True blue, p.5
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       True Blue, p.5

           David Baldacci
 

  closest confidant, but he had worked with her and liked her. She’d taught him a lot. And somebody had killed her and stuffed her in a fridge next to a container of days-old potato salad.

  He palmed the little rubber ball, cocked his arm back, and with a smooth motion released his thirty-second shot. It sailed straight and true right to the hoop. Only the door opened and the rubber ball hit Beth Perry in the head instead. She bent down to pick it up and tossed it back to him as he rose from his chair, his mouth agape as his gaze took in the four stars. Not that he needed that to know who she was. The D.C. police chief was in the media spotlight quite a bit.

  People marched in behind her. The last one closed the door. The last one was Mace, doing her best to get lost in the crowd. Beth introduced herself and some of the folks with her. She’d already interviewed the first responders and looked at the body. Other than Roy there were no witnesses, at least that they had found so far. The paramedics had preliminarily pronounced Tolliver dead, and the ME was on the way to make that pronouncement official.

  As two detectives took notes, the chief guided Roy through the events of the morning and what he knew about the dead woman. Her questions were crisp, her methodology spot-on. This was not by accident; she’d worked homicide for two years.

  Roy finally said, “You always do the questioning, ma’am? I thought you’d have, you know, some bigger butts to kick around.” He added hastily, “I meant that with all due respect.”

  In the back of the room Mace smiled at his comment. Beth did too.

  Beth said, “I like to keep my hand in things. So you were a CJA?”

  “That’s right.”

  “You didn’t like it there?”

  “I like it here better.”

  “So no reason you know of that someone would want to harm Diane Tolliver?”

  “None that I can think of. She wasn’t married. She went out some, no serious dating, at least that she talked to me about.”

  “Would she talk about things like that with you?”

  “Well, probably not,” he admitted.

  “Were you one of her nonserious dates?”

  “No. It wasn’t like that with us. She was, well, she was a lot older than me.”

  “Forty-seven.”

  “Right. I’m about to turn thirty.”

  “Okay. Go on.”

  “Her clients were mostly big companies, most of them overseas. She traveled. We both did. She never mentioned any problems.”

  “When you say you traveled, you mean together?”

  “Sometimes, yeah.”

  “Where, for example?”

  “We have an office in London and one in Dubai too.”

  “An office in Dubai?”

  “Lot of money and development going on there. And they need lawyers.”

  “Did she usually work late?”

  “Only occasionally. I do too sometimes.”

  “Did you ever work late together?”

  “A few times.”

  “You were the first to arrive this morning? Around seven-thirty?”

  “Yes, at least I didn’t see anyone else.”

  “The office space has a security system?”

  “Yep. We’re each assigned cards, so that’ll tell you exactly when she came in.”

  “And exactly when you came in too,” the voice said.

  Everyone turned to stare at Mace, who’d looked chagrined the second she’d finished speaking. Her sister frowned and turned back to Roy, who had his gaze dead on Mace. He squeezed the rubber ball tight in his hand.

  “But you don’t need the key card to leave the space after hours?” asked Beth.

  “No, there’s a door release button you push.”

  “And of course during business hours the security system is turned off?”

  He said, “That’s right.”

  “The garage elevator doesn’t have a key card access?”

  “That’s right, but you need a key card to access the garage.”

  “If you’re in a car.”

  “Yeah, it is a gap in security, I know.”

  “A real gap,” she said, eyeing Roy closely.

  He shifted uncomfortably. “Look, am I a suspect?”

  “We’re just collecting information.”

  His face flushed. “I called 911. I caught her damn body in my arms. I was just going to make coffee. And I had no reason to kill her.”

  “We’re getting way ahead of ourselves, Mr. Kingman. So just calm down.”

  Roy took a breath. “Okay. Do you need anything else from me?”

  “No, but I’m sure my detectives will have some follow-up. No travel plans to Dubai coming up, I hope?” She was not smiling when she asked this.

  “I don’t think so, no.”

  Beth rose from her chair. “Terrific. Let’s keep it that way. We’ll be in touch.”

  They all filed out. Mace held back while the others disappeared down the hall.

  He eyed her. “Can I help you?”

  “I don’t know. Did you kill her?”

  Roy stood, towering over her. “Are you a cop?”

  “No, just tagging along for fun.”

  “You think murder is fun? Are you some kind of sick freak?”

  “Well, if you put it that way I guess I am.”

  “I’ve got some work to do.” He glanced at the door.

  Instead of leaving Mace plucked the ball from his hand. In one motion, she turned and drained the shot, hitting nothing but net.

  He said, “Nice mechanics.”

  “High school girls’ basketball. We won the state title my senior year.”

  He appraised her. “Let me guess, you were the leave-it-all-onthe-court point guard who could score and also play some wicked D, including the occasional knocked-on-their-ass flagrant foul to cold-face the other teams?”

  “I’m impressed.”

  “I’m not.”

  “What?”

  “You just basically accused me of murder. So why don’t you get the hell out of my office.”

  “All right, I’m going.”

  “Best news I’ve heard all day.”

  CHAPTER 10

  THE D.C. Metropolitan Police Department headquarters was located on Indiana Avenue, near the D.C. Superior Court building. It was named after Henry J. Daly, who’d been a homicide sergeant with twenty-eight distinguished years on the police force before an intruder had gunned him down in the building. It was a multistory structure with lots of people in uniform coming and going. And lots of people not in uniform hanging around either waiting for court time next door or else cooling their heels while friends or relatives had some quality face time with the cops inside HQ. The probation and parole offices, along with the Department of Motor Vehicles, were also located in the Daly Building. That pretty much guaranteed that no one going in or out of the place was particularly thrilled to be there.

  The chief’s office was in a secure area and one had to pass locked doors and lots of cubicles containing people who brought guns with them to work. The office was a corner suite; the door was a keyed entry. The room was large with nice moldings and two windows. A wall of shelves contained ceremonial mugs and hats, stuffed animals, and stacks of newspapers and official reports. The American flag was in front of one window. There was a small sitting area with an ornate chess set on a coffee table. A plasma screen on a hinged arm hung on one wall. There was also a large wooden desk that had seen a lot of wear and tear over the years. This included numerous coffee cup rings marring the surface and probably a few hundred angry fists slamming down on the wood.

  Beth sat on the “chief” side and Mace on the other.

  “I took a leap of faith letting you tag along,” Beth said as she stared at the stacks of files and phone messages on her desk. “It apparently was a mistake on my part to believe that you might just remain quiet and unobtrusive. I’m not sure how I miscalculated considering it’s only happened a few thousand times before.”

 
“It just popped out. I’m sorry.”

  Beth pointed to the pile of phone messages. “Your little ‘pop’ has already gotten a lot of attention. The mayor, in fact, wants to know why a recently released convicted felon was even allowed near the crime scene, sister or not.”

  “I’m really sorry, Beth. I don’t know why I did it.”

  “Just go see Altman tonight and become gainfully employed.”

  “Is he still at G-town? Because the address you gave me is in McLean.”

  “He’s on sabbatical but the address is for his home.”

  “McLean? Fancy area. They must be paying professors better these days.”

  “Wait a minute, didn’t you know?”

  “Know what?”

  “Altman is one of the wealthiest people in the Washington area.”

  “How’d he make his money?”

  “He didn’t.”

  Mace gave her sister a funny look. “What?”

  “You used to be a pretty good detective. You’ll figure it out.” Beth pointed to the door. “Now go, I have to play police chief for a while.”

  Mace headed to the door but then turned back. “I am sorry about today, sis.”

  Beth smiled. “If that’s all I had to worry about, it would be a very good day.”

  “What about Mona and the mayor?”

  “The mayor’s a good guy. I can deal rationally with him.”

  “And Mona?”

  “Mona can go screw herself.”

  The secure door clicked open and Beth’s assistant, Lieutenant Donna Pierce, looked in. “They’re here for the meeting, Chief.”

  “Send them in.”

  The door opened wider and a man with white hair and dressed in a custom-tailored pinstripe suit walked in, followed by a fellow in a baggy gray suit who limped awkwardly, his fat briefcase in his right hand.

  The white-haired gent put out his hand. “It’s been too long, Beth.”

  “Crazy schedules all around, Sam.”

  “Hello, Chief,” said Jarvis Burns, the man in the baggy suit.

  “I don’t think either of you ever met my sister, Mace.”

  “Mace, this is Sam Donnelly and Jarvis Burns.”

  Donnelly gave Mace a searching look. “I’m really surprised we’ve never run into each other before.”

  “I’ve been away for a while.”

  “I know. What happened to you was a case of prosecutorial overreach. That is my personal opinion,” he hastily added. “Off the record.”

  “We know the president loves Mona,” Beth said grudgingly.

  “And I serve at his pleasure,” added Donnelly.

  When Mace looked at him inquiringly Beth explained, “Sam is the DNI, Director of National Intelligence.”

  “Yes, but Jarvis here does all the heavy lifting,” amended Donnelly. “I just try to keep everyone playing nicely together.”

  “Then I’ll let you and Beth get to it.”

  “Nice meeting you, Mace,” said Donnelly while Burns opened his briefcase. But his gaze trailed her until the door shut.

  “She just got out, didn’t she?” said Donnelly as he seated himself at Beth’s small conference table.

  “That’s right.”

  “Any plans?”

  “Some things in the works.”

  “I hope things come together for her.”

  “They will.”

  CHAPTER 11

  TWO PATROL COPS, one senior and one junior, were admiring Mace’s Ducati when she came out of HQ.

  “Nice ride,” said the older blue as Mace slid onto the seat.

  “Yes, it is,”

  she said.

  “Ducati?” he said, looking at the name label.

  “An Italian-engineered street machine that once you ride it, you dream about it.”

  The younger cop checked out her lean, buffed figure and pretty face and his mouth edged into a grin. “Wanta take me for a ride one night? Maybe we can share a dream.”

  “Get back to your shift and stop wasting time talking to excons!” The voice came with such a bark that both cops and Mace jumped. When Mace saw who it was, her hand went reflexively to the spot where she would normally wear her sidearm.

  The two cops faded away as the woman marched forward.

  Mona Danforth had on her usual expensive two-piece Armani suit, and a bulky litigation briefcase large enough to carry the fates of several targets of the lady’s professional ambition tapped against one shapely leg. To add insult to injury, Mona was tall and exceptionally lovely and not yet forty. The way her blond hair curved around her swan neck Mace had to grudgingly concede would turn most guys to mush. She had legs about as long as Mace’s entire body. She’d graduated from Stanford Law School, where, of course, she’d been editor in chief of the law review. She was married to a sixty-five-year-old multimillionaire based in New York who provided all the financial resources she would ever need and wasn’t around very much. She lived in a fabulous penthouse with wraparound terraces near Penn Quarter that he’d bought for her. And her looks, money, and power position weren’t even the primary reasons that Mace hated her guts, although they certainly didn’t hurt.

  Mace knew that being U.S. attorney for D.C. was just another stepping stone on the climb up for the woman. Mace had heard that Mona had her life all mapped out: a short stint as the U.S. attorney for D.C., then attorney general of the United States, next a court of appeals position, and then the prized plum, a lifetime appointment to the United States Supreme Court. When she was wasn’t trying and winning cases by any means necessary, including bending the rules until they shattered from the torque, she was lining her pockets with all the political favors she would need to fulfill that ambition.

  She had already been to the White House for dinner, not once but twice. Her hubby had been a big donor to the current president’s election campaign. Beth Perry, who’d reached the top of her profession on hard work and guts and by playing by the rules, hadn’t even been invited once. That still rankled her little sister.

  Mona stopped and looked down at Mace, who sat astride her
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