True blue, p.44
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       True Blue, p.44

           David Baldacci

  upward. She threw her weight at the spot opposite this and the entire floor broke away and heaved up like a sheet of ice. She fell through this opening and gasped as a jagged edge of hard plastic ripped into her thigh; now warm blood flowed into the cool interior.

  She carefully worked her body downward, keeping as far away from the torn edges of the plastic as she could. Her feet hit the freezer door and she kicked it open. She kept sliding downward until she cleared the floor of the fridge unit and her head and torso were in the freezer compartment. Then her feet were out on the concrete floor and soon the rest of her was too.

  She sat there for a minute, her head and lungs pounding and her stomach churning. Then she rose on shaky legs and looked around. She slipped out her precious knife and held it in a defensive position. She doubted whoever had stuck her in the death box was waiting around for the finale, because she’d made so much noise he would’ve come running to finish her off. Yet after her narrow escape she was leaving nothing to chance. After she saw the blood pooling on the floor she found a rag and made a crude bandage for her leg wound. Then she found her phone where it had been tossed, and called Roy. He was already on his way downtown because she’d never shown up at Altman’s.

  “I’ll be there in ten minutes,” he said after listening to her woozy account. “Call the cops right now.”

  This time Mace did exactly what he told her to. Within three minutes two patrol officers had kicked open the door to the fourth floor calling out her name. Three more cops joined them a few seconds later. Two minutes after that Beth Perry came flying up the stairs. She walked directly over to her sister and wrapped her arms around her.

  Mace felt the tears slide down her cheeks as she hugged her sister back, as hard as she could. It was like she was twelve years old again. She had been wrong. She still needed to be held sometimes. Not often, but sometimes. Just like everybody else.

  Beth called out to her officers, “Is this floor secure?”

  “Yes, Chief.”

  “Then search the rest of the building. Leave a man posted to this door. I’ll stay with her. And call an ambulance.”

  The men headed out.

  Mace felt her legs start to give out. Beth seemed to sense this too and half carried her over to a plastic crate turned upside down and sat her down. She knelt in front of her, her gaze switching to the remains of the fridge and then back at Mace. The tears started trickling down Beth’s face as she gripped her sister’s hand.

  “Damn it, Mace,” she said, her voice cracking.

  “I know. I know. I’m sorry.”

  “You didn’t see who did it?”

  She shook her head. “Happened too fast.”

  “We need to get you to a hospital.”

  “I’m okay, Beth.”

  “You’re getting checked out. You’ve got a knot the size of a golf ball on your head. And your right leg is covered in blood.”

  “Okay, okay. I’ll go.”

  “And on the ride over you’re going to tell me exactly what is going on.”

  Moments later Roy came bursting through the door, the officer posted at the door tightly gripping his shoulder.

  “Mace!” yelled Roy. He tried to rush to her but the cop held him back.

  “It’s okay,” said Beth. “I know him.”

  The man let Roy go and he sprinted across the room and put his arm around Mace. “Are you okay? Tell me you’re okay.”

  Beth rose and took a step back.

  “I’m all right, Roy,” said Mace.

  “But we’re still taking her to the hospital,” said Beth. “And you can ride with us, Kingman. I know you’re up to your wingtips in this too. And I want to hear everything.”

  She grabbed his shoulder and spun him around to stare at the trashed Amana.

  “Too close, Kingman. Way too damn close.”


  AN HOUR LATER it was determined that Mace did not have a cracked skull.

  “Your head must be extremely hard,” said the emergency room doctor.

  “It is,” Beth and Roy said simultaneously.

  Her leg stitched up, a bandage on her head, and a prescription for pain meds written, they left the hospital in the early morning hours. Roy and Mace had told Beth some of what had been going on during the ride over, but now she insisted on driving them back to Abe Altman’s so they could tell her the rest. Mace’s Ducati had been picked up by a police flatbed and also driven over to Altman’s.

  In the guesthouse, they spent another hour bringing the police chief up to speed on their findings.

  “We’ll get a BOLO out on Ned Armstrong right now,” said Beth, and she took a moment to make this call. After she’d relayed the order, she said, “He may have been the one who attacked you.”

  “If so, I look forward to returning the favor,” said Mace as she lay on couch with a baggie of ice on her head.

  Roy said, “He’s probably long gone by now.”

  “How do you figure?” asked Beth.

  “If he did put Mace in that fridge he probably hung around for a while to watch the building. He would have seen the police and Mace walking out alive.”

  Beth shook her head. “We can’t take that chance. Ned is obviously not working this alone. So you two are getting round-the-clock protection.”

  “I’ve got a case to try,” said Roy.

  Mace sat up. “And I’ve got a fat asshole to catch, among lots of others.”

  “You can leave that to the police now. You should’ve left it to us from the get-go.”

  “Hey, I’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting already,” objected Mace.

  “And what, you think I’m going to do an end run and take all the credit if we do break this thing?”

  “Damn it, Beth, we had this talk. I’m going to keep working this.”

  “Why don’t you start learning that the rules do apply to you?”

  “I would, except they always seem to be stacked against me!”

  “That’s just a pitiful excuse.”

  “I need to do this, Beth,” Mace yelled, jumping off the couch. The baggie of ice slid to the floor. For a moment it looked like blows might be launched.

  Roy stepped in between them, one hand on each of their shoulders.

  At the same time both women cried out, “Stay out of this!”

  “No!” he shouted and pushed each of them back. Mace landed on the couch and Beth in a chair. Both sisters stared up at him in shock.

  “You just assaulted a police officer, Kingman,” snapped Beth.

  “Oh, right, throw that in his face!” retorted Mace.

  Roy barked, “Will both of you just shut up and listen for one damn minute!”

  The women glanced at each other and then back at him.

  “Okay,” said Roy. “Okay. These people have done things that take enormous resources and manpower.”

  “And your point?” said Beth.

  “That we work together,” Roy answered simply. “Like Mace said, she’s done a lot of the heavy lifting. I’ve got a way into DLT to see what that brings. Chief, you’ve got resources that neither of us have. All I’m saying is that it makes a lot more sense for us to work together. I think we all want the same thing here, even if it is for different reasons.”

  Beth pulled her gaze from Roy and looked down. “Maybe we can work together.”

  “Then we need to tell you one more thing,” said Roy. He looked nervously at Mace.

  She said, “The guy Tolliver was having dinner with Friday was Jamie Meldon.”

  “How the hell do you know that?”

  “Waiter at the restaurant recognized him,” said Roy.

  Beth looked puzzled. “I’ve got a contact who thinks Meldon was killed by domestic terrorists.”

  Roy shook his head. “We think he was killed because someone saw him having dinner with Diane. The lady knew something and they were afraid she’d told Meldon. The guy was a federal prosecutor after all.”

  Mace added,
“And they didn’t wait long. Dinner on Friday night and Diane killed right after. Meldon never made it past the weekend. Watkins is probably dead too. That’s why I need to clean myself up and head to Newark in a few hours.”

  “What’s in Newark?”

  Mace explained about the law firm that had represented Tolliver in her divorce.

  “And I’ve got the presentment this morning,” added Roy. “But after that I’m going over to DLT and see what I can find out.”

  “And what would you have me do?” asked Beth.

  Mace said, “Hopefully, you’ll find Ned.”

  “His prints are probably all over the front lobby. We can run them through the databases.” She stood. “If I let you do this,” she began, staring dead at her sister, “you are to report in regularly and you are not to go into any dangerous situation without backup. No more fourth floors, you got that?”

  “Loud and clear. I don’t think I can ever even own a refrigerator again.”

  Roy said anxiously, “So are we good to go?”

  Beth glared at him. “Yes, but we go by my playbook, not yours.”


  JARVIS BURNS sat in his cluttered row house in southeast Washington near the Capitol rubbing his forehead. Three Advils had not done the trick, but he had a bottle of Dewar’s in his drawer that might. He looked up at the man who sat across from him. Ned Armstrong. Real name Daniel Tyson. He’d worked for Burns for ten years and had never failed him. And yet the only reason he had not sent Mary Bard for a final meeting with Tyson was the fact that the man had followed Burns’s order to the letter.

  Put her in the fridge alive.

  “A bullet to the head would be better,” Tyson had told him at the time.

  And he’d been right, of course. But Burns wanted the woman to suffer. He wanted her to wake up and see the hopelessness of her situation with warmth and air only a few inches away. It had been a mistake, a rare occurrence for him, but still a mistake.

  “You said she went to the microwave and saw that it was broken?” Burns asked.

  “She never said anything, but that seemed to be what she was thinking. So she might know I was lying about that. And if they know Tolliver was dead on Friday, they’d know I lied about that too.”

  “And you didn’t hear who Perry was talking to or what she said while on the fourth floor?”

  “I was waiting on the other side of the door. I just heard mumbles.”

  “We can check her cell phone records. Probably either her sister or Roy Kingman. If the former, the concern is vast. If the latter, it might be manageable.”

  “But they took her to the hospital, sir. And Beth Perry was there. She might’ve talked about what she knows.”

  “She may know about the subterfuge regarding Tolliver’s death. And the fact that you might be involved somehow. If you disappear then they might think you did it acting alone, and then tried to cover it up.”

  “Perhaps,” said Tyson, as he shifted his bulk in the chair. “But they went to the restaurant where Tolliver ate on Friday. If they put two and two together?”

  “I am fully aware of the ramifications of that potential development, Tyson. No solution is perfect. We are clearly in damage control territory. We knew something like this might happen. That was why we had you stationed there as the security guard. Gave us eyes and ears on the ground and complete access to the building. It also allowed us the intelligence about the old soldier sneaking in.”

  “He makes the perfect patsy.”

  “Maybe not so perfect now. They must’ve figured out that the sperm was planted, and that he is not nearly smart enough to pull this off. That was always a risk.”

  “But unfortunately my own cover is probably blown.”

  “You’re on the next agency flight to Riyadh. You’ll spend two years there to let things quiet down before reassignment. I strongly suggest you lose about eighty pounds and have facial reconstructive surgery by approved agency surgical personnel. I’ll provide full paper coverage for you. We may be able to convince them that you are indeed one of the great serial killers of all time.”

  “I’m sorry the mission wasn’t successful, sir.”

  “It was my call, my fault. You were following orders. That is what you’re supposed to do. I will never blame you for that.”

  “Will you require a close-out report?”

  “No. Enjoy Saudi Arabia.” Burns nodded at the door. A few seconds later he was alone once more.

  He spent most of his time alone, thinking through the next doomsday scenario. He was tasked to keep America safe by any means possible. He thought about nothing else 24/7. He had used his muscle, training, and wits in uniform for his country. And now in a suit and tie he used what he had left to serve America.

  He spent twenty minutes on three different calls. As he set the phone down for the last time, his mind went back to Mace Perry.

  He didn’t like losing. Never had since he was a small boy running through the cornfields of Kansas chasing dreams. She was good, but she was still just a street cop.

  He picked up his phone and made another call. “It’s time for the contingency plan,” he said into the receiver.

  It was very late but Chester Ackerman was awake and sitting in the living room of his lavish apartment in the Watergate Building. The managing partner of Shilling & Murdoch had traded his suit, wingtips, and braces for khaki pants, an orange cashmere sweater, and Docksiders. As soon as he heard Burns’s voice his thoughts about taking a ride the next day in his forty-foot cabin cruiser vanished.

  Ackerman put his tumbler of scotch and soda down, sat up straight, and gathered his courage to say it. “I really think I should maintain a low profile with all this. I already told you about Diane when she came to me asking questions. I fired Kingman. I’ve kept the money flowing. I think I’ve done enough.”

  Burns’s retort was like a cannonball fired right into his belly. “You’ve also made a bloody fortune for basically sitting on your fat ass because of business deals that I got for you! Now here’s where you repay the kindness of your beneficent government. So just shut up and listen. You should already have the legal documents prepared like I told you to do.”

  “I do,” he said in a shaky voice, his meager courage gone.

  “Now you will act exactly in accordance with my instructions. And if you don’t…”

  Burns spoke uninterrupted for nearly ten minutes. When he’d finished he hung up and leaned back in his chair.

  That sonofabitch has made more in one year than I’ve made in my entire life. A draft dodger who pays his first-year know-nothings more than I’ll ever make. And he wants to lay low. He wants to take a time-out after making millions! He’s done enough!

  Part of Burns wished that Ackerman would fail to follow his orders just so he could order the man’s execution. Mary Bard could probably kill him with simply a stare.

  Don’t tempt me, you parasite. Don’t you dare tempt me.



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