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|The Prey Series|
Thursday night, pitch black, blowing snow. Heavy clouds, no moon behind them.
The Buick disappeared into the garage and the door started down. The big man, rolling down the highway in a battered Cherokee, killed his lights, pulled into the driveway, and took the shotgun off the car seat. The snow crunched underfoot as he stepped out; the snow was coming down in pellets, rather than flakes, and they stung as they slapped his warm face.
He loped up the driveway, fully exposed for a moment, and stopped just at the corner of the garage, in a shadow beneath the security light.
Jane Warr opened the side door and stepped through, her back turned to him as she pulled the door closed behind her.
He said, "Jane."
She jumped, her hand at her throat, choking down a scream as she pivoted, and shrank against the door. Taking in the muzzle of the shot gun, and the large man with the beard and the stocking cap, she screeched: "What? Who're you? Get away..." A jumble of panic words.
He stayed with her, tracking her with the shotgun, and he said, slowly, as if speaking to a child, "Jane, this is a shotgun. If you scream, I will blow your heart out."
She looked, and it was a shotgun all right, a twelve-gauge pump, and it was pointing at her heart. She made herself be still, thought of Deon in the house. If Deon looked out and saw them... Deon would take care of himself. "What do you want?"
They stood for two or three seconds, the snow pellets peppering the garage, the big man's beard going white with it. Then, "Joe's not here." A hint of assertion in her voice this didn't involve her, this shotgun.
"Bullshit," the big man said. He twitched the muzzle to the left, toward the house. "We're going inside to talk to him, and he's gonna pay me some money. I don't want to hurt you or anybody else, but I'm gonna talk to Joe. If I have to hurt the whole bunch of you, I will."
He sounded familiar, she thought. Maybe one of the guys from Missouri, from Kansas City? "Are you one of the Kansas City people? Because we're not..."
"Shut up," the big man said. "Get your ass up the steps and into the house. Keep your mouth shut."
She did what he told her. This was not the first time she'd been present when an unfriendly man flashed a gun not even the second or third time but she was worried. On the other hand, he said he was looking for Joe. When he found out Joe wasn't here, he'd go. Maybe.
"Joe's not here," she said, as she went up the steps.
"Quiet!" The man's voice dropped. "One thing I learned down in Kansas City I'll share this with you is that when trouble starts, you pull the trigger. Don't figure anything out, just pull the trigger. If Joe or Deon try anything on me, you can kiss your butt good-bye."
"All right," she said. Her voice had dropped with his. Now she was on the stranger's side. She'd be okay, she told herself, as long as Deon didn't do anything. But there was something too weird about this guy. I'll share this with you? she'd never heard a serious asshole say anything like that.
They went up the stairs onto a back porch, then through the porch into a mudroom, then through another door into the kitchen. None of the doors was locked. Broderick was a small town, and it doesn't take long to pick up small-town habits. As they clunked into the kitchen, which smelled like microwave popcorn and week-old carrot peels, Deon Cash called from the living room, "Hey," and they heard his feet hit the floor. A second later he stepped into the kitchen, scowling about something, a thin, five-foot-ten-inch black man in an Indian-print fleece pullover and jeans, with a can of Budweiser in one hand.
He saw Warr, the big man behind her, and then, an instant later, registered the shotgun. By that time, the big man had shifted the barrel of the shotgun and it was pointing at Cash's head. "Don't even think about moving."
"Easy," Cash said. He put the can of Budweiser on a kitchen counter, freeing his hands.
Cash looked puzzled for a second, then said, "Joe ain't here."
"Call him," the big man said. He'd thought about this, about all the calling.
Cash shrugged. "HEY JOE," he shouted.
Nothing. After a long moment, the man with the shotgun said, "Goddamnit, where is he?"
"He went away last month. He ain't been back. We don't know where he is," Warr said. "Told you he wasn't here."
"Go stand next to Deon." Warr stepped over next to Cash, and the big man dipped his left hand into his parka pocket and pulled out a clump of chain. Handcuffs. He tossed them on the floor and looked at Warr. "Put them on Deon. Deon, turn around."
"It's up to you," the big man said. "I don't want to hurt you two, but I will. We're gonna wait for him if it takes all night."
"He ain't here," Warr said in exasperation. "He ain't coming back."
"Cuffs," the big man said. "I know what it sounds like when cuffs lock up."
"C'mon." The shotgun moved to Cash's head, and Warr bent over and picked up one set of cuffs and the big man said, "Turn around so I can see it," and Warr clicked the cuffs in place, pinning Cash's hands behind him.
The big man dipped his hand into his pocket again and came up with a roll of strapping tape. "Tape his feet together."
"Man, you startin' to piss me off," Cash said. Even with his hands cuffed, he managed to look stupidly fierce.
"Better'n being dead. Sit down and stick your feet out so she can tape you up."
Still grumbling, Cash sat down and Warr crouched beside him and said, "I'm pretty scared," and Cash said, "We gonna be all right. The masked man can go look at Joe's stuff, see he ain't here."
The big man made her take eight tight winds of tape around Cash's ankles. Then he ordered Warr to take off her parka and cuff her own hands. She got one cuff, but fumbled with the other, and the man with the shotgun told her to turn and back toward him, and when she did, clicked the second cuff in place. He then ordered both of them to lie on their stomachs, and with the shotgun pointed at them, he checked Cash's cuffs and then Warr's, just to make sure. When he was satisfied, he pulled on a pair of cotton gloves, knelt beside Warr, and taped her ankles, then moved over to Cash and put the rest of the roll of tape around his.
When he was done, Cash said, "So go look. Joe ain't here."
"I believe you," the big man said, standing up. They looked so helpless that he almost backed out. He steadied himself. "I know where Joe is."
After a moment's silence, Cash asked, "Where is he?"
"In a hole in the ground, a couple miles south of Terrebonne. Don't think I could find it myself, anymore," the big man said. "I just asked you about him so you'd think that..." He shrugged. "That you had a chance."
Another moment's silence, and then Warr said, "Aw, God, Deon. Listen to his voice."
Cash put the pieces together, then said, loud, croaking, but not yet screaming, "We didn't do nothin', man. We didn't do nothin'."
"I know what you did," the big man said.
"Don't hurt us," Warr said. She flopped against the vinyl, tried to get over on her back. "Please don't hurt us. I'll tell the cops whatever you want."
"We get a trial," Cash said. He twisted around, the better to see the man's face, and to test the tape on his legs. "We innocent until we proved guilty."
"Innocent." The big man spat it out.
"We didn't do nothin'," Cash screamed at him.
"I know what you did." The crust on his wounds had broken, and the big man began kicking Cash in the back, in the kidneys, in the butt and the back of his head, and Cash rolled around the narrow kitchen floor trying to escape, screaming, the big man wailing like a man dying of a knife wound, like a man watching the blood running out of his neck, and he kicked and booted Cash in the back, and when Cash flopped over, in the face; Cash's nose broke with the sound of a saltine cracker being stepped on and he sputtered blood out over the floor. Across the kitchen, Warr struggled against the tape and the handcuffs and half-rolled under the kitchen table and got tangled up in the chairs, and their wooden legs clunked and pounded and clattered on the floor as she tried to inchworm through them, Cash screaming all the while, sputtering blood.
Cash finally stopped rolling, exhausted, blood pouring out of his nose, smearing in arcs across the vinyl floor. The big man backed away from him, wiped his mouth on his sleeve, then took a utility knife out of his pocket and stalked across the room to Warr, grabbed the tape around her ankles, and pulled her out from under the table. Warr cried, "Jesus, don't cut me!"
He didn't. He began slicing though her clothing, pulling it away in rags. She began to cry as he cut the clothing away. The big man closed his mind to it, finished, leaving her nude on the floor, except for the rags under the tape on her ankles, and began cutting the clothing off" Cash.
"What're you doing, man? What're you doing?" Cash began flopping again, rolling. Finally, frustrated with Cash's struggles, the big man backed away and again kicked him in the face. Cash moaned, and the big man rolled him onto his stomach and knelt between his shoulder blades and patiently sliced at Cash's shirt and jeans until he was as naked as Warr.
"What're you doing?" Warr asked. Now there was a note of curiosity in her voice, showing through the fear.
"Fuckin' kill ya," Cash groaned, still bubbling blood from his broken nose. "Fuckin' cut ya fuckin' head off..."
The big man ignored him. He closed the knife, caught Cash by the ankles, and dragged him toward the door. Cash, nearly exhausted from flopping on the floor, began flopping again, but it did no good. He was dragged flopping through the mudroom, leaving a trail of blood, onto the porch, and then down the steps to the lawn, his head banging on the steps as they went down. "Mother, mother," Cash said. "God... mother."
There wasn't much snow on the ground hadn't been much snow all winter but Cash's head cut a groove in the inch or so that there was, spotted with more blood. When they got to the Jeep, the big man popped open the back, lifted Cash by the neck and hips, and threw him inside.
Back in the house, he picked up Warr and carried her out to the truck like a sack of flour and tossed her on top of Cash and slammed the lid.
Before leaving, he carefully scanned the house for anything that he might have touched that would carry a fingerprint. Finding nothing, he picked up the shotgun and went back outside.
"Where're we going?" Warr shouted at him. "I'm freezing."
The big man paid no attention. A quarter-mile north of town, he began looking for the West Ditch Road, a dirt track that led off to the east. He almost missed it in the snow, stopped, backed up on the dark roadway, and turned down the track. He passed an old farmhouse that he'd thought abandoned, but now, as he went by, he saw a single light glowing in a first-floor window, but no other sign of life. Too late to change plans now, he thought; besides, with this night...
The wind had picked up, ripping the snow off the ground. He'd be far enough from the farmhouse that he couldn't be seen. He kept moving, the light in the farmhouse window fading away behind him. In the dark, in the snow, there were no distinctive landmarks at all.
He concentrated on the track and the odometer. Four-tenths of a mile after he turned off Highway 36, he slowed, looking out the left-side window. At first, he saw nothing but snow. After a hundred feet or so, the tree loomed, and he pulled over, then carefully backed, pulled forward, and backed again until he was parked across the road.
"What?" Cash groaned, from the back. "What?"
The big man went around to the back of the truck, opened it, grabbed the thick wad of tape around Cash's legs, and pulled him off the truck as if he were unloading lumber. Cash's shoulders hit the frozen earth with a meaty impact. The big man got him by the tape and dragged him past the first tree into what had been, from the car, in the dark, an invisible grove of trees.
One of the trees, a pin oak, loomed at the very edge of the illumination thrown by the car's headlights. Ropes were slung over a heavy branch fifteen feet above the ground. The big man, staggering under Cash's weight, dropped him by one of the ropes, then went back for Warr. When he got her to the hanging tree, struggling and kicking against him, he dropped her beside Cash.
"Can't do this, man," Cash screamed. "This is murder." The storm around them quieted for a moment, but the snow pellets still whipped through the trees, stinging like so many BBs.
"Please help me," Warr called to Cash. "Please, please..."
"Murder?" The big man shouted back at Cash, raising his voice above the wind. He broke away from them, toward a tree branch that was sticking up out of the snow, ripped it off the frozen ground and staggered back to Cash. "Murder?" He began beating Cash with the long stick, ripping strips of skin off Cash's back and legs, as the black man thrashed on the ground, gophering through the snow, trying to get away. "Murder, you fuckin' animal, murder..."
He stopped after a while, too tired to continue, threw the stick back into the trees. "Murder," he said to Cash. "I'll show you murder."
The big man led one of the ropes over to Cash, tied a single loop around his neck, tight, with strong knots. He did the same with the second rope, around Warr's neck. She was now shivering violently in the cold.
When he was done, the big man stood back, looked at the two of them, said, "God damn your immortal souls," and began hauling on the rope tied to Cash. Cash stopped screaming as the rope bit into his neck. He was heavy, "and the big man had to struggle against his weight, and against the raw friction of the rope over the tree limb. Finally, unable to get him in the air, the big man lifted him and pulled the rope at the same time, and Cash's feet cleared the ground by a meager six inches. He didn't struggle. He simply hung. The big man tied the lower end of the rope around the tree trunk, and tested it for weight. It held.
Warr pleaded, but the big man couldn't hear her later couldn't remember anything she said, except that there were a lot of whispered Pleases. Didn't do her any good. Didn't do her any good when she fought him, either, though it might have given her a brief thirty seconds of satisfaction.
He couldn't get her high enough to get her feet off the ground, and as he struggled to do it, a space opened between the bottom of his coat sleeve and the glove on his right hand. The space, the warm flesh, bumped against her face, and quick as a cat, she sank her teeth into his arm, biting ferociously, twisting her head against his arm. He let go of the rope and she fell, holding on with her teeth, pulling him down, and he hammered at the side of her head until she let go.
She was groaning when he boosted her back up, and she ground out, "We're not the only ones."
That stopped him for a moment: "What?"
"They'll be coming for you, you cocksucker." She spat at him, from three inches away, and hit him in the face. He flinched, grabbed her around the waist and boosted her higher, his gloves slippery with blood, and then he had her high enough and he stepped away, holding tight to the rope, and she swung free and her groaning stopped. He managed to pull her up another four inches, then tied the rope off on the trunk.
He watched them for a few minutes, swinging in the snow, in the dim light, their heads bent, their bodies violently elongated like martyrs in an El Greco painting...
Then he turned and left them.
They may have been dead then, or it might have taken a few minutes. He didn't care, and it didn't matter. He rolled slowly, carefully, out of the side road, down through Broderick and on south. He was miles away before he became aware of the pain in his wrist, and the blood flowing down his sleeve toward his elbow. When he turned his arm over in the dim light of the car, he found that she'd bitten a chunk of flesh out of his wrist, a lemon-wedge that was still bleeding profusely.
If a cop stopped him and saw it...
He pulled over in the dark, wrapped his wrist with a pad of paper towels and a length of duct tape, stepped out of the truck, washed his hand and arm in snow, tossed the bloody jacket in the back of the truck and dug out a lighter coat from the bag in back.
Get home, he thought. Burn the coat, dump the truck.
Weather Davenport crawled sleepily out of bed. The kid was squalling, hungry in his bedroom down the hall, and she started that. Lucas woke up as the housekeeper called, "I got him, Weather. I'm up."
"Ah, great," Weather said. She came back to the bed, sat down, looked at the clock.
"Getting up?" Lucas asked.
"Alarm's going off in fifteen minutes anyway," she said. She yawned, inhaled, exhaled, pushed herself off the bed and headed for the bathroom, pulling off her cotton nightgown as she went. Lucas, lying half awake under the crazy quilt, could see nothing but darkness on the other side of the wood slats that covered the window. January in Minnesota: the sun came up at 11:45 and went down at noon, he thought.
He shifted his head around on the pillow, tried to get comfortable, tried to get back to sleep. Sleep was unlikely: He'd been feeling down for a month or more, and depression was the enemy of decent sleep. i i The marriage was fine, the new kid was great. Nothing to do with that his sense of the blue was a chemical thing, but the chemicals made sleep impossible. If he went down further, he'd check with the doc. On the other hand, it might just be the winter, which this year had started in October.
He heard the shower start, and then Ellen, the housekeeper, banging down the stairs with the kid. The kid was named Samuel Kalle Davenport, the "Kalle" a Finnish name, for Weather's late father. The housekeeper was a fifty-five-year-old ex-nurse who loved kids. The four of them together had a deal they all liked.
After a few minutes, the shower stopped and Lucas sat up. He was awake now, no point in struggling against it. He climbed out of bed, remembered the clock, picked it up and turned off the alarm. As he did, Weather came out of the bathroom, rubbing her hair with a towel.
"You getting up?" she asked cheerfully. She was a small woman, and an early bird. She liked nothing better than getting up before the sun, to begin the hunt for worms.
"Uh," Lucas said. He started for the bathroom, but she smelled so warm and good as he passed her that he slipped an arm around her waist and picked her up and gave her a warm sucking kiss on the tummy below her navel.
She squirmed around, laughed once, and then said, severely, "Put me down, you oaf."
"Mad rapist attacks naked housewife in bedroom." Lucas carried her back to the bed and threw her on it and landed on the bed next to her, hands running around where they shouldn't be.
"Get away from me," she said, rolling away. "Come on, Lucas, god-damnit." She whacked him on the ear, and it hurt, and he collapsed on the bed. She got out and started scrubbing at her hair again and said, "You men get hard-ons in the morning and you're so proud of them, just swishing around in the air. You can't help showing off."
"Try not to use the word swish," Lucas said.
"Sex in the morning is for teenagers, and we aren't," she said.
Lucas rolled over on his stomach. "Now you've offended me."
"Offend this," she said. She'd spun her towel into a whip, and snapped him on the ass with it. That hurt, too, more than the whack on the ear, and he rolled off the bed and said, "Arrgh, naked housewife attacks sleeping man."
Weather, laughing, backed away from him, rewinding the towel, said, "Sleeping man snapped in the balls with wet towel."
Then Ellen, the housekeeper, called from the stairs, "You guys up?"
They both stopped in their tracks, and Weather whispered, "Well, you are. What do you want me to tell her?"
Weather was a surgeon, and she was cutting on somebody almost every morning. This morning, she had three separate jobs, all at Regions, all involving burns two separate skin grafts, and a scalp expansion on the head of a former electric lineman, trying to stretch what hair he had left over the burn scars he'd taken from a hot line.
She was bustling around the kitchen, in full imperial surgeon mode, when Lucas finally made it down the stairs. Ellen had the kid in a high chair, and was pushing orange vegetable mush into his face.
"I'll be home by three o'clock, Ellen, but I'll be out of touch from seven-thirty to at least ten," Weather was saying. "If there's a problem, you know what to do. The man from Harper's is coming over this morning to look at the front steps..."
The phone rang, and they all looked at it. Maybe a canceled operation?
Lucas picked it up: "Hello?"
"Lucas? Rose Marie." The new head of the state's Department of Public Safety.
"You got that right. How soon can you get in?"
"Fifteen minutes," Lucas said. "What's up?"
"Tell you when you get here. Hurry. Oh is Weather Still there?"
"Just getting ready to leave."
"Let me talk to her."
Lucas handed the phone to Weather and at the same time said, "Rose Marie. Something happened, I gotta run."
Weather took the phone, said, "Hello," listened for a moment, and then said, "Yes, Lucas gave it to me. I think we'll start tonight. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. I don't think we'll skip any of it, I was listening to the Japanese flute last night..."
While they were talking, Lucas went to the front closet and got his overcoat and briefcase. He took his.45 out of the briefcase and clipped it on his belt, and pulled the coat on, listening to Weather talk to his boss. Rose Marie subscribed to a theory that children became smarter if they were exposed to classical music as fetuses, continuing until they were, say, forty-five. She'd found a set of records made specifically for infants. Weather had swallowed the whole thing, and was about to start the program.
"I'm going," Lucas called to her, when he had his coat on.
Weather said, "Wait, wait..." and then, to the phone, "I've got to say good-bye to Lucas. Talk to you tonight." She hung up and came over to Lucas and stood on tiptoe to kiss him on the lips. "She said you'd be going out of town. So..."
"Oh, boy," Lucas said. He kissed her again, and then went over and kissed Sam on the top of his head. "See you all."
Running a few minutes later than the fifteen he'd promised, Lucas Davenport walked a long block down St. Paul's Wabasha Street, toward the former store that housed the state Department of Public Safety. Lucas's own office was a mile or so away, at the main Bureau of Criminal Apprehension office on University Avenue, so he'd had to find a space in one of the commercial parking garages. Around him, feather-like flakes of snow settled on the sidewalks, on the shoulders of passers-by, and drifted into the traffic, slowing and softening the usual hustle of the morning rush.
Lucas was a tall, athletic man, hatless, in a blue suit and gray cashmere overcoat, swinging a black Coach briefcase with no thought of the North, of dead people hanging in a frozen stand of oaks. Both coat and case were Christmas gifts from Weather, and though he'd taken some grief about them they were a little too fey for a cop, he'd been told he liked them. The coat was soft and warm and dramatic, and the briefcase had that aristocratic thump that impressed people who were impressed by aristocratic thumps. That included almost all bureaucrats.
He was surrounded by bureaucrats, as the result of a political cluster-fuck that had stretched across three or four different sets of politicians. When the dust had settled, the former Minneapolis chief of police was the Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner, and Lucas had a new job fixing crime for the governor.
Lucas's job was officially designated "Director, Office of Regional Studies." The ORS had been planted within the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and drew its budget and support from the BCA but Lucas reported directly to Rose Marie Roux and through her to the governor. The governor had already been burned by a couple of out state murder cases that had gone unsolved, and he'd had enough of that.
In both cases, the local sheriff's departments had investigated the murders, before calling in the BCA. When the cases proved too complicated or politically touchy, they started screaming for help and blamed the BCA, and the state, when the cases went unsolved.
That the cases had been mucked up by the locals hadn't cut any ice with the hometown newspapers. Where was all the scientific investigation stuff they kept seeing on the Discovery Channel? Why were they sending all that taxpayer money to St. Paul? What was the governor doing, sitting on his ass?
Questions that a 44 percent governor didn't appreciate.
So the governor created the Office of Regional Studies in consultation with Roux. The office was intended, as the insiders all knew, to "fix shit." The BCA director, John McCord, hated the idea. Nobody above him really cared. They just wanted shit fixed. Lucas smiled at the thought. He hadn't fixed anything big yet, but this call sounded like others he'd gotten from Roux over the years.
Lucas smiled often enough he liked his job and his life but the years had given him a hard face and French-Canadian genes had left him with crystal-blue eyes. His hair was dark, with flecks of gray and a white scar ran across his forehead and one eyebrow onto the cheek below. Another scar dimpled his throat, a nasty round white spot with a slashing tail. He'd been shot by a little girl and had been choking on his tongue and on the blood from the wound, passing out, and a surgeon the same one he'd later married had opened his throat and airway with a jackknife.
That had all been years ago.
Now, he thought, he spent too much time in a chair. In an effort to fight what he saw as sloth, he'd been playing winter basketball with a group of aging jocks from Minneapolis. He was broad-shouldered, quick-moving, and not quite gaunt.
He brushed by a redheaded woman who was leading a muffin-sized red dog in a muffin-sized red Christmas sweater down the sidewalk. The woman smiled and said, "Hi, Lucas," as they passed. He half-turned and blurted, "Hey. How ya doin'?" and smiled and kept going. Where'd he know her from? Somewhere. He was up the steps, inside the shopping mall that led to the DPS, in an elevator: A bartender, he thought. She used to be a bartender. Where? O'Brien's? Maybe...
Rose Marie Roux's office was a twenty-foot square that she'd furnished with her own money: a good cherrywood desk, two comfortable visitors' chairs in green leather, a couch, a few prints and photographs of politicians, a bookcase full of reference books and state procedure manuals.
Rose Marie was sprawled in a chair behind her desk, an overweight woman with improbably blond-tinted fly-away hair, wearing a rumpled blue dress, with an unlit cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth.
Word around town was that when she took the job, she'd moved the commissioner's office across the building so she could get a window that opened. At any time of day, you were likely to see her head sticking out the window, it was said, with a plume of smoke hanging over it.
"What?" Lucas asked.
"Sit down," she said. She pointed at a green leather chair. "The governor's a couple of minutes out, but I can give you an outline." She took a breath. "Well..."
"We've had a lynching." The statement hung in the air like an oral Goodyear blimp.
"Tell me," Lucas said after a moment.
"Up north, a few miles outside of Armstrong. You know where that is?"
"By Thief River, somewhere."
"Very good. A black man and a white woman were found hanging from a tree out in the countryside. They were naked. Handcuffed, legs taped with strapping tape. They'd been living together in some flyspeck town north of Armstrong."
"Lynched," Lucas said. He thought about it for a few seconds, then said slowly, "Lynched means that somebody is suspected of a crime. The townspeople take justice into their own hands and the law doesn't do anything about it. Is that?"
"No. What actually happened is that they were murdered," Rose Marie said, twisting in her chair. "Sometime last night. But it's a black man and a blond woman and they're hanging from trees, naked. When the word gets out, the shit's gonna hit the fan, and we can say murder all we want, and the movie people are going to be screaming lynching. We need to get some shit up there."
"Does Bemidji know?" Lucas asked. The BCA's Bemidji office handled investigations in the northern part of the state.
"I don't know they don't know from me. What we've got is an informal contact with Ray Zahn, the state patrolman out of Armstrong," Rose Marie said. "He called in about forty-five minutes ago, and had the call switched to me, at home. He seems to be a smart guy. He was first on the scene, a couple of minutes ahead of the first sheriff's deputies."
"Maybe the sheriff'll handle it," Lucas suggested.
"Zahn says no. He says the sheriff is a new guy who's scared of his own shadow. Zahn says the sheriff'll call us as soon as he looks at the scene."
"And I'm going."
"Absolutely. That's the first thing the governor said when I called him. We've got a National Guard chopper getting ready. You can fly right into the scene."
"That's all we know?" Lucas asked.
"That's everything," Roux said.
"Then I'll get going," Lucas said, pushing up from the green chair. He felt a hum, a little spear of pleasure breaking through the blue. An evil bastard to hunt: nothing like it to cheer a guy up. "You can call me in the air if anything changes."
"Wait-for the governor. He's only a minute or two away."
While they waited, Lucas got on his cell phone and called Del: "Where are you?"
"In bed." Del Capslock had come over from Minneapolis with Lucas.
"Get up. I'll pick you up in fifteen or twenty minutes. Bring some clothes for a couple of days. Bring some boots, too. We're going up north. We're gonna be outside."
"Yeah. Exactly right. I'll tell you when I see you."
Rose Marie's telephone rang, and she picked it up, listened for one second, then dropped it back on the hook. "Governor just came through the front door."
Governor Elmer Henderson was six feet tall and willowy, with lightly gelled blond hair fading to gray, long expressive hands, and watery blue eyes. He wore narrow, gold-rimmed glasses that gave him a scholarly look, and conservative gray, blue, or black suits handmade in London, over handmade English shoes.
Henderson's clan had money and a history in Minnesota politics, but Elmer hadn't been expected to carry the family banner. He had, in fact, always been the family weenie, with a whiff of sexual difference hanging around him from his college and law-school days.
He'd been expected to spend his life as a second-stringer in the boardrooms of large Minnesota corporations, while his two brothers grew up to be governors and senators and maybe presidents. But one of the brothers turned to cocaine and multiple divorce, and the other got drunk and powered his antique wooden Chris Craft under a dock and made a quadriplegic of himself. Elmer, by default, was chosen to soldier on.
As it happened, he'd found in his soul a taste for power and a talent for intrigue. He'd created a cabal of conservative Democratic state legislators that had decapitated the Democratic Party machine, and then had taken it over. He'd maneuvered that victory into a nomination for governor. A little more than a year into his first term, he looked good for a second.
Henderson was also a northern Catholic conservative Democrat, in his mid-forties, nice-looking, with an attractive wife and two handsome if slightly robotic children, one of each gender, who never smoked dope or rode skateboards or got tattooed or visibly pierced although a local talk show host had publicly alleged that Henderson's eighteen-year-old daughter had two clitorises. That, even if true, could hardly be held against Henderson. If the party should choose a southern Protestant liberal for president, and needed some balance on the ticket... well, who knew what might happen?
Henderson came in a rush, banging into Roux's office without knocking, trailed by the odor of Bay Rum and his executive assistant, who smelled like badly metabolized garlic. They were an odd couple, almost always together, the slender aristocrat and his Igor, Neil Mitford. Mitford was short, burly, dark-haired, badly dressed, and constantly worried. He looked like a bartender and, in his college days, had been a good one he had a near-photographic memory for faces and names.
"Has Custer County called yet?" Henderson asked Roux, without preamble.
"Not yet. We're not officially in it," Roux said.
The governor turned to Lucas: "This is what you were hired for. Fix this. Get up there, let the regular BCA guys do their thing, let the sheriff do his thing, but I'm going to lean on you. All right?"
Lucas nodded. "Yes."
"Just so that everybody is on the same page," Mitford said. He'd picked up a crystal paperweight from one of Rose Marie's trophy shelves, and was tossing it in the air like a baseball. "This is a murder, not a lynching. We'll challenge the word lynching as soon as anybody says it."
"They're going to say it," Roux said from behind her desk.
"We know that," Henderson said. "But we need to kill it, the use of the word."
"Not a lynching," Mitford repeated. To Lucas: "The sooner we can find anything that supports that view, the better off we'll be. Any little shred. Get it through to me, and I'll spin it out to the TV folks."
"Gotta knock it down quick," Henderson said. "Can't let it grow."
Lucas nodded again. "I better take off," he said. "The quicker we get up there"
"Go," said Henderson. "Knock it down, the word, then the crime."
Roux added, "I'll call you in the air, as soon as Custer County calls in. I'll get the BCA down here to coordinate you with the guys out of Bemidji."
"All right," Lucas said. "See ya."
And as Lucas was going out the door, Henderson called after him, "Great briefcase."
On his way to Del's house, Lucas called Weather at the hospital, was told that she'd just gone down to the locker room. He left a message with her secretary: he'd call with a motel number when he was on the ground.
Del lived a mile east and north of Lucas, in a neighborhood of postwar ramblers and cottages, all modified and remodified so many times that the area had taken on some of the charm of an English village. Del was waiting under the eaves of his garage, wearing a parka and blue corduroy pants pulled down over nylon-and-plastic running shoes. He had a duffel bag slung over his shoulder.
"Running shoes?" Lucas asked, as Del climbed into the car.
"Got boots in the bag," Del grunted. He hadn't bothered to shave, but his breath was minty-fresh. He was nut-tough, smaller than Lucas, street-weathered, shifty, a guy who could pass as a junkie or as homeless or almost anything else that didn't involve a white collar.
"Does Weather know about this?"
"Left a message. How about Cheryl?" Lucas asked. Del's wife was a nurse.
"Yeah, called her. She's working the first shift I told her probably two or three days. What happened?"
"Interesting problem," Lucas said. He outlined what he knew about the hangings as they headed to Lucas's house to pack.
"A fuckin' lynching, and we gotta fix it. For our own sakes, along with everything else," Del said, when Lucas had finished.
"Not a lynching."
"Walks likes a lynching, quacks like a lynching..." They sat silently for a moment, watching the snow come down around a red light. Then, "Could be a good time, you know?"
Lucas changed clothes and packed in ten minutes, stuffing underwear, jeans, a laptop, and a cell-phone charger into a black nylon bag. He said good-bye to the housekeeper; kissed the kid, who was taking a nap and who, with a beige blanket folded around him, looked a little like a submarine sandwich; and collected Del, who'd called a cab.
The cab driver got lost for a while, trying to find the entrance to the National Guard site at Minneapolis-St. Paul International. When they finally arrived, the pilot and copilot, who had become impatient, briskly packed-them into the back of the chopper.
The flight was uncomfortable: the old military chopper had been built for utility rather than comfort. Conversation was difficult, so they gave it up. Even thinking was hard, and eventually they huddled, nylon-and-fleece-clad lumps, on the bad canvas seats, closed up in the stink of hot oil and military creosote, heads down, fighting off incipient nausea.
After an eternity, the chopper beat got deeper and they felt the beginning of a turn. Del unbuckled, half-stood, looked forward and then patted Lucas on the shoulder and shouted, "There it is."
Lucas pressed his forehead to the icy plastic window of the National Guard helicopter and tried to look forward.
A thousand feet below, the Red River plains of northern Minnesota stretched north and west, toward Canada and the Dakotas Though it was January, and the temperature outside the chopper registered at six degrees below zero, the ground below them was only dappled with snow.
The few roads resembled lines on a drafting pad, dead straight across the paper-flat farm scape To the southeast, along the route they'd just flown, the country had been rougher and the snow deeper. Dozens of frozen-over lakes and ponds had been strung like rosary beads on the snowmobile trails; jigsaw-puzzle farm fields, red barns, and vertical streams of chimney smoke had given the land a homier personality.
Straight east, out of the helicopter's right window, was a wilderness of peat bog punctuated by the hairy texture of trash willow. To the west, they could just see a shadowy hint of the line of the Red River, rolling north toward Winnipeg.
They'd overflown the hamlet of Broderick, in Custer County, and were now closing on a line of cop cars parked on what Lucas had been told was West Ditch Road. The roof racks were flashing on two of the cars. To the north of them, in one of the bigger patches of enow, they could see a stand of leafless trees.
The copilot leaned into the passenger compartment and shouted over the beat of the blades, "We're gonna put you down on the highway they don't want the rotor blast blowing dirt over the crime scene. A state patrol car will come out to get you."
Lucas gave him a thumbs-up and the copilot pulled his head back into the cockpit. Del pulled off the Nikes, stuffed them in his duffel bag, and began lacing up high-topped hiking boots. Lucas looked at his watch: 11:15. The flight to Broderick had taken better than two hours. Minnesota was a tall state, and Custer County was about as far from St. Paul as it was possible to get, without crossing into North Dakota or Canada.
Now the pilot dropped the chopper in a circle, to look at the highway where they'd land. At the same time, a state patrol car, followed by a sheriff's car, rolled down the side road and, at the intersection, blocked the main highway north and south.
"Better button up tight," the copilot called back to them. "It's gonna be chilly."
The chopper put down on the tarmac between the two cop cars, and the copilot came back to slide the door. Lucas and Del climbed out into the downdraft of the rotors.
The air was bitterly cold. Dirt and ice crystals scoured them like a sandblaster, and, unconsciously ducking away from the rotors, they ran with their bags back to the state patrol car, their pants plastered to their legs, the icy air lashing their exposed skin. The patrolman popped the back and passenger doors, and as they climbed in, the chopper took off in another cloud of ice crystals.
"That really sucked," the patrolman said as they settled in. He was in his late forties, with white eyebrows and graying hair, his face as weathered as a barn board. "Didn't even think about the goddamned prop wash, or whatever it is."
He buckled up and looked back at Del, nodded, then held out a hand to Lucas and said, "Ray Zahn. Sorry to get you up so early."
"Lucas Davenport, that's Del Capslock in the back," Lucas said, as they shook hands. "They haven't taken the bodies out yet?"
"No. They've been waiting for the ME. Couldn't find him for a while, but he's on his way now." Zahn did a U-turn and they bumped off the highway onto the gravel road, and the sheriff's car fell in behind them.
"You know the people? The ones that got hanged?" Del asked.
Zahn got the car straight and caught up with Lucas's question. "Yeah. It's a couple from down in Broderick. We've IDed them as a Jane Warr and a Deon Cash. They were living in an old farmhouse down there."
"Cash is black?"
"Yup." Zahn grinned. "Only black dude in the entire county and somebody went and hung him."
"That could piss you off," Del ventured.
"Got that straight," Zahn said with a straight face. "Our cultural diversity just went back to zero."
West Ditch Road was frozen solid, but sometime during the winter there'd been a thaw, and a tractor had cut ruts in the thinly graveled surface. As they bumped through the ruts, now frozen as hard as basalt, Zahn pointed to a house across the ditch and said, "That's where the girl's from."
"What girl?" Lucas asked. He and Del looked out the windows. A thirty-foot-wide drainage ditch ran parallel to the road and showed a steely streak of ice at the bottom. A narrow, two-story farmhouse, its white paint gone gray and peeling, sat on the other side of the ditch. The house faced the highway, but was a hundred feet back from it. A rusting Jeep Cherokee squatted in the yard in front of the sagging porch.
Zahn glanced over at him. "How much you know about this? Anything?"
"Nothing," Lucas said. "They threw us on the chopper and that's about it."
"Okay," Zahn said. "To give it to you quick, a girl named Letty West lives in that house with her mother. She's this little twerp." He thought that over for a second, then rubbed an eyebrow with the back of his left hand. "Naw, that's not right. She's like a little Annie Oakley. She wanders around with an old.22 and a machete and a bunch of traps. Caught her driving her mother's Jeep a couple of times. Got a mouth on her. Anyway, last night she looked at her clock when she woke up, and she says it was right after midnight she saw some car lights down the road here, and wondered what was going on. There's nothing down here, and it was blowin' like hell. This morning, about dawn, she was walking her trap line along the ditch, and went up on top to look at that grove of trees. That's how she found them. If she hadn't, they might Ve hung there until spring."
They were all looking out the windows at the girl's house. The place might have been abandoned, but for a light glowing from a window at the front door, and foot tracks that led on and off the porch to the Jeep. The yard hadn't been cut in recent years and clumps of dead yellow prairie grass stuck up through the thin snow. A rusting swing-set sat at the side of the house, not square to anything, as though it'd been dumped there. A single swing hung from the left side of the two-swing bar. On the far back end of the property, a forties-era outhouse crumbled into the dirt.
Lucas noticed a line of green-paper Christmas trees taped in an upstairs window.
"How old's the girl?" Del asked.
"Eleven or twelve, I guess."
"What's the machete for?" Lucas asked.
"Something to do with the trapping," Zahn said.
"She down at the scene, or...?"
"They took her into town with her mother, to make a statement."
Lucas asked, "Who'd know about this road? Have to be local, you think?"
Zahn shrugged: "Maybe, but I think it's probably the first road the killer came to that led off the highway, outside of Broderick. First place he could do his business with a little peace and quiet."
"Must have scouted it, though," Lucas said. The road was only slightly wider than the patrol car, with no shoulder on the left, and on the right, six feet of frozen dirt and then an abrupt slope into the ditch.
"That ditch would be dangerous as hell. How'd he turn around?"
"There are some tracks, you'll see them up ahead. What's left of them, anyway. He just jockeyed her around, and got straight. But you're right; he must've scouted it."
"If this kid could see him, why'd he think he was out of sight?" Del asked.
"We had a good wind through here last night, a nice little ground blizzard," Zahn said. "From the grove of trees, on the ground, he might not be able to see the farmhouse, but from up on the second floor of the farmhouse, you could see his lights down in the grove. Anyway, Letty said she could, and there's no reason to think she was lying. She never turned her room light on."
"Mmm." Lucas nodded. He'd once been in a ground blizzard where he couldn't see more than three feet in any direction, but if he looked straight up, he could see a fine blue sky with puffy, white fair-weather clouds. "So the victims lived back in Broderick?"
"Yeah, down there in another old farmhouse. That's how we identified them so quick. Took one look and knew who the guy was. Him being black."
"How long did he live here?"
"Year and a half. He was in jail down in Kansas City, showed up here in July a year ago, and moved in with Warr. Warr was working at the casino in Armstrong, dealing blackjack. We just found out about the jail thing this morning."
"The Warr woman she was from here?" Del asked.
"Nope. She was from Kansas City, herself," Zahn said. "Got into Broderick about a month before Cash, so we think she must've been his girlfriend, and came up here when he was about to get out of jail, to nail down the job. But to tell you the truth, we don't really know the details yet."
"What about Broderick?" Del asked. "Anything there? What do they do? Farmers?"
"Well, it was mostly a ghost town until Gene Calb got his truck rehab business going. There was always a gas station and a store, and a bar off and on, servicing the local farm folks. Just a crossroads. Then some people moved up here, to be close to work at Calb's houses are really cheap and now, there must be twenty or thirty people around the place."
"So what the hell was an interracial couple from Kansas City doing there?" Lucas asked.
"That seems to be a question," Zahn agreed. They'd come up on the line of cop cars, which were parked on both sides of the narrow lane. A half-dozen cops were standing around, backs to the wind, ducking their heads briefly to see who Zahn was bringing in. Zahn threaded between them, slowed, pointed to a tall white-haired man in sunglasses, a camo hunting jacket, and nylon wind pants, who stood with his hands in his pockets talking to two other men. Zahn said, "That's the sheriff, Dick Anderson. I'll let you out here. I'm gonna find someplace to get turned around. I get claustrophobic when I'm pointed the wrong way."
Lucas and Del climbed out, and the sheriff and the two men he was talking to looked down at them, and the sheriff said something to the other two and they both smiled. Del, who was coming up behind Lucas, muttered, "We're city slickers."
"For a while, anyway," Lucas agreed. He smiled as he came up to the sheriff. Lucas's blue eyes were happy enough, but his smile sometimes made people nervous. "Sheriff Anderson? Lucas Davenport and Del Capslock with the BCA. We understand you've got a situation."
"If that's what you'd call it," the sheriff said. The sheriff was about forty, Lucas thought, with a pale pinkish complexion; he ran to fat, like a clerk, but wasn't fat yet. His hands stayed in his pockets. A statement of some kind, Lucas thought.
Anderson nodded to the two men with him: "These are deputies Braun and Schnurr. We understood that Hank Dickerson was coming up from Bemidji with a crime scene crew."
Lucas nodded, still smiling. "Yes. They should be here anytime. Del and I were sent by the governor to make sure everything was handled right."
"The governor knows about this?" Anderson asked doubtfully.
"Yes. I talked to him this morning before I left. He said to say hello and that he hoped we could get this cleared away in a hurry."
"Maybe I should give him a call," Anderson suggested.
"I'm sure he'd be happy to hear from you," Lucas said. He looked around. "Where are the victims?"
Anderson turned toward the stand of trees north of the road, took a hand out of his jacket pocket, and pointed. "Back in there, where the guys in the orange hats are."
Lucas said to Del. "Let's go take a look."
"Are you running this, or Hank?" Anderson asked.
"Both of us, in a way," Lucas said. "I report directly to the commissioner of Public Safety and to the governor. Hank reports up through the BCA chain of command."
"So what exactly do you do?" Deputy Schnurr asked. "Handle the politics or what?"
"I kick people's asses," Lucas said. His eyes flicked over Schnurr and the other deputy, then went back to the sheriff. "When they n ed to be kicked."
He and Del both stepped away at the same time, toward the men in the orange caps. The sheriff and his two deputies hesitated, and Del and Lucas got a few steps away and Del said, "That was cool."
"Hey, the guy didn't even shake hands."
"Yeah." They pushed through a tangle of brush and caught a glimpse of the bodies hanging from the ropes; passed a few more trees and then saw them fully, in the clear. Lucas focused on them, got careless, pushed back a springy branch and got snapped in the face by a twig. His cheek stinging, he said, "Careful," to Del, and went back to staring at the bodies.
They looked like paintings, he thought, or maybe an old fading color photo from the 1930s, two gray, stretched-out bodies dangling from a tree, half facing each other, ropes cutting into their necks, with four white men not looking at them desperately not looking at them.
As they came up, Del asked, quietly, "You ever noticed how hanged people sort of all look alike like they lose their race or something? They all look like they're made out of clay."
Lucas nodded. He had noticed that. "Except redheads," he added. "They always look like they came from a different planet."
Del said, "You're right. Except for redheads. They just get paler."
The four orange-hatted men were spaced around the bodies at the cardinal points, as though they might be rushed from any direction. A short stepladder was set up beside the bodies, and the snow had been thoroughly trampled down for fifty feet around. Two of the men were doing the cold-weather tap dance, a slow shuffle that said they were freezing. When Lucas and Del came up, one of the orange-hats turned and asked, "Who're you?"
"BCA," Lucas said. "Who're you?"
"Dave Payton." The man turned back to the bodies and shivered.
"What're you doing?" Del asked.
"K-Keeping everybody out of a circle around the bodies. You guys are supposed to have a crime crew coming. You don't look like them."
"They'll be a bit," Lucas said. His voice had turned friendly. "You get here early?"
"I was the first car in, after the state patrol. Ass is freezin' solid."
"Where's the line they were brought in on... tracks or anything?"
Payton jerked his arm toward the road. "Back that way, I guess. Pretty trampled down, now."
Lucas looked, and could see the kind of snaky break in the brush that often meant a game trail. If the bodies had been brought in along it, then the hangman had known exactly where he was going.
Del had taken a couple steps closer to the dangling bodies. "Woman's got blood on her face," he said.
"G-Guy's pretty messed up, too," Payton said. "Looks like somebody beat the heck out of him before he did... this."
"I don't think it's her blood," Del said. "Some of it's off to the side, and on her upper lip and nose."
"We'll get the lab to check," Lucas said. "That'd be a break, if it's the killer's."
Payton said, "D-D-D-DNA. We did a DNA in a rape last year."
"Catch the guy?"
"N-N-No," Payton said.
Lucas said, "Look, why don't you go sit in a car for a while and get warmed up, for Christ's sakes? You're shaking like a leaf."
"'Cause Anderson'd have a cow," Payton said.
"We're taking over the crime scene," Lucas said. "The BCA is. I'm ordering you to leave, okay?" He looked at the other guys, who were watching him, some hope in their eyes. "All of you. Get some place warm. Get some coffee."
Payton bobbed his head, said, "Aye aye, cap'n." The four men hurried in a wide circle around the hanging bodies, another of them muttered, "Thanks," and then they all scuttled off through the naked trees toward the cars.
"Anderson could be a problem," Del said, conversationally, when the deputies were out of earshot. He and Lucas were still looking at the dead people. The ghastly fact was that Cash and Warr hung only a few inches off the ground, and neither one had been tall Lucas and Del were looking almost straight into their dead, half-open eyes, at their purplish faces, and the two bodies swayed together as though dancing on the same floor where the two cops were standing. "He doesn't know what he's doing," Del continued. "Half the goddamn crime scene is stuck to the bottoms of the deputies' boots. Then he left them out here to freeze."
"Yeah." Lucas decided that they were gawking at the bodies. "We're gawking," he said.
"I know," Del said, looking at Warr. "How many dead people we seen in our lives? You think a thousand?"
"Maybe not a thousand," Lucas said, still looking.
"I don't dream about any of them, except maybe one burned guy I saw, all black and crispy but still alive... died while we were waiting for the ambulance. And a little kid who drowned in a creek, she was my first one right after I went on patrol."
"I remember my first kid."
"Everybody does," Del said. He did the cold-weather tap dance, and blew some steam. "I'm gonna remember this one for a while."
"They're on ," Lucas said after a while. "You think it could be a biker thing? Bikers do this kind of shit, sometimes."
"I've never seen it," Del said doubtfully. A gust of wind came through, and both of the bodies slowly rotated toward them.
"Neither have I, but I've read about it," Lucas said.
"Read about it, or seen it in the movies?"
"Maybe the movies," Lucas admitted. "The thing is, the guy who did this wanted everybody to freak out. This isn't just a murder. This is something else. The guy was making a point."
"No clothes around," Del said. "Must've pulled the clothes off somewhere else, or took them with him."
"Somewhere else. This was all planned," Lucas said. "The killer wasn't struggling around in the dark, pulling their clothes off. He didn't have to look for this place, off the top of his head. He knew what he was going to do. He worked it all out ahead of time."
They were talking about the line the killer took through the trees, and the angle down to the kid's house and the distance from the town, and more about the display of the bodies, when they heard people coming in. Anderson was pushing through the brush with Braun and Schnurr, followed by three more men in bulky uniform parkas and insulated pants. "Must be the guys from Bemidji," Del said.
They were. Dickerson, a tall man in a tan parka, with straw-colored hair and gold-rimmed glasses, introduced himself and the other two agents, Barin and Woods. All of them gawked at the bodies as they talked. "The crime scene and special operations guys are about five minutes behind us," Dickerson said. "The ME's out on the road right now. The special ops guys'll get it on film and we'll process the scene, then we'll get those folks out of the trees."
"We need a careful sweep," Lucas said. "I mean like, crazy careful."
"Pretty screwed up already," Dickerson said. Then he second-thought himself, with the sheriff right there, and diplomatically added, "We're getting set up now. We're bringing in a propane heater, and after we get finished crawling the place, we'll melt out the snow and make sure nothing was trampled down into it."
"You and I ought to go off somewhere, and decide who's going to do what." Again, a bureaucratic wariness.
"Del and I don't have anything to do with crime scene stuff," Lucas said. "That's all yours but make sure the ME takes a close look at the woman's mouth. That blood on her face looks likes it might not be hers. We'll want a DNA on it and we'll want her mouth cleaned out."
"Otherwise, we can chat if you want, but basically, Del and I just go around and talk to people." Lucas said. "Your guys should do the same thing interview whoever you want. Duplicate us. No problem."
"So we're not... one investigation." Dickerson looked skeptical.
"Nope." Lucas shook his head. "Del and I have done this a lot, in Minneapolis. We find it's handy, with the hard ones, to have two investigations running side by side, if you can do it without a lot of infighting. You get different ideas going."
Dickerson shrugged. "It's all right with me. These two guys" he turned a thumb to Barin and Woods "will be doing all the work. I'm going to get us set up, hang around today and maybe tomorrow, and then I'll be on call down in Bemidji. I understand the governor's taken an interest."
Lucas said, "He has. He's worried about the image. Two people hanged, naked, the man's black."
"Got a pretty good dick on him, too," said Schnurr, the sheriff's deputy.
Lucas turned on him, his teeth showing. "Shut the fuck up. Honest to Christ, if I hear anybody talking like that, I'll personally slap the shit out of him."
"Didn't mean nothin'," Schnurr said. He shuffled his feet like a child who'd been bad in class; but he had mean eyes.
"If a reporter heard that, or even heard you'd said it, sheriff's deputies making cracks like that, we'd have twice as much trouble as we do now. So keep your fuckin' mouth shut," Lucas finished. To Anderson: "I don't know how much you like your job, but your whole goddamn county is about to get smeared in the national media. Do you understand that?"
"I... don't know," Anderson said, uncertainly.
"Believe me, it's gonna happen. And one asshole making comments like this guy, it could mean that you don't only lose your job, but you gotta move to Arizona and change your name."
Anderson glanced nervously at Schnurr and said, "We'll keep a lid on it."
Dickerson was peering up at the bodies, embarrassed, Lucas thought, to be from the same agency as Lucas. "You better," Lucas snarled. He looked again at Schnurr, nailing him in place, then asked Anderson, "The little girl who found the bodies is she in town?"
"Giving a statement," Anderson said.
"We'd appreciate it if you'd have somebody call in, tell them to keep her there until Del and I have a chance to talk to her."
Lucas said to Dickerson, "Good luck. You guys got it."
"We got it," Dickerson said.
"Need to get to that little girl," Lucas said, as they walked back out to the line of cars. "If the sheriff's crew is as bad as it looks, we need to talk to her before somebody fucks her up."
"Gotta get some wheels," Del said.
"Get them at a car dealer, probably, if we get there fast," Lucas said. "Tomorrow morning, you won't be able to rent a car anywhere north of Fargo."
"Zahn oughta know."
Zahn did know. "Holme's Motors in Armstrong," he said. "Fix you right up. How many do you want?"
As they bounced slowly down the dirt road, past the girl's house to the highway, Zahn fumbled out a cell phone, pushed a speed-dial button, and said, "This is Ray Zahn. Let me talk to Carl." And a moment later, "Hey. I gotta couple of cops in town from St. Paul. They need two cars, good shape. Uh-huh." He turned to Lucas: "What kind of credit card?"
"American Express or Visa, whatever they take," