True blue, p.48
True Blue, p.48David Baldacci
“And yet she will do so.”
“How the hell are you so sure?”
“Because if it were me, I would do the same thing.”
MACE WAS SITTING in the living room of the guesthouse with a bag of ice on her swollen cheek. She’d tried to call Roy numerous times and hadn’t received an answer. The phone call she’d just gotten, however, had stripped the mystery out of this. They had Roy. They wanted her too. If she didn’t come, he was dead. The deadline was twenty-four hours from now.
She just sat there, icy water dripping down her face. For one of the few times in her life she didn’t know what to do. Then, as if her hand were being guided by some invisible force, she picked up the phone and made the call. Beth arrived in twenty-seven minutes, the roof lights of Cruiser One still whirling as she leapt from the ride and sprinted to the guesthouse. A quick discussion with Mace filled her in.
“Where do they want you to meet them?” Beth asked.
“They will kill him if I don’t go alone.”
“And if you do they’ll kill both of you. Kingman may already be dead, Mace.”
“No, he’s not dead.”
“How do you know?”
“I just know, okay?”
The two stared at each other. Finally, Beth said, “You know, Kingman made some sense when he said you and I should be working together instead of against each other.”
“We used to make a pretty good team.”
“We’ve been reactive this whole time. Chasing phantoms down alleys.”
“Or getting shot at by them.”
“What do we know? I mean, what do we really know about all this?”
“Beth, we don’t have time to sit and noodle this.”
“If we don’t sit and figure this out, Kingman will be dead. We’ve got nearly twenty-three hours. If we use it properly that’s a lifetime.”
Mace drew a deep breath and calmed. “Okay, I’ll start. Diane Tolliver had dinner with Jamie Meldon and then was murdered. Soon thereafter Meldon was killed too.”
Beth said, “Meldon’s investigation was taken over by people I don’t know, and even the FBI was called off the case. I’ve made inquiries and it seems Meldon might have been the target of a group of domestic terrorists.”
“But that would mean that Tolliver was killed because of her connection to Meldon and not the other way around.”
Beth looked puzzled. “But according to what we’ve found out about the two refrigerators, Tolliver was killed on Friday night, before Meldon, and Dockery was supposed to take the fall.”
Mace picked it up. “I found out in Newark that Meldon and Tolliver had an affair years ago. If Tolliver had found out something and needed help, she might’ve gone to him, especially since he was a U.S. attorney.”
“But that suggests Meldon was killed because of his ties to Tolliver, not the other way around.”
“Roy and I were chased through the law firm. And I’m convinced there was spyware on Tolliver’s computer. That again supports the theory that she was the key, not Meldon.”
“And you ran into an impersonator tossing Andre Watkins’s apartment.” She glanced sharply at Mace. “The imposter, he strike you as being one of Roman Naylor’s cohorts?”
“No, way too slick and sophisticated for that. And Meldon had no connection to Watkins. Only Tolliver. And they manipulated the time of her death to throw us off. I don’t see Naylor’s ‘bubbas’ running around putting steak and veggie residue in the lady’s trash, planting sperm in her, and installing spyware on the woman’s computer.”
“And the movement of money at this DLT escrow agency?”
“Tolliver again. And Roy said billions passed through that agency in connection with Shilling & Murdoch clients. And he said the managing partner, Chester Ackerman, was sweating bullets.”
“Kingman mentioned he has clients in Dubai.”
“I gather a lot of their clients are based in that region.”
“So presumably some of these billions were coming from the Middle East?”
“Guess so.” Mace grew rigid. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Beth pulled out her phone.
“Who you calling? Your buddy the DNI?”
“Sam Donnelly? Not yet.”
She spoke into the phone. “Steve Lanier please, it’s Chief Perry.”
“Steve Lanier? Isn’t he—”
“FBI AD, yeah.”
“Hey, Steve, Beth. I really need to talk to you. Yeah, it’s very important.”
Two hours later they were seated across from Lanier at the FBI’s Washington Field Office and had just finished, in alternating bursts, telling the man their findings.
Lanier leaned back in his chair. “Beth, I’ve seen some serious crap in my time, but this just blows my mind.”
A man entered the room and handed him a file before leaving.
He opened it and scanned the contents. “We got nothing back on the Meldon investigation. Hell, I don’t even think there was one. That should’ve been a red flag. But we did manage, with a lot of finagling, to get autopsy reports back on Agents Hope and Reiger.”
“Jarvis Burns told me about that.”
“I’m sure. Their throats were surgically sliced. A real professional job.”
“Okay, what does that tell us?” asked Beth.
Lanier closed the file. “That tells us we’ve got a major problem.”
“We knew that already,” said Mace.
“Not what I meant.” He spent the next five minutes filling the sisters in on what he did mean.
“Then it seems pretty clear,” said Beth. “What we have to do.”
Mace nodded. “I’m with you.”
Lanier looked between them. “Did I miss something?”
“It’s a sisterly thing,” explained Beth as she leaned forward and started talking fast. When she stopped, Mace jumped in and took up the line of thought.
“We’ll need Sam Donnelly for this,” said Lanier.
“Absolutely,” said Beth.
Thirty minutes later, all three rose to implement the plan they’d just hatched.
IT WAS the next night and Mace was in western Maryland pushing the Ducati as hard as it would go. The deep rows of trees on either side of the road flicked by, like the black-and-white frames from an old film projector. She reached the crossroads and turned left, traveled another mile, and hung a right. Five hundred yards later she saw the old farm up ahead. She slowed the Ducati and then came to a stop, her boots hitting the dirt. Her eyes were tearing up a bit. Not from emotion. She was wearing a very special pair of contact lenses.
The falling-down house was to her right, listing like a ship in high rolling swells. To her left was an old silo rising into the sky. She could see that farther down a dirt road was the place she’d been told to go to: the barn. She saw no lights on, which didn’t surprise her. She twisted the bike’s throttle and headed toward it. Five feet from the barn she cut the engine, slipped off her helmet, and moved forward. Car lights immediately shot on to her left. She held up her hand to shield her eyes. The three men came forward. When they reached her she stumbled and grabbed one of the men for support. The tiny device in her hand with a special adhesive backing was transferred to the inner side of the man’s sleeve.
“Stand still,” one of them barked.
Mace stood rigidly as another man gave her an expert patdown and then ran a scanner up and down her body. He took his time and ran it several times over her head.
“No follicle implants with tracking devices,” she volunteered helpfully.
“Shut up,” said the first man.
They herded her to the waiting Range Rover and pushed her in. On the ride they chattered away in a language she’d never heard before. They looked hard and tough; their gaunt faces and lean, athletic physiques evidenced an existence far removed from the typical comforts enjoyed by folks in the West. The Range Rover slowed after
She stood there and looked around. They were in what seemed to be an old manufacturing facility. There was a large open area where rusted tables were situated along with a wrecked conveyor belt. Piles of junked tools lay around the littered floor. A catwalk ran around the perimeter of the second level and a lift chain was suspended from the center of the A-frame ceiling and descended straight down until it stopped about eight feet from the floor. A row of metal support posts ran down the middle of the building, bisecting it. The only light came from a single bank of fluorescents hung overhead controlled by a power box on the wall next to the double doors.
Roy was sitting on his butt and tied to one of the support poles. He called out furiously, “Why the hell did you come?”
“I told you it was what I would do,” said a voice.
Mace turned to see Mary Bard walking toward her from the other end of the building. She was dressed in tight black pants, a short-waisted jean jacket, and thick-soled boots.
“I’m here,” said Mace. “So why don’t we get this done.”
“You are too impatient,” said Bard.
Mace glanced over at Roy. “What do I need to do so he goes free?”
“I’m not going anywhere,” shouted Roy as he struggled to stand.
“What do I need to do?” Mace said again.
“I’m afraid there is nothing you can do.”
“So you just kill us both? Others know about this. They won’t let it drop.”
“But we won’t have to worry about the two of you anymore.”
Bard slipped the pair of knives that she had used to kill Reiger and Hope from a holder riding on the back of her belt.
Roy looked helplessly at Mace as Bard advanced. “Mace, she’s some kind of hand-to-hand combat freak. She laid me out in like a second.”
“Well, Roy, and don’t take this the hard way, but you’re just not that tough.”
Bard stopped her advance and eyed Mace, the dual knives motionless in her hands. “And you think you are?”
“I’m still here, aren’t I? I mean, Reiger and Hope tried to kill me but didn’t get the job done.”
“They were incompetent.”
“And that’s why you were ordered to kill them, right?”
Bard’s eyes glittered at this comment. “It doesn’t matter, does it?”
“You’re from Russia. Federal Security Service.”
“I am impressed. I thought my accent was gone.”
“It wasn’t a guess on my part. I hear you guys are like the best assassins out there, except for maybe the Israelis.”
“I will try not to disappoint you tonight.”
“I’ve got a knife in my belt clasp. How about you let me use it to defend myself? It’s still two blades against one, but it’ll be a little fairer. I’m clearly not in your league, but I’ve got a few moves. Let you practice your stuff for the next time.”
Bard looked around at the heavily armed men surrounding Mace. “All right.”
“But—” began one of the men.
She barked something in the man’s tongue and he fell silent.
While the other men pointed their guns at Mace, she undid her clasp and slid out the knife. She examined the slightly dulled blade. “This baby got me out of a very tough situation.”
“I don’t think it will work again.”
Bard started moving in a circle, the blades twirling in front of her.
Mace stood flat-footed, studying the other woman’s tactics.
Bard said, “No tears? No begging for mercy?”
“Everybody has to die one day.”
“And this is your day.”
“Or yours,” said Mace.
WHAT THE HELL happened, Jarvis?”
Beth was standing in her office in front of a large-screen TV with a remote feed that Jarvis Burns’s techs had set up. After leaving the WFO the previous night, Beth had immediately called Sam Donnelly and told him what had happened with Roy Kingman. Donnelly had sent Jarvis Burns to help oversee a rescue operation. Things had been going well until they’d lost track of Mace. A guy in a suit and wearing a headset was frantically typing on a portable keyboard while barking instructions into his headset.
Burns remained focused on the screen where they could see the live feed from the camera mounted on the chopper’s skids. The countryside below looked dark and vast. “The plan was the best we had under the circumstances, Beth. We had two stealth units on the ground following her. The tracker was on her Ducati. They will have moved her in another vehicle, but our units should have been able to follow.”
He turned to the tech. “Get the ground commander on the horn ASAP.”
Seconds later the tech handed the headset to Burns, who listened for a bit and then tossed the headset back to the man before turning to Beth. “They were ambushed. Took heavy fire and casualties. They’re out of the hunt. We’ve got a mole somewhere, Beth. That’s the only way they could have found out.”
Beth slapped her desktop. “Now we have no idea where she is.”
“We have some idea,” replied Burns calmly. “We had a clear signal out to the abandoned farmhouse and we’ve got two stealth choppers as backup in the vicinity.” He tapped his tech on the shoulder. “Phillips, tell the air support commander to perform a ten-mile grid perimeter sweep. We need to all watch the feed and see if anything pops.”
“That will take too long!” snapped an exasperated Beth.
“Not in the choppers it won’t. It makes sense that they didn’t transport her too far for a number of tactical reasons. With a little bit of luck we’ll pick up the trail again.”
“And if we’re not lucky?”
“I’m doing the best I can, Beth. Remember, you called Director Donnelly in at the last minute. I’m good, but I’m not a magician.”
Beth calmed. “I know. I’m sorry. It’s just that—”
“She’s your sister.” He laid a hand on Beth’s shoulder. “I know, Beth. I swear we’ll do everything in our power to bring her back safe.”
“Thank you, Jarvis.”
True Blue by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes