nothing, I guess.”
“So it wasn’t Watkins she had dinner with. There’s another guy out there.”
“Seems to be. And they obviously didn’t want folks to see them together. Out-of-the-way place, secluded table, came and left separately.”
“We left my car at the garage. What now? We can’t walk to Alexandria.”
“We can cab it to Altman’s house, grab my bike, and then go from there.”
“Do you think whoever’s after us knows you’re staying at Altman’s?”
“But what if they go after Altman for some reason? You know, leverage against you somehow?”
“Herbert told me there are three full-time security guards who live on the premises. I guess after the run-in with the HF-12 drug crew, Abe decided some of his own muscle wasn’t a bad thing. One’s a former Navy SEAL, another used to be a sniper with the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, and the other one is former Secret Service with five years in Iraq under his belt in counterterrorism.”
“Damn. I never noticed those guys when I was there.”
“That’s sort of the point, Roy.”
The cab dropped them at Altman’s. She took a few minutes at the guesthouse to slip some items into her knapsack. As they walked outside to where her bike was parked Roy said, “What’s in the goodie bag?”
“Stuff for breaking and entering?”
Roy barely made it on the Ducati before Mace punched the clutch with her boot and the back wheel gripped the asphalt for a single moment before its energy was released and they shot down the road. The automatic gates parted and Mace worked the clutch to top gear. Minutes later they blew down the windy, tree-bracketed GW Parkway, whipping past cars so fast Roy could barely see the drivers.
He finally yelled into her ear, “Why so damn fast?”
“I have a fetish for speed.”
“You ever crash this thing?”
“Not yet,” she screamed back over the whine of the Ducati’s engine.
Roy clutched her waist with both hands and muttered a brief but heartfelt prayer.
WHY AM I not surprised that you can pick a deadbolt?” Roy was staring over Mace’s shoulder while she worked on the lock. They were at the fence-enclosed basement entrance to Diane Tolliver’s waterfront luxury town home at Fords Landing. It was an upscale community a little south of t
Mace had her pick and tension tool inserted in the lock and was manipulating both instruments with ease. “Amazing what you learn in prison,” she said.
“You didn’t learn that in prison,” he said in a scoffing tone.
“How do you know that?”
“Trust me, I just know.”
“Are you insinuating that I bent the rules while I was a cop?”
“I mean, I’m not insinuating it, I’m stating it as a fact.”
“Go to hell, Roy.”
“Wait a minute, how do you know the security system’s not on?”
“I already snuck a peek through the glass sidelights on the front door. Green glow coming from the security touchpad means security off. Cops probably had the alarm company shut it down when they came to bag and tag. They almost always forget to tell them to turn it back on.”
There was an audible click and Mace turned her tension tool like a key. “And we’re in.” They closed the door behind them and Mace on a small flashlight with an adjustable beam. She widened the focus and looked around.
“This is a rec room with a full bar over there,” Roy said as he pointed up ahead and to the right. “And there’s a media room through that door over there.”
“If the cops already bagged and tagged, what can we hope to find?”
“Stuff they missed.”
They went room by room. One space had been outfitted as a home office. There was a large desk, wooden file cabinets, and builtin bookshelves but no computer.
“I think she had a laptop in here,” said Roy. “The cops might’ve taken it instead of using the flash drive you talked about.”
Mace was eyeing a pile of documents she’d pulled from a file cabinet. “Do all lawyers at Shilling bring this much work home?”
Roy ran the light over the papers. “Looks to be some docs from a private stock acquisition we did last month. We repped an oil exploration company in the U.A.E. that was buying a preferred minority interest in a Canadian shale oil field. It was done through a specialized broker in London and there were several other piggyback purchasers with packaged financing securitized over a number of debt platforms in about ten countries that had also had some sovereign fund participation and a buy-sell playing-chicken option.”
“I have no idea what you said, but I think it just made me horny.”
“If I’d only known that’s all it took.”
“So how much are we talking dollar-wise?”
“A little over a billion dollars. Paid in cash.”
“A billion in cash!”
“That’s how Diane could afford this place. She probably paid for it in cash.”
Mace’s brow creased.
“What are you thinking now?”
“I’m thinking I should have gone to law school,” she growled. While Roy went over Tolliver’s office, Mace methodically covered the bedroom, guest rooms, bathrooms, and the garage. She finally arrived in the kitchen, which had a small brick fireplace with a wooden mantel and extended into the well-appointed dining area that had as its centerpiece a ten-foot-long table constructed from reclaimed wood. There were views of the Potomac through several large windows.
Mace checked the cupboards, the refrigerator, the stove, and the dishwasher. She opened jars and cookbooks, and dug into flowerpots in case Tolliver had bought one of those mini security boxes that look like something mundane. She examined piece by piece the trash that had obviously not been bagged, tagged, and taken by the cops. Roy joined her while she was seated in a chair still going through the garbage.
“Find any banana peels with secret writing?”
“No, but I did find a meat wrapper, veggie peelings, and a moldy piece of bread. Along with an empty bottle of red wine.”
“So that was Diane’s last meal.”
“We’ll all have one someday.”
Mace rinsed off her hands in the sink. “Anything suspicious in her files?”
Mace started walking up and down the room, hitting the walls, floor, and ceiling with her light. “See all the shiny surfaces?”
She reached the wall at the far end of the room, turned, and started back. When her light flicked to the ceiling she stopped. “Roy, grab a chair for me.”
He brought it to her and she stood on it on her tiptoes, shining the light around the smoke detector mounted on the ceiling. She handed him the light. “Get up here and tell me what you see.”
He stood on the chair. “Scratches on the paint and what looks to be dirt smudges.”
“Somebody moved the smoke detector.”
“Well, you’d do that to change the battery.”
“How about this?”
Roy stepped off the chair and angled the light to where Mace was pointing at the carpet. He got down on his knees for a better look. “Paint flakes?”
“You’d think they would’ve been vacuumed up. Unless it happened after she was dead. Let me see that detector.”
Roy got back on the chair, unhooked the wires, and handed it to her.
She turned it over. “Smoke detectors are popular items to substitute with surveillance pin cameras.”
“Surveillance? Of Diane?”
“They tapped her computer, why not her home?”
“So why didn’t the police find it?”
“They probably removed it before the cops searched the place. I think you need to go to your office tomorrow and do some real digging.”
True Blue by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes