True blue, p.45
True Blue, p.45David Baldacci
EARLY in the morning the Ducati roared through the gates at Altman’s estate. The female police officer driving it would take any followers on a two-hour ride around the Virginia countryside. A few minutes later the Bentley pulled past the gates, Herbert at the wheel. He was on his way to the market. But he had one delivery to make before then and it would take him into the heart of D.C.
Mace Perry lay in the backseat of the car.
Thirty-five minutes later she was walking through the cavernous Union Station. She got her ticket from the self-serve machine and boarded the Acela train a few minutes before it was to leave. She snagged a window seat and for the next two hours or so watched the scenery of the Northeast go by as she thought about her upcoming encounter with the law firm of Hamilton, Petrocelli & Sprissler. She grabbed a cab at the station and walked into the law firm’s suite in a twenty-story building in downtown Newark fifteen minutes later.
The place was all polished wood and marble with tasteful paintings on the wall. It looked very old money, yet Roy had looked up the law firm on an online legal directory for her and told her that it had only been in existence for fifteen years. The firm specialized in divorce and other civil litigation, and had three female partners, Julie Hamilton, Mandy Petrocelli, and Kelly Sprissler. They were all from New Jersey, had graduated from the same law school in the same year, and had returned to their roots to open the firm. From what Roy had been able to find, the practice had been a success from nearly day one and each of the name partners had stellar reputations in the Newark legal community. The firm currently employed a total of fourteen attorneys, and they were known in the area as a go-to legal shop for high-profile divorces, many of which came from nearby Manhattan.
The receptionist, a polished-looking woman in her early thirties, made a face when Mace told her who she was and why she was there.
“They don’t want to talk to you,” she said bluntly.
“I know. That’s why I came all this way. It’s really very important. Can you at least let them know I’m here?”
She made the call, spoke briefly with someone, and then put the receiver down.
“That was Ms. Hamilton.”
“And?” said Mace hopefully.
“She wishes you a safe trip back home.”
“Can I talk to her on the phone?’
“That would not be possible.”
“I can wait here until they come out.”
“Ms. Hamilton anticipated you might say that, so she told me to tell you that the building has excellent security and that spending several months in jail for trespass was probably not a good use of your time.”
“Wow, I haven’t even met this woman and already I like her. Okay, I’ll just have to turn it over to the FBI. I know some of the agents in the field office up here. They’re good people, and very thorough. Since this is a murder investigation with possible national security implications, I hope the firm can do without its computers for a while.”
“What do you mean?” the receptionist said in a stunned tone.
“Well, it’s standard operating procedure for the Feds to confiscate all computers during an investigation like this.”
“You said national security?”
“Jamie Meldon was a U.S. attorney. His murder may be tied to a terrorist organization.”
“Oh my God. We don’t know anything about that.”
“Well, the FBI likes to find that out for itself.” Mace pulled out her phone, hit a speed dial button, and said, “FBI Special Agent Morelli, please. It’s Mace Perry.”
“Wait a minute!”
Mace eyed the woman standing in the doorway. She was about forty, Mace’s height, a little heavier, and dressed in a jacket and skirt with black hose and heels. Her brown hair was cut short and precisely traced the outline of her head. Mace clicked off the phone. She’d only dialed 411 after all. “Are you Julie Hamilton? I recognize your voice from the phone call.”
“I can give you five minutes.”
She walked down the hall with Mace scurrying after her. On the way Hamilton leaned into two other offices and gave the people inside a nod of the head. When Mace and Hamilton entered a small conference room, two other women joined them.
Hamilton indicated with her hand, “My partners, Mandy Petrocelli and Kelly Sprissler.”
Petrocelli was tall and big-boned with dyed blond hair, while Sprissler was short and wiry and her reddish hair was clipped back in a tight braid. All three women looked tough, professional, and were probably excellent at their work, Mace assumed. If she ever did manage to marry someone and things turned ugly, she’d probably call one of these women to rep her.
“I’m Mace Perry, a private investigator from Washington.”
“Get to the point,” interjected Sprissler in a harsh tone.
“The point is Diane Tolliver was brutally murdered at her law office on Friday of last week and her body stuffed in a fridge. A few days later Jamie Meldon was found inside a Dumpster. On the night Diane was killed, she and Meldon had dinner together. We think she knew of some illegal activity and might have been trying to get Meldon’s help. What we don’t know is why she picked him. From what we’ve been able to determine so far, they never had any connection.”
The three lawyers glanced at one another. Hamilton said, “You mentioned out in the lobby that this case had national security implications?”
Mace nodded. “Terrorism potential.”
Petrocelli said in a booming voice, “If so, why are you here and not the FBI?”
“I wish I had a good answer to that, but I don’t. All I want to know is how Meldon and Tolliver knew each other.”
“How did you even find out about us?” Sprissler interjected.
“Joe Cushman. Diane’s ex. He spoke highly of your firm.”
“That’s because we took him to the cleaners during the divorce,” said Petrocelli.
“Now we’re on retainer to his company,” added Sprissler. “That’s the mark of good legal work, turning adversaries into clients.”
“But getting back to why you’re here,” said Hamilton.
“Right. How did Meldon and Tolliver know each other?”
“I guess it’s all right to tell you. It’s public record anyway. Before we were retained to represent her, Jamie was Diane’s counsel of record in her divorce proceedings from Joe.”
“While he was in private practice in New York?”
“But I was told he was primarily a mob lawyer.”
Hamilton said sternly, “Jamie represented many companies and individuals that were involved in myriad civil and criminal matters. I would not describe him as a mob lawyer.”
“Okay, but did he also handle divorce cases in New Jersey?”
“Diane lived in New Jersey, although she practiced law in Manhattan,” said Sprissler.
“A very common occurrence,” added Petrocelli.
“But did Meldon handle divorce cases as a ‘very common occurrence’?”
Hamilton cleared her throat. “No, he didn’t.”
“Is that why he passed the baton to you?”
“We’d worked with Jamie before. He knew we specialized in marital law cases.”
“So why not just get you on board from the get-go?”
“There was a matter of timing,” explained Hamilton.
“Timing? I know divorce cases can last years. What was the hurry?”
“Jamie got a restraining order against Joe Cushman. He was making threats apparently against Diane. The order had to be obtained quickly for obvious reasons, although having gotten to know Joe over the years I don’t believe he meant any of it.”
“But that still doesn’t explain why Meldon was involved in the first place. How did he know Tolliver?”
“I’m not sure that is relevant to anything,” barked Sprissler, who looked like she wanted to leap over the table and take a bite out of Mace’s leg.
“They were friends,” said Hamilton after a few tense moments of silence.
Mace arched her eyebrows.
“Very good friends,” amended Hamilton.
“I see. Did Joe Cushman know they were having an affair?”
“While neither confirming nor denying the accuracy of your words, from a purely hypothetical basis, I would assume not.”
“But they didn’t end up together,” said Mace.
“Jamie’s wife developed breast cancer,” said Petrocelli. “Let’s just say he did the right thing by her.”
“We were surprised when he moved to D.C. and became a U.S. attorney,” added Hamilton. “But in a way we understood. He wanted to make a clean break of it.”
“We were stunned to hear about his death,” said Sprissler.
“So were a lot of people,” said Mace.
She asked a few more questions, got nothing else helpful, and headed back to the train station. It was good to finally know of the connection between Tolliver and Meldon, but it didn’t really advance the investigation as far as Mace could see. As she sat down to wait for her train, it seemed like they were right back at square one and running out of time.
ROY STEPPED INTO C-10 for the first time in two years. C-10 was the courtroom where presentments were held in D.C. Superior Court, which was where the Captain was being tried for murder. The place was crammed because C-10 heard all presentments, from relatively minor crimes all the way to the most serious felonies. The defendants who were not in custody sat with their attorneys in the courtroom waiting for their case to be called. Those defendants who were already in jail were held in another room until it was their turn before the judge.
Roy took a seat on one of the crowded benches. As he looked around he could see various defendants gabbing while they were waiting. C-10 was a good place for the criminal classes to catch up with each other, he’d found. When he’d been a CJA he’d more than once had to pull his guy away from another street punk because they were plotting out some future crime right in front of the judge.
Roy suspected that his presentment would be called first, for one reason only. And that reason walked in at one minute to ten, sixty seconds ahead of the opening bell for this C-10 cattle call. Mona Danforth was dressed for battle in navy blue Chanel with a white pocket kerchief, three-inch heels, and lips set in a perfectly horizontal line. Her golden tresses oozed the scent of hairspray like blood from a finger cut.
One minute later the judge entered, everyone rose, and the bailiff called the case. The Captain appeared from behind a door with a police officer on either side of him. He joined Roy at the defense counsel table while Mona stood ready at the prosecutor’s table. The judge smiled down at Mona and rested his glasses near the end of his nose as he read over the papers. At this juncture, no evidence was presented by the two lawyers. It was strictly done on the record thus far. And that record completely favored Mona.
The judge said, “Ms. Danforth, I haven’t seen you in C-10 in a while.”
“Good to be back, Your Honor.”
The judge riffled through some notes and then glanced over at Roy. “Plea?”
“Not guilty, Your Honor,” said Roy while the Captain stood beside him idly gazing around the room.
“Duly noted. Ms. Danforth?”
“The people request a 1325-A hold. The defendant has no job, no home, and no family locally. We consider him to be a flight risk, and that, coupled with the serious nature of the charges, warrants continued confinement.”
“Defense objections?” the judge asked, peering at Roy. “No, Your Honor.”
“I understand that we might have a conflict with defense counsel?”
“It’s been resolved, Your Honor,” said Mona quickly.
The judge looked from her to Roy. “Is that correct?”
Roy glanced once at Mona and then said, “That’s correct.”
“Mr. Kingman, the record says your client is homeless and presumably not in a position to hire an attorney. And yet you’re not a public defender.”
“I’m doing the case pro bono.”
“How generous of you.”
“I used to be CJA.”
“Used to be?”
“I left to go into corporate private practice.”
“How long did you practice criminal law in this court?”
The judge laid his glasses down on the bench. “This is a rape and murder-one charge. It doesn’t get more serious than that.”
“I understand that, Your Honor. I’ve handled murder cases before.”
“At least ten.”
“How many of those went to trial?”
Roy licked his lips. “Three.”
“And your record in those trials?”
“Unfortunately, I lost all of them.”
“I see.” He turned his attention to the Captain. “Mr. Dockery, do you want to have Mr. Kingman as your counsel? If not, there are many experienced public defenders that will represent you at no cost.”
Roy held his breath, praying that the Captain didn’t start asking for Twinkies.
The Captain merely said, “Yes sir. Roy’s my lawyer.”
She smiled and said coolly, “The people feel that Mr. Kingman is up to the task of adequately defending Mr. Dockery’s interests in this case. We have no objection to his continued representation.”
The judge looked skeptical of this but said, “Okay. The court finds the people have met its burden and the defendant will be detained until further notice.” The judge rapped his gavel and the next case was called.
Roy turned to the Captain. “You doing all right?”
“You think I can keep staying there? Three squares and a bed.”
“I think I can pretty much guarantee that for the foreseeable future. But look, Captain, we’re going to get you out of this, okay? You’re not going to prison over this.”
“If you say so, Roy. I just want to get back in time for lunch.”
He was led off by the police officers and Roy headed out of the courtroom.
“I’m impressed, Kingman. I would’ve bet your pants would be wet by now.”
He turned to see Mona behind him.
“I hope your legal work is as bad as your quips.”
“I guess you’ll find out sooner rather than later.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Mona pushed open the courtroom door and motioned Roy out. She followed. Halfway down the hall Roy flinched as a column of media folks charged toward them. They started shoving mikes, recorders, and notepads in Roy’s face while firing off questions at him. “What the hell—” He darted a glance at Mona, who didn’t seem surprised by all this attention.
She said, “If you want to play in the big leagues this comes with the territory.”
True Blue by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes