True blue, p.37
“Did you remember something else, Gary?”
“Well, it wasn’t what I remembered. It’s what I just saw.”
“What you just saw? I don’t understand.”
“The guy Ms. Tolliver was having dinner with? I just saw him.”
“What? Where? We’re close to the restaurant. Is that where you saw him? We can be there in a few minutes. Can you stall him?”
“No, I’m not at work. I’m at my apartment near Adams Morgan. I meant I just saw his photo in the newspaper.”
“Saw him in the newspaper.”
“Yeah. He’s dead.”
“What? Who was he?”
“That attorney guy they found in a Dumpster? Jamie Meldon? He was the guy with Ms. Tolliver Friday night.”
Beth looked up to see Sam Donnelly and Jarvis Burns coming toward her. It was the next morning and they were in an auditorium at the FBI’s Washington Field Office where Beth was to give out some awards to local teenagers enrolled in the Bureau’s Junior Agent Program.
“Sam, Jarvis, I didn’t expect to see you two here.”
Burns’s eyes crinkled. “Why not? Some of these young people will be the intelligence operatives of the future.”
Donnelly added, “And one can never start too early looking for talent and molding personalities.”
“By the way, I spoke with your guys. I appreciate the effort you made.”
“Well, they’re not technically my guys,” Donnelly said quickly. “But I value your professional friendship highly. Indeed, Beth, if you hadn’t pursued a career in law enforcement you would’ve made a hell of an intelligence agent.”
“High praise coming from you. So Reiger and Hope don’t report to you?”
Donnelly and Burns exchanged a quick glance. Donnelly said, “Not even the same intelligence platform. Quite frankly, I made a few phone calls, did the Potomac two-step, and ended up with that pair. They seem quite capable. And their superiors obviously gave the okay to brief you.”
“Well, it wasn’t much of a briefing. National security tagline basically.”
“That, unfortunately, is often the case. You know how these things work. No one wants to read anybody else into anything. The old cold war adage still applies as much today: Don’t trust anyone.”
“Do Reiger and Hope have any military connections?”
Burns shot her a penetrating stare. “Not that we know of. Why do you ask?”
“Just an observation. They had DHS creds but told me they’d once worked at the Bureau. And I checked into their backgrounds and quickly found that my security clearances weren’t high enough to even have a peek into where they really came from.”
Donnelly said, “With DHS, the FBI, and sixteen intelligence agencies floating around, it’s nearly impossible keeping any of it straight. I know the goal when creating the Director of National Intelligence position was to orchestrate better oversight and coordination among all these unwieldy alliances, but—and you didn’t hear this from me—it is a herculean task. Some might say impossible.”
“I’m sure. I just have one city and four thousand cops to keep track of. You have the entire world.”
“Don’t sell yourself short. That one city is the nation’s capital. And one of your constituents just happens to be the president.”
“Who went for a pizza run yesterday, which cost me two hundred officers off the street for the motorcade deployment.”
“The world’s most powerful man can do what he wants when he wants.” Burns drew closer. “As an aside, I heard you made an arrest in the murder of that female lawyer in Georgetown. Congratulations. The director actually mentioned it at our morning briefing.”
Donnelly said, “That’s right, Beth. Good work.”
“Well, let’s hope the case sticks.”
“A homeless vet I understand?” said Burns.
“Louis Dockery. A homeless vet with a chest full of medals, including a pair of Purple Hearts and a Combat Bronze.”
Burns wagged his head, his silvery hair tipping onto his broad forehead. “So very sad. I can certainly relate to the Purple Heart, I have a pair of those myself.”
Donnelly said, “I have one of my own. But unfortunately the two ongoing wars are adding enormously to both the military and the VA’s burdens. There’s simply not enough funding to cover all the problems.”
Beth said, “Well, Washington better rework its priorities. I can’t think of a more important goal than taking care of the people who’ve defended this country with their blood.”
Burns patted his bad leg. “When I got out I sought psychiatric counseling, although there was a certain stigma attached to that. Hopefully it’s less so now.”
“Well, you turned out all right, so there’s hope.”
“Some would argue with that.”
“That there’s hope?”
Burns smiled. “No. That I turned out all right.”
Donnelly pointed to the teenagers set to receive their awards. “Now, go give them a great pep talk, Chief. In ten years they’ll be the first line of defense for this country.”
“Preventing attacks instead of responding to them, you mean?”
“Much better to crush the enemy before he can act instead of pulling the bodies of his victims out of the rubble. We save lives, Beth, you and I. We just do it a little differently in my part of the spectrum. But the goals are the same. Always remember that.”
The men walked off and a moment later Beth’s phone buzzed. She looked at the caller and her brow wrinkled. She almost didn’t answer.
“Mace, I’m right in the middle of something. Can this wait? What?” She listened intently for sixty seconds. “I’ll take care of it.” She clicked off, glanced at the FBI agent emceeing the program, and held up one finger. He nodded.
She rushed to a corner of the auditorium and made a call.
Lowell Cassell seemed surprised. “All right, Beth, if you say so. It’s easy enough to check for that. But if it’s true that certainly will complicate things.”
“Yes, it will.”
“How did you come by this theory?”
“Take one guess.”
“Your sister is keeping busy.”
Beth clicked off and rushed up to the stage to personally greet the teenagers and then settled at the lectern to begin her remarks.
From a far corner, Donnelly and Burns, who’d been watching her intently while she’d been on the calls, turned and left the room.
THIS WAS a nice surprise.” Karl Reiger’s wife, Wendy, kissed him on the cheek as her husband flipped another burger on the grill.
“Kids had the day off so I thought what the hell. Nice, sunny day, summer around the corner.”
“Well, I’m glad you did. You’ve been working such long hours lately, sweetie.”
Reiger looked at his wife. She was in her mid-thirties, four years younger than him. She still possessed the classic beauty she had when they’d met in college. She wore jean shorts, a white sleeveless blouse, and a Washington Nationals ball cap over her shoulder-length light brown hair.
“Yeah, work is a real bitch right now.”
“Oh look, Don and Sally are here.”
Reiger glanced over at the driveway of his two-story brick house in Centreville, Virginia. Lots of federal agents lived out this way because everything inside the Beltway was far too expensive if your job was to merely risk your life in serving your country. Don Hope, his wife, and three kids were climbing out of a Dodge minivan, hauling platters of food along with a baseball and several gloves. Hope’s two sons put down the food on a wooden picnic table set up in the backyard and joined Reiger’s two boys in throwing the ball around. The Hopes’ daughter, a ten-year-old, went into the house with Tammy Reiger, who’d just turned eleven. Sally gave Reiger a hug and then she and Wendy busied themselves getting the meal ready.
Don Hope shut the doors of the van, grabbed t
Reiger took a long pull of the drink, finishing half of it.
“Cookout?” said Hope. “Little surprised to get the call.”
“Why not? Normalcy. It’s been a while.”
“Guess you’re right about that. No orders yet?”
“Why I’m flipping burgers instead of the other thing.”
“You think Burns is setting us up to take the fall?”
“Every op I’ve gone into I’m prepared to be killed by the guys on the other side and screwed by the guys signing my paychecks.”
“Hell of a way to make a living, Karl.”
“I thought I’d be career military. See the world, good pension when you pull your time. Even do some good.”
“Me too. Then—”
“We were too good at what we did, Don. That’s why they came calling. They don’t pick the dregs, they go for the cream.”
“Feeling more like soured milk now.”
Reiger slid a burger onto a platter and slapped another piece of raw meat on the grill. “Why, because we keep missing Perry?”
“I’m not so sure about that. I’ve read up on her after Burns gave us the ‘Rome is burning’ lecture. Lady is good at what she does. No question. Hell, I’m surprised Burns didn’t try to recruit her at some point.”
Hope took a swallow of beer and watched the boys throwing the ball. “Sterilized weapons, cocked and locked. What bullshit. I’m a dad. I got a mortgage. I’ve been married fourteen years and I still have the hots big-time for my wife. I’m not some damn machine.”
“To them we are. That’s all we are. Fungible. Use up some shells, they got more where we came from. We’re just rounds in a magazine.”
“How many more do you figure?”
“Never really thought about it, because I could never verify my guess.”
“But why meet at the Pentagon? Especially since no one else there knows what we’re up to.”
Reiger prodded a burger with a long fork. “DNI isn’t like the spider at the center of the web. It’s more like the snake slithering through the backyard. A mandate to go everywhere, see everything. Pentagon is as big an intelligence player as they come. Used to going its own way, sucking down dollars and data. We saw that when we were in uniform, Don.”
“For sure we did.”
“But even it has to kowtow to DNI. And so Burns makes the rounds, has offices everywhere, Langley, NSA, National Geospatial.”
“And the Pentagon?”
“I know two- and three-star generals who hate the DNI’s guts for all the good it’ll do them. Sam Donnelly does the daily presidential intelligence briefings now instead of the DCI. Locked tight. You got the man’s ear and trust, you can’t lose. You’re golden.”
“Yeah, but Burns is a piece of work. Half of me wishes he’d drop from a stroke.”
“And the other half?” Reiger said grinning.
“Nothing you haven’t thought about.”
Reiger put some cheese on top of an almost done burger. “Read up on him too when we were recruited for this. Vietnam vet. One hard-ass guy. Medals out the ying-yang. Guy was as brave as they come, did his thing, laid it all out there for the Stars and Stripes. Flipped to the intelligence side soon as Saigon fell. Wounds made him unfit for active duty.”
“Right. He’s in his sixties. Could have got out before now, but apparently he’s got nothing else in his life.”
“Wife left him, apparently his two kids did too.”
Hope looked impressed. “Where’d you get that scuttlebutt?”
Reiger cracked a smile. “Your security clearance isn’t high enough.”
Hope finished his beer. “The hell you say.”
“A hardass,” Reiger said again. “Loves his country, though. Do anything to protect it. And he expects us to do anything to protect it too. And anything covers a lot.”
“Piece of paper, Karl. That’s what we need. Our get-out-of-jail-free card.”
The ball flew toward them, landing a couple feet from the grill. Reiger snagged it and threw it back to his oldest son.
Reiger pointed at the black sedan that had just pulled into the driveway next to the minivan. The man who got out wore a plain suit that did not stand out in any way. It was the sort that Reiger and Hope wore while on duty, allowing them to just blend in. In the man’s hand was an equally plain white envelope.
“Well, here it comes right now, Don. I guess we’re back to killing Americans.”
“I don’t like this any better than you, but don’t get cold on me now, Karl.”
“I’ve been cold ever since I put a round in Jamie Meldon’s brain.”
He slapped another piece of raw meat on the grill and watched it sizzle.
AFTER PHONING her sister that morning, Mace picked up Roy and drove him in to work. When they arrived she told Roy about the call.
“So you didn’t tell her about Meldon having dinner with Diane, but just about the DNA testing?” he said as he climbed off the bike.
“Mind telling me why?”
“It could be the key to breaking this case. If I’m going to use this sucker to get back on the force I have to solve it. And I don’t want Beth to get in trouble for pulling strings for me.”
“I can understand that. You really do care about her.”
“She’s pretty much all I have left.”
“Hey, haven’t I gotten a little bit in the loop?”
She smiled. “You’re sweet, Roy. And yes you have.” Her expression hardened. “So what’s the connection between Meldon and Tolliver?”
“It has to predate her coming to Shilling & Murdoch. She never once mentioned him, and I never saw him come to the firm.”
“Wouldn’t have been some legal dealings?”
“We don’t do criminal work. What other legal dealings would they have?”
“Okay, like you said, it must predate her time at Shilling. Where was she before?”
Roy thought for a moment. “She mentioned New Jersey.”
“I read that Meldon used to practice law in Manhattan. If she
True Blue by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes