Books · Journalism · Information
|The Prey Series|
Eyes of Prey
Eyes of Prey
Carlo Druze was a stone killer.
He sauntered down the old, gritty sidewalk with its cracked, uneven paving blocks, under the bare-branched oaks. He was acutely aware of his surroundings. Back around the corner, near his car, the odor of cigar smoke hung in the cold night air; a hundred feet farther along, he'd touched a pool of fragrance, deodorant or cheap perfume. A Motley Crue song beat down from a second-story bedroom: plainly audible on the sidewalk, it had to be deafening inside.
Two blocks ahead, to the right, a translucent cream-colored shade came down in a lighted window. He watched the window, but nothing else moved. A vagrant snowflake drifted past, then another.
Druze could kill without feeling, but he wasn't stupid. He took care: he would not spend his life in prison. So he strolled, hands in his pockets, a man at his leisure. Watching. Feeling. The collar of his ski jacket rose to his ears on the sides, to his nose in the front. A watch cap rode low on his forehead. If he met anyone a dog-walker, a night jogger they'd get nothing but eyes.
From the mouth of the alley, he could see the target house and the garage behind it. Nobody in the alley, nothing moving. A few garbage cans, like battered plastic toadstools, waited to be taken inside. Four windows were lit on the ground floor of the target house, two more up above. The garage was dark.
Druze didn't look around; he was too good an actor. It wasn't likely that a neighbor was watching, but who could know? An old man, lonely, standing at his window, a linen shawl around his narrow shoulders... Druze could see him in his mind's eye, and was wary: the people here had money, and Druze was a stranger in the dark. An out-of-place furtiveness, like a bad line on the stage, would be noticed. The cops were only a minute away.
With a casual step, then, rather than a sudden move, Druze turned into the darker world of the alley and walked down to the garage. It was connected to the house by a glassed-in breezeway. The door at the end of the breezeway would not be locked; it led straight into the kitchen.
"If she's not in the kitchen, she'll be in the recreation room, watching television," Bekker had said. Bekker had been aglow, his face pulsing with the heat of uncontrolled pleasure. He'd drawn the floor plan on a sheet of notebook paper and traced the hallways with the point of his pencil. The pencil had trembled on the paper, leaving a shaky worm trail in graphite. "Christ, I wish I could be there to see it."
Druze took the key out of his pocket, pulled it out by its string. He'd tied the string to a belt loop, so there'd be no chance he'd lose the key in the house. He reached out to the doorknob with his gloved left hand, tried it. Locked. The key opened it easily. He shut the door behind him and stood in the dark, listening. A scurrying? A mouse in the loft? The sound of the wind brushing over the shingles. He waited, listening.
Druze was a troll. He had been burned as a child. Some nights, bad nights, the memories ran uncontrollably through his head, and he'd doze, wretchedly, twisting in the blankets, knowing what was coming, afraid. He'd wake in his childhood bed, the fire on him. On his hands, his face, running like liquid, in his nose, his hair, his mother screaming, throwing water and milk, his father flapping his arms, shouting, ineffectual...
They hadn't taken him to the hospital until the next day. His mother had smeared lard on him, hoping not to pay, as Druze howled through the night. But in the morning light, when they'd seen his nose, they took him.
He was four weeks in the county hospital, shrieking with pain as the nurses put him through the baths and the peels, as the doctors did the skin transplants. They'd harvested the skin from his thighs he remembered the word, all these years later, harvested, it stuck in his mind like a tick and used it to patch his face.
When they'd finished he looked better, but not good. The features of his face seemed fused together, as though an invisible nylon stocking were pulled over his head. His skin was no better, a patchwork of leather, off-color, pebbled, like a quilted football. His nose had been fixed, as best the doctors could, but it was too short, his nostrils flaring straight out, like black headlights. His lips were stiff and thin, and dried easily. He licked them, unconsciously, his tongue flicking out every few seconds with a lizard's touch.
The doctors had given him the new face, but his eyes were his own.
His eyes were flat black and opaque, like weathered paint on the eyes of a cigar-store Indian. New acquaintances sometimes thought he was blind, but he was not. His eyes were the mirror of his soul: Druze hadn't had one since the night of the burning...
The garage was silent. Nobody called out, no telephone rang. Druze tucked the key into his pants pocket and took a black four-inch milled-aluminum penlight out of his jacket. With the light's narrow beam, he skirted the car and picked his way through the litter of the garage. Bekker had warned him of this: the woman was a gardener. The unused half of the garage was littered with shovels, rakes, hoes, garden trowels, red clay pots, both broken and whole, sacks of fertilizer and partial bales of peat moss. A power cultivator sat next to a lawn mower and a snowblower. The place smelled half of earth and half of gasoline, a pungent, yeasty mixture that pulled him back to his childhood. Druze had grown up on a farm, poor, living in a trailer with a propane tank, closer to the chicken coop than the main house. He knew about kitchen gardens, old, oil-leaking machinery and the stink of manure.
The door between the garage and the breezeway was closed but not locked. The breezeway itself was six feet wide and as cluttered as the garage. "She uses it as a spring greenhouse watch the tomato flats on the south side, they'll be all over the place," Bekker had said. "You'll need the light, but she won't be able to see it from either the kitchen or the recreation room. Check the windows on the left. That's the study, and she could see you from there but she won't be in the study. She never is. You'll be okay."
Bekker was a meticulous planner, delighted with his own precise work. As he led Druze through the floor plan with his pencil, he'd stopped once to laugh. His laugh was his worst feature, Druze decided. Harsh, scratching, it sounded like the squawk of a crow pursued by owls...
Druze walked easily through the breezeway, stepping precisely toward the lighted window in the door at the end of the passage. He was bulky but not fat. He was, in fact, an athlete: he could juggle, he could dance, he could balance on a rope; he could jump in the air and click his heels and land lightly enough that the audience could hear the click alone, like a spoken word. Midway through, he heard a voice and paused.
A voice, singing. Sweet, naive, like a high-school chorister's. A woman, the words muffled. He recognized the tune but didn't know its name. Something from the sixties. A Joan Baez song maybe. The focus was getting tighter. He didn't doubt that he could do her. Killing Stephanie Bekker would be no more difficult than chopping off a chicken's head or slitting the throat of a baby pig. Just a shoat, he said to himself. It's all meat...
Druze had done another murder, years earlier. He'd told Bekker about it, over a beer. It wasn't a confession, simply a story. And now, so many years later, the killing seemed more like an accident than a murder. Even less than that: like a scene from a half-forgotten drive-in movie, a movie where you couldn't remember the end. A girl in a New York flophouse. A hooker maybe, a druggie for sure. She gave him some shit. Nobody cared, so he killed her. Almost as an experiment, to see if it would rouse some feeling in him. It hadn't.
He never knew the hooker's name, doubted that he could even find the flophouse, if it still existed. At this date, he probably couldn't figure out what week of the year it had been: the summer, sometime, everything hot and stinking, the smell of spoiled milk and rotting lettuce in sidewalk dumpsters...
"Didn't bother me," he had told Bekker, who pressed him. "It wasn't like... Shit, it wasn't like anything. Shut the bitch up, that's for sure."
"Did you hit her? In the face?" Bekker had been intent, the eyes of science. It was, Druze thought, the moment they had become friends. He remembered it with perfect clarity: the bar, the scent of cigarette smoke, four college kids on the other side of the aisle, sitting around a pizza, laughing at inanities... Bekker had worn an apricot-colored mohair sweater, a favorite, that framed his face.
"Bounced her off a wall, swinging her," Druze had said, wanting to impress. Another new feeling. "When she went down, I got on her back, got an arm around her neck, and jerk... that was it. Neck just went pop. Sounded like when you bite into a piece of gristle. I put my pants on, walked out the door..."
"No. Not after I was out of the place. Something that simple... what're the cops going to do? You walk away. By the time you're down the block, they got no chance. And in that fuckin' place, they probably didn't even find her for two days, and only then 'cause of the heat. I wasn't scared, I was more like... hurried."
"That's something." Bekker's approval was like the rush Druze got from applause, but better, tighter, more concentrated. Only for him. He had gotten the impression that Bekker had a confession of his own but held it back. Instead the other man had asked, "You never did it again?"
"No. It's not like... I enjoy it."
Bekker had sat staring at him for a moment, then had smiled. "Hell of a story, Carlo."
He hadn't felt much when he'd killed the girl. He didn't feel much now, ghosting through the darkened breezeway, closing in. Tension, stage fright, but no distaste for the job.
Another door waited at the end of the passage, wooden, with an inset window at eye level. If the woman was at the table, Bekker said, she would most likely be facing away from him. If she was at the sink, the stove or the refrigerator, she wouldn't be able to see him at all. The door would open quietly enough, but she would feel the cold air if he hesitated.
What was that song? The woman's voice floated around him, an intriguing whisper in the night air. Moving slowly, Druze peeked through the window. She wasn't at the table: nothing there but two wooden chairs. He gripped the doorknob solidly, picked up a foot, wiped the sole of his shoe on the opposite pantleg, then repeated the move with the other foot. If the gym shoe treads had picked up any small stones, they would give him away, rattling on the tile floor. Bekker had suggested that he wipe, and Druze was a man who valued rehearsal.
His hand still on the knob, he twisted. The knob turned silently under his glove, as slowly as the second hand on a clock. The door was on a spring, and would ease itself shut... And she sang: Something, Angelina, ta-dum, Angelina. Good-bye, Angelina? She was a true soprano, her voice like bells...
The door was as quiet as Bekker had promised. Warm air pushed into his face like a feather cushion; the sound of a dishwasher, and Druze was inside and moving, the door closed behind him, his shoes silent on the quarry tile. Straight ahead was the breakfast bar, white-speckled Formica with a single short-stemmed rose in a bud vase at the far end, a cup and saucer in the center and, on the near end, a green glass bottle. A souvenir from a trip to Mexico, Bekker had said. Hand-blown, and heavy as stone, with a sturdy neck.
Druze was moving fast now, to the end of the bar, an avalanche in black, the woman suddenly there to his left, standing at the sink, singing, her back to him. Her black hair was brushed out on her shoulders, a sheer silken blue negligee falling gently over her hips. At the last instant she sensed him coming, maybe felt a rush in the air, a coldness, and she turned.
Something's wrong: Druze was moving on Bekker's wife, too late to change course, and he knew that something was wrong...
Man in the house. In the shower. On his way.
Stephanie Bekker felt warm, comfortable, still a little damp from her own shower, a bead of water tickling as it sat on her spine between her shoulder blades... Her nipples were sore, but not unpleasantly. He'd shaven, but not recently enough... She smiled. Silly man, must not have nursed enough as a baby...
Stephanie Bekker felt the cool air on her back and turned to smile at her lover. Her lover wasn't there; Death was. She said, "Who?" and it was all there in her mind, like a fistful of crystals: the plans for the business, the good days at the lakes, the cocker spaniel she had had as a girl, her father's face lined with pain after his heart attack, her inability to have children...
And her home: the kitchen tile, the antique flour bins, the wrought-iron pot stands, the single rose in the bud vase, red as a drop of blood...
"Who?" she said, not loud, half turning, her eyes widening, a smile caught on her face. The bottle whipped around, a Louisville Slugger in green glass. Her hand started up. Too late. Too small. Too delicate.
The heavy bottle smashed into her temple with a wet crack, like a rain-soaked newspaper hitting a porch. Her head snapped back and she fell, straight down, as though her bones had vaporized. The back of her head slammed the edge of the counter, pitching her forward, turning her.
Druze was on her, smashing her flat with his weight, his hand on her chest, feeling her nipple in his palm.
Hitting her face and her face and her face...
The heavy bottle broke, and he paused, sucking air, his head turned up, his jaws wide, changed his grip and smashed the broken edges down through her eyes...
"Do it too much," Bekker had urged. He'd been like a jock, talking about a three-four defense or a halfback option, his arm pumping as though he was about to holler "Awright!"... "Do it like a junkie would do it. Christ, I wish I could be there. And get the eyes. Be sure you get the eyes."
"I know how to do it," Druze had said.
"But you must get the eyes..." Bekker had had a little white dot of drying spittle at the corner of his mouth. That happened when he got excited. "Get the eyes for me..."
There'd been another sound here, and it had stopped. Even as he beat her, even as he pounded the razor-edged bottle down through her eyes, Druze registered the negligee. She wouldn't be wearing this on a cold, windy night in April, alone in the house. Women were natural actors, with an instinct for the appropriate that went past simple comfort. She wouldn't be wearing this if she were alone...
He hit her face and heard the thumping on the stairs, and half turned, half stood, startled, hunched like a golem, the bottle in his gloved hand. The man came around the corner at the bottom of the stairs, wrapped in a towel. Taller than average, too heavy but not actually fat. Balding, fair wet hair at his temples, uncombed. Pale skin, rarely touched by sunlight, chest hair gone gray, pink spots on his shoulders from the shower.
There was a frozen instant, then the man blurted "Jesus" and bolted. Druze took a step after him, quickly, off balance. The blood on the kitchen tile was almost invisible, red on red, and he slipped, his feet flying from beneath him. He landed back-down on the woman's head, her pulped features imprinting themselves on his black jacket. The man, Stephanie Bekker's lover, was up the stairs. It was an old house and the doors were oak. If he locked himself in a bedroom, Druze would not get through the door in a hurry. The man might already be dialing 911...
Druze dropped the bottle, as planned, and turned and trotted out the door. He was halfway down the length of the breezeway when it slammed behind him, a report like a gunshot, startling him. Door, his mind said, but he was running now, scattering the tomato plants. His hand found the penlight as he cleared the breezeway. With the light, he was through the garage in two more seconds, into the alley, slowing himself. Walk. WALK.
In another ten seconds he was on the sidewalk, thick, hunched, his coat collar up. He got to his car without seeing another soul. A minute after he left Stephanie Bekker, the car was moving...
Keep your head out of it.
Druze did not allow himself to think. Everything was rehearsed, it was all very clean. Follow the script. Stay on schedule. Around the lake, out to France Avenue to Highway 12, back toward the loop to I-94, down 94 to St. Paul.
Then he thought:
He saw my face. And who the fuck was he? So round, so pink, so startled. Druze smacked the steering wheel once in frustration. How could this happen? Bekker so smart...
There was no way for Druze to know who the lover was, but Bekker might know. He should have some ideas, at least. Druze glanced at the car clock: 10:40. Ten minutes before the first scheduled call.
He took the next exit, stopped at a Super America store and picked up the plastic baggie of quarters he'd left on the floor of the car: he hadn't wanted them to clink when he went into Bekker's house. A public phone hung on an exterior wall, and Druze, his index finger in one ear to block the street noise, dialed another public phone, in San Francisco. A recording asked for quarters and Druze dropped them in. A second later, the phone rang on the West Coast. Bekker was there.
Druze was supposed to say one of two words, "Yes" or "No," and hang up. Instead he said, "There was a guy there."
"What?" He'd never heard Bekker surprised, before this night.
"She was fuckin' some guy," Druze said. "I came in and did her and the guy came right down the stairs on top of me. He was wearing a towel."
"What?" More than surprised. He was stunned.
"Wake up, for Christ's fuckin' sake. Stop saying 'What?' We got a problem."
"What about... the woman?" Recovering now. Mentioning no names.
"She's a big fuckin' Yes. But the guy saw me. Just for a second. I was wearing the ski jacket and the hat, but with my face... I don't know how much was showing..."
There was a long moment of silence; then Bekker said, "We can't talk about it. I'll call you tonight or tomorrow, depending on what happens. Are you sure about... the woman?"
"Yeah, yeah, she's a Yes."
"Then we've done that much," Bekker said, with satisfaction. "Let me go think about the other."
And he was gone.
Driving away from the store, Druze hummed, harshly, the few bars of the song: Ta-dum, Angelina, good-bye, Angelina... That wasn't right, and the goddamned song would be going through his head forever until he got it. Ta-dum, Angelina. Maybe he could call a radio station and they'd play it or something. The melody was driving him nuts.
He put the car on I-94, took it to Highway 280, to I-35W, to I-694, and began driving west, fast, too fast, enjoying the speed, running the loop around the cities. He did it, now and then, to cool out. He liked the wind whistling through a crack in the window, the oldie-goldies on the radio. Ta-dum...
The blood-mask dried on the back of his jacket, invisible now. He never knew it was there.
Stephanie Bekker's lover heard the strange thumping as he toweled himself after his shower. The sound was unnatural, violent, arrhythmic, but it never crossed his mind that Stephanie had been attacked, was dying there on the kitchen floor. She might be moving something, one of her heavy antique chairs maybe, or perhaps she couldn't get a jar open and was rapping the lid on a kitchen counter he really didn't know what he thought.
He wrapped a towel around his waist and went to look. He walked straight into the nightmare: A man with a beast's face, hovering over Stephanie, the broken bottle in his hand like a dagger, rimed with blood. Stephanie's face... What had he told her, there in bed, an hour before? You're a beautiful woman, he'd said, awkward at this, touching her lips with his fingertip, so beautiful...
He'd seen her on the floor and he'd turned and run. What else could he do? one part of his mind asked. The lower part, the lizard part that went back to the caves, said: Coward.
He'd run up the stairs, flying with fear, reaching to slam the bedroom door behind him, to lock himself away from the horror, when he heard the troll slam out through the breezeway door. He snatched up the phone, punched numbers, a 9, a 1. But even as he punched the 1, his quick mind was turning. He stopped. Listened. No neighbors, no calls in the night. No sirens. Nothing. Looked at the phone, then finally set it back down. Maybe...
He pulled on his pants.
He cracked the door, tense, waiting for attack. Nothing. Down the stairs, moving quietly in his bare feet. Nothing. Wary, moving slowly, into the kitchen. Stephanie sprawled there, on her back, beyond help: her face pulped, her whole head misshapen from the beating. Blood pooled on the tile around her; the killer had stepped in it, and he'd left tracks, one edge of a gym shoe and a heel, back toward the door.
Stephanie Bekker's lover reached down to touch her neck, to feel for a pulse, but at the last minute, repelled, he pulled his hand back. She was dead. He stood for a moment, swept by a premonition that the cops were on the sidewalk, were coming up the sidewalk, were reaching toward the front door... They would find him here, standing over the body like the innocent man in a Perry Mason television show, point a finger at him, accuse him of murder.
He turned his head toward the front door. Nothing. Not a sound.
He went back up the stairs, his mind working furiously. Stephanie had sworn she'd told nobody about their affair. Her close friends were with the university, in the art world or in the neighborhood: confiding details of an affair in any of those places would set off a tidal wave of gossip. They both knew that and knew it would be ruinous.
He would lose his position in a scandal. Stephanie, for her part, was deathly afraid of her husband: what he would do, she couldn't begin to predict. The affair had been stupid, but neither had been able to resist it. His marriage was dying, hers was long dead.
He choked, controlled it, choked again. He hadn't wept since childhood, couldn't weep now, but spasms of grief, anger and fear squeezed his chest. Control. He started dressing, was buttoning his shirt when his stomach rebelled, and he dashed to the bathroom and vomited. He knelt in front of the toilet for several minutes, dry heaves tearing at his stomach muscles until tears came to his eyes. Finally, the spasms subsiding, he stood up and finished dressing, except for his shoes. He must be quiet, he thought.
He did a careful inventory: billfold, keys, handkerchief, coins. Necktie, jacket. Coat and gloves. He forced himself to sit on the bed and mentally retrace his steps through the house. What had he touched? The front doorknob. The table in the kitchen, the spoon and bowl he'd used to eat her cherry cobbler. The knobs on the bedroom and bathroom doors, the water faucets, the toilet seat...
He got a pair of Stephanie's cotton underpants from her bureau, went down the stairs again, started with the front door and worked methodically through the house. In the kitchen, he didn't look at the body. He couldn't look at it, but he was always aware of it at the edge of his vision, a leg, an arm... enough to step carefully around the blood.
In the bedroom again, and the bathroom. As he was wiping the shower, he thought about the drain. Body hair. He listened again. Silence. Take the time. The drain was fastened down by a single brass screw. He removed it with a dime, wiped the drain as far as he could reach with toilet paper, then rinsed it with a direct flow of water. The paper he threw into the toilet, and flushed once, twice. Body hair: the bed. He went into the bedroom, another surge of despair shaking his body. He would forget something... He pulled the sheets from the bed, threw them on the floor, found another set and spent five minutes putting them on the bed and rearranging the blankets and the coverlet. He wiped the nightstand and the headboard, stopped, looked around.
He rolled the underpants in the dirty sheets, put on his shoes and went downstairs, carrying the bundle of linen. He scanned the living room, the parlor and the kitchen one last time. His eyes skipped over Stephanie...
There was nothing more to do. He put on his coat and stuffed the bundle of sheets in the belly. He was already heavy, but the sheets made him gross: good. If anybody saw him...
He walked out the front door, down the four concrete steps to the street and around the long block to his car. They'd been discreet, and their discretion might now save him. The night was cold, spitting snow, and he met nobody.
He drove down off the hill, around the lake, out to Hennepin Avenue, and spotted a pay telephone. He stopped, pinched a quarter in the underpants and dialed 911. Feeling both furtive and foolish, he put the pants over the mouthpiece of the telephone before he spoke: "A woman's been murdered..." he told the operator.
He gave Stephanie's name and address. With the operator pleading with him to stay on the line, he hung up, carefully wiped the receiver and walked back to his car. No. Sneaked back to his car, he thought. Like a rat. They would never believe, he thought. Never. He put his head on the steering wheel. Closed his eyes. Despite himself, his mind was calculating.
The killer had seen him. And the killer hadn't looked like a junkie or a small-time rip-off artist killing on impulse. He'd looked strong, well fed, purposeful. The killer could be coming after him...
He'd have to give more information to the investigators, he decided, or they'd focus on him, her lover. He'd have to point them at the killer. They'd know that Stephanie had had intercourse, the county pathologists would be able to tell that...
God, had she washed? Of course she had, but how well? Would there be enough semen for a DNA-type?
No help for that. But he could give the police information they'd need to track the killer. Print out a statement, Xerox it through several generations, with different darkness settings, to obscure any peculiarities of the printer...
Stephanie's face came out of nowhere.
At one moment, he was planning. The next, she was there, her eyes closed, her head turned away, asleep. He was seized with the thought that he could go back, find her standing in the doorway, find that it had all been a nightmare...
He began to choke again, his chest heaving.
And Stephanie's lover thought, as he sat in the car: Bekker? Had he done this? He started the car.
It wasn't quite human, the thing that pulled itself across the kitchen floor. Not quite human eyes gone, brain damaged, bleeding but it was alive and it had a purpose: the telephone. There was no attacker, there was no lover, there was no time. There was only pain, the tile and, somewhere, the telephone.
The thing on the floor pulled itself to the wall where the telephone was, reached, reached... and failed. The thing was dying when the paramedics came, when the glass in the window broke and the firemen came through the door.
The thing called Stephanie Bekker heard the words "Jesus Christ," and then it was gone forever, leaving a single bloody handprint six inches below the Princess phone.
Del was a tall man, knobby, ungainly. He put his legs up on the booth seat and his jeans rode above his high-topped brown leather shoes, showing the leather laces running between the hooks. The shoes were cracked and caked with mud. Shoes you'd see on a sharecropper, Lucas thought.
Lucas drained the last of his Diet Coke and looked over his shoulder toward the door. Nothing.
"Fucker's late," Del said. His face flicked yellow, then red, with the Budweiser sign in the window.
"He's coming." Lucas caught the eye of the bartender, pointed at his Coke can. The barkeep nodded and dug into the cooler. He was a fat man, with a mustard-stained apron wrapped around his ample belly, and he waddled when he brought the Diet Coke.
"Buck," he grunted. Lucas handed him a dollar bill. The bartender looked at them carefully, thought about asking a question, decided against it and went back behind the bar.
They weren't so much out of place as oddly assorted, Lucas decided. Del was wearing jeans, a prison-gray sweatshirt with the neckband torn out, a jean jacket, a paisley headband made out of a necktie, and the sharecropper's shoes. He hadn't shaved in a week and his eyes looked like North Country peat bogs.
Lucas wore a leather bomber jacket over a cashmere sweater, and khaki slacks and cowboy boots. His dark hair was uncombed and fell forward over a square, hard face, pale with the departing winter. The pallor almost hid the white scar that slashed across his eyebrow and cheek; it became visible only when he clenched his jaw. When he did, it puckered, a groove, whiter on white.
Their booth was next to a window. The window had been covered with a silver film, so the people inside could see out but the people outside couldn't see in. Flower boxes sat under the windows, alternating with radiator cabinets. The boxes were filled with plastic petunias thrust into what looked like Kitty Litter. Del was chewing Dentyne, a new stick every few minutes. When he finished a stick, he lobbed the well-chewed wad into a window box. After an hour, a dozen tiny pink wads of gum were scattered like spring buds among the phony flowers.
"He's coming," Lucas said again. But he wasn't sure. "He'll be here."
Thursday night, an off-and-on hard spring rain, and the bar was bigger than its clientele. Three hookers, two black, one white, huddled together on barstools, drinking beer and sharing a copy of Mirabella. They'd all been wearing shiny vinyl raincoats in lipstick colors and had folded them down on the barstools to sit on them. Hookers were never far from their coats.
A white woman sat at the end of the bar by herself. She had frizzy blond hair, watery green eyes and a long thin mouth that was always about to tremble. Her shoulders were hunched, ready for a beating. Another hooker: she was pounding down the gin with Teutonic efficiency.
The male customers paid no attention to the hookers. Of the men, two shitkickers in camouflage hats, one with a folding-knife sheath on his belt, played shuffleboard bowling. Two more, both looking as if they might be from the neighborhood, talked to the bartender. A fifth man, older, sat by himself in front of a bowl of peanuts, nursing a lifelong rage and a glass of rye. He'd nip from the glass, eat a peanut and mutter his anger down into his overcoat. A half-dozen more men and a single woman sat in a puddle of rickety chairs, burn-scarred tables and cigarette smoke at the back of the bar, watching the NBA playoffs on satellite TV.
"Haven't seen much crack on TV lately," Lucas said, groping for conversation. Del had been leading up to something all night but hadn't spit it out yet.
"Media used it up," said Del. "They be rootin' for a new drug now. Supposed to be ice, coming in from the West Coast."
Lucas shook his head. "Fuckin' ice," he said.
He caught his own reflection in the window glass. Not too bad, he thought. You couldn't see the gray thatch in the black hair, you couldn't see the dark rings under his eyes, the lines beginning to groove his cheeks at the corners of his mouth. Maybe he ought to get a chunk of this glass and use it to shave in.
"If we wait much longer, she's gonna need a cash transfusion," Del said, eyeing the drunk hooker. Lucas had staked her with a twenty and she was down to a pile of quarters and pennies.
"He'll be here," Lucas insisted. "Motherfucker dreams about his rep."
"Randy ain't bright enough to dream," Del said.
"Gotta be soon," Lucas said. "He won't let her sit there forever."
The hooker was bait. Del had found her working a bar in South St. Paul two days earlier and had dragged her ass back to Minneapolis on an old possession warrant. Lucas had put the word on the street that she was talking about Randy to beat a cocaine charge. Randy had shredded the face of one of Lucas' snitches. The hooker had seen him do it.
"You still writing poems?" Del asked after a while.
"Kind of gave it up," Lucas said.
Del shook his head. "Shouldn't of done that."
Lucas looked at the plastic flowers in the window box and said sadly, "I'm getting too old. You gotta be young or naive to write poetry."
"You're three or four years younger'n I am," Del said, picking up the thought.
"Neither one of us is a fuckin' walk in the park," Lucas said. He tried to make it sound funny, but it didn't.
"Got that right," Del said somberly. The narc had always been gaunt. He liked speed a little too much and sometimes got his nose in the coke. That came with the job: narcs never got out clean. But Del... the bags under his eyes were his most prominent feature, his hair was stiff, dirty. Like a mortally ill cat, he couldn't take care of himself anymore. "Too many assholes. I'm gettin' as bad as them."
"How many times we had this conversation?" Lucas asked.
" 'Bout a hundred," Del said. He opened his mouth to go on, but they were interrupted by a sudden noisy cheer from the back and a male voice shouting, "You see that nigger fly?" One of the black hookers at the bar looked up, eyes narrowing, but she went back to her magazine without saying anything.
Del lifted a hand to the bartender. "Couple beers," he called. "Couple Leinies?"
The bartender nodded, and Lucas said, "You don't think Randy's coming?"
"Gettin' late," Del said. "And if I drink any more of this Coke, I'll need a bladder transplant."
The beers came, and Del said, "You heard about that killing last night? The woman up on the hill? Beat to death in her kitchen?"
Lucas nodded. This was what Del had been leading up to. "Yeah. Saw it on the news. And I heard some stuff around the office..."
"She was my cousin," Del said, closing his eyes. He let his head fall back, as though overcome with exhaustion. "We grew up together, fooling around on the river. Hers were the first bare tits I ever saw, in real life."
"Your cousin?" Lucas studied the other man. As a matter of self-defense, cops joked about death. The more grotesque the death, the more likely the jokes; you had to watch your tongue when a friend had a family member die.
"We used to go fishing for carp, man, can you believe that?" Del turned so he could lean against the window box. Thinking about yesterdays. His bearded face drawn long and solemn, like an ancient photo of James Longstreet after Gettysburg, Lucas thought. "Down by the Ford dam, just a couple blocks from your place. Tree branches for fishing poles. Braided nylon line, with dough balls for bait. She fell off a rock, slipped on the moss, big splash..."
"Gotta be careful..."
"She was, like, fifteen, wearing a T-shirt, no bra," Del said. "It was plastered to her. I said, 'Well, I can see it all, you might as well take it off.' I was kidding, but she did. She had nipples the color of wild roses, man, you know? That real light pink. I had a hard-on for two months. Stephanie was her name."
Lucas didn't say anything for a moment, watching the other man's face, then, "You're not working it?"
"Nah. I'm no good at that shit, figuring stuff out," Del said. He flipped his hands palm out, a gesture of helplessness. "I spent the day with my aunt and uncle. They're all fucked up. They don't understand why I can't do something."
"What do they want you to do?" Lucas asked.
"Arrest her husband. He's a doctor over at the U, a pathologist," Del said. He took a hit of his beer. "Michael Bekker."
"Stephanie Bekker?" Lucas asked, his forehead wrinkling. "Sounds familiar."
"Yeah, she used to run around with the political crowd. You might even have met her she was on the study group for that civilian review board a couple of years ago. But the thing is, when she was killed, her old man was in San Francisco."
"So he's out," Lucas said.
"Unless he hired it done." Del leaned forward now, his eyes open again. "That alibi is a little too convenient. I personally think he's got a loose screw."
"What're you telling me?"
"Bekker feels wrong. I'm not sure he killed her, but I think he might've," Del said. A man in a T-shirt dashed to the bar with a handful of bills, slapped them on the bar, said, "Catch us later," and ran three beers back to the TV set.
"Would he have a motive?" Lucas asked.
Del shrugged. "The usual. Money. He thinks he's better than anyone else and can't figure out why he's poor."
"Poor? He's a doctor..."
"You know what I mean. He's a doctor, he oughta be rich, and here he is working at the U for seventy, eighty grand. He's a pathologist, and there ain't no big demand for pathology in the civilian world..."
Out on the sidewalk, on the other side of the one-way window, a couple shared an umbrella and, assuming privacy, slowed to light a joint. The woman was wearing a short white skirt and a black leather jacket. Lucas' Porsche was parked next to the curb, and as they walked by it, the man stopped to look, passing the joint to the girl. She took a hit, narrowed her eyes as she choked down the smoke and passed the joint back.
"Gotta get your vitamins," Del said, watching them. He reached forward and quickly traced a smiley face in the condensation on the window.
"I heard in the office... there was a guy with her? With your cousin?"
"We don't know what that is," Del admitted, his forehead wrinkling. "Somebody was there with her. They'd had intercourse, we know that from the M.E., and it wasn't rape. And a guy called in the report..."
"I don't think so. The killer apparently came in through the back, killed her and ran out the same way. She was working at the sink, there were still bubbles on the dishwater when the squad got there, and she had soap on her hands. There wasn't any sign of a fight, there wasn't any sign that she had a chance to resist. She was washing dishes, and pow."
"Doesn't sound like a lover's quarrel..."
"No. And one of the crime-scene guys was wondering how the killer got so close to her, assuming it wasn't Loverboy who did it how he could get so close without her hearing him coming. They checked the door and found out the hinges had just been oiled. Like in the past couple of weeks, probably."
"Yeah, but it's not much..."
Lucas thought it over again. A gust of rain brought a quick, furious drumming on the window, which just as quickly stopped. A woman with a red golf umbrella went by.
"Listen," Del said. "I'm not just sitting here bullshitting... I was hoping you'd take a look at it."
"Ah, man... I hate murders. And I haven't been operating so good..." Lucas gestured helplessly.
"That's another thing. You need an interesting case," Del said, poking an index finger at Lucas' face. "You're more fucked up than I am, and I'm a goddamned train wreck."
"Thanks..." Lucas opened his mouth to ask another question, but two pedestrians were drifting along the length of the window. One was a very light-skinned black woman, with a tan trench coat and a wide-brimmed cotton hat that matched the coat. The other was a tall, cadaverous white boy wearing a narrow-brimmed alpine hat with a small feather.
Lucas sat up. "Randy."
Del looked out at the street, then reached across the table and took Lucas' arm and said, "Take it easy, huh?"
"She was my best snitch, man," Lucas said, in a voice like a gravel road. "She was almost a friend."
"Bullfuck. Take it easy."
"Let him get all the way inside... You go first, cover me, he knows my face..."
Randy came in first, his hands in his coat pockets. He posed for a moment, but nobody noticed. With twelve seconds left in the NBA game, the Celtics were one point down with a man at the line, shooting two. Everybody but the drunk hooker and the bitter old man who was talking into his overcoat was facing the tube.
A woman came in behind Randy and pulled the door shut.
Lucas came out of the booth a step behind Del. She's beautiful, he thought, looking at the woman past Del's shoulder; then he put his head down. Why would she hang with a dipshit like Randy?
Randy Whitcomb was seventeen and a fancy man, with a gun and a knife and sometimes a blackthorn walking stick with a gold knob on the end of it. He had a long freckled face, coarse red hair and two middle teeth that pointed in slightly different directions. He shook himself like a dog, flicking water spray off his tweed coat. He was too young for a tweed coat and too thin and too crazy for the quality of it. He walked down the bar toward the drunk hooker, stopped, posed again, waiting to be seen. The hooker didn't look up until he took a hand out of his coat and slid a church key down the bar, where it knocked a couple of quarters off her stack of change.
"Marie," Randy crooned. The bartender caught the tone and looked at him. Del and Lucas were closing, but Randy paid them no attention. He was focused on Marie like fire: "Marie, baby," he warbled. "I hear you been talking to the cops..."
Marie tried to climb off the stool, looking around wildly for Lucas. The stool tipped backward and she reached out to catch herself on the bar, teetering. Randy slid around the corner of the bar, going for her, but Lucas was there, behind him. He put a hand in the middle of the boy's back and pushed him, hard, into the bar.
The bartender hollered, "Hey," and Del had his badge out as Marie hit the floor, her glass shattering.
"Police. Everybody sit still," Del shouted. He slipped a short black revolver out of a hip holster and held it vertically in front of his face, where everybody in the bar could see it.
"Randy Ernest Whitcomb, dickweed," Lucas began, pushing Randy in the center of his back, looping his foot in front of the boy's ankles. "You are under..."
He had Randy leaning forward, his feet back, one arm held tight, the other going into his pocket for cuffs, when Randy screamed, "No," and levered himself belly-down onto the bar.
Lucas grabbed for one of his legs, but Randy kicked, thrashed. One foot caught Lucas on the side of the face, a glancing impact, but it hurt and knocked him back.
Randy fell over the bar, scrambled along the floor behind it and up over the end of it, grabbed a bottle of Absolut vodka and backhanded it at Del's head. Then he was running for the back of the bar, Lucas four steps behind him, knowing the back door was locked. Randy hit it, hit it again, then spun, his eyes wild, flashing a spike. They were all the fashion among the assholes. Clipped to a shirt pocket, they looked like Cross ballpoint pens. With the cap off, they were six-inch steel scalpels, the tip honed to a wicked point.
"Come on, motherfucker cop," Randy howled, spraying saliva at Lucas. His eyes were the size of half-dollars, his voice high and climbing. "Come on, motherfucker, get cut..."
"Put the fuckin' knife down," Del screamed. His gun pointed at Randy's head. Lucas, glancing at Del, felt the world slowing down. The fat bartender was still behind the bar, his hands on his ears, as though blocking out the noise of the fight would stop it; Marie had gotten to her feet and was staring at a bleeding palm, shrieking; the two shitkickers had taken a step away from the shuffleboard bowling machine, and one of them, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down, was fumbling at the sheath on his belt...
"Fuck you, cop, kill me," Randy shrieked, doing a sidestep shuffle. "I'm a fuckin' juvenile, assholes..."
"Put the fuckin' blade down, Randy..." Del screamed again. He glanced sideways at Lucas. "What d'ya wanna do, man?"
"Let me take him, let me take him," Lucas said, and he pointed. "The shitkicker's got a knife." As Del started to turn, Lucas was facing Randy, his eyes wide and black, and he asked, "You like to fuck, Randy?"
"Fuckin' A, man," Randy brayed. He was panting, his tongue hanging out. Nuts: "Fuck-in-A."
"Then I hope you got a good memory, 'cause I'm gonna stick that point right through your testicles, my man. You fucked up Betty with that church key. She was a friend of mine. I been looking for you..."
"Well, you got me, Davenport, motherfucker, come get cut," Randy shouted. He had one hand down, as he'd been shown in reform school, the knife hand back a bit. Cop rule of thumb: An asshole gets within ten feet of you with a knife, you're gonna get cut, gun or no gun, shoot or no shoot.
"Easy, man, easy," Del shouted, looking at the shit-kicker...
"Where's the woman? Where's the woman?" Lucas called, still facing Randy, his arms wide in a wrestler's stance.
"By the door..."
"Get her. I'll take care of this asshole..."
Lucas went straight in, faked with his right, eluded Randy's probing left hand, and when the knife hand came around, Lucas reached in and caught his right coat sleeve, half threw him and hit him in the face with a roundhouse right. Randy banged against the wall, still trying with the knife, Lucas punching him in the face.
"Lucas..." Del screamed at him.
But the air was going blue, slowing, slowing... the boy's head was bouncing off the wall, Lucas' arms pumping, his knee coming up, his elbow, then both hands pumping, a slow motion, a long, beautiful combination, a whole series of combinations, one-two-three, one-two, one-two-three, like working with a speed bag... the knife on the floor, skittering away...
Suddenly Lucas was staggering backward; he tried to turn, and couldn't. Del's arm was around his throat, dragging him away...
The world sped up again. The people in the bar stared in stunned silence, all of them on their feet now, their faces like postage stamps on a long, unaddressed envelope. The basketball game was going in the background, broadcast cheers echoing tinnily through the bar.
"Jesus," Del said, gasping for breath. He said, too loudly, "I thought he got you with that knife. Everybody stay away from the knife, we need prints. Anybody touches it, goes to jail."
He still had a hand on Lucas' coat collar. Lucas said, "I'm okay, man."
"You okay?" Del looked at him and silently mouthed, Witnesses. Lucas nodded and Del said loudly, "You didn't get stabbed?"
"I think I'm okay..."
"Close call," Del said, still too loud. "The kid was nuts. You see him go nuts with that knife? Never saw anything like that..."
Steering the witnesses, Lucas thought. He looked around for Randy. The boy was on the floor, faceup, unmoving, his face a mask of blood.
"Where's his girlfriend?" Lucas asked.
"Fuck her," Del said. He stepped over to Randy, keeping one eye on Lucas, then squatted next to the boy and cuffed his hands in front. "I thought you were gonna get stuck, you crazy fuck."
One of the hookers, up and wrapping a red plastic raincoat around her shoulders, ready to leave, looked down at Randy and into the general silence said, in a long, calm Kansas City drawl, "You better call an ambliance. That motherfucker is hurt."
Bekker was of two minds.
There was an Everyday Bekker, the man of science, the man in the white lab coat, doing his separations in the high-speed centrifuge, the man with the scalpel.
And then there was Beauty.
Beauty was up. Beauty was light. Beauty was dance...
Beauty was the dextroamphetamines, the orange heart-shaped tablets and the half-black, half-clear capsules. Beauty was the white tabs of methamphetamine hydrochloride, the shiny jet-black caps of amphetamine, and the green-and-black bumblebees of phendimetrazine tartrate. All legal.
Beauty was especially the illegals, the anonymous white tabs of MDMA, called ecstasy, and the perforated squares of blotter, printed with the signs of the Zodiac, each with its drop of sweet acid, and the cocaine.
Beauty was anabolic steroids for the body and synthetic human growth hormone to fight the years...
Everyday Bekker was down and dark.
Bekker was blood-red capsules of codeine, the Dilaudid. The minor benzodiazepines smoothed his anxieties, the Xanax and Librium and Clonopin, Tranxene and Valium, Dalmane and Paxipam, Ativan and Serax. The molindone, for a troubled mind. All legal.
And the illegals.
The white tabs of methaqualone, coming in from Europe.
Most of all, the phencyclidine, the PCP.
Bekker had once carried an elegant gold pillbox for his medicines, but eventually it no longer sufficed. At a Minneapolis antique store he bought a brass Art Deco cigarette case, which he lined with velvet. It would hold upward of a hundred tablets. Food for them both, Beauty and Bekker...
Beauty stared into the cigarette case and relived the morning. As Bekker, he'd gone to the funeral home and demanded to see his wife.
"Mr. Bekker, I really think, the condition..." The undertaker was nervous, his face flickering from phony warmth to genuine concern, a light patina of sweat on his forehead. Mrs. Bekker was not one of their better products. He didn't want her husband sick on the carpet.
"God damn it, I want to see her," Bekker snapped.
"Sir, I have to warn you..." The undertaker's hands were fluttering.
Bekker fixed him with a cold stare, a ferret's stare: "I am a pathologist. I know what I will see."
"Well. I suppose..." The undertaker's lips made an O of distaste.
She was lying on a frilly orange satin pad, inside the bronze coffin. She was smiling, just slightly, with a rosy blush on her cheeks. The top half of her face, from the bridge of the nose up, looked like an airbrushed photograph. All wax, all moldings and makeup and paint, and none of it quite right. The eyes were definitely gone. They'd put her together the best they could, but considering the way she'd died, there wasn't much they could do...
"My God," Bekker said, reaching out to the coffin. A wave of exultation rose through his body. He was rid of her.
He'd hated her for so long, watching her with her furniture and her rugs, her old paintings in the heavy carved frames, the inkwells and cruets and compotes and Quimper pots, the lopsided bottles dug from long-gone outhouses. She'd touch it, stroke it, polish it, move it, sell it. Caress it with her little piggy eyes... Talk about it, endlessly, with her limp-wristed antiquarian friends, all of them perched on rickety chairs with teacups, rattling on endlessly, Mahogany with reeded legs, gilt tooled leather, but you almost couldn't tell under the horrible polish she'd absolutely poured on the piece, well, she obviously didn't know what she had, or didn't care. I was there to look at a Georgian tea table that she'd described as gorgeous, but it turned out to be really very tatty, if I do say so...
And now she was dead.
He frowned. Hard to believe that she had had a lover. One of those soft, heavy pale men who talked of teapots and wing chairs... unbelievable. What did they do in bed? Talk? "Sir, I really think..." The undertaker's hand on his arm, steadying him, not understanding.
"I'm okay," Bekker said, accepting the comforting arm with a delicious sense of deception. He stood there for another minute, the undertaker behind him, ignored. This was not something he'd want to forget...
Michael Bekker was beautiful. His head was large, his blond hair thick and carefully cut, feathering back over small, perfect ears. His forehead was broad and unlined, his eyebrows light, near-white commas over his startlingly blue deep-set eyes. The only wrinkles on his face were barely noticeable crow's-feet: they enhanced his beauty, rather than detracted from it, adding an ineffable touch of masculinity.
Below his eyes, his nose was a narrow wedge, his nostrils small, almost dainty. His chin was square, with a cleft, his complexion pale but healthy. His lips were wide and mobile over even white teeth.
If Bekker's face was nearly perfect, a cinema face, he had been born with a body no better than average. Shoulders a bit too narrow, hips a little too wide. And he was, perhaps, short in the leg.
The faults gave him something to work for. He was so close...
Bekker exercised four nights a week, spending a half-hour on the Nautilus machines, another hour with the free weights. Legs and trunk one night, arms and shoulders the next. Then a rest day, then repeat, then two rest days at the end of the week.
And the pills, of course, the anabolic steroids. Bekker wasn't interested in strength; strength was a bonus. He was interested in shape. The work broadened his apparent shoulder width and deepened his chest. There wasn't anything he could do about the wide hips, but the larger shoulders had the effect of narrowing them.
His legs... legs can't be stretched. But in New York, just off Madison Avenue, up in the Seventies, he had found a small shop that made the most beautiful calfskin half-boots. The leather was so soft that he sometimes held the boots against his face before he put them on...
Each boot was individually fitted with the most subtle of lifts, which gave him an inch and made him as near to perfect as God would come with Nordic man.
Bekker sighed and found himself looking into the bathroom mirror, the bathroom down the hall from his bedroom, the cold hexagonal tiles pressing into his feet. Staring at his beautiful face.
He'd been gone again. How long? He looked at his watch with a touch of panic. Five after one. Fifteen minutes gone. He had to control this. He'd taken a couple of methobarbitals to flatten out the nervous tension, and they'd thrown him outside himself. They shouldn't do that, but they had, and it was happening more and more often...
He forced himself into the shower, turned on the cold water and gasped as it hit his chest. He kept his eyes closed, turned his back, lathered himself, rinsed and stepped out.
Did he have time? Of course: he always had time for this. He rubbed emollients into his face, dabbed after-shave along his jawline, cologne on his chest, behind his ears and under his balls, sprinkled powder across his chest, under his arms, between his buttocks.
When he was done, he looked into the mirror again. His nose seemed raw. He considered just a touch of makeup but decided against it. He really shouldn't look his best. He was burying Stephanie, and the police would be there. The police investigators were touchy: Stephanie's goddamned father and her cop cousin were whispering in their ears.
An investigation didn't much worry him. He'd hated Stephanie, and some of her friends would know that. But he'd been in San Francisco.
He smiled at himself in the mirror, was dissatisfied with the smile, wiped it away. Tried a half-dozen new expressions, more appropriate for the funeral. Scowl as he might, none of them detracted from his beauty.
He cocked his head at himself and let the smile return. All done? Not quite. He added a hair dressing with a light odor of spring lilacs and touched his hair with a brush. Satisfied, he went to the closet and looked at his suits. The blue one, he thought.
Quentin Daniel looked like a butcher in good clothes.
A good German butcher at a First Communion. With his lined red face and incipient jowls, the stark white collar pinching into his throat, the folds of flesh on the back of his neck, he would look fine behind a stainless-steel meat scale, one thumb on the tray, the other on your lambchops...
Until you saw his eyes.
He had the eyes of an Irish Jesuit, pale blue, imperious. He was a cop, if he was one at all, with his brain: he'd stopped carrying a gun years before, when he'd bought his first tailored suits. Instead, he had spectacles. He wore simple military-style gold-rimmed bifocals for dealing with the troops, tortoise-shell single-vision glasses for reading his computer screen, and blue-tinted contact lenses for television appearances.
Lucas pushed through the heavy oak door and slouched into Daniel's office. He was wearing the leather bomber jacket from the night before but had shaved and changed into a fresh houndstooth shirt, khaki slacks and loafers.
Daniel was wearing his computer glasses. He looked up, squinted as though he didn't recognize his visitor, took the computer glasses off, put on the gold-rimmed glasses and waved Lucas toward a chair. His face, Lucas thought, was redder than usual.
"Do you know Marty McKenzie?" Daniel asked quietly, his hands flat, palms down, on his green baize blotter.
"Yeah." Lucas nodded as he sat down. He crossed his legs. "He's got a practice in the Claymore Building. A sleaze."
"A sleaze," Daniel agreed. He folded his hands over his stomach and peered up at the ceiling. "The very first thing this morning, I sat here smiling for half an hour while the sleaze lectured me. Can you guess why?"
"... Because the sleaze had a client over in the locked ward at Hennepin General who had the shit beat out of him last night by one of my cops. After the sleaze left, I called the hospital and talked to a doc." Daniel pulled open a desk drawer and took out a notepad. "Broken ribs. Broken nose. Broken teeth. Possible cracked sternum. Monitored for blunt trauma." He slapped the pad on the desktop with a crack like a.22 short. "Jesus Christ, Davenport..."
"Pulled a knife on me," Lucas said. "Tried to cut me. Like this." He turned the front panel of the jacket, showed the deep slice in the leather.
"Don't bullshit me," Daniel said, ignoring the coat. "The Intelligence guys knew a week ago that you were looking for him. You and your pals. You've been looking for him ever since that hooker got cut. You found him last night and you kicked the shit out of him."
"I don't think..."
"Shut up," Daniel snapped. "Any explanation would be stupid. You know it, I know it, so why do it?"
Lucas shrugged. "All right..."
"The police department is not a fuckin' street gang," Daniel said. "You can't do this shit. We've got trouble and it could be serious..."
"McKenzie went to Internal Affairs before he came here, so they're in it and there's no way I can get them out. They'll want a statement. And this kid, Randy, might have been an asshole, but technically he's a juvenile he's already got a social worker assigned and she's all pissed off about him getting beat up. She doesn't want to hear about any assault on a police officer..."
"We could send her some pictures of the woman he worked over..."
"Yeah, yeah, we'll do that. Maybe that'll change her around. And your jacket will help, the cut, and we're getting statements from witnesses. But I don't know... If the jacket wasn't cut, I'd have to suspend your ass," Daniel said. He rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand, as though wiping away sweat, then swiveled in his chair and looked out the window at the street, his back to Lucas. "I'm worried about you, Davenport. Your friends are worried about you. I had Sloan up here, he was lying like a goddamn sailor to cover your ass, until I told him to can it. Then we had a little talk..."
"Fuckin' Sloan," Lucas said irritably. "I don't want him..."
"Lucas..." Daniel turned back to Lucas, his tone mellowing from anger to concern. "He's your friend and you should appreciate that, 'cause you need all the friends you've got. Now. Have you been to a shrink?"
"They've got pills for what you've got. They don't cure anything, but they make it a little easier. Believe me, because I've been there. Six years ago this winter. I live in fear of the day I go back..."
"I didn't know..."
"It's not something you talk about, if you're in politics," Daniel said. "You don't want people to think they've got a crazy man as police chief. Anyway, what you've got is called a unipolar depression."
"I've read the books," Lucas snapped. "And I ain't going to a shrink."
He pushed himself out of the chair and wandered around the office, looking into the faces of the dozens of politicians who peered from photos on Daniel's walls. The photos came mostly from newspapers, special prints made at the chief's request, and all were black-and-white. Mug shots with smiles, Lucas thought. There were only two pieces of color on the government-yellow walls. One piece was a Hmong tapestry, framed, with a brass plate that said: "Quentin Daniel, from His Hmong Friends, 1989." The second was a calendar with a painting of a vase of flowers, bright, slightly fuzzy, sophisticated and childlike at the same time. Lucas parked himself in front of the calendar and studied it.
Daniel watched him for a moment, sighed and said, "I don't necessarily think you should see a shrink shrinks aren't the answer for everybody. But I'm telling you this as a friend: You're right on the edge. I've seen it before, I'll see it again, and I'm looking at it right now. You're fucked up. Sloan agrees. So does Del. You've got to get your shit together before you hurt yourself or somebody else."
"I could quit," Lucas ventured, turning back to the chief's desk. "Take a leave..."
"That wouldn't be so good," Daniel said, shaking his head. "People with a bad head need to be around friends. So let me suggest something. If I'm wrong, tell me."
"I want you to take on the Bekker murder. Keep your network alive, but focus on the murder. You need the company, Lucas. You need the teamwork. And I need somebody to bail me out on this goddamn killing. The Bekker woman's family has some clout and the papers are talking it up."
Lucas tipped his head, thinking about it. "Del mentioned it last night. I told him I might look into it..."
"Do it," Daniel said. Lucas stood up, and Daniel put on his computer glasses and turned back to a screen full of amber figures.
"How long has it been since you were on the street?" Lucas asked.
Daniel looked at him, then up at the ceiling. "Twenty-one years," he said after a moment.
"Things have changed," Lucas said. "People don't believe in right and wrong anymore; if they do, we write them off as kooks. Reality is greed. People believe in money and power and feeling good and cocaine. For the bad people out there, we are a street gang. They understand that idea. The minute we lose the threat, they'll be on us like rats..."
"Hey, listen to me," Lucas said. "I'm not stupid. I don't even necessarily think in theory, anyway that I should be able to get away with what I did last night. But those things have to be done by somebody. The legal system has smart judges and tough prosecutors and it don't mean shit it's a game that has nothing to do with justice. What I did was justice. The street understands that. I didn't do too much and I didn't do too little. I did just right."
Daniel looked at him for a long time and then said soberly, "I don't disagree with you. But don't ever repeat that to another living soul."
Sloan was propped against the metal door of Lucas' basement office, flipping through a throw-away newspaper, smoking a Camel. He was a narrow man with a foxy face and nicotine-stained teeth. A brown felt hat was cocked down over his eyes.
"You been shoveling horseshit again," Lucas said as he walked down the hall. His head felt as if it were filled with cotton, each separate thought tangled in a million fuzzy strands.
Sloan pushed himself away from the door so Lucas could unlock it. "Daniel ain't a mushroom. And it ain't horseshit. So you gonna do it? Work Bekker?"
"I'm thinking about it," Lucas said.
"The wife's funeral is this afternoon," Sloan said. "You oughta go. And I'll tell you what: I've been looking this guy up, Bekker. We got us an iceman."
"Is that right?" Lucas pushed the door open and went inside. His office had once been a janitor's closet. There were two chairs, a wooden desk, a two-drawer filing cabinet, a metal wastebasket, an old-fashioned oak coatrack, an IBM computer and a telephone. A printer sat on a metal typing table, poised to print out phone numbers coming through on a pen register. A stain on the wall marked the persistent seepage of a suspicious but unidentifiable liquid. Del had pointed out that a women's restroom was one floor above and not too much down the hall.
"Yeah, that's right," Sloan said. He dropped into the visitor's chair and put his heels up on the edge of the desk as Lucas hung his jacket on the coatrack. "I've been reading background reports, and it turns out Bekker was assigned to the Criminal Investigation Division in Saigon during the Vietnam War. I thought he was some kind of cop, so I talked to Anderson and he called some of his computer buddies in Washington, and we got his military records. He wasn't a cop, he was a forensic pathologist. He did postmortems in criminal cases that involved GIs. I found his old commanding officer, a guy named Wilson. He remembered Bekker. I told him who I was, and he said, 'What happened, the sonofabitch kill somebody?' "
"You didn't prompt him?" Lucas asked, settling behind his desk.
"No. Those were the first words out of his mouth. Wilson said Bekker was called 'Dr. Death' I guess he liked his work a little too much. And he liked the hookers. Wilson said he had a rep for pounding on them."
Sloan shook his head. "Don't know. That was just his rep... Wilson said a couple of whores got killed while Bekker was there, but nobody ever suggested he did it. The cops were looking for an Army enlisted man. They never found anybody, but they never looked too hard, either. Wilson said the place was overrun with AWOLs, deserters, guys on leave and pass, guys going in and out. He said it was an impossible case. But he remembers people around the office talking about the killings and that Bekker was... he was spooky. Since there were GIs involved, Bekker was in on the autopsies. He either did them himself or with a Vietnamese doc, Wilson couldn't remember. But when he came back, it was like he was satisfied. Fucked out."
