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|The Prey Series|
The chairman of the board pulled the door shut behind him, stacked his rifle against the log-sided cabin, and walked down to the end of the porch. The light from the kitchen window punched out into the early morning darkness and the utter silence of the woods. Two weeks of nightly frost had killed the insects and had driven the amphibians into hibernation: for a few seconds, he was alone.
Then the chairman yawned and unzipped his bib overalls, unbuttoned his pants, shuffled his feet, the porch boards creaking under his insulated hunting boots. Nothing like a good leak to start the day, he thought. As he leaned over the low porch rail, he heard the door opening behind him. He paid no attention.
Three men and a woman filed out of the house, pretended not to notice him.
"Need some snow," the woman said, peering into the dark. Susan O'Dell was a slender forty, with a tanned, dry face, steady brown eyes, and smile lines around her mouth. A headlamp was strapped around her blaze-orange stocking cap, but she hadn't yet switched it on. She wore a blaze-orange Browning parka, snowmobile pants, and carried a backpack and a Remington .308 mountain rifle with a Leupold Vari-X III scope. Not visible was the rifle's custom trigger job. The trigger would break at exactly two and a half pounds.
"Cold sonofabitch, though," said Wilson McDonald, as he slipped one heavy arm through his gun sling. McDonald was a large man, and much too heavy: in his hunting suit he looked like a blaze-orange Pillsbury Doughboy. He carried an aging .30-06 with open sights, bought in the thirties at Abercrombie & Fitch in New York. At forty-two, he believed in a certain kind of tradition his summer car, a racing-green XK-E, was handed down from his father; his rifle came from his grandfather; and his spot in the country club from his great-grandfather. He would defend the Jaguar against far better cars; the .30-06 against more modern rifles, and the club against parvenus, hirelings, and of course, blacks and Jews.
"You all ready?" asked the chairman of the board, as he came back toward them, buttoning his pants. He was a fleshy, red-faced man, the oldest of the group, with a thick shock of white hair and caterpillar-sized eyebrows. As he got closer to the others, he could smell the odor of pancakes and coffee still steaming off them. "I don't want anybody stumbling around in the goddamn woods just when it's getting good."
They all nodded: they'd all been here before.
"Getting late," said O'Dell. She wore the parka hood down, and the parka itself was still unzipped; but she'd wrapped a red and white kaffiyeh around her neck and chin. Purchased on a whim in the Old City of Jerusalem, and meant to protect an Arab from the desert sun, it was now protecting a third-generation Irishwoman from the Minnesota cold. "We better get out there and get settled."
Five forty-five in the morning, opening day of deer season. O'Dell led the way off the porch, the chairman of the board at her shoulder, the other three men trailing behind.
Terrance Robles was the youngest of them, still in his mid-thirties. He was a blocky man with thick, blackrimmed glasses and a thin, curly beard. His watery blue eyes showed a nervous flash, and he laughed too often, a shallow, uncertain chuckle. He carried a stainless Sako .270, mounted with a satin-finished Nikon scope. Robles had little regard for tradition: everything he hunted with was new technology.
James T. Bone might have been Susan O'Dells brother: forty, as she was, Bone was slim, tanned, and dark-eyed, his face showing a hint of humor in a surface that was hard as a nut. He brought up the rear with a .243 Mauser Model 66 cradled in his bent left arm.
Four of the five the chairman of the board, Robles, O'Dell, and Bone were serious hunters.
The chairman's father had been a country banker. They'd had a nice rambling stone-and-redwood home on Blueberry Lake south of Itasca, and his father had been big in Rotary and the Legion. The deer hunt was an annual ritual: the chairman of the board had hung twenty-plus bucks in his forty-six years: real men didn't kill does.
Robles had come to hunting as an adult, joining an elk hunt as a thirtieth-birthday goof, only to be overwhelmed by it's emotional power. For the past five years he'd hunted a half-dozen times annually, from Alaska to New Zealand.
O'Dell was a rancher's daughter. Her father owned twenty miles of South Dakota just east of the Wyoming line, and she'd joined the annual antelope hunt when she was eight. During her college years at Smith, when the other girls had gone to Ivy League football games with their beaux, she'd flown home for the shooting.
Bone was from Mississippi. Hed learned to hunt as a child, because he wanted to eat. Once, when he was nine, he'd made soup for himself and his mother out of three carefully shot blackbirds.
Only McDonald disdained the hunt. He'd shot deer in the past he was a Minnesota male, and males of a certain class were expected to do that but he considered the hunt a pain in the ass. If he killed a deer, he'd have to gut it. Then he'd smell bad and get blood on his clothing. Then he'd have to do something with the meat. A wasted day. At the club, they'd be playing some serious gin drinking some serious gin, he thought and here he was, about to climb a goddamned tree.
"Goddamnit," he said aloud.
"What?" The chairman grunted, turned to look at him.
"Nothing. Stray thought," McDonald said.
One benefit: If you killed a deer, people at the club attributed to you a certain common touch not commonness, which would be a problem, but contact with the earth, which some of them perceived as a virtue. That was worth something; not enough to actually be out here, but something.
The scent of wood smoke hung around the cabin, but gave way to the pungent odor of burr oaks as they pushed out into the trees. Fifty yards from the cabin, as they moved out of range of the house lights, O'Dell switched on her headlamp, and the chairman turned on a hand flash. Dawn was forty-five minutes away, but the moonless sky was clear, and they could see a long thread of stars above the trail: the Dipper pointing down to the North Star.
"Great night," Bone said, his face turned to the sky.
A small lake lay just downslope from the cabin like a smoked mirror. They followed a shoreline trail for a hundred and fifty yards, moved single file up a ridge, and continued on, still parallel to the lake.
"Don't step in the shit," the woman said, her voice a snapping break in the silence. She caught a pile of fresh deer droppings with her headlamp, like a handful of purple chicken hearts.
"We did that last week with the Cove Links deal," the chairman said dryly.
The ridge separated the lake and a tamarack swamp. Fifty yards further on, Robles said, "I guess this is me," and turned off to the left toward the swamp. As he broke away from the group, he switched on his flash, said, "Good luck, guys," and disappeared down a narrow trail toward his tree stand.
The chairman of the board was next. Another path broke to the left, toward the swamp, and he took it, saying, "See you."
"Get the buck," said O'Dell, and McDonald, O'Dell, and Bone continued on.
The chairman followed the narrow flashlight beam forty-five yards down a gentle slope to the edge of the swamp. The lake was still open, but the swamp was freezing out, the shallow pockets of water showing windowpane ice.
One stumpy burr oak stood at the boundary of the swamp; the kind of oak an elf might live in. The chairman dug into his coat pocket, took out a long length of nylon parachute cord, looped it around his rifle sling, leaned the rifle against the tree, and began climbing the foot spikes that he'd driven into the tree eight years earlier.
He'd taken three bucks from this stand. The county road foreman, who'd been cleaning ditches in preparation for the snow months, told him that a twelve-pointer had moved into the neighborhood during the summer. The foreman had seen him cutting down this way, across the middle of the swamp toward this very tree. Not more than two weeks ago.
The chairman clambered into the stand fifteen feet up the tree, and settled into the bench with his back to the oak. The stand looked like a suburban deck, built of preservative-treated two-by-sixes, with a two-by-four railing that served as a gun rest. The chairman slipped off his pack, hung it from a spike to his right, and pulled the rifle up with the parachute cord.
The cartridges were still warm from his pocket as he loaded the rifle. That wouldnt last long. Temperatures were in the teens, with an icy wind cutting at exposed skin. Later in the day, it would warm up, maybe into the upper thirties, but sitting up here, early, exposed, it would get real damn cold. Freeze the ass off that fuckin' O'Dell. O'Dell always made out that she was impervious to cold; but this day would get to her.
The chairman, wrapped in nylon and Thinsulate, was still a little too warm from the hike in, and he half dozed as he sat in the tree, waiting for first light. He woke once more to the sound of a deer walking through the dried oak leaves, apparently following a game trail down to the swamp. The animal settled on the hillside behind him.
Now that was interesting.
Forty or fifty yards away, no more. Still up the ridge, but it should be visible after sunrise, if it moved again. If it didn't, he'd kick it out on the way back to the cabin.
He sat waiting, listening to the wind. Most of the oaks still carried their leaves, dead brown, but hanging on. When he closed his eyes, their movement sounded like a crackling of a small, intimate wood fire.
The chairman sighed: so much to do.
The killer was dressed in blaze orange and was moving quietly and quickly along the track. Dawn was not far away and the window of opportunity could be measured in minutes:
Here: now twenty-four steps down the track. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight... twenty-three, twenty-four. A tree here to the left... Wish I could use a light.
The oak tree was there, its bark rough against the fingertips. And just to the right, a little hollow in the ground behind a fallen aspen.
Just get down here... quietly, quietly! Did he hear me? These leaves... didn't think about the leaves yesterday, now it sounds like I'm walking on cornflakes... Where's that log, must be right here, must be... ah!
From the nest in the ground, the fallen aspen was at exactly the right height for a rifle rest. A quick glance through the scope: nothing but a dark disc.
What time? My God, my watch has stopped. No. Six-seventeen. Okay. There's time. Settle down. And listen! If anybody comes, may have to shoot... Now what time? Six-eighteen. Only two minutes gone? Can't remember... two minutes, I think.
There'd be only one run at this. There were other people nearby, and they were armed. If someone else came stumbling along the track, and saw the orange coat crouched in the hole...
If they came while it was dark, maybe I could run, hide. But maybe, if they thought I was a deer, they'd shoot at me. What then? No. If someone comes, I take the shot then, whoever it is. Two shots are okay. I can take two. It wouldnt look like an accident anymore, but at least there wouldn't be a witness.
What's that? Who's there? Somebody?
The killer sat in the hole and strained to hear: but the only sounds were the dry leaves that still hung from the trees, shaking in the wind; the scraping of branches; and the cool wind itself. Check the watch.
Getting close, now. Nobody moving, I'm okay. Cold down here, though. Colder than I thought. Have to be ready... The old man... have to think about the old man. If he's there, at the cabin, I'll have to take him. And if his wife's there, have to take her... Thats okay: they're old... Still nothing in the scope. Wheres the sun?
Daniel S. Kresge was the chairman of the board, president, and chief executive officer of the Polaris Bank System. He'd gathered the titles to him like an archaic old Soviet dictator. And he ran his regime like a dictator: two hundred and fifty banks spread across six midwestern states, all wrapped in his cost-cutting fist.
If everything went exactly right, he would hold his job for another fifteen months, when Polaris would be folded into Midland Holding, owner of six hundred banks in the south central states. There would be some casualties.
The combined banks central administration would be in Fort Worth. Not many Polaris executives would make the move. In fact, the whole central administrative section would eventually disappear, along with much of top management. Bone would probably land on his feet: his investments division was one of the main profit centers at Polaris, and hed attracted some attention. O'Dell ran the retail end of Polaris. Midland would need somebody who knew the territory, at least for a while, so she could wind up as the number two or three person in Midlands retail division. She wouldn't like that. Would she take it? Kresge was not sure.
Robles would hang on for a while: a pure technician, he ran data services for Polaris, and Midland would need him to help integrate the separate Polaris and Midland data systems.
McDonald was dead meat. Mortgage divisions didnt make much anymore, and Midland already had a mortgage division which they were trying to dump, as it happened.
Kresge turned the thought of the casualties in his head: when they actually started working on the details of the merger, he'd have to sweeten things for the Polaris execs who'd be putting the parts together, and the people Midland would need: Robles, for sure. Probably O'Dell and Bone.
McDonald? Fuck him.
Kresge would lose his job along with the rest. Unlike the others, he'd walk with something in the range of an after-tax forty million dollars. And he'd be free.
In two weeks, Kresge would sit in a courtroom and solemnly swear that his marriage was irretrievably broken. His wife had agreed not to seek alimony. In return for that concession, she'd demanded and he'd agreed to give her better than seventy-five percent of their joint assets. Eight million dollars. Letting go of the eight million had been one of the hardest things he'd ever done. But it was worth it: there'd be no strings on him.
When she'd signed the deal, neither his wife nor her wolverine attorney had understood what the then-brewing merger might mean. No idea that thered be a golden parachute for the chairman. And his ex wouldn't get a nickel of the new money. He smiled as he thought about it. She'd hired the wolverine specifically to fuck him on the settlement, and thought she had. Wait'll the word got into the newspapers about his settlement. And it would get in the newspapers.
Forty million. He knew what he'd do with it. He'd leave the Twin Cities behind, first thing. He was tired of the cold. Move out to L.A. Buy some suits. Maybe one of those BMW two-seaters, the 850. He'd been a good, gray Minnesota banker all of his life. Now he'd take his money to L.A. and live a little. He closed his eyes and thought about what you could do with forty million dollars in the city of angels. Hell, the women alone...
Kresge opened his eyes again with a sudden awareness of the increasing cold: shivered and carefully shook the stiffness out. Looking to the east, back toward the cabin, he could see an unmistakable streak of lighter sky. There was a ruffling of leaves to his right, a steady trampling sound. Another deer went by, a shadow in the semidark as the animal picked its way through a border of finger-thick alders at the fringe of the swamp. No antlers that he could see. He watched until the deer disappeared into the tamarack.
He picked up the rifle then, resisted the temptation to work the bolt, to check that the rifle was loaded. He knew it was, and working the bolt would be noisy. He flicked the safety off, then back on.
The last few minutes crawled by. Ten minutes before the season opened, the forest was still gray to the eye; in the next few minutes, it seemed to grow miraculously brighter. Then he heard a single, distant shot: nobody here on the farm.
Another shot followed a minute later, then two or three shots over the next couple of minutes: hunters jumping the gun. He glanced at his watch. Two minutes. Nothing moving out over the swamp.
Through the scope, the target looked like an oversized pumpkin, fifteen or twenty feet up the tree. His body from the hips down was out of sight, as was his right arm. The killer could see a large part of his back, but not the face. The crosshairs of the low-power scope caressed the targets spine, and the killers finger lay lightly on the trigger.
Gotta be him. Damn this light, can't see. Turn your head. Come on, turn your head. Look at me. Have to do something, suns getting up, have to do something. Look at me. There we go! Keep turning, keep turning...
Thirty seconds before the season opened, the crackle of gunfire became general. Nothing too close, though, Kresge thought. Either the other guys were holding off, or nothing was moving beneath them.
What about the deer that had settled off to his left?
He turned on the bench, moving slowly, carefully, and looked that way. In the last few seconds of his life, Daniel S. Kresge first saw the blaze-orange jacket, then the face. He recognized the killer and thought, What the hell?
Then the face moved down and he realized that the dark circle below the hood was the objective end of the scope and the scope was pointed his way, so the barrel... ah, Jesus.
Jesus went through Kresge's mind at the same instant the bullet punched through his heart.
The chairman of the board spun off the bench feeling no pain, feeling nothing at all his rifle falling to the ground. He knelt for a moment at the railing, like a man taking communion; then his back buckled and he fell under the railing, after the rifle.
He saw the ground coming, in a foggy way, hit it face first, with a thump, and his neck broke. He bounced onto his back, his eyes still open: the brightening sky was gone. He never felt the hand that probed for his carotid artery, looking for a pulse.
He would lie there for a while, head downhill, would Daniel S. Kresge, a hole in his chest, with a mouth full of dirt and oak leaves. Nobody would run to see what the gunshot was about. There would be no calls to 911. No snoops. Just another day on the hunt.
A real bad day for the chairman of the board.
Looking as though he'd been dragged through hell by the ankles, a disheveled Del Capslock stumbled out of the mens room in the basement of City Hall, fumbling with the buttons on the fly of his jeans. Footsteps echoed in the dark hallway behind him, and he turned his head to see Sloan coming through the gloom, a thin smile on his narrow face.
"Playing with yourself," Sloan said, his voice echoing in the weekend emptiness. Sloan was neatly but colorlessly dressed in khaki slacks and a tan mountain parka with a zip-in fleece liner. "I should have expected it; I knew you were a pervert. I just didnt know you had enough to play with."
"The old lady bought me these Calvin Kleins," Del said, hitching up the jeans. "They got buttons instead of zippers."
"The theory of buttons is very simple," Sloan began. "You take the round, flat thing..."
"Yeah, fuck you," Del said. "The thing is, Calvin makes pants for fat guys. These supposedly got a thirty-four waist. They're really about thirty-eight. I can't get them buttoned, and when I do, I can't keep the fuckin' things up."
"Yeah?" Sloan wasnt interested. His eyes drifted down the hall as Del continued to struggle with the buttons. "Seen Lucas?"
"No." Del got one of the buttons. "See, the advantage of buttons is, you don't get your dick caught in a zipper."
"Okay, if you don't get it caught in a buttonhole." Del started to laugh, which made it harder to button the pants, and he said, "Shut up. I only got one more... maybe you could give me a hand here."
"I don't think so; it's too nice a day to get busted for aggravated faggotry."
"You can always tell who your friends are," Del grumbled. "What's going on with Lucas? He got the fly buttoned finally and they started up the stairs toward Lucass new first-floor office.
"Fat cat got killed," Sloan said. "Dan Kresge, from over at Polaris Bank."
"Never heard of him."
"You heard of Polaris Bank?"
"Yeah. Thats the big black-glass one."
"He runs it. Or did, until somebody shot his ass up in Garfield County. The sheriff called Rose Marie, who called Lucas, and Lucas called me to ride along."
"Just friends, or overtime?"
"I'm putting in for it," Sloan said comfortably. He had a daughter in college; nothing was ever said, but Davenport had been arranging easy overtime for him. "Great day for it though the colors are mostly gone. From the trees, I mean."
"Fuck trees. Kresge... its a murder?"
"Don't know yet," Sloan said. "This is opening day of deer season. He was shot out of a tree stand."
"If I was gonna kill somebody, I might do it that way," Del said.
"Yeah. Everybody says that." Davenport's office was empty, but unlocked. "Rose Marie's in," Sloan said as they went inside. "Lucas said if he wasn't here, just wait."
As Lucas stood up to leave, he asked Rose Marie Roux, the chief of police, why she didn't do something simple, like use the Patch.
"Cause I'd have to put patches all over my body to get enough nicotine. I'd have to put them on the bottom of my feet."
She was on day three, and was chewing her way through a pack of nicotine gum. Lucas picked up his jacket, grinned faintly, and said, "A little speed might help. You get the buzz, but not the nicotine."
"Great idea, get me hooked on speed," Roux said. "Course, I'd probably lose weight. I'm gonna gain nine hundred pounds if I don't do something." She leaned across her desk, a woman already too heavy, getting her taste buds back from Marlboro Country. "Listen, call me back and tell me as soon as you get there. And I want you to tell me it's an accident. I don't want to hear any murder bullshit."
"I'll do what I can," Lucas said. He stepped toward the door.
"Are you all right?" Roux asked.
"No." He stopped and half turned.
"I'm worried about you. You sit around with a cloud over your head."
"I'm getting stuff done..."
"I'm not worried about that I'm worried about you," she said. "I've had the problem you know that. I've been through it three times, now, and doctors help. A lot."
"I'm not sure its coming back," Lucas said. "I haven't tipped over the edge yet. I can still... stop things."
"All right," Roux said, nodding skeptically. "But if you need the name of a doc, mines a good guy."
"Thanks." Lucas closed her office door as he left and turned down the hall, by himself, suddenly gone morose. He didn't like to think about the depression that hovered at the edge of his consciousness. The thing was like some kind of rodent, like a rat, nibbling on his brain.
He wouldnt go through it again. A doctor, maybe; and maybe not. But he wouldn't go through it again.
Del sat in one of Lucas's visitor's chairs, one foot on Lucas's desk, blew smoke at the ceiling and said, "So what're you suggesting? We send him a fruitcake?"
Lucass office smelled of new carpet and paint, and looked out on Fourth Street; a great fall day, crisp, blue skies, young blond women with rosy cheeks and long fuzzy coats heading down the street with their boyfriends, toward the Metrodome and a University of Minnesota football game.
Sloan, who was sitting in Davenport's swivel chair, said, "The guys hurting. We could... I don't know. Go out with him. Keep him busy at night."
Del groaned. "Right. We get our wives, we go out to eat. We talk the same bullshit we talk at the office all day, because we can't talk about Weather. Then we finish eating and go home with our old ladies. He goes home and sits in the dark with his dick in his hand."
"So what're you saying?" Sloan demanded.
"What I'm saying is that he's all alone, and thats the fuckin' problem..." Then Del lifted a finger to his lips and dropped his voice. "He's coming."
Lucas stepped into the office a moment later, with the feeling hed entered a sudden silence. He'd felt that a lot, lately.
Lucas was a tall man, hard-faced, broad-shouldered, showing the remnants of a summer tan. A thin line of a scar dropped through one eyebrow onto a cheek, like a piece of fishing line. Another scar slashed across his throat, where a friend had done a tracheotomy with a jackknife.
His hair was dark, touched by the first few flecks of gray, and his eyes were an unexpectedly intense blue. He was wearing a black silk sweatshirt showing the collar of a French-blue shirt beneath it, jeans, and a .45 in an inside-the-pants rig. He carried a leather jacket.
He nodded at Del, and to Sloan said, "Get out of my chair or I'll kill you."
Sloan yawned, then eased out of the chair. "You get your jeans dry-cleaned?" he asked.
"What?" Lucas looked down at his jeans.
"They look so crisp," Sloan said. "They almost got a crease. When I wear jeans, I look like I'm gonna paint something."
"When you wear a tuxedo, you look like you're gonna paint something," Del said.
"Mr. Fashion Plate speaking," Sloan said.
Del was already wearing his winter parka, olive drab with an East German army patch on one shoulder, an Eat More Muffin sweatshirt, fire-engine-red sneaks with holes over the joints of his big toes, through which were visible thin black dress socks Del had bunion problems and the oversized Calvin Kleins. "Fuck you," he said.
"So whats happening?" Lucas asked, looking at Del. He circled behind the desk and dropped into the chair vacated by Sloan. He turned a yellow legal pad around, glanced at it, ripped off the top sheet and wadded the paper in his fist.
"We're trying to figure how to snap you out of it," Del said bluntly.
Lucas looked up, then shrugged. Nothing to do.
"Weathers coming back," Sloan said. "She's got too much sense to stay away."
Lucas shook his head. "She's not coming back, and it doesn't have anything to do with good sense."
"You guys are so fucked," Del said.
"You say fuck way too much," Sloan said.
"Hey, fuck you, pal," Del said, joking, but with an edge in his voice.
Lucas cut it off: "Ready to go, Sloan?"
Sloan nodded. "Yeah."
Lucas looked at Del: "What're you doing here?"
"Seeking guidance from my superiors," Del said. "I've got an opium ring with fifty-seven members spread all over Minneapolis and the western suburbs, especially the rich ones like Edina and Wayzata. One or two in St. Paul. Grow the stuff right here. Process it. Use it themselves maybe sell a little."
Lucas frowned. "How solid?"
"So tell me." Lucas poked a finger at Del. "Wait a minute... you're not telling me that fuckin' Genesse is back? I thought he was gone for fifteen."
Del was shaking his head: "Nah."
"Its fifty-seven old ladies in the Mountbatten Garden Club," Del said. "I got the club list."
Sloan and Lucas looked at each other; then Sloan said, "What?"
And Lucas asked, "Where'd you get the list?"
"From an old lady", Del said. "There being nothing but old ladies in the club."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Lucas asked.
"When I went over to Hennepin to get my finger sewed up after the pinking shears thing, this doc told me he'd treated this old-lady junkie. She was coming down from the opium, but she thought she had the flu or something. It turns out they've been growing poppies for years. The whole club. They collect the heads at the end of the summer and make tea. Opium tea. A bunch of them are fairly well hooked, brewing up three or four times a day.
Lucas rubbed his forehead. "Del..."
"What?" Del looked at Sloan, defensively. "What? Should I ignore it?"
"I don't know," Lucas said. "Where're they getting the seeds?"
"Seed stores," Del said.
"Bullshit," Lucas said. "You can't buy opium seeds from seed stores."
"I did," Del said. He dug in his parka pocket, pulled out a half-dozen seed packets. Lucas, no gardener, recognized the brand names and the envelopes.
"Yes, it is. They got fancy names, but I talked to a guy at the university, and brother..." He tossed them on Lucass desk. "... them's opium poppies."
"Aw, man." Now Lucas was rubbing his face. Tired. Always tired now.
"The hell with the old ladies," Sloan said. "Let's get out of here."
"I'll talk to you later," Lucas said to Del. "In the meantime, find something dangerous to do, for Christ's sake."
Lucas and Sloan took Lucas's new Chevy Tahoe: Kresge's body, they'd been told, was off-road.
"I'm not gonna push you about being fucked up," Sloan said. "Just let me know if theres anything I can do."
"Yeah, I will," Lucas said.
"And you oughta think about medication..."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah..."
"Is... How's Weather?"
"Still in therapy. She's better without me, and gets worse when I'm around. And she's making more friends that I'm cut off from. She's putting together a new life and I'm out of it," Lucas said.
"When she moved out," Lucas said, "she left her dress in the closet. The green one, three thousand bucks. The wedding dress."
"Maybe it means she's coming back."
"I don't think so. I think she abandoned it." Much of the trip north was made in gloomy silence, through the remnants of the autumns glorious color change; but the end was coming, the dead season.
Jacob Krause, the Garfield County Sheriff, was squatting next to the body, talking to an assistant medical examiner, when he saw Lucas and Sloan walking down the ridge toward them. They were accompanied by a fat man in a blaze-orange hunting coat and a uniformed deputy leading a German shepherd. The deputy pointed at Krause, and turned and went back toward the house.
"Is this him?" Krause asked.
The AME turned his head and said, "Yeah. Davenports the big guy. The guy in the tan coat is Sloan, he's one of the heavyweights in Homicide. I don't know the fat guy."
"He's one of ours," the sheriff said. He had the mournful face of a blue-eyed bloodhound, and had a small brown mole, a beauty mark, on the right end of his upper lip. He sighed and added, "Unfortunately."
A few feet away, two crime scene guys were packing up a case of lab samples; up the hill, two funeral home assistants waited with a gurney. The body would be taken to Hennepin County for autopsy. Krause looked a last time at Kresges paper-white face, then stood up and headed back up the path. He took it slowly, watching as Davenport and Sloan and the fat man dropped down the trail like Holmes and Watson on a Sunday stroll with Oliver Hardy. When they got closer, Krause noticed that Davenport was wearing loafers with tassels, that his socks were a black and white diamond pattern, and that the loafers matched his leather jacket. He sighed again, the quick judgment adding to his general irritation.
"Hello, I'm Lucas Davenport..." Lucas stuck out his hand and the sheriff took it, a little surprised at the heft and hardness of it; and the sadness in Davenport's eyes. "And Detective Sloan," the sheriff finished, shaking hands with Sloan. "I'm Jake Krause, the sheriff." He looked past them at the fat man. "I see you've met Arne."
"Back by the cars," the fat man said. "What do we got, Jake?"
"Crime scene, Arne. I'd just as soon you don't come up too close. We're trying to minimize the damage to the immediate area."
"Okay," the fat man said. He craned his neck a little, down toward the orange-clad body, the AME hovering over it, the crime scene boys with their case.
"Accident?" Lucas asked.
Krause shrugged. "C'mon and take a look, give me an opinion. Arne, you better wait."
On the way down to the body, Lucas asked, "Arne's a problem?"
"He's the county commission chairman. He got the job because nobody trusted him to actually supervise a department or the budget," Krause said. "He's also a reserve deputy. He's not a bad guy, just a pain in the ass. And he likes hanging around dead people."
"I know guys like that," Lucas said. He looked up at the tree stand as they approached the body and asked, "Kresge was shot out of the stand?"
"Yup. The bullet took him square in the heart," Krause said. "I doubt he lived for ten seconds."
"Any chance of finding the slug?" Sloan asked.
"Nah. It's out in the swamp somewhere. It's gone."
"But you think he was shot out of the tree stand," Sloan said.
"For sure," Krause said. "There's some blood splatter on the guardrail and threads from his coveralls are hanging from the edge of the floorboards up there no way they should be there unless they snagged when he fell over the edge."
Lucas stepped over next to the body, which lay faceup a foot and a half from a pad of blood-soaked oak leaves. Kresge didnt look surprised or sad or any of the other things he might have looked. He looked dead, like a wadded-up piece of wastepaper. "Who moved him?"
"The first time, other members of the hunting party. They opened up his coat to listen to his heart, wanted to make sure he wasn't still alive. He wasn't. Then me and the doc here," Krause nodded at the AME, "rolled him up to look at the exit wound."
Lucas nodded to the assistant medical examiner, said, "Hey, Dick, I heard you guys were coming up," and the AME said, "Yup," and Lucas said, "Roll him up on his side, will you?"
The AME grabbed Kresge's coat and rolled him up. Lucas and Sloan looked at the back, where a narrow hole a moth might have made it was surrounded by a hand-sized bloodstain just above the shoulder blade. Lucas said, "Huh," and he and Sloan moved left to look at the entry, then back at the exit. They both turned at the same time to look at the slope, then at each other, and Lucas said, "Okay," and the AME let the body drop back into place.
Lucas stood and brushed his hands together and grinned at the sheriff. The grin was so cold that the sheriff revised his earlier, quick, judgment. "Good one," Lucas said.
"What do you think?" Krause asked.
"The shooter got close," Lucas said.
"You wouldnt get that angle through the body, upward like that, unless the shooter was below him," Sloan explained. "And if the shooter's below him," they all looked back up the slope, "he couldn't have been more than thirty or forty yards away. Of course, we don't know how Kresge was sitting. He could have been looking out sideways. Or he could have been leaning back when the slug hit."
Krause said, "I don't think so."
"I don't either," Lucas said.
"So its a murder," Krause said. He shook his head and looked from the body to Lucas. "I wish you'd keep this shit down in the Cities."
"Mind if I check the tree?" Lucas asked the crime scene cops.
One of them said, "We're done, if it's okay with the sheriff."
"Go ahead," Krause said.
Lucas began climbing the spikes, looked down just as he reached the platform, and asked, "What about motive?"
Krause nodded. I asked those people down at the cabin about that. Instead of a name, I got an estimate. Fifteen hundred, maybe two thousand people.
Sloan said, "Yeah?"
"There's this merger going on..."
Lucas listened to Krauses explanation of the merger as he carefully probed the backpack hung on the tree. He remembered seeing bank-merger stories in the Star-Tribune. He hadn't paid much attention more corporate jive, as far as he could tell.
"Anyway, he was up here hunting with a bunch of big shots from the bank," Krause said, unwinding his story. "Some of them, maybe all of them, are set to lose their big shot jobs."
"Those are the people we saw down at the cabin?" Lucas asked. He'd finished with the backpack, left it hanging where he found it, and dropped back down the tree.
"Yeah," Krause said sourly. "They filled me in on the merger business."
"Shooting him seems a little extreme," Sloan said.
"Why?" Krause asked. The question was genuine, and Sloan glanced at Lucas and then looked back at the sheriff, who said, "Close as I can tell, he was about to mess up the lives of hundreds of people. Some of them hell, maybe most of them will never get as good a job again, ever in their lives. And he was doing it just so he could make more money than he already had, and he had a pile of it. Shooting him seems pretty rational to me. Long as you didn't get caught."
"I wouldnt express that opinion to the press," Lucas said mildly. He went back to the body, knelt on one knee, and began going through Kresge's pockets.
"I never say anything to the press that I haven't run past my old lady," Krause grunted, as he watched. "She hasn't turned me wrong yet." A second later, he added, "There is one other possibility. For the shooting. His wife. He's right in the middle of a divorce."
"That could be something," Lucas agreed. He squeezed both of Kresge's hands through their gloves, then stood up and rubbed his hands together.
"These folks at the cabin said the divorce is signed, sealed, and delivered, that the wife really took a chunk out of his ass."
"Makes it sound less likely," Sloan said.
"Yeah, unless she hates him," Lucas said. "Which she might"
Sloan opened his mouth to say something, then shut it, thinking suddenly of Weather. Krause asked, "Find anything new in the backpack?"
"Couple of Snickers, couple packs of peanut M&Ms, half-dozen hand-heater packs."
"Same thing I found," Krause said.
"Do you deer hunt, Sheriff?" Lucas asked.
"Nope. I'm a fisherman. I was gonna close out the muskie season this afternoon, beat the ice-up. I was loading my truck when they called me. Why?"
"It gets as cold on a tree stand as it does on a November day out muskie fishing," Lucas said.
"Colder'n hell," Krause said.
"Thats right. But he hadn't eaten anything and hadn't used any heat packs, even though he brought them along and must've intended to use them," Lucas said. "So he was probably shot pretty soon after he got to the stand."
"Did anyone hear any early shots?" Sloan asked.
"I asked the other people about unusual shots, but nobody said anything was out of order. Bone said he thought either Kresge or one of the other guys, a guy named Robles, had fired a shot just after the opening. But Robles said he didn't, and his rifle is clean, and so's Kresges."
"How long had they been sitting?"
"About forty-five minutes."
Lucas nodded: "Then that was probably the killing shot. He'd still have been pretty warm up to that point."
They talked for a few more minutes, then left the AME with the body and headed back through the woods toward the cabin. As they passed the mortuary attendants, now sitting on the gurney, Krause said, "He's all yours, boys."
"Been a nice month, up to now," the sheriff said, rambling a bit. "No killings, no rapes, no robberies, only a half-dozen domestics, a few drunk-driving accidents, and a couple of small-time burglaries. This sort of blots the record."
Lucas said, "The killer had to find the place in the dark so he had to know where it was, exactly."
"Unless he came after daylight," Krause said. "That's possible."
"Yeah, but when we were coming in, your deputy the one with the dog? pointed out where this Robles guy was sitting, and generally where the other people were. So the killer would have to take a chance on being seen, unless he really knew the layout."
"And if he knew all that, he'd probably be recognized by the others," Sloan said. "Which means he probably came in when it was dark."
"Unless hes one of these guys," Krause said. "These guys would have all the information, plus an excuse for walking around with guns... and they'd know that nobody would come looking at the sound of a shot."
"It could be one of these guys," Lucas said. "But it'd take guts."
"Or a crazy man," Sloan said.
At the end of the track they could see a half-dozen people sitting and standing on the cabin porch, a man in a red plaid shirt talking animatedly to the others. A short man in a blue suit sat apart from them.
"What's the situation with these people?" Lucas asked as they started down the slope toward the cabin. "Who questioned them?"
"I did, and one of our investigators, Ralph that's Ralph in the blue suit."
"Is he good?" Lucas asked.
The sheriff thought for a minute and then said, "Ralph couldn't pour piss out of a boot with the instructions written on the heel."
Sloan asked, "So how come...?"
"I try to keep him out of the way, but he was at the office and answered the phone this morning."
"Did he collect all the guns?" Lucas asked.
"No, but I did," Krause said. "Two of them had been fired both people had deer to show for it. The others look clean."
"I saw the deer hanging down by the cabin..." Lucas said. Then: "Get your crime scene guys to check their hands and faces for powder traces. And count shells find out what they claim to have fired, and do a count."
"I'm doing all that, except for the shells," Krause said. He looked up at Lucas. "I'm going by the book. The whole book. My problem is more along the lines of interrogation and so on. Expertise."
Lucas tipped his head at Sloan: "Sloan is the best interrogator in the state."
Sloan grinned at the sheriff and said, "That's true."
"Then we'd like to borrow you for a while," Krause said. "If you got the time."
"Fine with me," Sloan said. "Overtime is overtime."
"Is there any possibility that you could do some running around Minneapolis for me?" Krause asked.
Sloan looked at Lucas. "I've got a couple of things going..."
"... Sherrill is doing research on that Shack thing, but she's not getting much. Maybe she could do some running around."
Lucas nodded. "I'll call her this afternoon, on my way back. Anything you break out of these guys, call it down to her. I'll have her talk to Kresge's wife, check for girlfriends..."
"Or boyfriends," Sloan said.
"Or boyfriends. And I'll have her start talking to people in his office secretaries and so on." Lucas looked at Krause. "I don't want to take over your investigation..."
"No-no-no, don't worry about that," Krause said hastily."The more you can do, the better. My best guys are busier'n two-dick dogs in a breeding kennel... And my other guys would have a hard time finding Minneapolis, much less anybody in it."
"Sounds like you have some problems," Sloan said. "First Arne, then Ralph..."
"We're going through a transitional period," Krause said grimly. Then: "Look, I'm the new guy up here. I was with the highway patrol for twenty-five years, and then last fall I got myself elected sheriff. The office is about fifty years out of date, full of deadwood, and all the deadwood is related to somebody. I'm cutting it down, but it takes time. I'll take any help I can get."
"Whatever we can do," Lucas said.
Krause nodded. "Thanks." He'd been prepared to dislike the Minneapolis guys, but it hadnt turned out that way. Actually, he sort of liked them, for city people. Sloan especially, but even Davenport, with his shoe tassels and expensive clothes. He glanced at Davenport again, quickly. From a little bit of a distance you might think pussy. You didn't think that when you got closer to him. Not after you'd seen his smile.
He added, "I don't think I'm gonna get too far up here. Matter of fact, I don't think I'm going to get anywhere everything about this shooting was set up in the Cities."
They were coming up to the porch, and Sloan said, quietly, "So lets go jack up these city folks. See if anybody gets nervous."
The four surviving hunters sat on the porch in the afternoon sunlight, in rustic wooden chairs with peeling bark and waterproof plastic seat cushions. They all had cups of microwaved coffee: Wilson McDonald's was fortified with two ounces of brandy. James T. Bone sat politely downwind of the others, smoking a cheroot.
The sheriff's investigator perched on a stool at the other end of the porch, like the class dummy, looking away from them. If one of the bankers suddenly broke for the woods, what was he supposed to do? Shoot him? But the sheriff had told him to keep an eye on them. What'd that mean?
And the bankers were annoyed, and their annoyance was not something his worn nerves could deal with. He could handle trailer-home fights and farm kids hustling toot, but people who'd gone to Harvard, who drove Lincoln and Lexus sport-utes and wore eight-hundred-dollar après-hunt tweed jackets, undoubtedly woven by licensed leprechauns in the Auld Country, well, they made him nervous. Especially when one of them might be a killer.
"Davenport is the bad dog," Bone said from downwind, as they watched Krause lead his parade down through the woods toward the cabin. He bit off a sixteenth-inch of the cheroot and spit it out into the fescue at the bottom of the porch. "He oughta be able to tell us something."
"Mean sonofabitch, by reputation," O'Dell said. She said it casually, looking through the steam of the coffee. She wasn't impressed. She was surrounded by mean sonsofbitches. She might even be one herself.
"Just another c-cop," Robles stuttered. Robles was scared: they could smell it on him. They liked it. Robles was the macho killer, and his fear was oddly pleasing.
"I talked to him a couple of times on the transfers with his IPO you all know he used to be Davenport Simulations?" Bone said. They all nodded; that was the kind of thing they all knew. "He sold the company to management and walked with bettern ten, AT." He meant ten million dollars, after taxes.
"So why doesnt he quit and move to Palm Springs?" Robles asked.
"'Cause he likes what he does," Bone said.
"I wish he'd get his bureaucratic ass down here and do what we have to do; I wanna get back to town," McDonald grumbled. Back to a nice smooth single-malt; but he'd stay here as long as the others did. Sooner or later, they'd start talking about who'd be running the bank. "No point in keeping us here. we've told them everything we know."
"Unless one of us killed him," Bone said lazily.
"Gotta be an accident," Robles said, nervously." Opening day of deer season... I bet there're twenty of them. Accidents."
"No, there aren't," Bone said. "There are usually one or two, and most of the time, they know on the spot who did the shooting."
"Besides, it wasn't an accident," O'Dell said positively.
"How do you know?" McDonald asked. He finished the loaded coffee and rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand. He could use another.
"Maybe she did it," Robles said. He tried to laugh, but instead made a small squeaking noise, a titter.
O'Dell ignored him. "Karma's wrong for an accident," she said.
"Great: were talking karma," McDonald said. "Superstitious hippie nonsense."
Bone slumped a little lower in his chair and a thin grin slipped across his dry face: "But she's right," he said. "Dan was a half-mile onto his own property. Who's going to shoot him through the heart from more'n half a mile away? Nope. I figure it was one of us. We all had guns and good reasons."
"Bullshit," McDonald said.
As they watched the parade approaching, O'Dell said, "We should decide who'll speak for the bank. The board'll have to appoint a CEO, but somebody should take over for the moment. Somebody in top management."
"I thought Wilson might do it until a decision is made on a CEO," Bone said. He looked over at Wilson McDonald, whose eyes went flat, hiding any reaction; and past him at O'Dell. The top job, Bone thought, would go either to himself or O'Dell, unless the board did something weird. Robles didnt have the background, McDonald wasn't smart or skilled enough. "If you think so," McDonald said carefully. This was the moment hed been waiting for.
O'Dell had done her calculations as well as Bone, and she nodded. "Then you've got it," she said. She put her battered hunting boots up on the porch railing and looked past McDonald at Bone: "Until the police figure out if one of us did it. And the board has a chance to meet."
After a moments silence, Robles said, "My gun wasn't fired."
Bone rolled his eyes up to the heavens: "I'll tell you what, Terry. It would take me about three seconds to figure a way to kill Kresge and walk out of the woods with a clean weapon." He took a final drag on the cheroot, dropped the stub end on the porch, ground it out with his boot, and flipped it out into the yard with his toe. "No sir: I figure a fired weapon is purely proof of innocence."
He was breaking Robles's balls. Bone and O'Dell had the two dirty rifles, while McDonald and Robles were clean. Usually, Bone wouldnt have bothered: Robles wasn't much sport. But Bone was in a mood. Davenport and the others were dropping the last few yards down the trail to the clearing around the house, and Bone muttered to the others, "Bad dog."
Lucas led the parade up the porch steps, Krause and Sloan just behind, and the four bankers all stood up to meet them. Lucas recognized Bone and nodded: "Mr. Bone," he said. "Did Sally get the Spanish credit?"
Bones forehead wrinkled for a second; then he remembered and nodded, smiling: "Sure did. She graduated in June... Are you running things here?"
"No, I was just about to leave, in fact. Sheriff Krause runs things up here. We'll be cooperating down in Minneapolis, if he needs the backup."
"So why did you come up?" O'Dell asked. She put a little wood-rasp in her voice, a little annoyance, so he'd understand her status here.
Lucas grinned at her, mild-voiced and friendly: "Mr. Kresge carried a lot of clout in Minneapolis, so its possible the motive for the shooting will be found there. Quite possibly with the bank, from what I hear about this merger. Detective Sloan," Lucas looked at Sloan, who raised a hand in greeting "has been assigned to help Sheriff Krause with his interviews, so we can get you folks on your way home."
"Are you s-s-sure it wasnt an accident?" Robles stuttered.
Lucas shook his head and Krause said, "He was murdered."
"So thats it," O'Dell said, and the bankers all looked at each other for a moment, and then Bone broke the silence: "Damn it. That'll tangle things up."
McDonald, ignoring Krause, asked Lucas, "Do you think... one of us...?"
Lucas looked at Krause. "We have no reason to think so, in particular. Since we know you were here, we've got to talk to you," Krause said. "But we've got no suspects."
Sloan suggested that he would prefer to talk to the four of them individually, inside, while the others waited on the porch. "Nice day, anyway," he said, pleasantly. "And it shouldnt take long."
"Let me go first," McDonald grunted, pushing up from his chair. "I want to get back and start talking to the PR people. We'll need a press release ASAP. God, what a disaster."
"Fine," Sloan said. He turned to Lucas: "You gonna take off?"
"Yeah. The sheriff'll send you back with a deputy."
"See you later then," Sloan said. "Mr. McDonald?"
McDonald followed Sloan and Krause into the cabin. When they'd gone, Bone said to Lucas, "I'd feel better about this if you were running things."
"Krause is a pretty sharp cookie, I think," Lucas said. "He'll take care of it."
"Still, it's not something where you want a mistake made," Bone said. "A murder, I mean when you're a suspect, but you're innocent."
"I appreciate that," Lucas said. He glanced at the other two, then took a card case from his jacket pocket, extracted four business cards and passed them around. "If any of you need any information about the course of the investigation, or need any help at all, call me directly, any time, night or day. There's a home phone listed as well as my office phone. Ms. O'Dell, if you could give one to Mr. McDonald."
"Very nice of you," O'Dell said, looking at the cards. "We just want to get this over with."
"You shot one of the deer, didnt you?" Lucas asked her. The two gutted deer were hanging head down from the cabin's deer pole in the side yard.
"The bigger of the two," she said.
"I like mine tender," Bone said dryly. "Always go for a doe."
"Good shot," Lucas said to O'Dell. "Broke his shoulder, wiped out his heart; I bet he didnt go ten feet from where you shot him."
She didnt feel any insinuation; he was just being polite. "Do you hunt?" she asked.
He smiled and nodded: "Quite a bit."
When Lucas had gone, O'Dell said to Bone, "That's not a bad dog. That's a pussycat."
Bone took another cheroot out of his jacket pocket, along with a kitchen match, which he scratch-lit on the porch railing; an affectation he acknowledged and enjoyed. "He's killed four or five guys, I think, in the line of duty. He built a software company from nothing to a ten-million AT buyout in about six years. In his spare time. And I'll tell you something else..."
He took a long drag on the cheroot, and blew a thin stream of smoke out into the warming afternoon air, irritating O'Dell. "What?"
Bone said, "When we did the transfers on the IPO, I talked to him for ten minutes. While we were doing it, my daughter called on my private line, from school. All upset. She was having a problem with a language credit, and she was afraid they'd hold up her graduation. I mentioned it to him, in passing just explaining the phone call. This was seven months ago. He remembered me, he remembered Sally's name, and he remembered the language she was taking."
Bone looked at O'Dell. "You can take him lightly, if you want. I wouldn't. Especially if you pulled the trigger twice this morning."
"Don't be absurd," she said. But she looked after Lucas, down by the parking area, just getting into his truck. "Nice shoulders," she said, thinking the comment would irritate just about everybody on the porch.
The truck was very quiet without Sloan: Lucas didn't need the quiet in the quiet, his mind would begin to churn, and that would lead...
He wasn't sure where it would lead.
He was tired, but he needed to be more tired. He needed to be so tired that when he got back home, he could lie down and sleep before the churning began. He put a tape in the tape player, ZZ Top, the Greatest Hits album, and turned it up. Interference. Can't churn when theres too much interference.
The killing at the hunting camp was not particularly interesting: one possible motive, the bank merger, was already fairly clear. Others of a more personal nature might pop up laterK resge was in the process of getting a divorce, so there might be other women. Or his wife might have something to do with it.
Routine investigation would dredge it all up, and either the killer would be caught or he wouldn't. Whichever, Lucas felt fairly distant from the process. He'd been through it dozens of times, and the routine greed, love, and stupidity killings no longer held much interest.
Evil was interesting, he would still admit; this a residue from his term in Catholic schools. But so far he detected no evil in the killing. Spite, probably; stupidity, possibly. Greed. Anger. But not real evil...
He rode mindlessly for a while, the winter fields and woods rolling by, holsteins out catching a few uncommon November rays, horses dancing through hillside pastures; a few thousand doomed turkeys... Then he glanced out the side window, caught the boles on the oaks, recognized them, shivered. Turned up the tape.
He'd been dreaming again, lately; he hated the dreams, because they woke him up, and when he woke, in the night, his mind would begin running. And the dreams always woke him...
One dream had an odd quality of science fiction. He was being lowered, on some kind of platform, into a huge steel cylinder. Nearby was a steel cap, two feet thick, with enormous threads, which would be screwed into place after he was inside, sealing him in. The process was industrial: there were other people running around, making preparations for whatever was about to happen. He was cooperating with them, standing on the platform obviously expectant. But for what? Why was he about to be sealed inside the cylinder? He didnt know, but he wasn't frightened by the prospect. He was engaged by it, though. He'd start thinking about it, and then he'd wake up, his mind churning...
The other dream was stranger.
A man's face, seen from a passing car. There were small beads of rain on the window glass, so the view was slightly obscured; in his dream, Lucas could not quite get a fix on the face. The man was hard, slender, wore an ankle-length black coat and a snap-brim hat. Most curious were the almond-shaped eyes, but where the surfaces of his eyes should be the pupils and irises there were instead two curls of light maple-colored wood shavings. The man seemed to be hunched against a wind, and the drizzle; he seemed to be cold. And he looked at Lucas under the brim of the hat, with those eyes that had curls of wood on their surfaces.
Lucas had begun to see the almond shapes around him on the street. See them on the faces of distant men, or in random markings on buildings, or on trees. Nonsense: but this dream frightened him. He would wake with a start, sweat around the neckline of his T-shirt. And then his mind would start to run...
He turned up the ZZ Top yet another notch, and raced toward the Cities, looking for exhaustion.
An hour after Lucas had passed that way, James T. Bone hurtled down I-35 in a large black BMW. As he crossed the I-694 beltline he picked up the cell phone and pushed the speed-dial number. The other phone rang three times before a woman answered it, her voice carrying a slight whiskey burr. "Hello?"
"This is Bone. Where are you?"
"In my car. On my way back from Southdale."
"I'm coming over," he said. "Twenty minutes."
"Okay... you can't stay long. George is..."
"Twenty minutes," Bone said, and punched off. He pushed another speed-dial button, and another woman answered, this voice younger and crisper: "Kerin."
"This is Bone. Where are you?"
"Dan Kresge's been killed. Shot, probably murdered. Had you heard yet?"
No. My God..."
"I'll be at the office in an hour, or a little more. If you have the time..."
"I'll be there in ten minutes. Can I get anything started before you get there?"
"Names and phone numbers of all the board members..."
They talked for five minutes; then Bone punched out again.
A three-car fender bender slowed him a bit, but he pulled into the downtown parking garage a little less than a half hour after he made the first call. Hed gotten out of his hunting clothes and was wearing a Patagonia jacket with khakis and a flannel shirt. He pulled the jacket off as he rode up in the elevator.
Marcia Kresge met him at the door in a blue silk kimono. "You like it? I bought it an hour ago."
"I hope youre not celebrating," he said.
He said it with an intensity that stopped her: "What happened?"
"Your soon-to-be-ex-husband was shot to death up at the cabin this morning. I'm undoubtedly one of the suspects."
Kresge looked mildly shocked for a quarter-second, then slipped a tiny smile: "So the fuckers dead?"
"I hope to Christ you didn't have anything to do with it."
"Moi?" she asked mockingly, one hand going to her breast.
"Yeah, Marcia, youre really cute; I hope you're not that cute when the cops show up."
"The cops?" Finally serious.
"Marcia, sit down," Bone said. Kresge dropped onto a couch, showing a lot of leg. Bone looked at it for a moment, then said, "Listen, I know you think you fucked over Dan pretty thoroughly. You're wrong. Last week the board granted him another two hundred and fifty thousand options to buy our stock at forty, as a performance award. If the merger goes through, and it's botched, the stock'll be worth sixty in a year. If the merger is done exactly right, it could be at eighty in a year. That's ten million dollars, and if it's held for a year, you'll take out eight after taxes."
"Marcia, shut up for a minute. The options have value. They become part of his estate. You'll inherit. You'll also get the rest of his estate, that you didn't get in the divorce. No taxes at all on that. In other words, Dan gets murdered, you get ten million. I'm up there with a gun, and guess who's fucking Marcia Kresge?"
"Jesus," she said.
"I seriously doubt that he's involved."
"But they can't think I...?"
"You didn't, did you? You know all those crazy nightclub characters..."
"Bone: I had not a goddamned thing to do with it. I really did think I'd taken him to the cleaners... and I mean, I didn't like him, but I wouldn't kill him."
He knew her well enough to know she wasnt lying. He exhaled, said, "Good."
"You honest to God thought..."
"No. I didn't think you went out and hired some asshole to kill him," Bone said. "What I was afraid of is, you'd mentioned to one of your little broken-nosed pals that if Dan died, youd get another whole load of cash."
"Well, I didn't", she said. "Because I didn't know that I would."
"Okay... I don't think it would be necessary to mention to the police that we've been involved," he said dryly.
"Good thought," she said, matching his tone precisely.
"All right." He stood up and started toward the door. "I've got to get down to the bank."
"The bank? God, when you called, I thought maybe..." She'd gotten up and come around the couch.
"What?" He knew what.
"You know." She slipped the belt of the kimono; she was absolutely bare and pink beneath it. "I just got out of the shower."
"I thought George was coming over."
"Well, not for a couple of hours... and you gotta at least tell me what happened."
"Take off the kimono."
She took it off, tossed it on the couch. He was staring at her, like he always did, with an attention that both disturbed and excited her.
"What?" She unconsciously touched one arm to her breastbone, covering her right breast as she did it. Bone reached out and pushed her arm down.
"Put your hands behind you," he said. I want to look at you while I tell you this.
She blushed, the blush reaching almost to her waist. She bit her lower lip, but put her hands behind her back.
"We started out like we always do, walking back into the woods. You know how that trail goes back around the lake..."
As he told the story, he began to stroke her, his voice never faltering or showing emotion, but his hands always moving slowly. After a moment she slowly backed away, and he stepped after her, still talking. When her bottom touched the edge of a couch table, she braced herself against it, closed her eyes.
"Are you listening?" he asked; his hands stopped momentarily.
"Of course," she said. "A few minutes before six and the shooting started."
"Thats right," he said. He pushed her back more solidly into the couch table and said, "Spread your legs a little."
She spread her legs a little.
"A little more."
She spread them a little more.
"Anyway," he said, gently parting her with his fingertips. "Any one of us could have killed him. It was just a matter of climbing down from the tree, sneaking back up the path..."
"Did you do it?" she asked.
"What do you think?"
"You could have," she said. And then she said, "Oh, God."
"Look at me..."
She opened her eyes, but they were hazy, a dreamers eyes, looking right through him. "Don't stop now," she said.
"Look at me..."
She looked at him, struggled to focus on his dark, cool face. "Did you kill him?"
"Does the thought turn you on?"
Susan O'Dell's apartment was a study in black and white, glass and wood, and when she walked in, was utterly silent. She pulled off her jacket, let it fall to the floor, then her shirt and her turtlenecked underwear, and her bra. The striptease continued back through the apartment through her bedroom to the bathroom, where she went straight into the shower. She stood in the hot water for five minutes, letting it pour around her face. When she'd cleaned off the day, she stepped out, got a bath towel from a towel rack, dried herself, dropped the towel on the floor, and walked back to the bedroom. Underpants and gray sweatsuit.
Dressed again, warm, she walked back to the study, stood on her tiptoes, and took a deck of cards off the top of the single bookshelf.
Sitting at her desk, she spread the cards, studied them.
She'd once had an affair, brief but intense, with an artist who'd taught her what he called Tarot for Scientists. A truly strange tarot method: business management through chaos theory, and he really knew about chaos. An odd thing for an artist to know, she'd thought at the time. She'd even become suspicious of him, and had done some checking. But he was a legitimate painter, all right. A gorgeous watercolor nude, which nobody but she knew was O'Dell herself, hung in her bedroom, a souvenir of their relationship.
After she realized the value of the artist's tarot method, he'd bought her a computer version so she could install it on her computer at work the cards themselves were a little too strange, and a little too public, for a big bank. They'd done the installation on a cold, rainy night, and afterwards had made love on the floor behind her desk. The artist had been comically inept with the computer. He'd nearly brought down the bank network, and would have, if she hadn't been there to save him. But she could now access electronic cards at any time, protected with her own private code word.
Still. When she could, she preferred the cards themselves: the cool, collected flap of pasteboard against walnut. Hippielike, she thought. McDonald referred to her as a hippie, but she was hardly that. She simply had little time for makeup, for indulgent fashion, or for the flattering of men all the things that Wilson McDonald expected from a woman. At the same time, she obviously enjoyed the company of men, and her relationship with the artist and a couple of other men-about-town had become known at the bank. And she was smart.
As McDonald had thumbed through his box of mental labels, he'd been forced to discard housewife and helpmeet, lesbo and bimbo. When word inevitably got around about the tarot, McDonald had relaxed and stuck the hippie label on her. The label might not explain the hunting, or the manner in which she'd cut her way to the top at the bank... but it was good enough for him.
O'Dell laid out the Celtic Cross; and got a jolt when the result card came up: the Tower of Destruction.
She pursed her lips. Yes.
She stood up, cast a backward glance at the spread of cards, the lightning bolt striking the tower, the man falling to his death: rather like Kresge, she thought, coming out of the tree stand. In fact, exactly so...
She shivered, pulled a cased set of books out of the bookcase, removed a small plastic box, opened it. Inside were a dozen fatties. She took one out, with the lighter, went out to her balcony, closing the glass doors behind her. Cold. She lit the joint, let the grass wrap wreaths of ideas around her brain. Okay. Kresge was dead. She'd wanted him dead gone, at any rate, dead if necessary, and lately, as the merger deal crept closer, dead looked like the only way out.
So she'd gotten what she wanted.
Now to capitalize.
Terrance Robles hovered over his computer, sweating. He typed:
"Switch to crypto."
You're so paranoid; and cryptos boring.
"Switching to crypto...
Once in the cryptography program, he typed:
"What have you done?"
"Oh shit. Somebody shot Kresge today. I'm a suspect..."
Even with the crypto delay, the response was fast. Too fast, and too cynically casual, he thought. More words trailed across the screen.
So, did you do it?
Robles pounded it out: "Of course not."
But you thought I did?
He hesitated, then typed, "No."
Don't lie to me, T. You thought I did it.
"No I didnt but I wanted you to say it."
I havent exactly said it, have I?
Come on what? The world's a better place with that fucking fascist out of it.
"You didn't do it."
A long pause, so long that he thought she might have left him, then: Yes I did.
"No you didn't..."
No reply. Nothing but the earlier words, half scrolled up the screen.
"Come on..." A label popped up: The room is empty.
"Bitch," he groaned. He bit his thumbnail, chewing at it. What was he going to do? Looking up at the screen, he saw the words.
Yes I did.
Marcia Kresge opened her apartment door and found two uniformed cops standing in the hallway.
"Mrs. Kresge?" The cops looked her over. Late thirties, early forties, they thought. Very nice looking in a rich-bitch way. She was wearing a black fluffy dress that showed some skin, and was holding a lipstick in a gold tube. She had a lazy look about her, as though shed just gotten out of bed, not alone.
They kept it straightforward: her husband had been killed in a hunting accident.
"Yeah, I heard," she said, leaning against the doorpost. Her eyes hadnt even flickered; and to the older cop they looked so blue he thought he might fall in. "Should I do something?"
The cops looked at each other. "Well, he's at the county medical examiners office. We thought you'd want to make, er, the funeral arrangements."
She sighed. "Yeah, I suppose that would be the thing to do. Okay. I'll call them. The medical examiner."
The older of the two cops, his experience prodding him, tried to keep the conversation going. "You don't seem too upset."
She thought about that for a moment. "No, I'd have to say that I'm not. Upset. But I'm surprised." She put one hand on her breast, in a parody of a woman taken aback. "I thought the asshole was too mean to get killed. Anyway, I just don't... mmm, what that's colorful redneck phrase you policemen always use in the movies? I don't give a large shit."
The cops looked at each other again, and then the younger one said, "Maybe we got this wrong. We understood..."
"Yeah, I'm his wife. In two weeks we would've been divorced. We haven't lived together for two years, and I haven't seen him for a year. I don't like him. Didn't like him."
"Uh, could you tell us where you were...?"
She smiled at him sleepily. "When?"
"Early this morning?"
"In bed. I was out late last night, with friends."
"Could anybody vouch for you being here last night?" The older cop was pressing; once you had somebody rolling, you never knew what might come out.
But she nodded: "Sure. A friend brought me home."
"I'm talking about later, like early this morning."
"So am I," she said. He stayed.
"Oh, okay." Neither one of them was a bit embarrassed, and she was now looking at him with a little interest. "Could we get his name?"
"I don't see why not. Come on in," she said. "I'll write it down."
They followed her into the apartment, noted the polished wood floors, the Oriental carpets, the tastefully colorful paintings on eggshell-white walls.
"You haven't asked me how much I'd get from him, if he died before the divorce," she said over her shoulder.
The older cop smiled, his best Gary Cooper grin. He liked her: "How much?"
"I don't know," she lied. "My attorney and I took him to the cleaners."
"Good for you," he said. She was scribbling on a notepad, and when she finished, she brought it over and handed it to him. "George Wright. Here's his address and phone number. I'm going to call him and tell him about this."
"That's up to you," the older cop said.
"That's my number at the bottom, in case you need to interrogate me. Its unlisted," she said. She looked at him with her blue eyes and nibbled on her lower lip.
"Well, thanks," he said. He tucked the slip of paper in his shirt pocket.
"Do I sound like a heartless bitch?" she asked him cheerfully. And as she asked, she took his arm and they walked slowly toward the door together.
"Maybe a little," he said. He really did like her and he could feel the back of his bicep pressing into her breast. Her breast was very warm. He even imagined he could feel a nipple.
"I really didnt like him," she said. "You can put that in your report."
"I will," he said.
"Good," she said, as she ushered him out the door. "Then maybe I'll get to see you again... You could show me your gun."
The cops found themselves in the hallway, the door closing behind them. At the elevator door, the younger one said, "Well?<"/div >
"You gonna call her?"
The older one thought a minute, then said, "I don't think I could afford it."
"Shit, you don't have to buy anything," the young one said. "She's rich."
"I dunno," the older one said.
"Take my advice: If you call her, you don't want to jump her right away. Get to know her a little."
"Thats very sensitive of you," the older one said.
"No, no, I just think... She wants to see your gun?"
"So you wanna put off the time when she finds out you're packing a .22."
"Jealousy's an ugly thing," the older cop said complacently. As they walked out on the street to the car, he looked up at the apartment building and said, "Maybe."
And even if not, he thought, the woman had made his day.
Audrey McDonald, coming in from the garage, found her husband's orange coveralls on the kitchen floor, and just beyond them, his wool shooting jacket and then boots and trousers in a pile and halfway up the stairs, the long blue polypro underwear.
"Oh, shit," she said to herself. She dropped her purse on a hallway chair and hurried up the stairs, found a pair of jockey shorts in the hallway and heard him splashing in the oversized tub.
When Wilson McDonald got tense, excited, or frightened, he drank; and when he drank, he got hot and started to sweat. He'd pull his clothing off and head for water. He'd been drunk, naked, in the lake down the hill. Hed been drunk, naked, in the pool in the backyard, frightening the neighbor's daughter half to death. He'd been in the tub more times than she could remember, drunk, wallowing like a great white whale. He wasn't screaming yet, but he would be. The killing of Dan Kresge, all the talk at the club, had pushed him over the edge.
At the bathroom door, she stopped, braced herself, and then pushed it open. Wilson was on his hands and knees. As she opened the door, he dropped onto his stomach, and a wave of water washed over the edge, onto the floor, and around a nearly empty bottle of scotch.
"Wilson!" she shouted. "Goddamnit, Wilson."
He floundered, rolled, sat up. He was too fat, with fine curly hair on his chest and stomach, going gray. His tits, she thought, were bigger than hers. "Shut up," he bellowed back.
She took three quick steps into the room and picked up the bottle and started away.
"Wait a minute, goddamnit..." He was on his feet and out of the tub faster than she'd anticipated, and he caught her in the hallway. "Give me the fucking bottle."
"You're dripping all over the carpet."
"Give me the fucking bottle..." he shouted.
He was swinging the moment the "no" came out of her mouth, and caught her on the side of the head with an open hand. She went down like a popped balloon, her head cracking against the molding on a closet door.
"Fuckin' bottle," he said. She'd hung on to it when she went down, but he wrenched it free, and held it to his chest.
She was stunned, but pushed herself up. "You fuck," she shouted.
"You don't..." He kicked at her, sent her sprawling. "Throw you down the fuckin' stairs," he screamed. "Get out of here."
He went back into the bathroom, and she heard the lock click.
"Go away." And she heard the splash as he hit the water in the tub.
Downstairs, she got an ice compress from the freezer and put it against her head: she'd have a bruise. Goddamn him. They had to talk about Kresge: this was their big move, their main chance. This was what they'd worked for. And he was drunk.
The thought of the bottle sent her to the cupboard under the sink, to a built-in lazy Susan. She turned it halfway around, got the vodka bottle, poured four inches of vodka over two ice cubes, and drank it down.
Poured another two ounces to sip.
Audrey McDonald wasn't a big woman, and alcohol hit quickly. The two martinis she'd had at lunch, plus the pitcher of Bloody Marys at the club, had laid a base for the vodka. Her rage at Wilson began to shift. Not to disappear, but to shift in the maze of calculations that were spinning through her head.
Bone and O'Dell would try to steal this from them.
She sipped vodka, pressed the ice compress against her head, thought about Bone and O'Dell. Bone was Harvard and Chicago; O'Dell was Smith and Wharton. O'Dell had a degree in history and finance; Bone had two degrees in economics.
Wilson had a B.A. from the University of Minnesota in business administration and a law degree from the same place. Okay, but not in the same class with O'Dell or Bone. On the other hand, his grandfather had been one of the founders of Polaris. And Wilson knew everyone in town and was a member of the Woodland Golf and Cricket Club. The vice chairman of Polaris, a jumped-up German sausage-maker who never in a million years could have gotten into the club on his own, was now at Woodland, courtesy of Wilson McDonald. So Wilson wasn't weaponless...
She heard him thumping down the stairs a minute later. He stalked into the kitchen, still nude, jiggling, dripping wet. "What ya drinking?" he asked.
"Soda water," she said.
"Soda water my ass," he snarled. Then his eyes, which had been wandering, focused on the cold compress she held to her head. "What the fuck were you taking my scotch for?"
"Because we've got things to think about," she said. "We don't have time for you to get drunk. We have to figure out what to do with Kresge dead."
"I already got his job," he said, with unconcealed satisfaction.
"What?" She was astonished. Was he that drunk?
"O'Dell and Bone agreed I could have it," he said.
"You mean... you're the CEO?"
"Well... the board has to meet," he said, his voice slurring. "But I've already been dealing with the PR people, putting out press releases..."
She rolled her eyes. "You mean they let you fill in until the board meets."
"Well, I think that positions me..."
"Oh, for Christs sake, Wilson, grow up," she said. "And go put some pants on. You look like a pig."
"You shut the fuck..."
He came at her again and she pitched the vodka at his eyes. As he flinched, she turned and ran back into the living room, looked around, spotted a crystal paperweight on the piano, picked it up. Wilson had gotten the paperweight at a Senior Tour pro-am. When he came through the doorway after her, she lifted it and said, "You try to hit me again and I swear to God Ill brain you with this thing."
He stopped. He looked at her, and at the paperweight, then stepped closer; she backed up a step and said, "Wilson."
"All right," he said. "I don't want to fight. And we gotta talk."
He looked in the corner, at the liquor cabinet, started that way.
"You can't have any more..."
She started past him and he moved, quickly, grabbed her hand with the paperweight, bent it, and she screamed, "Don't. Wilson, don't."
"Drop it, drop it..." He was a grade school bully, twisting the arm of a little kid. She dropped the weight, and it hit the carpet with a thump.
"Gonna fuckin' hit me with my paperweight," he said, jerking her upright. "Gonna fuckin' hit me."
He slapped her again, hard, and she felt something break open inside her mouth. He slapped her again, and she twisted, screaming now. Slapped her a third time and she fell, and he let her go, and when she tried to crawl away, kicked her in the hip and she went down on her face.
"Bitch. Hit me with, hit me, fuckin' bitch..." He went to the liquor cabinet, opened it, found another bottle. She dragged herself under the Steinway, and he stopped as though he was going to go in after her, but he stumbled, bumped his head on the side of the piano, caught himself, said, "I'm the goddamned CEO," and headed back up the stairs to the tub, his fat butt bobbling behind him.
Audrey sat under the piano for a while, weeping by herself, and finally crawled out to a telephone, picked it up, and punched a speed-dialer.
"Hello?" Her sister, Helen, cheerful, inquiring.
"Helen? Could you come get me?"
Helen recognized the tone. "Oh, Jesus, what happened?"
"Wilson's drunk. He beat me up again. I think I better get out of the house."
"Oh, my God, Aud, I'll be right there... hang on, hang on..."
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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