True blue, p.32
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       True Blue, p.32

           David Baldacci
 

  “You really believe it’s tied to Shilling?” he said skeptically.

  “Billion-dollar contracts? Companies in the Middle East? Uh, yeah.”

  “It’s actually pretty boring stuff. Just business.”

  “One man’s business is another man’s apocalypse.”

  “What the hell does that mean?”

  “Just humor me and check around. Come on, I’ll drop you off at your condo.”

  Outside, they climbed on the Ducati. Before Mace started the engine, she turned and looked at him. “So why did you tank the HORSE game?”

  “Why do you think?” Roy said quietly.

  Mace found she couldn’t meet his gaze. She slowly turned back around, engaged the engine, and they sped off.

  CHAPTER 72

  HEY, Ned.”

  Roy walked through the lobby on the way to the office elevators. He’d had pretty much a sleepless night listening for any sound of killers coming for him. He’d taken the bus to work and planned to drive the Marquis home. Ned was behind the marble desk looking excited.

  “Roy, did you hear about the fire here last night?”

  Roy tried his best to seem surprised. “There was a fire? Where?”

  “Well, actually there wasn’t a fire. Somebody pulled the fire alarm. That’s a crime!”

  “Yeah, I know. Who would’ve done that?” he said impassively.

  “The fire department guys were pissed. I heard they traced it to the alarm pull on the fifth floor. I guess they’ll run the key card access records to see who was here last night.”

  At this comment Roy’s ass clenched like a boxer’s fist. He’d used his key card to get in the building with Mace. That would be on the database. If no one else was in the building last night, how was he going to explain that? What was the penalty for falsely pulling a fire alarm?

  This day could not get any worse, he thought.

  He was wrong about that.

  “Roy?”

  He looked up as he entered the firm’s lobby. Chester Ackerman was staring at him.

  “Yeah, Chester?”

  “What the hell happened to your face?”

  Roy touched his still swollen eye and bruised cheek. “Ran into a door.”

  “I need to talk to you. Now.” Ackerman turned and marched off.

  Roy eyed Jill, the young receptionist, who’d been watching the two men closely. “Any idea what’s going on, Jill?”

  “You’re in trouble, Roy.”

  “That one I’d figured out. Any idea why?”

  “You’ll find out soon enough.”

  Roy dropped off his briefcase in his office and headed to Ackerman’s. He closed the door behind him and sat down across from the man.

  “You’re looking less stressed out, Chester,” Roy began amiably.

  “I have no idea how that’s possible,” Ackerman shot back. “Because I feel like my damn head is going to explode.”

  Roy crossed his legs and tried to look mildly curious. “So what’s up?” Please, God, don’t let it be about the damn fire alarm.

  “What the hell is this I hear about you representing the man the police have arrested for Diane’s murder? Please tell me that is complete and total horseshit.”

  “Hold on, I can explain that—”

  Ackerman rose, looking even more agitated. “So it’s true?”

  “I met with the guy. He wants me to rep him. I haven’t—”

  “You know Diane’s killer? You actually know the bastard?”

  “Wait a minute, it hasn’t been proved that he is Diane’s killer, Chester.”

  “Oh for God’s sakes. He was in the building that morning. No, he was trespassing. And I understand some of the evidence the police found ties him to the murder.”

  “Who told you that?”

  “What I want to know is how you could possibly think of defending this person?”

  “I guess it’s that whole innocent-until-proven-guilty thing they taught us in law school.”

  “Don’t give me that crap. And besides, you work for this firm. We do not do criminal defense work. You cannot accept an assignment like that without the firm’s approval, specifically my approval as managing partner.” Ackerman added in a snarl, “And you don’t have a chance in hell of getting it.”

  “I only met with the guy once, okay? I defended him on an assault charge when I was with CJA. But I don’t think the guy did it, Chester.”

  “I don’t give a damn what you think. You are not representing him. Period.”

  Roy stood. “I’m not really liking your whole tone here.”

  “Trust me, you’ll like it a lot less if you go down that road.”

  “I can quit.”

  “Yes, you can. But why in the hell would you? Give up the golden egg for some homicidal homeless freak?”

  Roy felt his face growing hot. “He’s not a freak. He’s a veteran. He fought and bled for this country. He’s still got North Vietnamese shrapnel a few millimeters from his spine.”

  “Right, right. And he killed Diane. So make your choice.”

  Roy turned to the door. “I’ll let you know.”

  “Kingman!”

  “I said I’ll let you know.”

  Roy slammed the door behind him.

  CHAPTER 73

  MACE HAD BARELY slept at all. This time, though, it wasn’t nightmares about Juanita and the throat-slicing Rose coming for her. It was the recurring image of her father in his coffin. She’d just turned twelve, Beth was eighteen and getting ready to head off to college at Georgetown on full scholarship. The day of the funeral the casket had been closed because of the disfiguring nature of Benjamin Perry’s fatal wounds.

  Yet Mace had seen her father that final day. She’d snuck away. Her mother was mush, collapsing on any shoulder she could find, while Beth was handling everything that their mom should have been dealing with. They had gotten to the church early, before the coffin had been brought into the chapel.

  It was just Mace and the coffin in a small room next to where the memorial service would be held. She remembered every smell, every sound, and every breath she’d drawn in the few minutes she stood there, staring at the big wooden box with the metal handles on the sides containing her dad. To this day she wasn’t sure why she’d done it, but she’d gathered her courage, walked up to the casket, held her breath, and pushed the top open.

  As soon as she saw him, she wished someone had stopped her. She stared at the body lying there for a few terrible seconds.

  That face.

  Or what was left of it.

  Then she’d turned and run from the room, leaving the top still up. That wasn’t her father. Her father didn’t look like that.

  Mace rushed to the bathroom, and ran cold water over her head and splashed some on her face. She looked at herself in the darkened reflection of the mirror. She could never shake the feeling that she had let him down somehow. If she had just reacted in a different way, seen or heard something, she believed that her father would still be alive. If she only had done something! Anything!

  My fault. Age twelve. My fault.

  Beth had found her hiding in a closet at the church after closing the casket. She too had seen her father dead. And neither sister had ever talked about it since. Beth had held Mace for what seemed like forever that day, letting her cry, letting her shake, but telling her that everything was going to be okay. That the body in the coffin was just a body, their dad had already gone on to a much better place. And he would watch over them forever. She’d promised. And Mace had believed her. Her sister would never lie to her.

  Beth being next to her was the only reason she had made it through the service. It certainly hadn’t been her mother, who’d blubbered through the whole event, including when the soldier had handed her the U.S. flag in recognition of her father’s service in Vietnam. When the honor guard had started shooting their rifle salute everyone covered their ears. Everyone except the two Perry sisters. Mace remembered quite vividly
what she had been thinking when those rifles fired a total of twenty-one rounds.

  I wanted a gun. I wanted a gun to kill whoever had killed my dad.

  And though she’d never asked, Mace felt certain that Beth had been thinking the very same thing.

  Her mother had refused the shell casings offered by the honor guard. Beth had taken them and given eleven to Mace and kept ten for herself. Mace knew that Beth kept her bag of casings in her desk drawer at her office. Once when she’d been with the force and met with her sister to go over some work, she’d seen a pensive Beth open the drawer, take out the casings, and hold them tightly in her hand, as though channeling her father’s wisdom.

  Mace drank some water from her cupped hand, walked back into her bedroom, opened her knapsack, and pulled out her bag of eleven shell casings. Beth had of course kept them for her when she went to prison. She held them against her chest, the tears staining her cheeks as she desperately tried to absorb some wisdom of her own from the best man she’d ever known. But nothing came.

  The aftermath of her father’s murder and her mother’s withdrawal from the lives of her daughters had made Mace increasingly vulnerable. It was a feeling she hated. She’d become a cop, in part, to allow the weight of the badge and the threat of her gun to override that vulnerability. She desperately wanted to belong to something. And the MPD served that desire.

  Did she also want to follow her sister? Even show she might be better than her in certain respects? Mace couldn’t, in all honesty, deny that.

  A half hour later she changed into her workout clothes and did some stretching and push-ups. The blood rush to her muscles was very welcome, after the weary night and the early morning soul searching.

  The sun was well up now and the air outside was warm, which was good because Mace couldn’t seem to get rid of the chills. She stepped outside and started her run. The estate was big, with a well-marked trail that wound in and out of trees and head-high bushes. She’d been running for half an hour when she stopped, turned, and her hand flashed to her waist. To pull the gun that wasn’t there.

  “You are good,” said the voice. “Lucky for me you’re not packing.”

  The man stepped clear of the tree line. He was a shade below six feet and wore an Army green muscle shirt that showed off his ripped physique and jeans that were very tight around his bulging thighs. Lace-up combat boots were on his feet. A pistol rode in a clip holster on his belt; an extra mag for the weapon sat in a compartment next to the gun. His hair was shaved military short, his face tanned and weathered.

  “I’ve been standing there for ten minutes waiting for you to come by. I didn’t move a muscle. Heartbeat’s at fifty-two and mellow, so you didn’t hear that. Never made a sound. What gave me away?”

  Mace walked over to him and lightly smacked him on the face. “Either cut down on the Old Spice or stay upwind of me.”

  He laughed and put out his hand. “Rick Cassidy.”

  “You’re the former SEAL?”

  He cocked his head and gave her a lopsided smile. “Okay, how do you figure? I’m wearing Army green.”

  “Most SEALS I know like to wear the Army green because they know they look better in it than the trench boys do. Your face has seen a lot of sun, salt, and ocean wind. You’ve also got on standard-issue Navy-class stomp boots. And a SEAL I dated said you guys swore by the H&K P9S that’s riding in your belt holster.” As he stared down at his gun she added, “Its silhouette and grip are pretty distinctive.”

  “You live up to your rep, Ms. Perry, I’ll give you that.”

  “Already got a dossier on me? And the name’s Mace.”

  “Everyone who comes here gets the same intel treatment. Mace.”

  “I’ve got no problem with that. How did you end up here?’ “Mr. Altman is a great guy. He made me a great offer.” Cassidy paused. “And he helped take care of my little sister. Leukemia. My parents had no health insurance.”

  “Did she make it?”

  “Graduating from college this year.”

  “That’s very cool, Rick.”

  “Mr. Altman wants to see you up at the main house when you get a chance. I smelled croissants baking in the kitchen. Herbert’s on a roll. And the coffee is always fresh. I understand there’s a seat waiting for you. No rush. Whenever.”

  “Thanks, Rick. Any idea what he wants me for?”

  “Something about a mom and her kid and a dude named Psycho. Ring any bells?”

  “More than one, actually.”

  “Keep running hard, Mace.”

  “One more thing, Rick.”

  “Yeah?”

  “This stuff I’m doing for Abe, it might lead to some unsavory characters taking a special interest in me. They might follow me back here. Just a heads-up.”

  “Forewarned is always a good thing, Mace. Thanks.”

  She turned to start up her run again. When she looked back, Cassidy had disappeared back into the trees. For a number of reasons, that gave her a great sense of comfort. She ran back to the guest-house, sat in the hot tub for a while, showered, changed, and killed some more time as images of her dead father finally faded away. Then she trudged over to the main house. To talk about moms, babies, and bandits named Psycho.

  CHAPTER 74

  THE PHONE BUZZED on Beth Perry’s desk.

  “Chief.”

  “Got a letter here for you,” said her aide.

  “Who from, Donna?”

  “Mona Danforth.”

  “Bring it in.”

  Donna Pierce punched in the numbers on Beth’s secure office door, brought the letter in, handed it to her, and then turned to leave.

  “Who delivered it?” Beth asked.

  “It wasn’t Ms. Danforth, of course,” Pierce said, barely hiding a smile. “Hard for her to walk all this way in those four-inch heels. Some wimpy guy in a suit who nearly ran out of here when I asked him if he wanted to speak to you directly.”

  “Thanks.”

  After Pierce left, Beth slit open the envelope and unfolded the heavy bond paper. The contents of the letter were short and the rise in Beth’s blood pressure was swift. She clicked some keys on her computer and read down several screen pages. After that she called the courthouse to check on something. Then she hit her speakerphone. “Pierce, get the wicked witch on the line for me. Now!”

  Beth heard her aide struggle to suppress a laugh. “Yes, Chief, right away.”

  Pierce came back on a minute later. “Her assistant says she’s
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