"Huh." The printer burped up a number. Lucas glanced at it, then turned back to Sloan. "Did Bekker kill Stephanie? Hire it done?"
Sloan pulled the wastebasket over to his chair and carefully snubbed out his cigarette. "I think it's a major possibility," he said slowly. "If he did, he's cold: we checked on her insurance..."
"Ten million bucks?" Lucas' eyebrows went up.
"No. Just the opposite. Stephanie was starting a business. She was gonna sell architectural artifacts for restoring old homes. Stained-glass windows, antique doorknobs, like that. An accountant told her she could save money by buying all the family insurance through the company. So she and Bekker canceled their old life insurance and bought new insurance through the company. It specifically won't pay off on any violent nonaccidental death murder or suicide in the first two years of coverage."
"So she had no insurance at all," Sloan said. "Not that Bekker can collect on. A month ago she had a hundred grand, and she'd had it for a while."
Lucas' eyes narrowed. "If a defense attorney got that into court..."
"Yeah," Sloan said. "It'd knock a hell of a hole in a circumstantial case."
"And he's got an alibi."
"Airtight. He was in San Francisco."
"Jesus, I'd find him not guilty myself, knowing all that."
"That's why we need you. If he's behind it, he had to hire a hitter. There are only so many guys in the Cities who'd do it. You probably know most of them. Those you don't, your people would know. There must have been a big payoff. Maybe somebody came into a big hunk of unexplained cash?"
Lucas nodded. "I'll ask around. What about the guy who was in the sack with Bekker's old lady? Loverboy?"
"We're looking for him," Sloan said. "So far, no luck. I talked to Stephanie's best friend and she thought something might be going on. She didn't know who, but she was willing to mong a rumor..."
Lucas grinned at the word: "So mong it to me," he said.
Sloan shrugged. "For what it's worth, she thinks Stephanie might have been screwing a neighborhood shrink. She'd seen them talking at parties, and she thought they... She said they quote stood in each other's space unquote."
"All right." Lucas yawned and stretched. "Most of my people won't be around yet, but I'll check."
"I'll Xerox the file for you."
"You could hold off on that. I don't know if I'll be in that deep..." Sloan was standing, ready to leave, and Lucas reached back and punched the message button on his answering machine. The tape rewound, there was an electronic beep and a voice said: "This is Dave, down at the auto parts. There're a couple of Banditos in town, I just did some work on their bikes. I think you might want to hear about it... You got the number."
"I'll Xerox it," Sloan said with a grin, "just in case."
Sloan left and Lucas sat with a yellow legal pad in his lap, feet up, listening to the voices on the answering machine, taking numbers. And watched himself.
His head wasn't working right. Hadn't been for months. But now, he thought, something was changing. There'd been just the smallest quieting of the storm...
He'd lost his woman and their daughter. They'd walked: the story was as simple as that, and as complicated. He couldn't accept it and had to accept it. He pitied himself and was sick of pitying himself. He felt his friends' concern and he was tired of it.
Whenever he tried to break out, when he worked two or three days into exhaustion, the thoughts always sneaked back: If I'd done A, she'd have done B, and then we'd have both done C, and then... He worked through every possible combination, compulsively, over and over and over, and it all came up ashes. He told himself twenty times that he'd put it behind himself, and he never had. And still he couldn't stop. And he grew sicker and sicker of himself...
And now Bekker. A flicker, here. An interest. He watched the first tickle, couldn't deny it. Bekker. He ran his hand through his hair, watching the interest bud and grow. On the legal pad he wrote:
How can you lose with a two-item list? Even when what was it called? a unipolar depression? even when a unipolar depression's got you by the balls, you can handle two numbers...
Lucas picked up the phone and called a nunnery.
Sister Mary Joseph was talking to a student when Lucas arrived. Her door was open a few inches, and from a chair in the outer office he could see the left side of her scarred face. Elle Kruger had been the prettiest girl in their grade school. Later, after Lucas had gone, transferred to the public schools, she'd been ravaged by acne. He recalled the shock of seeing her, for the first time in years, at a high school district hockey tournament. She had been sitting in the stands, watching him on the ice, eyes sad, seeing his shock. The beautiful blonde Elle of his prepubescent dreams, gone forever. She'd found a vocation with the Church, she had told him that night, but Lucas was never quite sure. A vocation? She'd said yes. But her face... Now she sat in her traditional habit, the beads swinging by her side. Still Elle, somewhere.
The college girl laughed again and stood up, her sweater a fuzzy scarlet blur behind the clouded glass of Elle's office door. Then Elle was on her feet and the girl was walking past him, looking at him with an unhidden curiosity. Lucas waited until she was gone, then went into Elle's office and sat in the visitor's chair and crossed his legs.
Elle looked him over, judging, then said, "How are you?"
"Not bad..." He shrugged, then grinned. "I was hoping you could give me a name at the university. A doctor, somebody who'd know a guy in the pathology department. Off the record. A guy who can keep his mouth shut."
"Webster Prentice," Elle said promptly. "He's in psychology, but he works at the hospital and hangs out with the docs. Want his phone number?"
Lucas did. As she flipped through a Rolodex, Elle asked, "How are you really?"
He shrugged. "About the same."
"Are you seeing your daughter?"
"Every other Saturday, but it's unpleasant. Jen doesn't want me there and Sarah's old enough to sense it. I may give it up for a while."
"Don't cut yourself off, Lucas," Elle said sharply. "You can't sit there in the dark every night. It'll kill you."
He nodded. "Yeah, yeah..."
"Are you dating anybody?"
"Not right now."
"You should start," the nun said. "Reestablish contact. How about coming back to the game?"
"I don't know... what're you doing?"
"Stalingrad. We can always use another Nazi."
"Maybe," Lucas said noncommittally.
"And what's this about talking to Webster Prentice? Are you working on something?"
"A woman got killed. Beaten to death. I'm taking a look," Lucas said.
"I read about it," Elle said, nodding. "I'm glad you're working it. You need it."
Lucas shrugged again. "I'll see," he said.
She scribbled a phone number on an index card and passed it to him.
"Thanks..." He leaned forward, about to stand.
"Sit down," she said. "You're not getting out of here that easy. Are you sleeping?"
"But you've got to exhaust yourself first."
"Not much. A few times, scotch. When I'd get so tired I couldn't move, but I couldn't sleep. The booze would take me out..."
"Feel better in the morning?"
"My body would."
"The Crows beat you up pretty bad," Elle said. The Crows were Indians, either terrorists or patriots. Lucas had helped kill them. Television had tried to make a hero out of him, but the case had cost him his relationship with his woman friend and their daughter. "You finally found out that there's a price for living the way you do. And you found out that you can die. And so can your kid."
"I always knew that," Lucas said.
"You didn't feel it. And if you don't feel it, you don't believe it," Elle rapped back.
"I don't worry about dying," he said. "But I had something going with Jennifer and Sarah."
"Maybe that'll come back. Jennifer's never said it was over forever."
"Sounds like it."
"You need time, all of you," Elle said. "I won't do therapy on you. I can't be objective. We've got too much history. But you should talk to somebody. I can give you some names, good people."
"You know what I think about shrinks," Lucas said.
"You don't think that about me."
"Like you said we have a history. But I don't want a shrink, 'cause I can't help what I think about them. Maybe a couple of pills or something..."
"You can't cure what you've got with pills, Lucas. Only two things will do that. Time or therapy."
"I'll take the time," he said.
She threw up her hands in surrender, her teeth flashing white in a youthful smile. "If you really get your back against the wall, call me. I have a doctor friend who'll prescribe some medication without threatening your manhood with therapy."
She went with him to the exit and watched as he walked out to his car, down the long greening lawn, the sun flicking through the bare trees. When he stepped from the shelter of the building, the wind hit him in the face, with just a finger of warmth. Spring wind. Summer coming. Behind him, on the other side of the door, Elle Kruger kissed her crucifix and began a rosary.
20 August 2019
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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