True blue, p.41
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       True Blue, p.41

           David Baldacci

  you’ll let me represent my client?”

  “I didn’t pull any stunt. I’m perfectly within my rights.”

  “I can seek a waiver from the court.”

  “Not over my objections you can’t.”

  “So let me try to understand this. If you’re maintaining you did nothing wrong here, why offer me a deal that lets me rep my client?”

  “Because I want you to stay on as Lou’s attorney.”


  Mona leaned forward and spoke in a low voice so that only Roy and Mace could hear her. “Because if you get disqualified, then they might appoint a real attorney, and that just makes my job harder. There’re a ton of highly qualified public defenders just salivating to take this case, and they all know what they’re doing. Why play against the varsity when the j.v. is available?” She picked up her briefcase and stuffed her legal pad in it. “See you in court tomorrow.” She turned to the Captain. “Oh, Lou, before I forget.” She pulled another Twinkie out of her jacket pocket and tossed it to him, like throwing a bone to a dog. The next moment she and the detectives were gone, leaving the Captain to eagerly devour the fresh offering of creamy cake.


  ROY HUDDLED in a corner of the room with Mace while the Captain sat staring vacantly at the wall and wiping goo off his mouth.

  Roy said, “Maybe she’s right. Maybe I am j.v.”

  Mace punched him in the arm. “Let’s get one rule down, Mona is never right.”

  “The Captain deserves the best representation, Mace. I didn’t even focus on the material witness issue. And it was big enough to drive a truck through. I would’ve gone in tomorrow and gotten my head handed to me. By Mona and the judge.”

  “The Captain wants you.”

  “Come on, he doesn’t know what he wants. Other than Twinkies.”

  “You can do this, Roy. You might be a little rusty on some of the case law, and you didn’t focus on the material witness angle because you knew you were innocent and you wanted to help the Captain.”

  “You can’t rep a defendant charged with murder in the first with any rust, Mace. There’s no room for error. Especially against Mona. I know you hate the woman and I do too, but she’s sharp.”

  “And she’s totally unethical. She basically bribed the Captain with junk food and cleavage.”

  “But that makes her even more dangerous.”

  “The point is, Roy, you made the decision to rep him. Your firm canned your ass over it. So do you want to go crawling to them begging for your big-dollar job back? And let a homeless vet be assigned some Perry Mason wannabe who could give a shit if the guy spends the rest of his life in the can? Is that what you want?”

  “Of course not,” Roy said hotly.

  “Then what’s the problem? Mona just laid down the challenge. She’s gonna kick your ass. Okay, fine. But I don’t see a guy who’s so competitive that he has as his computer password the last score of his college basketball career just turning the other cheek on this. But this time it’s not just a game. And the Captain needs you. He needs you, Roy.”

  Roy looked at Mace, then at the Captain, then back at Mace. “Okay, but I’ll need help to dig up some useful stuff.”

  “Consider it done.”

  “You? But you’re going to Newark tomorrow to run down this Meldon lead.”

  “This Meldon lead may point us to whoever killed Diane.”

  “Do you really believe that?”

  “I don’t know what to believe right now. But I can’t afford to cut corners on this.”

  “Fair enough.”

  “So you’re good to go on this?”

  “I am.”

  “Then I guess I can tell you.”

  “Tell me what?”

  “Beth had Lowell Cassell call me on my way over here.”


  “And there was no yolk buffer in the sperm found in Diane. It didn’t come from Potomac Cryobank.”

  He glanced over at the Captain, who was picking something out of his teeth.

  “Okay, gut check time. Do you think he did it?”

  Mace looked over at the old soldier too. “I talked to Beth about that. She said she agreed there was some strange stuff going on with Diane and your law firm. But she also said her murder could be entirely unrelated to all of it. That it could have just been a crime of opportunity.”

  “So you think he did it?”

  “No, Roy, I don’t.”

  “Then how the hell does all this make sense?”

  “It makes perfect sense. We just have to figure out how.”


  THEY SPENT another hour trying get some answers from the Captain. The conversation was often one-sided, however, as the vet lost interest, snoozed, went off on multiple and irrelevant tangents, or asked for more Twinkies. He couldn’t adequately describe the man who’d met him on the street and asked if he wanted to make a quick two hundred bucks. He was variously big, short, fat, thin, bald but with hair. He hadn’t gone in the front door of the place; he didn’t recall the sign. He did say that he’d rummaged in big green trash cans while the man got things ready. Mace made a note to check the back of Potomac Cryobank for those types of receptacles. He did remember going inside a dark, small room. He’d been given a cup, and a “girlie” magazine. It had taken him a long while, but he’d delivered the requested sample and then gotten his money.

  “Anything you can remember about the place, Lou, anything?” Roy asked.

  “The smell.”

  “What did it smell like?” said Roy.

  “Hard to say.” He stroked the wattles on his neck. “Not like me. Real clean.”

  Roy looked at Mace. “It did smell really antiseptic in there. Like a hospital.”

  “Well, it is like a clinic.”

  “Yeah, but that’s hardly concrete evidence for a court.”

  “Like you were expecting that from him?” Mace said in a low voice.

  They left the Captain and returned to Altman’s guesthouse, where Roy began formulating his strategy for the next morning’s hearing.

  “It’ll be quick and perfunctory,” he said. “I’ll plead him not guilty. Mona will ask for detainment and then get an indictment probably pretty fast. Then the real work begins. When do you leave for Newark?”

  “Seven o’clock Acela train. Gets into Newark around 9:30. The law office is about twenty minutes by cab from the station. I can talk to them, hopefully get somewhere, grab the train back, and be here tomorrow afternoon.”

  “I can call you with the details of the hearing.”

  “You going to ask for him to be released on personal recog?”

