True blue, p.39
True Blue, p.39David Baldacci
Don Hope was looking down. He lifted up one of his feet. “Plastic on the floors?”
Reiger reached out and touched one of the walls. “And on the walls?”
Mary Bard moved with the grace of a ballerina, but also with the speed of a tiger. The kick caught Reiger in the sternum, driving him back into the wall with such force that it threw his heart out of sinus rhythm. Since there was no light, the shine of the twin six-inch blades was never seen by either man as she whirled them in a blur of synchronized motion. One knife ripped across Reiger’s throat first. He didn’t even have time to scream. He fell to the floor clutching his severed jugular.
Don Hope managed to pull his weapon. Before his finger could close on the trigger, she drove her foot into his knee, ripping it backwards; supporting bones snapped and tendons tore away like sprung rubber bands. He screamed in agony, at least until she gave a backhanded slash with the second knife. The jagged blade ripped his throat apart; arterial blood erupted from the wounds, spraying the narrow hall.
Hope sank next to his dead partner, his last few breaths jerky, gurgling, and then his chest ceased to heave. As if on cue the lights came on and several people moved forward. As Bard stepped out of the way, hands rolled up the plastic with the men inside it. A truck was parked in the rear of the building. Reiger and Hope were placed inside and the truck sped off.
Bard had the blood of each man on her clothes. She stepped out of them and stood there in her bra and panties until she was handed a jumpsuit by one of her colleagues. Her physique was lean, with ropy muscles in her arms, shoulders, and thighs. The heightened definition of her body and absence of fat threw the scars on her torso into sharpened relief. She zipped up the jumpsuit, turned, and entered a bathroom where she scrubbed the evidence of the twin kills off her face, hands, and hair. She took off the eyeglasses and slid them into her pocket. They were actually night optics, allowing her to see her victims in the dark far better than they could see her. A few minutes later she left by another rear door. Her Smart car started up and she drove out of the parking lot, headed west, and entered Interstate 66. She placed the call.
“Done,” she said and then clicked off.
Jarvis Burns put his phone down and allowed himself a rare smile. “Now that, Agent Reiger, is chain of command.”
As he turned back to his work, he glanced at his watch. Two minutes later, in the safety deposit box where Reiger had placed his precious orders that would enable him and Hope to walk free after the job was done, the time-released chemicals built into the document’s threads did their work. In ten seconds there was nothing left except vapor.
INCREDIBLY ENOUGH, Joe Cushman, Diane Tolliver’s ex-husband, had just found out that his former wife had been murdered. It seemed news took a while to travel that far west. But then again, Mace thought, it wasn’t like the death of an ordinary citizen would make the national news other than as a one-time blip, and only then because of the rather bizarre circumstances. Joe Cushman did not sound all that upset and was not planning to attend the funeral. Yet that was understandable, Mace concluded. His divorce had been final over a decade ago and he told her that he’d remarried. And as Roy had informed her, it had not been an amicable separation. Cushman had bellowed out the reason for that early on in their long-distance conversation.
“She cheated on me!”
“Don’t know. I never was able to find out, and then I just stopped caring.”
Every few seconds he would pause and Mace could hear him dragging on a cigarette. He had the smoker’s gravelly voice too, his throat and lungs probably already full of nicotine-induced lumps.
“So how do you know she was having an affair?” Mace had asked.
“All the telltale signs. She bought fancy lingerie that she sure as hell never wore for me. She started working out, lost weight, new cosmetics, weekend ‘business’ trips, the whole shebang. We had no kids so it was basically split up the property and go our separate ways. Still, her law firm played hardball. Hell, I even had to fork up some cash for her attorney’s fees, if you can believe that.”
“She made good money, but I made a lot more. Commercial real estate developer in New Jersey when you could print money doing it.”
“Good for you.”
“Yeah? Well, I don’t have as much money now, but I like the beaches and the trade winds a lot better than the ice and muck in Jersey.”
“You don’t by chance remember the name of the firm that represented her?”
“Are you kidding? I sure as hell wrote them enough checks. Hamilton, Petrocelli & Sprissler. In Newark. Three ladies. Three hellcats more like it. Even my lawyer was afraid of them. They were so good I used them later in some of my deals.”
“Thanks a lot. I appreciate the info.”
“Hope it helps with whatever you’re doing. Diane and I didn’t get along, obviously, but nobody deserves to die like that. I’m thinking of sending some flowers.”
“I’m sure that would be very nice.”
Mace clicked off and looked down at her notes. She called information and got the number for Hamilton, Petrocelli & Sprissler, LLP, in Newark.
She got the receptionist and then the call was put through to Julie Hamilton.
Mace briefly explained why she was calling. “Diane Tolliver?”
“You probably would have known her as Diane Cushman. She took her maiden name back after the divorce. I spoke with her ex, Joe Cushman. He gave me your name.”
“I do remember hearing something about the killing. The refrigerator, right?”
“Yes, the refrigerator.”
“But I never associated Tolliver with Cushman. I mean, I knew her maiden name was Tolliver, but it just never occurred to me it was her. It’s been over a decade. Murdered. My God!”
“Yes. That’s why I’m calling.”
“And who are you with?” This was the cautious lawyer’s voice now that Mace knew so well.
“I’m in D.C. I’m helping to investigate the matter on behalf of a man charged with the murder.”
“Like I said, it’s been at least ten years. I can’t think of any way I would have relevant information for you.”
“Do you know a man named Jamie Meldon?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Because he was murdered too, right after he met with Diane.”
Caution had just transformed to ice. “I’m afraid I can’t help you.”
“I just need to ask some questions about—”
The next sound Mace heard was the line going dead.
She immediately called back.
This time the receptionist would not put the call through.
“Please, it will only take two minutes and it’s—”
The receptionist hung up on her.
Mace slowly put the phone down.
AFTER TALKING to Mace, Roy decided to speed up his search of the firm’s records. He took the stairs down to the fifth floor. However, the archives room was locked and he didn’t have a key. He trudged back to the sixth floor and headed to the mail room. Dave was there sorting letters and packages for the last delivery of the day. “Where’s Gene?” Roy asked about the person who manned the archives room.
“Left early. Doctor’s appointment. You need anything from down there?”
“It can keep. I’ll let you get on with your deliveries.”
“Is it true you’re going to be the lawyer for that guy they arrested?’
“Why? You want to bust my chops too?”
“No, I thought that’s what lawyers were supposed to do. I mean, you can’t not represent somebody just because he’s not popular, right?”
“Dave, that’s the first intelligent thing I’ve heard today.”
Dave headed out with his cart while Roy pretended to follow him out, then he circled back and closed the door to the mail room. He jogged to th
On the brief ride down he thought about the other time he’d been inside here. Wrapped around Mace’s body. It had been a flashlight in his pocket, though he couldn’t say he hadn’t been a little aroused, what with her proximity to him and the adrenaline rush that came with knowing your life might soon end violently.
Maybe they should try that technique at the sperm bank.
The dumbwaiter stopped and the doors slid open.
Roy climbed out and looked around. The room was dark but he had to make sure. He did a slow circuit of the large room with its rows of shelves and stacked boxes. He slipped his small flashlight out and shone the beam around. He knew generally how the filing system was set up here and made a beeline to one section. This was where most of his and Diane’s client files were kept. He started opening boxes. Securely attached to the inside top of each box was a small hard plastic case. Inside the case was a flash drive containing an electronic record of everything in that box.
The firm had been in the process of scanning all these documents onto their computer system, but it had gotten complicated, because not all lawyers at the firm were authorized to see everything. And certain clients only wanted the attorneys who worked on their matters to be able to access the documents. The problem could be partially solved by requiring passwords to access certain files, but lawyers were notorious for losing such information or even letting colleagues who were not authorized use the passwords. The firm’s solution had been to keep the paper archives along with the flash drive in this room. An attorney had to be authorized to look through or take boxes out, and the flash drive was password-protected.
Even though Roy was authorized to look at the boxes he needed, he felt sure that Ackerman would put the kibosh on him looking at anything. He quickly went through a dozen boxes and pulled the flash drives from each and pocketed them. This, he told himself, was only a minor crime compared to the felonies he and Mace had been committing lately. He decided against climbing back in the dumbwaiter and riding it back up just in case someone was in the mail room.
He edged open the door to the archives and looked around. No one was within view. He slipped out and walked quickly through the suite, out the door, and up the stairs back to the sixth floor. He was about to put the first flash drive in his computer when he noted the Post-it he’d stuck over the camera port.
What if they’ve hacked into my computer? I put the flash in and they’ll know what I’m looking at.
He slipped the device back in his pocket, grabbed his briefcase and jacket, and headed to the door. When he opened it he came face-to-face with Chester Ackerman and two security guards.
Ackerman held out his hand. “I would like your key card right now.”
“What’s going on, Chester?” Roy looked at the two beefy uniforms. “Who are these guys? Did you finally replace Ned like I suggested?”
“They’re here to ensure that everything goes smoothly.”
“Smoothly? I told you I’d let you know about my representing Dockery.”
“And I just called the courthouse and found out that you are his attorney of record and will be representing the killer at a presentment hearing tomorrow morning.”
“Why’d you call the clerk’s office?”
“Because I don’t trust you. And it seems my instincts were spot-on. Your card?”
Roy handed it over. “Can I at least get my personal things?”
“We’ll send them to you. And I think a search of your person is in order.”
Roy drew closer to Ackerman. “You lay one hand on me I own your houses, your cars, your retirement plan, and this firm.” He glanced at both guards. “You rentals want a piece of that?”
Each guard looked nervously at the other and took small steps back.
Ackerman snapped, “Fine, just leave the premises now, before I have you charged with trespass.”
“And you have a great day too.”
Roy walked out of the firm while lawyers and staff watched from every nook and cranny. He half expected them to start cheering when the door closed behind him. He passed Ned in the lobby. The man was slurping down a giant Coke.
“Hey, Mr. Kingman, did you see those two security guards who came in?”
Roy jingled the flash drives in his pocket. “Oh yeah.”
ROY STOPPED at his condo, grabbed some things, and called Mace on the way over to Altman’s. He filled her in on what had happened, and she did the same on her conversation with Joe Cushman.
“Herbert is making like a seven-course meal,” she said. “But to tell the truth, I’m dying for a greasy burger and fries.”
“I’ll pick up some on the way. We’ll probably have to work through dinner anyway.”
He got there an hour later. They ate in the guesthouse in case Herbert happened by and saw them with charbroiled meat and salty fries dangling from their mouths. Mace finished off the last bite, took a long slurp of her Dr. Pepper, and sat back.
“Where are Alisha and Tyler?” Roy asked.
“Up at the main house being fed, among other things, couscous, pork tenderloin with a reduction sauce, and tempura green beans with a nice crème brûlée done in the classic style for dessert.”
“Did Herbert tell you that?”
“No, he actually prints menus every day. He dropped one off at the guesthouse. He was not happy to hear we were going to be missing his latest masterpiece.”
“I’m not sure a three-year-old is going to be into couscous and classic crème brûlée.”
“Oh, for Tyler he prepared his extra-special spaghetti with hand-formed meatballs and Rocky Road for dessert. I think Herbert likes having kids around.”
Mace had borrowed a laptop computer from Altman and during dinner Roy had been scrolling page after page of the content on the flash drives.
“Got anything yet?” asked Mace as she settled next to him.
“Nothing pops out.”
“Yeah, by the gallon, please.”
She made the coffee and carried a tray back in with the pot and two cups along with cream and sugar containers, and set it down on the coffee table. She poured out the beverages.
“Cream and sugar?”
She made it up and passed it to him.
Roy took a sip. “Good coffee.” He glanced up at her and smiled.
“What?” said Mace suspiciously as she held her cup.
“I don’t know, I guess I never pegged you as the domestic type.”
“I’m not, so don’t hold your breath waiting for the apron and string of pearls.”
True Blue by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes