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Authors: David Baldacci

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BOOK: True Blue
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R
OY
K
INGMAN
had skipped basketball that morning. He passed by Ned, who looked far more attentive than usual and even had the tie on his uniform tightened all the way to his fleshy neck. Ned gave him a jaunty two-finger salute and a confident dip of the chin as though to let Roy know that not a single murderer had slipped past him today.
You go, bro.

Roy took the elevator up to Shilling & Murdoch. The police were still there and Diane’s office and the kitchen were taped off while the cops and techs continued to do their thing. He had snatched conversations with several other lawyers. He had tried to play it cool with Mace, who’d obviously seen far more dead bodies than he had, but finding Diane like that had done a number on his head. He kept replaying that moment over and over until it felt like he couldn’t breathe.

He walked by Chester Ackerman’s office but the door was closed and the man’s secretary, who sat across from her boss’s office, told him the police were in there questioning the managing partner. Roy finally went to his office and closed the door. Settling behind his desk, he turned on his computer and started going through e-mails. The fifth one caught his eye. It was from Diane Tolliver. He glanced at the date sent. The previous Friday. The time stamp was a few minutes past ten. He hadn’t checked his work e-mails over the weekend because there had been nothing pressing going on. He had intended to do so on Monday morning, but then Diane’s body had tumbled out of the fridge. At the bottom of the e-mail were Diane’s initials, “DLT.”

The woman’s message was terse and cryptic, even for the Twitter generation.

We need to focus in on A-

Why hadn’t she finished the message? And why send it if it wasn’t finished?

It could be nothing, he knew. How many flubs had he committed with his keystrokes? If it had been important Diane would have e-mailed again with the full message, or else called him. He checked his cell phone. No messages from her. He brought up his recent phone call list just in case she had called but left no message. Nothing.

A-?

It didn’t ring any immediate bells for him. If it was referring to a client, it could be any number of them. He brought up the list on his screen and counted. Twenty-eight clients beginning with the letter
A.
And eleven of them were ones that he and Diane routinely worked on together. They repped several firms in the Middle East, so it was Al-this and Al-that. Another lawyer at the firm? There were nearly fifty here, with twenty-two more overseas. He knew all of the D.C. folks personally. Doing a quick count in his head, there were ten whose first or last names started with
A
. Alice, Adam, Abernathy, Aikens, Chester Ackerman.

The police, he knew, had already copied the computer files from Diane’s office, so they already had what he had just found. Still, should he call them and tell them what he’d just discovered?

Maybe they wouldn’t believe me.

For the first time Roy knew what his clients had felt like when he’d worked criminal defense. He left his office and took the elevator down, with the idea of simply going for a walk by the river to clear his head. On the fourth floor the doors opened and the sounds of power saws and hammers assailed him. He watched as an older man in slacks, short-sleeved white shirt, and a hard hat stepped on the elevator car.

The fourth floor had been gutted and was being built out for a new tenant. All the rest of the building’s occupants were counting down the days until completion, because the rehabbing was a very messy and noisy affair.

“How’s it coming?” he asked the man, who was holding a roll of construction drawings under one arm.

“Slower than we’d like. Too many problems.”

“Guys not showing up to work? Inspectors slow on the approval?”

“That and things going missing.”

“Missing? Like what?”

“Tools. Food. I thought this building was supposed to be secure.”

“Well, the uniform at the front desk is basically useless.”

“Heard about some lady lawyer getting killed here. Is it true?”

“Afraid so.”

R
OY HEADED ALONG
the riverfront, stopping near one of the piers where a forty-foot cabin cruiser was docked. What would it be like, he wondered, to live on a boat and just keep going? Watch the sunset and grab a swim when he wanted? See the world? He’d seen his hometown, lived in D.C., Charlottesville. He’d visited lots of cities, but only to bounce basketballs on hardwood before heading on. He’d viewed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at forty thousand feet. He’d seen Big Ben, and sand in the Middle East. That was about it.
He smelled him before he saw him.

He turned, his hand already reaching into his pocket.

“Hey, Captain.”

“Roy.” The man gave him a quick salute.

The Captain was in his late fifties and the same height as Roy. However, whereas Roy was lean, the Captain was built like a football lineman. He must’ve outweighed Roy by eighty pounds. It had once all been muscle, Roy was sure, but the streets had made a fatty transformation of the man’s once impressive physique. His belly was so swollen now that the bottom three buttons on the jacket could no longer be used. And his body listed heavily to the left, probably as did his spine. Eating crap out of Dumpsters and sleeping on cement did that to you.

Roy called him the Captain because of the marks on his jacket. From what he’d learned of the man’s history, the Captain had once been an Army Ranger and had distinguished himself in Vietnam. But after returning home things had not gone well. Alcohol and then drugs had ruined what should have been an honorable military career. Apparently the VA had tried to help him, but the Captain had eventually fallen through the cracks and into a life on the streets of the capital of the country he had once defended with his blood.

He’d been homeless for over a decade now. And each year his uniform grew more tattered and his skin more permanently stained by the elements, much in the same way that buildings became filthy. However, there was no one to come and give him a good power wash. Roy had first met him when he’d worked as a CJA. Before he’d settled on G-town, the Captain’s foraging range was wider and his manner more aggressive. He’d had a couple of assault charges, mostly for harassing tourists or office dwellers for money or food. Roy had defended him once, gotten him probation, and then tried to get him help, but the VA was swamped with needy soldiers from current wars, and the Captain had never been good about follow-up.

It was sad, and yet all Roy could do was open his wallet, look into the darkened, grizzled face that housed a pair of dimming, vacuous eyes that indicated the owner was not all there, and say, “How about I get you some food?”

The Captain nodded, pushing a huge hand through his tangle of filthy gray and white hair. He wore tattered gloves that had once been white but were now even blacker than his face. As they trudged along together Roy looked down and noted that the Captain’s shoes were really pieces of cardboard held together with twine. He had survived the previous winter and the heavy spring rains, and the night chills were gone now. Yet Roy wondered, as the Captain coughed up some phlegm and spit it out into the Potomac, if the older man could survive another year out here. As he gazed at the Captain’s jacket and saw the Combat Bronze and other medals on his chest, including the designation for two Purple Hearts, he thought that a country’s warriors deserved better than this.

The Captain dutifully waited outside the café, like an obedient dog, as Roy bought the food. He came back out, handed the bag over, and watched as the Captain settled down on the curb and ate it all right there, drinking down the coffee last. He wiped his mouth with the paper bag and rose.

“What size shoe do you take?” Roy asked.

The Captain looked down at his feet. “Big. I think.”

“Me too. Come on.”

They walked back to the office building and into the underground garage. From the backseat of his Audi, Roy pulled out a pair of nearly new basketball shoes. “Try these on.” He tossed them to the Captain, who was quick-handed enough to snare them both.

He sat down on the cold floor of the garage and stripped off his cardboard and twine. When Roy saw the blackened, raw skin festered with lumps and green-colored cuts, he looked away.

“Good to go,” the Captain said a minute later. Roy was sure they would have fit if the man had had to cut off his toes. “You sure, Roy? Bet these cost probably a million dollars, right?”

“Not quite and I’ve got plenty.” He studied the Captain. If he gave him cash it would go for booze or some street drugs that the Captain didn’t need in his system. He had driven him to shelters on three occasions, but the man had walked out of each one within a day or so. Roy was not going to take him to live at his condo. His neighbors would probably not approve, and there was no guarantee that the former military man would not suddenly go nuts and use Roy for a cutting board.

“Come around in a couple days and I’ll have some more stuff for you, okay?”

“Yes, sir,” the Captain said amiably, giving him another snappy salute.

Roy suddenly noticed something missing and wondered why he hadn’t before. “Where’s your cart?” Like some homeless people, the Captain kept everything he had in an old rusted shopping cart with two busted front wheels. You could hear him coming a mile away just from the screech of metal.

“Some pricks stole it!”

“Do you know who?”

“Damn Vietcong. I’ll catch ’em. And then. Look.” The Captain reached in his pocket and pulled out a large clasp knife. It looked military-issued.

“Don’t do that, Captain. Let the police handle it.”

The Captain just stared at him. Finally he waved a big hand at Roy. “Thanks for the shoes.”

U
NFORTUNATELY
, her mother’s husband, Timothy,
was
there. Fortunately, he wasn’t wearing a kilt. To Mace, he looked like a person of leisure who desperately wanted to be perceived as a man of the land with a British twist. This translated into an outfit consisting of tweeds, an old-fashioned shotgun vest with holders for the shells, a cute pocket kerchief that exactly matched his checked shirt, and nearly knee-high brown leather riding boots, though there wasn’t an equine in sight. When Mace saw him she felt her cheeks begin to quiver and had to look away quickly before the next sound that was heard from her was a snort.
An older woman in a maid’s uniform brought coffee and little sandwiches out to the faux English conservatory they were sitting in. She looked as though she would rather be driving tenpenny nails through her skull with a hammer than playing maid for Timothy and Dana. The sandwiches weren’t nearly as wonderful as the spread Abe Altman had offered. Still, Mace filled her belly and had her caffeine fix.

The little Yorkie, whose name Mace had been told was Angelina Fernandina, sat on a plump pillow in front of her own little gold tray of high-end vittles, happily nipping away with teeth the size and shape of splinters. Mace inclined her head at precious Angelina. “Do you dress her in clothes too?”

Dana answered, “Only when we travel. Our jet makes her cold.”

“Poor thing,” said Mace.

“So does Beth still have a menagerie of misfits?”

“Just me and Blind Man, but he’s going strong. Probably be alive and well when you’re planting old Angie there in the dirt.”

Timothy sucked in a breath at this remark and gave Angelina a little pat with the
back
of his hand, which told Mace that he didn’t actually like dogs, hair-teased or not.

“So, how’s the rural aristocratic life treating you both?” Timothy daintily patted his lips with a monogrammed napkin and glanced at Dana, apparently waiting for her to respond.

“Timothy has been elected to head up the local planning commission. It’s an important position because you wouldn’t believe what people want to do out here development-wise. It’s a travesty.”

You mean like putting up a twenty-thousand-square-foot Scottish castle smack in the middle of farmland and raising your working-class neighbors’ property taxes tenfold?
Mace thought. But she said, “Congratulations, Timothy. That’s great.”

His chest puffed out a bit as he swallowed the last bit of sandwich. When he spoke it was as though he were addressing an adoring audience of thousands. “I will endeavor to carry out my duties to the best of my abilities. I take the stewardship that has been granted to me very seriously.”

God, you are the biggest prick.
“I’m sure you do,” Mace said pleasantly.

Dana said, “So what are your plans,
Mason?

Mace slowly put down her coffee cup. “I’d actually considered stripping on Internet webcams for food, but then a job offer came along.”

“What sort of job offer?”

“An assistant to a college professor.”

“Why would a college professor want
you
as an assistant?” scoffed her mother.

“He’s blind, on a tight budget, and I’m apparently cheaper than a seeing-eye dog.”

“Will you please be serious for once in your life, Mason!”

Okay, I tried playing patty-cakes and I don’t like it.
“What does it matter to you what I do? I’m sure we can agree that you’re a few decades late on playing mommy.”

“How dare you—”

Mace could feel her ears burning. She didn’t want to go there. She really didn’t. “Oh, I always dare. So just back off, lady.”

“Then let me explain to you quite clearly why it
is
my business. If you can’t support yourself, guess who you’ll be running to with your hand out?”

Mace formed fists so tight all of her finger joints popped. She leaned into Dana until their noses were only separated by a bare inch. “I would gnaw off my hand before I came to you or Scotch Bonnet Boy over there for one freaking dime.”

A scarlet-faced Timothy scrambled to his leather-booted feet. “I think I’ll go do some yoga. I feel my balance is off.”

Dana immediately put out her hand for him to take. “All right, dear. But remember, we have dinner tonight with the mayor and his wife at the French Hound.”

The moment he’d fled the room, Dana whirled on her youngest daughter. “It’s nearly impossible to believe, but I think prison has actually made you worse.”

This barb was so weak that Mace simply ignored it and studied her mother in silence for a few moments. “So why are you still all so kissy-kissy to him? You’ve got the ring. You’re legally locked to Lord Bonny Butt.”

She said stiffly, “He’s a Scottish earl, not a lord.”

The truth suddenly hit Mace. “Bonny Butt’s got a kick-ass prenup, doesn’t he?”

“Shut up, Mason! This minute.”

“So how does it work? You vest a few diamond bracelets, some cash, and a bushel of Triple A bonds for each year of matrimonial bliss?”

Her mother snapped, “I don’t even know why I invited you here.” Mace rose. “Oh, that one is easy, actually. You just wanted me to see how fabulous your life is. Well, I’m duly impressed. I’m happy that you’re so obviously happy.”

“You’re a terrible liar. You always were.”

“I guess that’s why I became a cop. I can just pull my badge and figure out who’s trying to screw with me.”

“But you can’t be a
cop
anymore, can you?” This came out as a clear taunt.

“Not until I figure out who set me up.”

Dana rolled her heavily made-up eyes. “Do you really think that’s going to happen?”

“I don’t think. I
know
it will.”

“Well, if I were you, I’d work very hard for your little college professor. Because I see ‘assistant’ as being as good as it gets for you from here on.”

“Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll see myself out.”

But her mother followed her as far as the front door. As Mace strapped on her helmet, Dana said, “Do you know how much trouble you’ve caused for your sister?”

“Yeah, actually I do.”

“And of course you don’t care at all, do you?”

“If I told you otherwise would you believe me?”

“You make me sick with your selfish ways.”

“Well, I learned from the master, didn’t I?”

“I spent the best years of my life with your father. We never had any money. Never went anywhere. Never did a damn thing. And we never would.”

“Yeah, punishing the wicked and making the world a better place for all was just the pits, wasn’t it?”

“You were only a child. You had no idea.”

“Oh, I had more than an idea. Talk about me?
You’ll
never have it nearly as good ever again. I don’t care how many rich
Timothys
you marry.”

“Oh, you think so?”

Mace lifted her visor. “Yeah, because Dad was the only man you ever really loved.”

“Just please go away!”

Mace noticed the slight tremble in her mother’s right hand. “Do you know how lucky you were to have a man that good so in love with you? Beth never had that privilege. And I sure as hell haven’t.”

She thought she saw her mother’s eyes turn glassy before the door slammed shut.

Mace mangled the Ducati’s gears in her sudden panic to get out of this place. Maybe her mother was right. Maybe she would never be a cop again. Maybe this was as good as it would ever get for her.

BOOK: True Blue
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