True blue, p.33
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       True Blue, p.33

           David Baldacci

  not available for your call.”

  “Put it through.”

  Beth picked up the phone. “Chief Perry.”

  “Yes, I’m sorry, Chief, but Ms. Danforth is—”

  “Standing right over your shoulder.”

  “No, she has court—”

  “I just checked with the docket clerk. She’s not in court.” Beth shouted into the phone, “Mona, if you won’t talk to me, then I’ll just take this letter you sent me up to Capitol Hill and see what the folks on the Judiciary Committee will make of you abdicating your role as protector of the people. The ensuing sound you’ll be hearing is your fading chances of being the AG, much less getting a seat on the Supreme Court.”

  Beth waited, envisioning Mona walking to her office, slamming the door, and—

  Mona’s voice barked out, “Listen, Perry, I don’t appreciate you talking like that in front of my people!”

  “You can either address me as Beth or Chief. You use surnames for underlings. I am not your underling.”

  “What do you want?”

  “I read your letter.”

  “Well? I thought it was pretty self-explanatory.”

  “Yeah, you caved. In record time. And I want to know why.”

  “I don’t have to explain my actions to you.”

  “You wrote me a CYA letter that basically says you’ve washed your hands of Jamie Meldon’s murder investigation. What, did somebody threaten that you wouldn’t get the USA nod if you didn’t go quietly into the night? So much for him being one of your people.”

  “If you were smart you’d back off too, Chief.”

  “It has nothing to do with self-preservation, Mona. It has to do with right and wrong. And something called integrity.”

  “Oh please. I don’t need you to read me an ethics lesson.”

  “So what are you going to tell Meldon’s wife and kids? ‘Sorry, my career’s too important. Just get over Jamie’s murder and move on’?”

  “I’m running the largest U.S. Attorney’s Office in the country. I don’t have time to run down every little—”

  “This isn’t little, Mona. Homicide is as big as it gets. Someone is out there who took Jamie’s life.”

  “Then you tackle it if you care so much.”

  “A little tough to do when I was barred from the crime scene.”

  “Can’t help you there.”

  “So that’s your last word on it?”

  “You bet it is!”

  “Okay, here’s mine. I will tackle this. And if I find the least bit of evidence that you or anyone in your office impeded our investigation, I will personally see to it that your Armani-covered ass lands right in prison.”

  Beth slammed down the phone, sat back, and took a deep breath. Her BlackBerry had been buzzing nonstop during her entire conversation. She checked it. Ninety-three e-mails all marked urgent. She had six meetings stacked back-to-back, the first of which was scheduled to begin in twenty minutes. Then she had two hours patrolling in Cruiser One and a roll call in the Second District, followed by her headlining two community events that evening. She also had to oversee the posting of nearly two hundred intersection cops because the president wanted to go to lunch at his favorite dive in Arlington, the Secret Service had informed her at six-thirty this morning.

  A murder in Ward Nine last night had interrupted what little sleep she usually got. She’d finally made it to her couch at four a.m., catnapped for two hours, and was in the office at seven. Typical day in the neighborhood. And then there was the information she’d just received thirty minutes ago that had to do with Roy Kingman and her sister. Her phone buzzed again.


  It was Pierce. “Guys in Social Services want to know what you want to do with Alisha Rogers and her son. They don’t have room for them past this morning. Records show she has her own place so they say their hands are tied unless you really insist.”

  And if I do insist, someone will leak it to the press and tomorrow’s breaking story will be about the police chief abusing her authority to get personal favors unavailable to other needy citizens—

  “Donna, reschedule my first three meetings until this afternoon. Just cram them in somehow. I’ve got somewhere I have to go. Tell Social they can release Alisha and her son into my personal custody.”

  Beth pulled out her cell phone and punched in a number. “It’s Beth. We need to deal with this. Now.”

  “I know,” answered Abe Altman. “I know.”


  MACE HAD JUST finished breakfast and was pouring a second cup of coffee when Altman came into the eating area right off the kitchen.

  “Hope you slept well,” he said. “Not bad. Met Rick Cassidy on my run this morning.”

  “A wonderful young man. He was planning on leaving the Navy to be closer to his sister, so I thought a job here would fit into that. She goes to George Washington and has accepted a full-time position with the World Bank in D.C.”

  “That was really nice what you did for her.”

  “When a poor man gives something, that is a sacrifice indeed. When a rich man gives something, it hardly rises to the same level.”

  “Well, I know some rich people who never give anything.”

  Altman was dressed in his usual manner, jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. He poured a cup of tea from a pot on the sideboard, bit into a biscuit, and sat down next to her.

  “Herbert is a genius in the kitchen,” he said. “I have two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. and I can’t even crack an egg properly.”

  “I know, I’m a klutz in the kitchen too. I had two croissants and a plate of eggs and had to stop myself from going back for more.”

  Altman took a sip of tea, set the cup down, and said, “Psycho?”

  Mace wiped her mouth. “Look, it was no big deal.”

  “It was a very big deal. I heard from Carmela, who talked to Non at the apartment building. Non watched the entire confrontation from her window. You and Roy could have been killed. I feel terrible. Terrible, Mace. I had these people vetted with great depth but I had no idea of this man’s involvement with Alisha.”

  “That’s probably because everyone’s scared of the guy. But we got out okay, and we also removed Alisha and Tyler from the situation. Beth helped me with that.”

  “I know.”

  “So you talked to her?”

  “Yes. If anything had happened to you, I would never have forgiven myself.”

  She put a hand on his arm. “Abe, I’m assuming you recruited me for this job because I know my way around those places. That also included knowing how to survive there. My big mistake was taking Roy with me. That was stupid on my part. That won’t happen again.”

  “I don’t believe there should be a next time.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “I can’t justify sending you into dangerous places, Mace. I can’t risk that. No study is worth that.”

  “Well, I think this study is. Look at Alisha. She’s a good kid. She just needs a chance. And Tyler, we can’t leave him in that place. He needs some special help. And there are thousands just like them in this town.”

  “It’s too risky.”

  “I’m willing to take that risk. You offered me the job and I accepted. Now let me do my thing. Abe, you knew these areas were potentially dangerous. What’s the big deal now?”

  “It all looked good on paper. But paper is not real life. All my calculations aren’t worth anything, it seems, when you have people like this Psycho around.”

  “I can take care of that.”

  “I thought when they learned you were trying to help folks in those situations, that it would protect you.”

  “And it will. But for those few who think otherwise, I’ll deal with it. I don’t think you’ll win this one, Abe.”

  They both looked up to see Beth standing by the door holding pudgy Tyler Rogers. Behind her was Alisha clutching a small bag.

  Mace rose. “Alisha? Are you an
d Tyler okay?”

  The young mother came forward, her eyes wide as she took in the interior of the mansion. “We’re fine. Chief Perry took real good care of us.”

  Mace looked at her sister. “I really appreciated the assist, Beth. I didn’t know who else to call when Psycho showed up.”

  “He’s not a guy you mess around with. Although from what I heard you pretty much held your own.” She paused. “Did Kingman really play him in one-on-one basketball?”

  “And kicked his butt,” said Alisha with ill-concealed delight. “I was watching with Non at the window. Kicked his butt,” she repeated, tacking on a big smile.

  “Where’s Darren?” Mace asked.

  “Who’s that?” asked Beth sharply.

  “My brother. He didn’t come with us. Don’t know where he is.”

  “So what are you all doing here?” said Mace.

  Altman rose and came forward. “Beth and I spoke this morning and Alisha and Tyler are coming to stay with us. I was hoping that they could be in the west wing of the guesthouse if it’s not an inconvenience to you.”

  Mace blurted out, “Inconvenience? That place is so big I’d need a map to find them.”

  “We staying here?” said Alisha looking around. “I don’t have no money for a place like this.”

  “There is no charge,” said Altman, taking her arm lightly after receiving a high sign from Beth. “And I’d be honored to take you and your son to your new quarters and help you get settled in.”

  Beth handed off Tyler to Alisha and the three left together. Beth turned to her sister and eyed her empty coffee cup. “You might need another jolt of caffeine, because we need to talk. Now.”


  I HAD my police scanner on last night. Heard about the homicide in Nine. Knew you’d be there. You look beat.”

  Beth took off her hat and sat down. “You look spent, too. Can’t be the accommodations. Having nightmares again?”

  “I don’t have nightmares anymore.”

  “You sure about that?”

  “You held me when I was twelve, Beth. You don’t need to hold me anymore.” Mace handed her a full cup of black coffee and sat down with her own. Beth took a swallow and spent a moment admiring the room.

  “I can see why you split from me to come here.”

  “I’ve actually found the concierge service to be pretty average.”

  “I guess I can leave it to you to find trouble even as a research assistant.”

  “It’s a gift.”

  “So you’re going back in?”

  “See no reason not to. So what do we need to talk about?”

  Beth hunched forward. “Andre Watkins?”

  Mace barely reacted, but it was enough.

  Beth said, “I thought so. A-1? Since we’re the police we had to resort to a search warrant, but the kid there said a woman and a tall man had come in previously with some story about a diseased aunt.”

  “You been by Watkins’s place?”

  “It’s empty.”

  “It wasn’t empty when we got there.”

  Mace told her about the man who’d been there pretending to be Watkins, including his description and her suspicions that the apartment had been searched.

  “Nice to have known that before.”

  “And it wasn’t Watkins having dinner with Tolliver on Friday night.”

  “I know. The description was pretty general. We have a BOLO out on Watkins,” Beth added, referring to a “be on the lookout” order.

  “The imposter said he was an escort. Was Watkins an escort?”

  “Yes, worked for an agency in town. No one’s seen him since Friday.”

  “Maybe Tolliver sensed that something bad was going to happen to her and she wanted some cover.”

  “So presumably they got on to him, either eliminated him or he took off running scared and they sent some goon to roll his place looking for answers.”

  “And he was doing just that when we knocked.”

  “Pretty ballsy of the guy to open the door to you.”

  Mace shrugged. “He peeped us, could tell we weren’t the cops, or maybe recognized us and decided to play actor and pump us for info. Unfortunately, we were pretty accommodating.” Mace eyed Beth. “Anything else?”

  “Just a couple more questions. What were you and Kingman doing at the law firm last night? And which one of you pulled the fire alarm?”

  Mace looked blankly at her.

  Beth tapped the tabletop. “His key card access was the only one last night.”

  “That can’t be right. The other guys—”

  Beth snapped, “What other guys?”

  “We had some visitors last night. I pulled the alarm so we could get away. I assumed they used Diane Tolliver’s key card to get in.”

  “They didn’t. And again, what guys?”

  “I don’t know for sure. Maybe the same ones who took a shot at me.”

  “How did they know you were in the building?”

  Mace explained about the webcam on Tolliver’s computer.

  “We’ll check it out.” Beth leaned forward. “Remember when you asked me what I would do in your position? Would I risk everything to work the case and get back on the force?”

  “You didn’t answer me.”

  “No, because I didn’t have a ready answer. But now I’ve had time to think.”


  “And nothing is worth going back to that hellhole.”

  “That’s you. But you’re not me.”

  “Why are you really doing this?”

  “We already covered this, okay? Mona torpedoed your plan, so proving my innocence won’t work. And I told you I was going to work the case. If I go down, so be it.”

  “If you do, the odds are very good that you will go back to prison and you won’t walk out alive this time. Where did you even get the idea to solve a case and use that as a way back on?”

  “I had a lot of time to think over the last two years.”

  “Would it have anything to do with a visit you got from an FBI agent who resurrected his career after being convicted of a felony?”

  “If you knew, why bother asking me?” she said angrily.

  “What did Special Agent Frank Kelly tell you?”

  “I’m surprised you didn’t already track him down and ask him.”


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