True blue, p.36
True Blue, p.36David Baldacci
“Carjacking and stuff. Stupid. He got in with some real bad dudes. But he’s smart. He done real good in school. He got a job to help me and our granny. But then she got sick and ain’t had no health insurance. He had to make more money.”
“So drug dealing? Carjacking?”
Alisha nodded. “He got arrested on my birthday. Just turned twelve and he bought me a dress and we were having ice cream in the food court over at the train station. And the blues bust in and then he gone. Didn’t really see him again till he got outta prison. They sent him all the way to Ohio. Ain’t no way I can get there with Ty.”
“You think he might try to go after Psycho?”
Alisha’s lips trembled. “I pray to God he ain’t do something that dumb. Psycho kill him.”
“We’ll do everything we can to make sure that won’t happen.” Mace looked over at Ty as the little boy lined up a shot and made it. “I think Ty needs an uncle in his life. And from what I saw at your apartment Darren is really good with him.”
“Oh, he loves Ty and Ty loves him. Funny because they ain’t been around each other all that long. But it like they know each other a long time, you know what I mean?”
Mace nodded and then her attention turned to the door of the gym as it shot open.
“Darren!” Alisha cried out and jumped to her feet.
Ty stopped bouncing his ball and looked around at his uncle.
Right behind Darren was Rick Cassidy, his arm on Darren’s shoulder.
“You know this guy?” said Cassidy.
“We do,” said Mace. “What’s going on?”
“Caught him climbing the south wall,” said Cassidy.
As she drew closer Mace could see that Cassidy had placed a gun against the small of Darren’s back.
“It ain’t like I gonna just walk up to the door of a place like this and knock,” said Darren sullenly.
“You should’ve given it a try,” said Mace in a scolding tone. “We would have let you in.”
“Rick, you can lose the gun,” said Mace quietly as she saw Ty running toward them.
“Okay, but I confiscated two pistols from him.”
“Keep ’em for now.”
“You sure, Mace?”
Rick holstered his gun and patted Darren on the shoulder. “You were actually pretty stealthy coming over the wall and you sure can run. Might make a good Navy SEAL.”
“Yeah? Well, I don’t see that in my career future, okay?”
“Never know.” Cassidy turned and left.
Alisha put her arms around her brother while Ty gripped his legs.
“Okay, okay, don’t knock me over, little guy,” Darren said in a mock angry tone. He reached down and lifted Ty up.
“I was worried ’bout you,” said Alisha. “Tried calling, but you never answered.”
“Got tied up doing stuff.”
“How’d you know she was here?” asked Mace.
Darren smiled. “That lady at Social, Carmela? Think she likes me. And the Razor got him some moves.” He glanced at the door. “Was that dude really a SEAL?”
“Yep. You’re lucky he took it easy on you.”
“When he grabbed my arm I couldn’t break his grip. Man, it was like steel.”
“Welcome to the world of special forces.”
He looked around. “Damn, what is this place anyway?”
Ty jumped down, picked up his ball, and bounced it back to Darren. Darren caught it, did a couple of dribbles between his legs, and passed it back. Ty bounced the ball down the court and made a layup.
Darren shot his sister a glance. “Who taught him how to do that?”
Alisha pointed at Mace. “She did.”
“Hey, Razor, why don’t you go play with your nephew for a while,” said Mace. “And keep all thoughts of Psycho from your head.”
“Ain’t nothing gonna do that, woman. Playing with Ty or not.”
“See, that’s the very reason you should. Ty and Alisha need you, Darren. Not in prison. And not dead. You let me worry about Psycho.”
“What you gonna do about Psycho? You can’t do shit about him.”
“All I’m asking is that you let me try. That’s all.”
“Please, Darren,” said Alisha. “Please.” She gripped his arm tightly.
Darren looked back and forth between the two women. Then he pulled free from Alisha. “Gotta go teach my little man some street moves.”
He jogged down the court to join Ty.
Mace’s phone rang. It was Roy. His message was brief, blunt, and yet stunning.
“Alisha, I’ve got to go out for a while. Just chill and I’ll be back, okay?”
Mace ran to her Ducati.
POTOMAC CRYOBANK, LLP. You sure this is the place?” Mace asked Roy as she looked up at the sign over the door.
They were standing outside of a white brick building just off M Street in Georgetown. They’d driven over on her Ducati. The place was less than a ten-minute walk from Shilling & Murdoch.
“It’s not like there are fertility clinics and sperm banks on every corner. Based on what the Captain told me, this is it. It’s the only one within walking distance. And it’s white.”
They went inside and spent five minutes getting nowhere with the receptionist. Finally, a thin woman dressed in white pants, a blue smock, and rubber-soled shoes came out, steered them to a room off the foyer, and seated them at a small table.
“So what exactly is this about?” she asked sternly.
Roy explained as much of the situation as he could.
“That’s ridiculous,” said the woman.
“Why?” asked Roy.
“This person claims he just walked in off the street and was paid two hundred dollars for a semen donation?”
“That’s right. Why is that ridiculous?”
“You don’t know much about sperm banks, do you, Mr. Kingman?”
“No, actually, I’ve never had the need to come to one before. I’ve been pretty happy with my own product.”
“That’s why we’re here,” said Mace. “To become educated.”
The woman excused herself and returned a minute later with a large stack of papers that she plopped in front of Mace and Roy.
“Let me give you the run-through of what it takes to become a semen donor,” she said, with the irritating air of a person who knows lots of things others don’t. She indicated the pages. “These are the forms one must fill out to even be considered as a donor. They’re all available online from our website as well.” She held up one form. “This is the initial donor app, which as you can see is lengthy and requires extensive medical, physical, and educational backgrounds and other pertinent information. If they pass that stage—and many do not—they are sent a second application covering three generations of family medical history.” She picked up another set of pages. “I’m referring to this one. After that comes a specimen screening. This involves a personal interview conducted on these premises and a semen evaluation. They are asked to produce three to four specimens over a two-week period. Those specimens are evaluated for quality and testing of freezing survivability.”
“Freezing survivability?” said Mace.
“I’ll get to that. Potential donors must be screened for infectious diseases of course, like HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, hepatitis B and C, and also genetic diseases, as well as blood typing, rhesus factor, and so on. And they must undergo a general physical exam either by their own physician or ours. We expect a six-month commitment from our accepted donors and they must produce one donation per week over that period.”
“And they’re paid?” said Roy.
“Of course. People do not go through this out of the goodness of their hearts. Our compensation rates range from one to four hundred dollars per acceptable specimen. Precise individual compensation depends on semen quality and the donor’s commitment
“How is it collected?” asked Roy. “Almost all on-site. Usually via masturbation into leakproof containers. Semen can also be removed surgically, but we don’t do that here.”
“Almost all, you said?” noted Mace.
“We sometimes do off-site collections in an emergency, but only if the collection is done at a hospital, clinic, or, in very rare cases, the person’s home. With that method we provide donors with special condoms for collection purposes. And the specimen must be transported to us within one to two hours without being exposed to extreme temperatures. Otherwise it’s not acceptable. But in the seven years I’ve been here we’ve only had two cases of off-site collection. We like to control all phases, you see.”
“And if it’s off-site, then you have no way of knowing if it’s actually the person’s sperm or not,” pointed out Roy.
“That’s right. We can of course do a DNA analysis to ensure it was from our donor. And it will still be subjected to the same rigorous checks, so, for example, no infectious diseases get through.”
“And the freezing?” prompted Mace.
“The sperm has to be stored under specific and exacting conditions to fully preserve it. We have a cryo-storage room here with cryogenic vats. We use liquid nitrogen among other protocols to maintain the specimens.”
“Can we see the room?” asked Mace.
“No. It’s an environmentally controlled space and you need special equipment to work in there. I can tell you that each vat holds over seventy thousand semen specimens.”
“How do you differ from a fertility clinic?” Mace wanted to know.
“Fertility clinics don’t typically store sperm. They get it from us. We match their client’s request as to race, height, physical appearance, for example, and provide them the sperm which they will then use for artificial insemination purposes.”
“Is there any way to determine if the sperm found at the crime scene I described came from your clinic?” Roy asked.
“I can assure you it didn’t,” she said flatly.
“Just humor me. Please. A man’s freedom is at stake.”
She sighed heavily. “From our specific clinic? No, I don’t believe so. But you can easily determine if it was a donation to a sperm bank like ours.”
“How?” Mace asked quickly.
“As soon as the specimen is provided you have to inject buffers as a preservative into the semen. If done promptly and then frozen, semen can really be stored indefinitely. However, the maximum allowable time by current law is ten years unless the donor was under the age of forty-five when the specimen was given. And even then the sperm can only be used by the donor and his partner, and not given to anyone else.”
“Ten years, wow,” said Mace. “Long time to keep the little fellows swimming around.”
“Without a preservative and proper storage the sperm contained in the semen will have diminished motility after two or three days and the sample will be no good to us after, say, five days. And our clients would not be very happy with that, would they?”
“So, shooting blanks, in other words?” said Mace.
The nurse sniffed. “Crudely put, but accurate. When we send semen out to our clients the specimens are cryopreserved in screw-top vials. The vials come inside a refrigerated tank or dry shipper since it is actually a metal vacuum bottle refrigerated with liquid nitrogen. The semen is sent with detailed instructions on thawing and utilization.”
Sort of takes all the romance out of it, thought Mace.
“So to answer your question directly, we use a TEST yolk buffer solution as a preservative. Many other sperm banks do the same.”
“Yolk? As in egg?” said Mace with a trace of disgust.
“Not exactly, no, and it’s a perfectly accepted method of preservation.”
Roy said, “So if it’s not a semen donation?”
“Then there will be no preservative. And I can assure you that there won’t be with the person you described. He would never have gotten past the initial round of medical forms. And if he’s a Vietnam veteran as you mentioned he would’ve been disqualified right away.”
“You disqualify Vietnam vets?” said Roy sharply.
“No, of course not, it’s based on age. We, along with most sperm banks, don’t accept specimens from anyone over the age of forty. Indeed, most of our donors are under the age of thirty, many of them college students.”
“Looking for beer money,” commented Mace.
“I wouldn’t know about that.”
“Are you open every day?” asked Mace.
“We’re closed on Wednesdays and Sundays.”
“So the building is empty then?”
The woman looked at her and said in a contemptuous tone, “That would usually be the case when we’re closed. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to work.”
“Lots of eggs to crack today?” said Mace.
The woman led them out without saying another word.
When they were outside Roy said, “Wow, I really dig your interrogation technique. First, piss the person off, and then see what she won’t tell us.”
“That woman was not going to knowingly help us from the getgo, but she did tell us at least one thing of importance other than the yolk thing.”
“That they’re closed on Wednesdays and Sundays. Now we need to get the sperm sample they found in Tolliver checked out. Lowell Cassell can do it.”
“And if there’s no yolk?”
“Then maybe the Captain is lying.”
“I don’t think he’s mentally capable of coming up with something like this.”
“I don’t think so either, but nothing would surprise me anymore. If it does come back without the preservative, the Captain is probably going down for this.”
“But what if he came here and they took sperm from him but didn’t inject the preservative in it?”
“And why would they do that, Roy? Because they were planning to kill Diane Tolliver and blame it on the Captain? You think the petite sperm expert back there crushed your partner’s brain stem and then injected her with sperm taken under false pretenses?”
“No, but maybe one of the doctors? The Captain said a white building. And he said some guy helped him. He obviously came here.”
Mace considered this. “We’ll have to get a roster of who works here and check out any viable suspects.”
“In the meantime can you call Cassell to run the test?”
“No, but I’ll phone my sister. I’ll do it tomorrow morning.”
“Why not now?”
“Because I have to work up the nerve, that’s why!”
“Why not just bypass her?”
“How? I can’t exactly order the ME to run the damn test.”
Roy’s phone buzzed.
“Mr. Kingman? It’s Gary, the waiter from Simpsons.”
“Oh, right. Gary from Simpsons,” he said so Mace would know. Roy hit the speakerphone button and held the phone up.
True Blue by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes