True blue, p.6
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       True Blue, p.6

           David Baldacci

  Ducati, her helmet dangling in one hand.

  “My God,” said Mona. “You look like shit. I figured you weren’t nearly as tough as people made you out to be, and I guess I was right. And, hell, you were only in a kindergarten lockup for two years. Just think what a hag you’d be if you’d done the proper time in a max. A deuce for that was a joke. Thank goodness for you that big sister was around to hold your sweaty little hand.”

  Mace slipped on her helmet and fired up her bike. Then she lifted up the visor so she could eyeball the woman. “Hey, Mona, I’ve been gone for twenty-four months and the best you can do is interim U.S. attorney? You need to ratchet up the political humping, babycakes, before your looks really slide into your ass.”

  Mace popped the clutch and sped off. In the side mirror she saw Ms. Interim staring at her. That had been pretty stupid, Mace had to admit, but she had actually shown restraint. What she’d really wanted to do was find a wood-chipper, stuff Mona in it, and get right to work.

  She had a chunk of time before she was to meet the rich Altman and she knew exactly how she wanted to spend her first day of freedom. She clicked the Ducati into high gear.

  As she roared along down by the river, the seagulls dipped down to grab shiny trash off the muddy Potomac before tilting their wings and angling skyward. The monuments basked in the glow of a warming sun. Tourists wandered around, maps in hand; Secret Service agents hovered at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue keeping the man safe. Over on Capitol Hill, senators, House reps, and armies of aides and golden-tongued lobbyists shuffled through their elaborate dance of running the country right into the dirt.

  In many ways the town was sick, corrupt, maddening, frustrating, and patronizing. Still, Mace couldn’t help but smile as the Ducati blew past an Old Town Trolley carrying a load of out-of-towners eyeballing with awe the shrines to Tom, Abe, and the mighty white obelisk to George.

  That was because this was her town.

  Mace Perry was back.


  ROY KINGMAN was sitting in the managing partner’s office that was only a bit larger than his space, though it did have a water view. Chester Ackerman was a few inches shorter than Roy, and he carried the heft of a man who liked his food rich and often. He had a horseshoe of graying hair around his broad head and a large nose with a bump at the end. Roy guessed he was about fifty-five, though he suddenly wondered why he didn’t know for sure.

  Ackerman brought in far more business to the firm than anyone else. Roy had always found him sharp, tough, and big-voiced. Today, the man was none of those things. He sat across from Roy, his face sweaty, his hands trembling, and his voice low and croaky.

  He wagged his head from side to side. “I can’t believe this shit. I can’t believe it happened. Here!”

  “Just calm down, Chester.”

  “How the hell am I supposed to calm down? There was a murder three doors down from my office.”

  “And the police are investigating it, and they’re probably already running down some solid leads.”

  Ackerman lifted his head and stared at him. “That’s right, you used to work down there, right?”

  “Down where?”

  “With the cops.”

  “I was a defense attorney, so I was actually on the other side. But I know how the police work a crime scene. And this is high-dollar Georgetown, so they’ll pull out all the stops. Hell, even the chief herself was down here asking me questions.”

  Ackerman blurted out, “Who do you think might’ve done it, Roy?” He looked ten seconds from stroking.

  Roy said, “I have no idea who could’ve done it. I worked with Diane but I didn’t really know her personally. You were fairly close to her, weren’t you?”

  “No, not really. I mean, she never really talked about her personal life with me.”

  “You talked to the police?” he asked.

  Ackerman rose and looked out the window, his hands fingering the striped braces he favored. They had gone out of style sometime in the nineties, only the man apparently hadn’t noticed or didn’t care. “Yeah. They asked me some questions.” He turned around to face Roy. “And I told ’em just what I’m telling you. I’m scared and I don’t know a damn thing.”

  “It could just be random, you know.”

  “Random, what the hell are you talking about?”

  “Guy follows Diane in, kills her, and exits. Maybe it was a simple robbery.”

  “But there’s a guard in the front lobby.”

  “Ned’s more of a joke. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve come in the building in the morning and he’s nowhere to be found.”

  “What the hell do we pay building fees for?”

  “If you want serious perimeter protection, hire a real security firm who’ll send a trained person who carries a gun. The only thing Ned can do is whack an intruder with a frozen sausage biscuit.”

  Roy popped up from the chair. “Is there anyone we need to call?”

  The other man looked at him with a confused expression. “Call?”

  “Yeah, like her relatives?”

  “Oh, I’ve got folks doing that. Her father’s dead, but her mom lives in Florida, retired. Diane didn’t have any kids. She has an ex-husband, but he lives in Hawaii.”

  “Did you just find that out?”


  “You said you didn’t know much about Diane personally, but you know all that.”

  “I just found out!” Ackerman snapped.

  Roy put up his hands in mock surrender. “Okay. That’s cool.” He headed to the door. “Do you mind if I take the rest of the day off? I don’t have anything critical pending and what with everything that’s happened.”

  “No, sure, go on. Get some fresh air.”


  “Roy, what was it like? Finding the body?”

  Roy slowly turned around. “I hope you never have to find out.”


  ROY GRABBED his jacket, waved goodbye to his secretary, and took the stairs instead of the elevator. The police had already questioned Ned, who now sat in his swivel chair with a look of terror interrupted by momentary pangs of what Roy assumed was hunger.

  “Hey, Ned. How’re you doing?”

  “Not too good, Mr. Kingman.”

  Roy leaned against the marble reception console. “Police give you the once-over?” He nodded. “And were you away from the front at any time this morning?”

  Ned eyed him a little hostilely. “Am I supposed to talk to you about this stuff?”

  “Not if you don’t want to, no.”

  “Guess it doesn’t matter. I don’t know that much, really.”

  “So you saw Diane come in?”

  “Not exactly.”

  “Well, either you saw her or you didn’t.”

  “I heard her.”

  “Heard her? Where were you?”

  “In the back microwaving my biscuit. It always gets cold before I get here.”

  “What time was that?”

  “Around six. I’d just come on duty.”

  “But you were eating a biscuit when I came in an hour and a half later.”

  “I eat like five sausage biscuits every morning, but I try to space them out. I’m a big guy: I need constant fuel.”

  “Did she come up through the garage elevator or by the front doors?”

  “I don’t know. Like I said, I didn’t see her.”

  “Okay, so what did she say when she came into the lobby?”

  “She said, ‘Hey, how you doing.’ And I called back that I was doing fine. When I got back to the front, she’d already gone up in the elevator.”

  “You’re sure it was her voice?”

  “Yeah, I’ve heard her lots of times. She’s usually with someone when she leaves the building, you know, for lunch or stuff, and she has a pretty husky voice for a lady.”

  “But Ned, not to raise the obvious point, if you were in the back and she couldn’t see you, how do you k
now she was even talking to you? More likely she was saying hello to someone else coming in the building the same time as her.”

  Ned looked puzzled. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

  Roy continued, “The person had to be coming through the front doors. If she’d ridden up with him in the elevator from the garage she would have already said hello. And there’s only the one garage elevator, so it wouldn’t have had time to go back down and come back up with another person before Diane would’ve headed up in one of the office elevators.”

  “You’re getting way over my head now, Mr. Kingman.”

  “Did she routinely say hello to you when she came in?”

  “Not exactly, no.”

  “Does that mean she did it once, twice, every other time? Never?”

  “Uh, never.”

  “Did you hear another person’s voice?”

  “No, but like I said, I was using the microwave. It makes some noise. And then it makes a big ‘ding’ when it’s done.”

  “Yeah, I know.” Roy glanced up at the security cameras mounted in each corner of the lobby. “Did the police take the security tapes?”

  “It’s on a DVD. But no, they didn’t.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because the DVD loaded in the central board was full from a long time ago.”

  “But once it got full won’t it just record over what’s already been filmed?”

  “The system here doesn’t work that way. The disk gets full, it automatically shuts down until you put a new disk in.”

  “Well, don’t people check it?”

  Ned looked red-faced. “I did, I mean sometimes. But nobody ever told me how to really do it the right way, and I got to the point where I thought I might screw up, so I stopped checking it.”

  “Well, you got that right. You did screw up.”

  Ned said in a whining tone, “But I thought the cameras were just there for looks anyway, you know, to make people think they were under surveillance. I mean, I’m on duty for security purposes.”

  “In light of what happened this morning that’s very reassuring,” Roy said sarcastically. “Did you see anyone leaving between the time you heard Diane and when I came in?”

  “There were only a few people who came in during that time. All regulars.”

  “Anybody from Shilling?”

  “Not that I recognized, no.”

  Roy scrutinized Ned. “Did you maybe take another break?”

  “No, I swear, I was here the whole time. Okay, I was reading, but I couldn’t have missed someone passing by. The lobby’s not that big.”

  That was true, thought Roy. And anyone coming up from the garage elevator would have to pass right in front of the security desk.

  “So are you saying you saw nobody leave during that time?”

  “That’s right. Just people coming in. I mean, it was early, who’d be leaving?”

  At least one person might have, thought Roy. The killer.“And you told the cops this?”

  “Yeah, everything.”

  “Does your firm carry lots of insurance?”

  “How the hell should I know?”

  “Well, if I were you I’d find out, because your screwup affected a law firm big-time. And don’t forget, they can sue you without even having to hire an attorney.”

  “Jesus, do you think they might come after me? I mean, they can’t, right? I’m just the security guard. I don’t have any money.”

  “The courthouse is open to anyone, Ned. And, hell, they might go after you just for the sheer fun of it.”

  Roy walked out into the sunshine. Whoever had killed Diane had probably gone up in the elevator with her. And maybe instead of leaving, that person had then stayed in the building somewhere. He or she might even be there now, working in another office.

  Or in my office.

  Diane had come in about ninety minutes before he had. Had she been killed immediately and the murderer long gone before Roy got to the office? Or had it happened minutes before he got there? Or had it happened while he was in his office and he hadn’t heard a damn thing? He tried to remember how cold Diane’s body had been. The fact was, if she’d been in the fridge two days or half an hour, she would still have felt pretty cold to him. Maybe the ME would have a better shot at answering that.

  “You look like you’re thinking way too hard.”

  Roy looked to his left where Mace Perry was perched on her Ducati staring at him.


  WHAT ARE YOU doing back here?” Roy asked as he walked over.

  “How do you know I ever left?”

  “I can see the front entrance from my office. I’ve been staring out at it the last few hours.” He eyed the Ducati. “I wouldn’t have missed these wheels.”

  “Look, I know we got off on the wrong foot. And I came back to try it again.”

  Roy didn’t look inclined to accept her offer, but he said, “I never got your name.”

  “It’s Mace.”

  “Mace? That’s a weapon, isn’t it?”

  “Yes, I am,” she quipped.

  “Come on, what’s your name?”

  “Really, my name is Mace.”

  He shrugged. “Okay.”

  Mace looked toward the building. “I saw you talking to the security guard. What did he say?”

  Roy looked at Ned through the glass. “Not much. Ned’s not exactly all that with it.”

  “Tolliver might’ve ridden up in the elevator with whoever killed her. Ned was probably somewhere taking a sugar-slurp break. Killer did the deed and then either walked out or to his office in the building. Maybe at your law firm.”

  “That’s one theory.”

  “I’ll give you another one. You were the one who went up in the elevator with Tolliver, and she used her key card, so that leaves no record of you. You killed her and stuffed her in the fridge. You snuck down the stairs and waited until the guard came back. Then

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