True blue, p.43
True Blue, p.43David Baldacci
MACE HAD LEARNED from her sister that as soon as the Captain had been arrested, the office elevators had been reprogrammed so they would not stop at the fourth floor. The construction workers had not been happy about having to haul their stuff up the stairs, but that was just the way it was. Public safety trumped aching backs.
Mace slowed her Ducati as she drew close to the area. She figured that no one had worked late in the building or come in too early ever since Roy had discovered Diane Tolliver’s body in a refrigerator. But still she scanned the building façade looking for signs of anyone being on-site. Her other concern was the possibility of a cop car posted somewhere close by.
Satisfied that the area was clean of surveillance, she parked her bike a block over from the building and made it the rest of the way on foot. She entered the garage. There were no cars parked there. The garage elevators were dead ahead.
Seconds later she entered the lobby, scooted behind the security console, and reached the entrance to the stairs. She paused for a moment, studying the door to the broom closet. She reached for the knob, her other hand in her pocket, and then ripped it open. The only thing that flopped out was a mop.
She made her way up the stairs and reached the fourth floor. Mace crab-walked across the room so as to keep below the window line and reached the small cubby area where the toilet and refrigerator were located. The length of chain was right where she had dropped it when she and Roy had been chased through the building.
She picked it up and eased over to the refrigerator. It was a big, older Amana model with the refrigerator part up top and a smaller freezer unit with its own little door down below. Using her penlight she could see several small rust stains on the white enamel skin of the appliance. She looped the chain around the fridge and held it tight. The stains were right where the chain touched it. She opened the fridge door. There were some plastic containers of food, a few cans of soda, and a battered gray lunch pail.
Roy had told her what the Captain had said about the chain. Roy had dismissed it as the construction guys protecting their food. Mace had initially thought that too. But not now. Now the chain made sense for a far different reason. They couldn’t have the Captain stumble on the body over the weekend while he was looking for some chow. So they’d locked him out and Diane Tolliver’s body in.
She hadn’t been murdered on Monday morning. She’d been killed on Friday night, probably right after she sent Roy that e-mail when she returned from her dinner with Meldon. And the fridge wasn’t the only reason Mace thought this. Now the autopsy results started to make sense. She gazed at the microwave next to the fridge. The microwave. She remembered Roy telling her…
She slipped back down to the lobby and from there into the little room behind the security console. She saw the microwave perched on one shelf. She tried to turn it on. Nothing happened. It was broken. She hurried back up to the fourth floor, pulled out her phone, and called Roy.
“Hey,” he said. “That Tyler is something else. We’ve been playing ball all this time and the kid is still running circles around me.” He paused. “Wait a minute, I thought you went to bed? Where are you calling from?”
“Diane wasn’t killed on Monday morning. She was killed on Friday night.”
All she got after that was silence.
“Roy, did you hear me?”
“Mace, where are you!”
“On the fourth floor of your office building.”
“What! Are you crazy?”
“Did you hear what I said?”
“Yes, I did, and I feel like somebody just hit me with a two-by-four. Why do you think she was killed on Friday night?”
“Think about what was in her stomach.”
“The autopsy report said steak, veggies, potatoes, stuff like that.”
“But you found all that food in her town house garbage can.”
“It’s also the exact food she had on Friday night at Simpsons when she had dinner with Meldon. And Lowell Cassell’s report said that there was a strong smell of garlic in the gastric contents. I knew something was bugging me about that. I searched her kitchen and found not a trace of garlic anywhere, not even in the trash. But I recalled from looking at the menu at Simpsons that they serve garlic mashed potatoes. I think whoever killed her knew what she’d eaten at the restaurant and planted all that stuff at her house to make it look like her last meal had been there, on Sunday night instead of on Friday night at Simpsons. Only they either didn’t know about the garlic or screwed up. And according to the autopsy report her stomach lining was really green from the spinach. I don’t think it got that way from it sitting in her gut overnight. More like over two days.”
“Then the body?”
“They killed her in your office on Friday night. Then she was put in the fridge on the fourth floor, probably while the Captain was asleep in another part of the construction space. You told me that he said he went to sleep when he got there and didn’t know if the chain was on there when he arrived. I’m sure it wasn’t because Diane didn’t get back to the office until after ten and the Captain was already on the fourth floor by then. So they threw her in and chained the fridge shut. The nail and hammer crew doesn’t work weekends. And the Captain left on Sunday like he said, because he probably ate what was lying around the fourth floor on Saturday, found he couldn’t open the fridge, and decided to bag it. They moved her body to the fridge in your office early on Monday morning. Then you found her.”
“Why not just leave her in our fridge for the weekend?”
“They couldn’t be sure some lawyer might not come in to work and pop open the fridge. And they couldn’t wrap a chain around your refrigerator. And most importantly, I think they did all this to set up the Captain for the fall.”
“I guess they could have found out he was sneaking in the building.”
“I’ve got a theory about that too. And I discovered that the sperm bank had an alarm system failure on Wednesday of last week.”
“You think that’s when they got the sample from the Captain?”
“The place is closed on Wednesdays and Sundays. Sperm only lasts so long. Cassell told me that the sperm in Tolliver clearly had been there longer than a day but not longer than three days. They probably put it in a freezer after they got it from the Captain on Wednesday to preserve it temporarily. Then after they killed Tolliver, they injected it into her vagina on Friday night. Cassell told me that a guy with the probable health problems of the Captain couldn’t have had an erection in just an hour or so on Monday morning. And he couldn’t have ejaculated to the degree required to place the sperm that high up in her cervix. But I bet a syringe would’ve done the trick.”
“This is incredible, Mace.”
“But it fits. The temp in the fridge keeps the body from decomposing. Two hours or two days in an icebox, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference, particularly when she was lying on the floor for all that time while the police were investigating. And then the body was taken to the morgue and stuck in a chiller bed. All the normal forensic indicators got messed up big-time.”
“But I thought she sent e-mails and made phone calls over the weekend from her house.”
“E-mails prove nothing. Anyone could have sent those. And it seems all the calls she made over the weekend were to people she didn’t know. So they couldn’t recognize her voice. I learned there was one neighbor who saw her but only really observed her drive off. He couldn’t make a positive ID. And the lady apparently didn’t have many social friends; she used an escort, after all. The imposter probably stayed at her house all weekend playing the role of Diane. She drives her car to the office early Monday morning so no one else would be around to see, goes up in the elevator, and enters the office suite, which leaves an electronic trail of her movements. Then she turns around and walks back out.”
“But Ned swears he heard her come in on Monday morning.”
“Yeah, Ned. Rememb
“Yeah, that’s why he said he heard her but didn’t see her.”
“But you told me the day porter was on the fourth floor heating up his soup in a microwave. Why not use the one in the room behind the security console? The one Ned said he was using that morning?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then I’ll tell you. Because the microwave in the lobby is broken. I bet if we ask the day porter he’ll tell us the same thing. That it’s been broken for a while.”
“So are you saying fat, stupid Ned planned all this and killed Diane?”
“He’s fat, but I’m not sure how stupid he is. And I don’t think he did any of this alone. I think he looked the other way when the Captain sneaked in the building, because he was told to.”
“Mace, we need to go to your sister and tell her all of this. I’ll meet you there.”
“And tell her what? A bunch of speculation? Because that’s all it is. We don’t have solid proof of anything.”
“So what do we do?”
“You prepare for your hearing tomorrow. I’m going to Newark. We say nothing. But we keep an eye on old Ned and he might just lead us to where we need to go.”
“I don’t want you getting your neck crushed by that guy.”
“I’d hear him coming from a mile away just by the fat sloshing.”
“Okay, but will you get back here please? At least then I’ll know you’re safe.”
“Oh, Roy, you really do care,” she said sarcastically.
“If anything happens to you, your sister will blame me. And I’d rather be dead.”
She clicked off and walked quickly over to the exit door. She closed it behind her and was turning to walk down the stairs when something hard slammed into her head.
As she hit the floor already unconscious, Ned stood over her. While he was still heavyset, he didn’t appear to be as fat as before. He was dressed all in black, was wearing gloves, and moved nimbly as he picked the woman up and slung her over his shoulder. He reentered the construction site and punched in a number on his cell phone.
The voice answered.
Ned said, “Got the bird. On the fourth.”
Jarvis Burns sat back in his armchair and put aside the file he was reading.
“Acknowledged,” he said.
“Unchanged. Proceed. Copycat.”
Ned clicked off and carried Mace over to the refrigerator. He searched her and found her phone, which he tossed to the side. He cleared out all the food and shelves, wedged her inside, closed the door, and wrapped the chain around it. Then he inserted a padlock in the chain links and smacked it closed. He tried to pull the door open, but it barely budged a centimeter. A moment later he was hustling down the stairs to the lobby.
In his home on Capitol Hill, Burns picked up the file once more. “I gave you another chance, Mace. Too bad you didn’t take it.”
As he turned the pages he put Mace Perry completely out of his mind.
WHEN MACE came to she felt like she was going to throw up. As she fought the nausea she wondered why she was having trouble breathing. She reached a hand up and touched the large knot on her head. She could feel the clotted blood there. Someone had really whacked her. She started to shiver. It was cold.
Where the hell am I?
She started to get up and then quickly realized she was in a confined space. A very cold confined space.
She felt around in the total darkness, her hands bumping into the smooth frigid surfaces. She scrambled in her pocket, found her penlight, and turned it on. As soon as the illumination confirmed where she was, Mace groaned. She pushed hard against the door with her shoulder. It barely budged. She knew why. The chain. Just like Diane. Only she was already dead.
And I will be very soon unless I get the hell out of here.
She reached down and unbuckled the belt that she’d gotten from Binder’s weapons shop. It had a very special clasp to it. A few seconds later she’d pulled the four-inch knife free from its holder hidden in the elongated metal buckle. She angled her body around and slipped the blade in the slit where the door met the frame of the appliance. There was a molded plastic shelf unit built into the door and the supporting frame for this was right in her way. Yet she managed to work around it and finally reached the flex strip that created a vacuum seal when the door was closed. She inserted the blade in the slit between the two strips and maneuvered it around. If she levered hard enough, she could feel a trace of air. She pushed very hard once and with a sucking sound the vacuum seal broke slightly. Now she could see a sliver of semidarkness, which represented the more illuminated space outside of the death trap she was in.
But a sliver wouldn’t cut it. It didn’t let in nearly enough air. She was already shaking with the effort of maintaining the break in the seal. A second later her strength failed and the opening resealed itself. Okay, if she didn’t suffocate to death the cold would do her in. Would Roy come looking for her when she didn’t show? He knew where she was. But it would take time. Perhaps hours, when she had air maybe for another few minutes. Her chest started heaving as her lungs sought out every precious molecule of oxygen. Her mind started to fog up, signaling the lungs that these molecules were far from enough to keep everything going.
The insulation strip!
Holding the penlight between her teeth, she began hacking at it with her knife. The blade struck through it easily and it came away in long strips. Very soon she could feel the air start to flow in more steadily. And if she wedged her head against the door, she could actually see outside. She poked the blade through this new opening and lifted it up and down. On the downward stroke it hit the chain. There was no way she could saw through the chain with the knife in less than a day if at all. But at least she could breathe. Now the issue was the cold; she was still freezing to death. She looked up and saw it built into the top of the fridge’s interior: the temperature dial. It was set on four. Seven was the coldest, she quickly discovered. She reached up and dialed it back to one, the warmest. She had no idea in refrigerator technology how “warm” the number one setting would be, but she didn’t want to find out it was still in hypothermia range.
Mace started rocking her body front to back. The Amana was a tall appliance, and she was betting there wasn’t much in the lower freezer section to anchor it. As much as the confined space would allow her, she kept rocking. She’d hit one side with her legs and then slam against the other side with her back. Very quickly her entire body felt like she’d been hit by a car, but she kept going. She could feel the Amana start to lean a bit, to the right and then to the left. As it kept going, the appliance started to walk, like a washing machine out of control. Encouraged by this, she started flinging herself back and forth with renewed energy.
One last smash against the molded plastic with her combat boots and the Amana finally toppled over sideways. Mace braced herself for the impact, which was easy enough to do since she was wedged in. Still, when the fridge hit the concrete floor, her head banged against the hard interior wall right where the bump on her noggin was and she felt herself black out for an instant.
But she’d accomplished her goal. She could no longer hear the slight hum of the Amana’s motor. The power cord had come out of the socket. Now she had air. And she would soon have warmth. But she was still trapped. She had hoped that the collision with the floor might have caused the chain to slip off, but no such luck. One push against the door told her that. She looked down at the molded plastic floor. Below that was the freezer compartment. The chain couldn’t be around that door too. She started stomping her feet. The floor was hard, but she could feel it give just a bit.
She worked her body around so that she was nearly upside down. Taking the knife, she started hacking at the plastic but couldn’t find traction as the blade just skidded off the smooth surface. She t
Mace moved her foot away and with much effort she flipped over and started to saw away at the floor, the blade moving centimeters as it cut into the hard plastic. She withdrew the blade and, using the same stick and pound method, made similar cuts in four other spots. When that was done she slipped the knife back in the belt clasp, rose up again, and started stomping in the middle of all the cuts, her back so tight against the ceiling of the fridge that she felt her spine would snap.
She wasn’t sure how long it took, but she felt the floor finally give. A few seconds later the plastic cracked in one spot and then another. A minute later a whole section of it tilted
True Blue by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes