True blue, p.7
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       True Blue, p.7

           David Baldacci
slower 1  faster

  you waltzed in the building from the garage elevator side like it was the first time, so he could time-stamp you in his head. You go up to the office, fuss around at your desk for a while, go to the kitchen, open the fridge, catch the poor lady—which would explain any trace of her being on your person and vice versa—and then you call the cops in a fake-freak voice.”

  Roy stared at her, his features darkening. “Is this how you try to make a fresh start? By accusing me again?”

  “I’m not accusing you. But you’re a lawyer. You know what’s coming. You were on the scene alone with a dead woman. The cops will go down this very same trail with you at some point. So you better be prepared to answer. You can practice on me.”

  “Why, so you can go back to the cops, tell them, and they can run holes right through my explanations?”

  “I told you, I’m not a cop. And if what you’re saying is the truth it would be pretty tough to pin a murder rap on you.”

  “Okay, I’ll play along. I accessed the parking garage with my card. That shows I got in around seven-thirty. Took the elevator up to my office, did some work. Went to make coffee and found Diane. I made the call to 911 at two minutes past eight. Records show she was at the office ninety minutes before I got there. I didn’t even know she was there.”

  “That won’t cut it. You could’ve parked your car down the street, walked into the garage, waited for her to arrive, ridden up in the elevator with her, killed her, left, driven your car to the garage, and the same scenario follows.”

  “Ned said he heard Diane saying hello to someone. That doesn’t fit with your scenario.”

  “The testimony of morons is always heavily discounted by the blues and the courts. And the fact is, you could’ve come in when you said, at seven-thirty, gone up in the elevator, killed Tolliver, stuffed her in the fridge, and called the cops. Plenty of time.”

  “Okay, what’s my motive?”

  “I’m a purist chick when it comes to a criminal investigation, meaning I eyeball opportunity first. Motive usually comes later. But if it’s there, the cops will find it.”

  “So what should I do? Grab the next flight to a country that has no extradition with the U.S.?”

  “Nah, it’ll probably be okay.”

  Roy looked startled. “Probably?”

  “I’ve got a good nose for killers, and it’s not twitching around you. So where’d you play basketball?”

  “How do you know I did? Just because of the office door hoop?”

  “It’s partly your height, and the way you walk, and how you dissected my playing career earlier.”

  “And what’s the other part?”

  “I saw a set of Audi keys on your desk earlier. I checked the garage here. There was an Audi parked near the entrance, which would peg it as yours since you got here so early. In the backseat were a duffel bag, three basketballs, and four pairs of expensive B-ball shoes that pretty much only collegiate or professional players will put out for.”

  “University of Virginia Cavaliers.”

  “I actually already knew that since you also have the big cool orange sticker on your rear bumper.”

  “You know, you look like the police chief.”

  “She’s a lot taller than me.”

  “I meant in the face, and the eyes. You both have green eyes, with some flecks of bronze.” He looked at her more closely. “And a tiny bubble of magenta in the right one.”

  Mace studied her eyes in the Ducati’s side mirror. Incredibly enough, for the first time, she did see bronze and the pop of magenta.

  “I don’t know any guys who even realize magenta is a color.”

  He pointed at her. “I knew I recognized you. You’re her sister, Mace Perry. Should’ve remembered as soon as you said your name.” He broke off. “But the newspapers said your name was originally Mason Perry.” He looked at her funny. “Mason Perry, Perry Mason the TV lawyer? Is that a coincidence?”

  “My father was a prosecutor, but he really wanted to be on the other side. So Mason Perry it was. But I go by Mace, not Mason. In fact, I had it legally changed.”

  “What does your father think of that?”

  “I don’t know. He was murdered when I was a kid.”

  “I’m sorry, Mace. Didn’t know.”

  “No reason for you to.”

  “But weren’t you in—”

  “I just got out.”

  “Okay.” He put his hands in his pockets and looked awkwardly around while Mace fiddled with the straps on her helmet.

  “For what it’s worth, I think you got a raw deal,” he finally said.

  “Thanks. For what it’s worth, I think you’re telling the truth.”

  “You know, the only reason I believe in reincarnation is because of Mona Danforth.”

  “What do you mean?” she said curiously.

  “How else can you explain Joseph Stalin coming back as a girl?”

  Mace grinned. “You had run-ins with her as a CJA?”

  “I wasn’t important enough to actually warrant the lady confronting me head-on. But her lieutenants ground my face into the legal dirt on more than one occasion. And the stories about her around PD are legendary.”

  “You up for lunch? We can take turns devising torture methods to use on Mona.”

  “Where do you want to go?”

  “Ben’s Chili Bowl. I’ve been dreaming about Benny’s half-smokes for two years.” She slid off the passenger seat cover. “Hop on.”

  “I don’t have a helmet.”

  “Then don’t hit your head if you fall off. Pretty sure my insurance lapsed.”

  The Ducati sped off a few seconds later.


  SO YOU just got out and you’re messing around with a homicide?” They were sitting at the crowded counter in the legendary Ben’s Chili Bowl next to the Lincoln Theater on U Street. Roy bit into his chili dog and licked the mustard off one finger.

  “I’m not messing with anything. Just getting acclimated to the outside world.”

  Mace slowly inserted her half-smoke in her mouth before chewing it up and tonguing her lips. She slid a handful of chili-cheese fries into a pool of ketchup and stuffed them all in her mouth.

  The deeply contented look on her face made Roy grin. “You want a cigarette?”


  “Prison food really does suck, doesn’t it?”

  “Yes, it does.”

  “I still can’t figure who’d want to hurt Diane.”

  “Did you really know her all that well?”

  “Worked with her for about two years.”

  “That doesn’t mean you know her. Ever been to her home?”

  “Twice. Once for an office party about three months ago and another time before I joined the firm. She was in charge of associate recruitment.”

  “Was it a tough pitch?”

  “Not really. Lot more money than I’m worth.”

  “But you’re on the billable hours treadmill.”

  “It’s not like that.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Don’t get me wrong, I work full days. But at Shilling we don’t have to keep track of billable hours.”

  “I thought that’s how lawyers made their money. Like in the Grisham novels.”

  Roy shook his head. “We work off retainers. Deep-pocketed, sophisticated clients prefer it that way. We know what the workload looks like and they know what their nut is and they pay it. The firm divvies up the spoils and rewards people for the work they do and the business they bring in. No surprises. And a lot more efficient than sucking clients dry.”

  “But what if something unusual came up off the retainer radar?”

  “We write the agreements to take that into account. Then we get paid more.”

  “Litigation or deals?”

  “Deals. Litigation we hand off to other firms, but retain oversight responsibility.”

  “So how much do you make?”

  “That’s private.”<
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  “Well, if it were public I wouldn’t have to ask you.”

  “Like I said, more than I’m worth.”

  “My father said that the law was a noble profession.”

  “It can be, just not for everyone.”

  “Yeah, I didn’t believe him either.”

  She finished the rest of her half-smoke in one bite.

  Later, as they walked out, he said, “So what are you going to do now?”

  “Tonight, I’ve actually got an appointment about a job.”

  “Doing what?”

  “Research assistant.”

  “I don’t see you in a lab wearing a white coat with eyeglasses on a chain.”

  “Not that kind. The professor is doing research on urban issues. Apparently in parts of the city I know, or at least knew pretty thoroughly.”

  “The crime-ridden ones?”


  “Who’s the professor?”

  “Abraham Altman.”

  “Bill Altman’s dad?”

  “Who’s Bill Altman?”

  “He worked at PD when I was a CJA. He’s older than me, about forty-five. Good lawyer. He’s one of the noble profession guys.”

  “I don’t know if they’re related.”

  “Abe’s a professor at Georgetown and is out-the-butt wealthy.”

  “Then it is the same guy. My sister told me he was like billionaire rich, but hadn’t worked for it.”

  “That’s right. So you know him?”

  “I helped him out once.”

  “But you didn’t know he was rich?”

  “That didn’t factor into what I was helping him with. So how did he get his money?”

  “Abe’s parents lived in Omaha across the street from a young guy who was starting up his own investment firm. They put all their money with the man.”

  “Omaha? You don’t mean?”

  “Yep. The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett. Apparently Abe’s parents kept investing with him and the earnings compounded until they were one of the largest shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway. When they died decades later I think it totaled well over a billion dollars even after the tax bite. And it all went to Abe; he was an only child.”

  “And here I was wondering how a college professor could afford me.”

  “Just tell him you want six figures, full health, paid vacation, and a 401(k) with an employer match. He probably won’t blink an eye.”

  “How about you tell him for me?”


  “You can be my negotiator.”

  “You want me to come with you to see Altman?”

  “Yeah, I’ll pick you up at six-thirty from your office.”

  “I wasn’t going back to my office.”

  “Then I’ll pick you up at your house.”

  “Condo. And do you always work this fast?”

  “I have ever since I lost two years of my life.”


  THE D.C. Police Department finally had a first-rate facility to conduct forensic testing, the most important of which was the postmortem. Beth Perry, accompanied by two homicide detectives working the case, walked into the six-floor building located at the intersection of 4th and School streets in Ward Six. In addition to the OCME, or Office of Chief Medical Examiner, the building also housed offices for the Metropolitan Police Department and the Department of Health.

  A few minutes later Beth stood next to the chief medical examiner. Lowell Cassell was a small, thin man with a short graying beard and wire-rimmed glasses. Except for the tattoo of a fish on the back of his hand, from his days in the Navy as a submariner, and a small scar from a knife wound on his right cheek suffered when on liberty in Japan while drunk in the Navy, he would’ve looked like a typical member of a college faculty.

  The body of Diane Tolliver lay on a metal table in front of them. Beth and the detectives were here to get at least two answers: cause and time of death. The ME took off his glasses, wiped his eyes, and put the spectacles back on. “Fast-tracked the postmortem as you requested.”

  “Thanks, Doc. What do you have for me?”

  “When I saw the bruising on the neck base I felt sure I’d find ligature marks on the neck or evidence of smothering, with homicidal asphyxia being the cause of death.”

  “But it wasn’t?”

  “No, the lady basically had her neck broken.”

  “Basically? Without full ligature marks?”

  “Well, there’s more. A lot more, actually. Pretty severe injury.”

  “Atlanto-occipital disarticulation and not simply a dislocation?” Cassell smiled. “I forgot how well versed you are in forensic matters. Yes, a disarticulation clearly.”

  With one of the detectives’ assistance he turned Tolliver’s body on its side and pointed to the base of her neck. “Cranio-cervical junction injury.” Cassell pressed his fingers against points along the base of the skull and the upper spine. “Brain stem and upper to midcervical spinal cord, above C4.”

  “Full disruption of the cardio-respiratory regulation centers. Immediately fatal.”

  “Are you angling for my job, Beth?” he said jokingly.

  “No, Doc, do you want mine?”

  “Good God no!”

  “So someone crushed her neck. What else?”

  “Hemorrhages in the soft tissues of the back of the neck and injuries to basilar blood vessels. She also had considerable facial bruising and a cut on her right chin, all pre-death. All fairly straightforward until we get to this.”

  He opened a laptop and pulled up some images of the inside of Diane Tolliver’s head. “The X-rays showed separation of the atlas from the base of the skull. You can see the atlas in the foramen magnum—”

  “But the spinal canal isn’t visible. Okay, that’s classic disarticulation.”

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