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|The Prey Series|
Rules of Prey
Rules of Prey
A rooftop billboard cast a flickering blue light through the studio windows. The light ricocheted off glass and stainless steel: an empty crystal bud vase rimed with dust, a pencil sharpener, a microwave oven, peanut-butter jars filled with drawing pencils, paintbrushes and crayons. An ashtray full of pennies and paper clips. Jars of poster paint. Knives.
A stereo was dimly visible as a collection of rectangular silhouettes on the window ledge. A digital clock punched red electronic minutes into the silence.
The maddog waited in the dark.
He could hear himself breathe. Feel the sweat trickle from the pores of his underarms. Taste the remains of his dinner. Feel the shaven stubble at his groin. Smell the odor of the Chosen 's body.
He was never so alive as in the last moments of a long stalk. For some people, for people like his father, it must be like this every minute of every hour: life on a higher plane of existence.
The maddog watched the street. The Chosen was an artist. She had smooth olive skin and liquid brown eyes, tidy breasts and a slender waist. She lived illegally in the warehouse, bathing late at night in the communal rest room down the hall, furtively cooking microwave meals after the building manager left for the day. She slept on a narrow bed in a tiny storage room, beneath an art-deco crucifix, immersed in vapors of turpentine and linseed. She was out now, shopping for microwave dinners. The microwave crap would kill her if he didn't, the maddog thought. He was probably doing her a favor. He smiled.
The artist would be his third kill in the Cities, the fifth of his life.
The first was a ranch girl, riding out of her back pasture toward the wooded limestone hills of East Texas. She wore jeans, a red-and-white-checked shirt, and cowboy boots. She sat high in a western saddle, riding more with her knees and her head than with the reins in her hand. She came straight into him, her single blonde braid bouncing behind.
The maddog carried a rifle, a Remington Model 700 ADL in .270 Winchester. He braced his forearm against a rotting log and took her when she was forty yards out. The single shot penetrated her breastbone and blew her off the horse.
That was a killing of a different kind. She had not been Chosen; she had asked for it. She had said, three years before the killing, in the maddog's hearing, that he had lips like red worms. Like the twisting red worms that you found under river rocks. She said it in the hall of their high school, a cluster of friends standing around her. A few glanced over their shoulders at the maddog, who stood fifteen feet away, alone, as always, pushing his books onto the top shelf of his locker. He gave no sign that he'd overheard. He had been very good at concealment, even in his youngest days, though the ranch girl didn't seem to care one way or another. The maddog was a social nonentity.
But she paid for her careless talk. He held her comment to his breast for three years, knowing his time would come. And it did. She went off the back of the horse, stricken stone-cold dead by a fast-expanding copper-jacketed hunting bullet.
The maddog ran lightly through the woods and across a low stretch of swampy prairie. He dumped the gun beneath a rusting iron culvert where a road crossed the marsh. The culvert would confuse any metal detector used to hunt for the weapon, although the maddog didn't expect a search it was deer season and the woods were full of maniacs from the cities, armed to the teeth and ready to kill. The season, the weapon cache, had all been determined far in advance. Even as a sophomore in college, the maddog was a planner.
He went to the girl's funeral. Her face was untouched and the top half of the coffin was left open. He sat as close as he could, in his dark suit, watched her face and felt the power rising. His only regret was that she had not known that death was coming, so that she might savor the pain; and that he had not had time to enjoy its passage.
The second killing was the first of the truly Chosen, although he no longer considered it a work of maturity. It was more of... an experiment? Yes. In the second killing, he remedied the deficiencies of the first.
She was a hooker. He took her during the spring break of his second year, the crisis year, in law school. The need had long been there, he thought. The intellectual pressure of law school compounded it. And one cool night in Dallas, with a knife, he earned temporary respite on the pale white body of a Mississippi peckerwood girl, come to the city to find her fortune.
The ranch girl's shooting death was lamented as a hunting accident. Her parents grieved and went on to other things. Two years later the maddog saw the girl's mother laughing outside a concert hall.
The Dallas cops dismissed the hooker's execution as a street killing, dope-related. They found Quaaludes in her purse, and that was good enough. All they had was a street name. They put her in a pauper's grave with that name, the wrong name, on the tiny iron plaque that marked the place. She had never seen her sixteenth year.
The two killings had been satisfying, but not fully calculated. The killings in the Cities were different. They were meticulously planned, their tactics based on a professional review of a dozen murder investigations.
The maddog was intelligent. He was a member of the bar. He derived rules.
Never kill anyone you know.
Never have a motive.
Never follow a discernible pattern.
Never carry a weapon after it has been used.
Isolate yourself from random discovery.
Beware of leaving physical evidence.
There were more. He built them into a challenge.
He was mad, of course. And he knew it.
In the best of worlds, he would prefer to be sane. Insanity brought with it a large measure of stress. He had pills now, black ones for high blood pressure, reddish-brown ones to help him sleep. He would prefer to be sane, but you played the hand you were dealt. His father said so. The mark of a man.
So he was mad.
But not quite the way the police thought.
He bound and gagged the women and raped them.