  “No. He has a roof and three squares a day in jail.”

  “And if somebody is setting him up, he’s safer in there.”

  “Yeah, maybe we should get arrested too.”

  They both looked up when a ball bounced down the stairs and rolled to a stop next to Roy’s foot. He palmed it. The next moment Tyler came running down the stairs looking frantically around. When he saw the ball in Roy’s hand he darted over, his arms spread wide.

  “Ty, what you doing up this late?”

  Alisha had appeared at the top of the stairs as soon as Roy handed the ball to her son. She said, “I’m sorry ’bout that. The boy just won’t go to sleep. He was bouncing the ball and it got away from him.”

  Mace tapped Roy on the thigh. “This kid was making layups and dribbling the ball like a real pro, weren’t you, Ty?”

  The little boy looked at her and his mouth opened, his eyes blinking rapidly.

  Mace patted Roy on the shoulder. “This guy here played college basketball. He could’ve played in the NBA if he could’ve jumped a little higher.”

  “Among other things,” Roy added.

  “You know, you’ve been doing the legal thing all day, how about taking this big guy over to the gym and let him show you what he can do. Give you a chance to clear your head.” She added, “Ty, you
want to show Mr. Roy here some of your moves?”

  Roy said, “I really should finish—”

  But when Ty reached out and gripped Roy’s hand tightly, his little mouth still wide open, Roy quickly stood. “Okay, Ty, I’m a little rusty, so take it easy on me, all right?”

  “Can I watch?” asked Alisha.

  “I was going to suggest it,” said Mace.

  Roy glanced back at her. “You want to come? Maybe we can do our HORSE tricks for him.”

  “You go on. I’m gonna hit the sack. I’ll have to leave here early to get the train.”

  When the three of them disappeared out the door, Mace gave them a couple of minutes to get to the gym and then she punched 411, got the number, and made the call.

  “Doc, it’s Mace Perry. I know it’s late, but you got time to meet?”

  Lowell Cassell was at his row house in southeast D.C., but he agreed to meet Mace at a coffee shop near Union Station. Mace thanked him, clicked off, grabbed her leather jacket, and ran for the Ducati.


  IT REALLY IS CRAZY for me to be meeting you like this, Mace,” said Lowell Cassell.

  “Why? I’m just an ordinary citizen.”

  “An ordinary citizen who I believe is assisting in the defense of an alleged murderer who is right now cooling his heels in a D.C. lockup.” When she looked surprised that he knew this, Cassell added, “The water-cooler gossip does reach the morgue, you know.”

  “Well, I wouldn’t really call what I’m doing assisting. And I really did want a nice cup of coffee. I used to come here a lot when I was a cop. Open twenty-four hours. We’d pop in here after hoodling for a bit if the radio was quiet.”

  Cassell leaned forward and spoke in a low voice even though there wasn’t another customer in the place. “I really went out on a limb by allowing you access to my files. In fact, if that comes out, my career is over.”

  “It will never come out, Lowell. I will die before that comes out.”

  He sat back, apparently satisfied. “I think you would.”

  “So why did you do it then?”

  “The files?” He spooned more sugar into his cup. “Because I like you.”

  “Not a good enough answer for a possible career-ender.”

  “Blunt, just like your sister.”

  “I like to think I’m more diplomatic.”

  “I understand that Mona Danforth is personally trying this case?”

  “That’s right. I’m sure it’s only for altruistic reasons.”

  Cassell took a sip of his coffee and picked at a pastry on his plate.

  “Come on, Doc. I know the sperm was pure, no yolk stuff.”

  “That’s right. I assumed you were the reason Beth had me check that.”

  “The guy said someone paid him two hundred bucks to do it in a cup.”

  “The homeless vet?”

  “Yep,” answered Mace.

  “You think he just made that up? I mean, sperm in a dead woman is pretty convincing evidence.”

  “I agree, and no, I don’t think he made it up. The guy spends most of his time thinking about Twinkies.”

  “Circumstantial is also pretty strong.”

  “Right again. Our work is cut out for us.”

  “So you are working this one?” said Cassell.

  “If I can’t be a cop, you know.”

  “I know. Solve a big one.”

  “Only thing keeping me going.”

  “What happened to you was an injustice, Mace.”

  “Thirty percent.”


  “That’s roughly the percentage of cops at MPD who think I was bad.”

  “That means seventy percent think you were railroaded. A politician would love to have those approval ratings.”

  “Well, for me anything less than a hundred sucks.”

  “You can’t live your life trying to make people understand something they don’t want to understand.”

  “I’m not doing it for them. I’m doing it for me.”

  “I guess I can see that.”

  She tapped his hand with her finger. “So why did you agree to meet with me tonight?”

  “To tell the truth, I’m not sure.”

  “Something’s bugging you, isn’t it?”

  “The sperm.”

  “But it wasn’t yolked.”

  “Planted sperm.”


  “It’s happened before, but not very often. In fact, it’s about as rare a forensic misdirection as there is, but not impossible. But the thing is, if you do it and do it well, a conviction is almost inevitable.”

  “So you think it wasplanted?”

  “The cervix.”

  “Come again?”

  “The semen was high up on the cervix. I mean really high. I’ve read Dockery’s arrest file. Nearly sixty. Living on the streets for years. I actually saw him in the jail. I haven’t examined him, of course, but to my doctor’s eye he has many serious health problems. Arteriosclerosis almost certainly, high blood pressure, probable diabetes, basal cell carcinomas on his face. He’s at high risk for stroke, aneurysm, and various cancers. And I would bet a thousand dollars that he has an enlarged prostate and possibly even cancer there.”


  “Meaning that for him to be able to even get it up is a miracle, much less rape the woman and shoot his semen that far up in her cervix.”

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