The police considered him a sex freak. A cold freak. He took his time about the killings and the rapes. They believed he talked to his victims, taunted them. He carefully used prophylactics. Lubricated prophylactics. Postmortem vaginal smears on the first two Cities victims produced evidence of the lubricant. Since the cops never found the rubbers, they assumed he took them with him.
Consulting psychiatrists, hired to construct a psychological profile, believed the maddog feared women. Possibly the result of a youthful life with a dominant mother, they said, a mother alternately tyrannical and loving, with sexual overtones. Possibly the maddog was afraid of AIDS, and possibly they talked of endless possibilities he was essentially homosexual.
Possibly, they said, he might do something with the semen he saved in the prophylactics. When the shrinks said that, the cops looked at each other. Do something? Do what? Make Sno-Cones? What?
The psychiatrists were wrong. About all of it.
He did not taunt his victims, he comforted them; helped them to participate. He didn't use the rubbers primarily to protect himself from disease, but to protect himself from the police. Semen is evidence, carefully collected, examined, and typed by medical investigators. The maddog knew of a case where a woman was attacked, raped, and killed by one of two panhandlers. Each man accused the other. A semen-typing was pivotal in isolating the killer.
The maddog didn't save the rubbers. He didn't do something with them. He flushed them, with their evidentiary load, down his victims' toilets.
Nor was his mother a tyrant.
She had been a small unhappy dark-haired woman who wore calico dresses and wide-brimmed straw hats in the summertime. She died when he was in junior high school. He could barely remember her face, though once, when he was idly going through family boxes, he came across a stack of letters addressed to his father and tied with a ribbon. Without knowing quite why, he sniffed the envelopes and was overwhelmed by the faint, lingering scent of her, a scent like old wild-rose petals and the memories of Easter lilacs.
But she was nothing.
She never contributed. Won nothing. Did nothing. She was a drag on his father. His father and his fascinating games, and she was a drag on them. He remembered his father shouting at her once, I'm working, I'm working, and you will stay out of this room when I am working, I have to concentrate and I cannot do it if you come in here and whine, whine... The fascinating games played in courts and jailhouses.
The maddog was not homosexual. He was attracted only to women. It was the only thing that a man could do, the thing with women. He lusted for them, seeing their death and feeling himself explode as one transcendent moment.
In moments of introspection, the maddog had rooted through his psyche, seeking the genesis of his insanity. He decided that it had not come all at once, but had grown. He remembered those lonely weeks of isolation on the ranch with his mother, while his father was in Dallas playing his games. The maddog would work with his .22 rifle, sniping the ground squirrels. If he hit a squirrel just right, hit it in the hindquarters, rolled it away from its hole, it would struggle and chitter and try to claw its way back to the nest, dragging itself with its front paws.
All the other ground squirrels, from adjacent holes, would stand on the hills of sand they'd excavated from their dens and watch. Then he could pick off a second one, and that would bring out more, and then a third, until an entire colony was watching a half-dozen wounded ground squirrels trying to drag themselves back to their nests.
He would wound six or seven, shooting from a prone position, then stand and walk over to the nests and finish them with his pocket knife. Sometimes he skinned them out alive, whipping off their hides while they struggled in his hands. After a while, he began stringing their ears, keeping the string in the loft of a machine shed. At the end of one summer, he had more than three hundred sets of ears.
He had the first orgasm of his young life as he lay prone on the edge of a hay field sniping ground squirrels. The long spasm was like death itself. Afterward he unbuttoned his jeans and pulled open the front of his underwear to look at the wet semen stains and he said to himself, "Boy, that did it... boy, that did it." He said it over and over, and after that, the passion came more often as he hunted over the ranch.
Suppose, he thought, that it had been different. Suppose that he'd had playmates, girls, and they had gone to play doctor out in one of the sheds. You show me yours, I'll show you mine... Would that have made all the difference? He didn't know. By the time he was fourteen, it was too late. His mind had been turned.
A girl lived a mile down the road. She was five or six years older than he. Daughter of a real rancher. She rode by on a hayrack once, her mother towing it with a tractor, the girl wearing a sweat-soaked T-shirt that showed her nipples puckered against the dirty cloth. The maddog was fourteen and felt the stirring of a powerful desire and said aloud, "I would love her and kill her."
He was mad.
When he was in law school he read about other men like himself, fascinated to learn that he was part of a community. He thought of it as a community, of men who understood the powerful exaltation of that moment of ejaculation and death.
But it was not just the killing. Not anymore. There was now the intellectual thrill.
The maddog had always loved games. The games his father played, the games he played alone in his room. Fantasy games, role-playing games. He was good at chess. He won the high-school chess tournament three years running, though he rarely played against others outside the tournaments.
But there were better games. Like those his father played. But even his father was a surrogate for the real player, the other man at the table, the defendant. The real players were the defendants and the cops. The maddog knew he could never be a cop. But he could still be a player.
And now, in his twenty-seventh year, he was approaching his destiny. He was playing and he was killing, and the joy of the act made his body sing with pleasure.
The ultimate game. The ultimate stakes.
He bet his life that they could not catch him. And he was winning the lives of women, like poker chips. Men always played for women; that was his theory. They were the winnings in all the best games.
Cops, of course, weren't interested in playing. Cops were notoriously dull.
To help them grasp the concept of the game, he left a rule with each killing. Words carefully snipped from the Minneapolis newspaper, a short phrase stuck with Scotch Magic tape to notebook paper. For the first Cities kill, it was Never kill anyone you know.
That puzzled them sorely. He placed the paper on the victim's chest, so there could be no doubt about who had left it there. As an almost jocular afterthought, he signed it: maddog.
The second one got Never have a motive. With that, they would have known they were dealing with a man of purpose.
Though they must have been sweating bullets, the cops kept the story out of the papers. The maddog yearned for the press. Yearned to watch his legal colleagues follow the course of the investigation in the daily news. To know that they were talking to him, about him, never knowing that he was the One.
It thrilled him. This third collection should do the trick. The cops couldn't suppress the story forever. Police departments normally leaked like colanders. He was surprised they'd kept the secret this long.
This third one would get Never follow a discernible pattern. He left the sheet on a loom.
There was a contradiction here, of course. The maddog was an intellectual and he had considered it. He was careful to the point of fanaticism: he would leave no clues. Yet, he deliberately created them. The police and their psychiatrists might deduce certain things about his personality from his choice of words. From the fact that he made rules at all. From the impulse to play.
But there was no help for that.
If killing were all that mattered, he didn't doubt that he could do it and get away with it. Dallas had demonstrated that. He could do dozens. Hundreds. Fly to Los Angeles, buy a knife at a discount store, kill a hooker, fly back home the same night. A different city every week. They would never catch him. They would never even know.
There was an attraction to the idea, but it was, ultimately, intellectually sterile. He was developing. He wanted the contest. Needed it.
The maddog shook his head in the dark and looked down from the high window. Cars hissed by on the wet street. There was a low rumble from I-94, two blocks to the north. Nobody on foot. Nobody carrying bags.
He waited, pacing along the windows, watching the street. Eight minutes, ten minutes. The intensity was growing, the pulsing, the pressure. Where was she? He needed her.
Then he saw her, crossing the street below, her dark hair bobbing in the mercury-vapor lights. She was alone, carrying a single grocery bag. When she passed out of sight directly below him, he moved to the central pillar and stood against it.
The maddog wore jeans, a black T-shirt, latex surgeon's gloves, and a blue silk ski mask. When she was tied to the bed and he had stripped himself, the woman would find that her attacker had shaven: he was as clean of pubic hair as a five-year-old. Not because he was kinky, although it did feel... interesting. But he had seen a case in which lab specialists recovered a half-dozen pubic hairs from a woman's couch and matched them with samples from the assailant. Got the samples from the assailant with a search warrant. Nice touch. Upheld on appeal.
He shivered. It was chilly. He wished he had worn a jacket. When he left his apartment, the temperature was seventy-five. It must have fallen fifteen degrees since dark. God damn Minnesota.
The maddog was not large or notably athletic. For a brief time in his teens he thought of himself as lean, although his father characterized him as slight. Now, he would concede to a mirror, he was puffy. Five feet ten inches tall, curly red hair, the beginnings of a double chin, a roundness to the lower belly... lips like red worms...
The elevator was old and intended for freight. It groaned once, twice, and started up. The maddog checked his equipment: The Kotex that he would use as a gag was stuffed in his right hip pocket. The tape that he would use to bind the gag was in his left. The gun was tucked in his belt, under the T-shirt. The pistol was small but ugly: a Smith amp; Wesson Model 15 revolver. He'd bought it from a man who was about to die and then did. Before he died, when he offered it for sale, the dying man said his wife wanted him to keep it for protection. He asked the maddog not to mention that he had purchased it. It would be their secret.
And that was perfect. Nobody knew he had the gun. If he ever had to use it, it would be untraceable, or traceable only to a dead man.
He took the gun out and held it by his side and thought of the sequence: grab, gun in face, force on floor, slap her with the pistol, kneel on back, pull head back, stuff Kotex in mouth, tape, drag to bed, tape arms to the headboard, feet to baseboard.
Then relax and shift to the knife.
The elevator stopped and the doors opened. The maddog's stomach tightened, a familiar sensation. Pleasant, even. Footsteps. Key in the door. His heart was pounding. Door open. Lights. Door closed. The gun was hot in his hand, the grip rough. The woman passing...
The maddog catapulted from his hiding place.
Saw in an instant that she was alone.
Wrapped her up, the gun beside her face.
The grocery bag burst and red-and-white cans of Campbell 's soup clattered down the wooden floor like dice, beige-and-red packages of chicken nibbles and microwave lasagna crunched underfoot.
"Scream," he said in his roughest voice, well-practiced with a tape recorder, "and I'll kill you."
Unexpectedly, the woman relaxed against him and the maddog involuntarily relaxed with her. An instant later, the heel of her foot smashed onto his instep. The pain was unbearable and as he opened his mouth to scream, she turned in his arms, ignoring the gun.
"Aaaiii," she said, a low half-scream, half-cry of fear.
Time virtually stopped for them, the seconds fragmenting into minutes. The maddog watched her hand come up and thought she had a gun and felt his own gun hand traveling away from her body, the wrong way, and thought, "No." He realized in the next crystalline fragment of time that she was not holding a gun, but a thin silver cylinder.
She hit him with a blast of Mace and the time stream lurched crazily into fast-forward. He screeched and swatted her with the Smith and lost it at the same time. He swung his other hand and, more from luck than skill, connected with the side of her jaw and she fell and rolled.
The maddog looked for the gun, half-blinded, his hands to his face, his lungs not working as they should he had asthma, and the Mace was soaking through the ski mask and the woman was rolling and coming up with the Mace again and now she was screaming:
He kicked at her and missed and she sprayed him again and he kicked again and she stumbled and was rolling and still had the Mace and he couldn't find the gun and he kicked at her again. Lucky again, he connected with her Mace hand and the small can went flying. Blood was pouring from her forehead where it had been raked by the front sight on the pistol, streaming from the ragged cut down over her eyes and mouth, and it was on her teeth and she was screaming:
Before he could get back on the attack, she picked up a shiny stainless-steel pipe and swung it at him like a woman who'd spent time in the softball leagues. He fended her off and backed away, still looking for the gun, but it was gone and she was coming and the maddog made the kind of decision he was trained to make.
He ran and she ran behind him and hit him once more on the back and he half-stumbled and turned and hit her along the jaw with the bottom of his fist, a weak, ineffective punch, and she bounced away and came back with the pipe, her mouth open, her teeth showing, showering him with saliva and blood as she screamed, and he made it through the door and jerked it shut behind him.
Down the hall to the stairs, almost strangling in the mask. She didn't pursue, but stood at the closed door screaming with the most piercing wail he'd ever heard. A door opened somewhere and he continued blindly down the stairs. At the bottom he stripped off the mask and thrust it in his pocket and stepped outside.
Amble, he thought. Stroll.
It was cold. Goddamn Minnesota. It was August and he was freezing. He could hear her screaming. Faintly at first, then louder. The bitch had opened the window. The cops were just across the way. The maddog hunched his shoulders and walked a little more quickly down to his car, slipped inside, and drove away. Halfway back to Minneapolis, still in the grip of mortal fear, shaking with the cold, he remembered that cars have heaters and turned it on.
He was in Minneapolis before he realized he was hurt. Goddamn pipe. Going to have big bruises, he thought, shoulders and back. Bitch. The gun shouldn't be a problem, couldn't be traced.
Christ it hurt.
The counterman was barricaded behind a wall of skin magazines. Cigarettes, candy bars, and cellophane sacks of cheese balls, taco chips, pork rinds, and other carcinogens protected his flank. Next to the cash register, a rotating stand was hung with white buttons; each button carried a message designed to reflect each individual purchaser's existential motif. Save the Whales Harpoon a Fat Chick was a big seller. So was No More Mr. Nice Guy Down on Your Knees, Bitch.
The counterman wasn't looking at it. He was tired of looking at it. He was peering out the flyspecked front window and shaking his head.
Lucas Davenport ambled out of the depths of the store with a Daily Racing Form and laid two dollars and twelve cents on the counter.
"Fuckin' kids," the counterman said to nobody, craning his neck to see further up the street. He heard Lucas' money hit the counter and turned. His basset-hound face tried for a grin and settled for a wrinkle. "How's things?" he wheezed.
"What's going on?" Lucas asked, looking past the counterman into the street.
"Couple of kids on skateboards." The counterman had emphysema and his clogged lungs could manage only short sentences. "Riding behind a bus." Whistle. "If they hit a manhole cover..." Suck wind. "They're dead."
Lucas looked again. There were no kids in the street.
"They're gone," the counterman said morosely. He picked up the Racing Form and read the first paragraph of the lead article. "You check the sale table?" Wheeze. "Some guy brought in some poems." He pronounced it "pomes."
"Yeah?" Lucas walked around to the side of the counter and checked the ranks of battered books on the table. Huddled between two hardback surveys of twentieth-century literature he found, to his delight, a slim clothbound volume of the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Lucas never went hunting for poetry; never bought anything new. He waited to find it by chance, and surprisingly often did, orphan songs huddled in collections of texts on thermoelectrical engineering or biochemistry.
This Emily Dickinson cost one dollar when it was printed in 1958 by an obscure publishing house located on Sixth Avenue in New York City. Thirty years later it cost eighty cents in a University Avenue bookstore in St. Paul.
"So what about this pony?" Gurgle. "This Wabasha Warrior?" The counterman tapped the Racing Form. "Bred in Minnesota."
"That's what I think," Lucas said.
"Bred in Minnesota. They should whip its ass down to the Alpo factory. Of course, there is a silver lining..."
The counterman waited. He didn't have the breath for repartee.
"If Warrior gets any kind of favorite-son action," Lucas said, "it'll push up the odds on the winner."
"Try Sun and Halfpence. No guarantee, but the numbers are right." Lucas pushed the Emily Dickinson across the counter with the eighty-cent sticker price and five cents tax. "Let me get out of the store before you call your book, okay? I don't want to get busted for conspiracy to tout."
"Whatever you say." Suck. "Lieutenant," the counterman said. He tugged his forelock.
Lucas carried the Emily Dickinson back to Minneapolis and parked in the public garage across from City Hall. He walked around the wretchedly ugly old pile of liverish granite, across another street, past a reflecting pool, and into the Hennepin County Government Center. He took an escalator down to the cafeteria, bought a red apple from a vending machine, went back up and out the far side of the building to the lawn. He sat on the grass between the white birch trees in the warm August sunshine and ate the apple and read:
... but no man moved me till the tide
Went past my simple shoe
And past my apron and my belt
And past my bodice too.
And made as he would eat me up
As wholly as a dew
Upon a dandelion's sleeve
And then I started too.
Lucas smiled and crunched on the apple. When he looked up, a young dark-haired woman was crossing the plaza, pushing a double baby carriage. The twins were dressed in identical pink wrappings and swayed from side to side as their mother strutted them across the plaza. Mama had large breasts and a small waist and her black hair swung back and forth across her fair cheeks like a silken curtain. She wore a plum-colored skirt and silky beige blouse and she was so beautiful that Lucas smiled again, a wave of pleasure washing through him.
Then another one walked by, in the opposite direction, a blonde with a short punky haircut and a revealing knit dress, tawdry in an engaging way. Lucas watched her walk and sighed with the rhythm of it.
Lucas was dressed in a white tennis shirt, khaki slacks, over-the-calf blue socks, and slip-on deck shoes with long leather ties. He wore the tennis shirt outside his slacks so the gun wouldn't show. He was slender and dark-complexioned, with straight black hair going gray at the temples and a long nose over a crooked smile. One of his central upper incisors had been chipped and he never had it capped. He might have been an Indian except for his blue eyes.
His eyes were warm and forgiving. The warmth was somehow emphasized by the vertical white scar that started at his hairline, ran down to his right eye socket, jumped over the eye, and continued down his cheek to the corner of his mouth. The scar gave him a raffish air, but left behind a touch of innocence, like Errol Flynn in Captain Blood. Lucas wished he could tell young women that the scar had come from a broken bottle in a bar fight at Subic Bay, where he had never been, or Bangkok, where he had never been either. The scar had come from a fishing leader that snapped out of a rotting snag on the St. Croix River and he told them so. Some believed him. Most thought he was covering something up, like a bar fight East of Suez.
Though his eyes were warm, his smile betrayed him.
He once went with a woman a zookeeper, as it happened to a nightclub in St. Paul where cocaine was dealt to suburban children in the basement bathrooms. In the parking lot outside the club, Lucas encountered Kenny McGuinness, who he thought was in prison.
"Get the fuck away from me, Davenport," McGuinness said, backing off. The parking lot was suddenly electric, everything from gum wrappers to discarded quarter-gram coke baggies springing into needle-sharp focus.
"I didn't know you were out, dickhead," Lucas answered, smiling. The zookeeper was watching, her eyes wide. Lucas leaned toward the other man, hooked two fingers in his shirt pocket, and gently tugged, as though they were old companions trading memories. Lucas whispered hoarsely: "Leave town. Go to Los Angeles. Go to New York. If you don't go away, I'll hurt you."
"I'm on parole, I can't leave the state," McGuinness stammered.
"So go to Duluth. Go to Rochester. You've got a week," Lucas whispered. "Talk to your dad. Talk to your grandma. Talk to your sisters. Then leave."
He turned back to the zookeeper, still smiling, McGuinness apparently forgotten.
"You scared the heck out of me," the woman said when they were inside the club. "What was that all about?"
"Kenny likes young boys. He trades crack for ten-year-old ass."
"Oh." She had heard of such things but believed them only in the way she believed in her own mortality: a faraway possibility not yet requiring examination.
Later, she said, "I didn't like that smile. Your smile. You looked like one of my animals."
Lucas grinned at her. "Oh, yeah? Which one? The lemur?"
She nibbled her lower lip. "I was thinking of a wolverine," she said.
If the chill of his smile sometimes overwhelmed the warmth of his eyes, it didn't happen so frequently as to become a social handicap. Now Lucas watched the punky blonde turn the corner of the Government Center, and just before she stepped from sight, look back at him and grin.
Damn. She had known he was watching. Women always knew. Get up, he thought, go after her. But he didn't. There were so many of them, all good. He sighed and leaned back in the grass and picked up Emily Dickinson.
Lucas was a picture of contentment. More than a picture.
The photograph was being taken from the back of an olive-drab van parked across South Seventh Street. Two cops from internal affairs worked in sweaty confinement with tripod-mounted film and video cameras behind one-way glass.
The senior cop was fat. His partner was thin. Other than that, they looked much alike, with brush-cut hair, pink faces, yellow short-sleeved shirts, and double-knit trousers from J. C. Penney. Every few minutes, one of them would look through the 300mm lens. The camera attached to the lens, a Nikon F3, was equipped with a Data Back, which had a battery-operated clock programmed for accuracy through the year 2100. When the cops took their photographs, the precise time and date were burned into the photo frame. If necessary, the photograph would become a legally influential log of the surveillance subject's activities.
Lucas had spotted the pair an hour after the surveillance began, almost two weeks earlier. He didn't know why they were watching, but as soon as he saw them, he stopped talking to his informants, to his friends, to other cops. He was living in a pool of isolation, but didn't know why. He would find out. Inevitably.
In the meantime, he spent as much time as he could in the open, forcing the watchers to hide in their hot, confining wagon, unable to eat, unable to pee. Lucas smiled to himself, the unpleasant smile, the wolverine's smile, put down Dickinson and picked up the Racing Form.
"You think the motherfucker is going to sit there forever?" asked the fat cop. He squirmed uncomfortably.
"Looks like he's settled in."
"I gotta pee like a Russian racehorse," said the fat one.
"You shouldn't of drank that Coke. It's the caffeine that does it."
"Maybe I could slide out and take a leak..."
"If he moves, I gotta follow. If you get left behind, Bendl will get your balls."
"Only if you tell him, asshole."
"I can't drive and take pictures at the same time."
The fat cop squirmed uncomfortably and tried to figure the odds. He should have gone as soon as he saw Lucas settle on the lawn, but he hadn't had to pee so bad then. Now that Lucas might be expected to leave, his bladder felt like a basketball.
"Look at him," he said, peering at Lucas through a pair' of binoculars. "He's watching the puss go by. Think that's why we're watching him? Something to do with the puss?"
"I don't know. It's something weird. The way it come down, nobody sayin' shit."
"I heard he's got something on the chief. Lucas does."
"Must have. He doesn't do a thing. Wanders around town in that Porsche and goes out to the track every day."
"His jacket looks good. Commendations and all."
"He got some good busts," the thin cop admitted.
"Lot of them," said the fat man.
"Killed some guys."
"Five. He's the number-one gunslinger on the force. Nobody else done more than two."
"All good shootings."
"Press loves him. Fuckin' Wyatt Earp."
"Because he's got money," the fat man said authoritatively. "The press loves people with money, rich guys. Never met a reporter who didn't want money."
They thought about reporters for a minute. Reporters were a lot like cops, but with faster mouths.
"How much you think he makes? Davenport?" the fat one asked.
The thin cop pursed his meager lips and considered the question. Salary was a matter of some importance. "With his rank and seniority, he probably takes down forty-two, maybe forty-five from the city," he ventured. "Then the games, I heard when he hits one, he makes like a cool hundred thou, depends on how well it sells."
"That much," said the fat one, marveling. "If I made that much, I'd quit. Buy a restaurant. Maybe a bar, up on one of the lakes."
"Get out," the thin one agreed. They'd had the conversation so often the responses were automatic.
"Wonder why they didn't bust him back to sergeant? I mean, when they pulled him off robbery?"
"I heard he threatened to quit. Said he didn't want to go backwards. They decided they wanted to keep him he's got sources in every bar and barbershop in town so they had to leave him with the rank."
"He was a real pain in the butt as a supervisor," said the fat man.
The thin man nodded. "Everybody had to be perfect. Nobody was." The thin man shook his head. "He told me once that it was the worst job he ever had. He knew he was messing up, but he couldn't stop. Some guy would goof off one inch and Davenport would be on him like white on rice."
They stopped talking for another minute, watching their subject through the one-way glass. "But not a bad guy, when he's not your boss," the fat cop offered, changing direction. Surveillance cops become expert at conversational gambit. "He gave me one of his games, once. For my kid the computer genius. Had a picture of these aliens, like ten-foot cockroaches, zinging each other with ray guns."
"Kid like it?" The thin cop didn't really care. He thought the fat cop's kid was overly protected and maybe even a fairy, though he'd never say so.
"Yeah. Brought it back into the shop and asked him to sign it. Right on the box, Lucas Davenport."
"Well, the guy's no couch," said the thin one. He paused expectantly. A minute later the fat one got it and they started laughing. Laughing doesn't help the bladder. The fat cop squirmed again.
"Listen, I gotta go or I'm gonna pee down my leg," he said finally. "If Davenport takes off for somewhere besides the shop, he'll have to get his car. If you're not here when I get back, I'll run get you outside the ramp."
"It's your ass," said his partner, looking through the long lens. "He just started the Racing Form. You maybe got a few minutes."
Lucas saw the fat cop slip out of the van and dash into the Pillsbury Building. He grinned to himself. He was tempted to stroll away, knowing the cop in the van would have to follow and strand the fat guy. But it would create complications. He would rather have them where he was sure of them.
When the fat cop got back, four minutes later, the van was still there. His partner glanced over at him and said, "Nothing."
Since Lucas hadn't done anything yet, the photos they took had never been developed. If they had been, they would have found that Lucas' middle finger was prominent on most of the slides and they might have decided that he had spotted them. But it didn't matter, since the film would never be developed.
As the fat cop scrambled back into the van and Lucas sprawled on the grass, paging through the poetry again, they were very close to the end of the surveillance.
Lucas was reading a poem called The Snake, and the fat man was peering at him through the lens of the Nikon when the maddog killer did another one.
He had first talked to her a month before, in the records department of the county clerk's office. She had raven-black hair, worn short, and brown eyes. Gold hoop earrings dangled from her delicate earlobes. She wore just a touch of scent and a warm red dress.
"I'd like to see the file on Burhalter-Mentor," she told a clerk. "I don't have the number. It should have been in the last month."
The maddog watched her from the corner of his eye. She was fifteen or twenty years older than he was. Attractive.
The maddog had not yet gone for the artist. His days were colored with thoughts of her, his nights consumed with images of her face and body. He knew he would take her; the love song had already begun.
But this one was interesting. More than interesting. He felt his awareness expanding, reveled in the play of light through the peach fuzz of her slender forearm... And after the artist, there had to be another.
"Is that a civil filing?" the clerk asked the woman.
"It's a bunch of liens on an apartment complex down by Nokomis. I want to make sure they've been resolved."
"Okay. That's Burkhalter..."
"Burkhalter-Mentor." She spelled it for him and the clerk went back into the file room. She's a real-estate agent, the maddog thought. She felt his attention and glanced at him.
"Are you a real-estate agent?" he asked.
"Yes, I am." Serious, pleasant, professional. Pink lipstick, just a touch.
"I'm new here in Minneapolis," the maddog said, stepping a bit closer. "I'm an attorney with Felsen-Gore. Would you have a couple of seconds to answer a real-estate question?"
"Sure." She was friendly now, interested.
"I've been looking around the lakes, down south of here, Lake of the Isles, Lake Nokomis, like that."
"Oh, it's a very nice neighborhood," she said enthusiastically. She had what plastic surgeons called a full mouth, showing a span of brilliantly white teeth when she smiled. "There are lots of houses on the market right now. It's my specialty area."
"Well, I 'm not sure whether I want a condo or a house..."
"A house holds its value better."
"Yeah, but you know, I'm single. I don't really want to hassle with a big yard..."
"What you really need is a bungalow on a small lot, not much yard. You'd have more space than you would in an apartment, and you could sign up for a lawn service for thirty dollars a month. That'd be cheaper than the maintenance fee on most condos, and you'd maintain resale value."
The maddog got his file and waited until she got a photocopy of the liens. They drifted together along the hall to the elevators and rode down to the first floor.
"Well, hmm, look, in Dallas we had this thing, it was called the multiple list, or something like that?" said the maddog.
"Yes, multiple listing service," she said.
"So if I were to drive around and find a place, I could call you and you could show it to me?"
"Sure, I do it all the time. Let me give you my card."
Jeannie Lewis. He tucked her card into his wallet. As soon as he turned away and stepped out of her physical presence, he saw the artist again, her face and body as she walked through the streets of St. Paul. He hungered for her, and the real-estate agent was almost forgotten. But not quite.
For the next week, he saw the card each time he took his wallet out of his pocket. Jeannie Lewis of the raven hair. A definite candidate.
And then the fiasco.
He woke the next morning, bruised and creaking. He took a half-dozen extra-strength aspirin tablets and carefully twisted to look at his back in the bathroom mirror. The bruises were coming and they would be bad, long black streaks across his back and shoulders.
The obsession with the artist was broken. When he got out of the shower, he saw a strange face in the mirror, floating behind the steamed surface. It had happened before. He reached out and wiped the mirror with a corner of his towel. It was Lewis, smiling at him, engaged in his nudity.
Her office was in the south lake district, in an old storefront with a big window. He drove the neighborhood, looking for a vantage point. He found it on the parking boulevard kitty-corner from Lewis' office. He could sit in his car and watch her through the storefront window as she sat in her cubicle, talking on the telephone. He watched her for a week. Every afternoon but Wednesday she arrived between twelve-thirty and one o'clock, carrying a bag lunch. She ate at her desk as she did paperwork. She rarely went back out before two-thirty. She was stunning. He best liked the way she walked, using her hips in long fluid strides. He dreamt of her at night, of Jeannie Lewis walking nude toward him across the desert grass...
He decided to collect her on a Thursday. He found a nice-looking home on a narrow street in a redeveloping neighborhood six blocks from her office. There were no houses directly across the street from it. The driveway was sunken a few feet into the lawn, and stairs led behind a screen of evergreens to the front door. If he rode with Lewis to the house and she pulled into the driveway, and he got out the passenger side, he would be virtually invisible from the street.
The house itself felt empty. He checked the cross-reference books used by investigators at his office, found the names of the neighbors. He called the first one in the book and got a nosy old man. He explained that he would like to make a direct offer for the house, cutting out the real-estate dealers. Did the neighbor know where the owners were? Why, yes. Arizona. And here's the number; they're not due back until Christmas, and then only for two weeks.
Scouting the neighborhood, the maddog found a small supermarket across from a Standard station a few blocks from the house.
On Thursday, he packed his equipment into the trunk of his car and wore a loose-fitting tweed sport coat with voluminous pockets. He checked to make sure Lewis was in, then drove to the supermarket, parked his car in the busy lot, and called her from a pay phone.
"Jeannie Lewis," she said. Her voice was pleasantly cool.
"Yes, Ms. Lewis?" said the maddog, pronouncing it "miz." His heart was thumping against his ribs. "I ran into you in the clerk of court's office a month ago. We were talking about houses in the lakes area?"
There was a moment's hesitation at the other end of the line and the maddog was afraid she had forgotten him. Then she said, "Oh... yes, I think I remember. We went down in the elevator together?"
"Yes, that's me. Listen, to make a long story short, I was cruising the neighborhood down here, looking, and I had car trouble. So I pulled into a gas station and they said it would be a couple hours, they've got to put in a water pump. Anyway, I went out to walk around and I found a very interesting house."
He glanced at the paper in his hand, with the address, and gave it to her. "I wonder if we might set up a time to look at it?"
"Are you still at that Standard station?"
"I'm at a phone booth across the street."
"I'm not doing anything right now and I'm only five minutes away. I could stop at the other realtor's, they're only two minutes from here, pick up the key, and come and get you."
"Well, I don't want to inconvenience you..."
"No, no problem. I know that house. It's very well-kept. I'm surprised it hasn't gone yet."
"I'll be there in ten minutes."
It took fifteen. He went into the supermarket, bought an ice-cream bar, sat on a bus bench next to the phone booth, and licked the ice cream. When Lewis arrived, driving a brown station wagon, she recognized him at once. He could see her teeth as she smiled at him through the tinted windshield.
"How are you?" she asked as she popped open the passenger-side door. "You're the attorney. I remembered as soon as I saw your face."
"Yes. I really appreciate this. Have I introduced myself? I'm Louis Vullion." The maddog killer pronounced it "Loo-ee Vul-yoan," though his parents had called him "Loo-is Vul-yun," to rhyme with "onion."
"Glad to meet you." And she seemed to be.
The drive to the house took three minutes, the woman pointing out the advantages of the neighborhood. The lakes close enough that he could jog down at night. Far enough away that he wouldn't be bothered by traffic. Schools close enough to enhance the resale value of the house, should he ever wish to sell it. Not so close that kids would be a problem. Enough stability in the housing that neighbors knew each other and strangers in the neighborhood would be noticed.
"The crime rate around here is quite low compared to other neighborhoods in the city," she said. Just then a jet roared low overhead, going in for a landing at Minneapolis-St. Paul International. She didn't mention it.
Vullion didn't mention it either. He listened just enough to nod at the right places. Deeper inside, he was going through his visualization routine. This time, he couldn't mess it up, as he had with the artist.
Oh, yes, he'd assumed the blame for that one; there was no shirking it. He'd erred and he had been lucky to escape. A one-hundred-thirty-pound woman in good shape could be a formidable opponent. He would not forget that again.
As for Lewis, he couldn't foul it up. Once he attacked, she had to die, because she'd seen his face, she knew who he was. So he'd practiced, as best he could, in his apartment, hitting a basketball hung from a hook in the bathroom door. Like it was a head.
And now he was ready. He'd tucked a gym sock filled with a large Idaho baking potato into his right jacket pocket. The bulge showed, but not much. It could be anything, an appointment book, a bagel. A Kotex pad, the tape, and a pair of latex surgeon's gloves were in his left pocket. He would touch nothing that would take a fingerprint until he had the gloves on. He thought about it, rehearsed it in his mind, and said, "Oh, yes?" at the right spots in Lewis' sales talk.
And as they drove, he felt his awareness expanding; realized, with a tiny touch of distaste, that she probably smoked. There was the slightest odor of nicotine about her.
When they pulled into the driveway, his stomach began to clutch just as it had with the artist and the others. "Nice place from the outside, anyway," he said.
"Wait'll you see inside. They've done a beautiful treatment of the bathrooms."
She led the way to the front door, which was screened from the street by evergreens. The key opened the door, and they pushed in. The house was fully furnished, but the front room had the too-orderly feeling of long-prepared-for absence. The air was still and slightly musty.
"You want to wander around a minute?" Lewis looked up at him.
"Sure." He glanced at the kitchen, strolled through the front room, walked up three stairs to the bedroom level, looked in each room. When he came back down, she was clutching her purse strap in front of her, examining with some interest a crystal lamp on the fireplace mantel.
"How much are they asking?"
"A hundred and five."
He nodded and glanced toward the basement door at the edge of the kitchen.
"Is that the basement?"
"Yes, I believe so."
When she turned toward the door, he took the sock out of his pocket. She took another step toward the basement door. Swinging the sock like a mace, he slammed the Idaho baker into the back of her head, just above her left ear.
The blow knocked her off her feet and Vullion dropped on her back and slammed her again. This one was not like the bitch artist. She was an office worker with no strength in her arms. She moaned once, dazed, and he grabbed the hair on the crown of her head and wrenched her head straight back and shoved in the Kotex. He pulled on his gloves, took the tape from his side pocket, and quickly wrapped her head. As she finally began to struggle against him, he rolled her over, crossed her wrists, and taped them. She was beginning to recover, her eyes half-open now, and he dragged her up the stairs into the first bedroom and threw her on the bed. He taped her arms first, to the headboard, then her legs, apart, to the corner posts of the bed.
He was breathing hard but he could feel the erection pounding at his groin, the excitement building in his throat.
He stepped back and looked down at her. The knife, he thought. Hope there's a good one. He went down to look in the kitchen.
On the bed behind him, Jeannie Lewis moaned.
12 March 2018
The Prey series, the Virgil Flowers series, the Kidd series, The Singular Menace, The Night Crew, Dead Watch, The Eye and the Heart: The Watercolors of John Stuart Ingle, and Plastic Surgery: The Kindest Cut are copyrighted by John Sandford. All excerpts are used with permission.
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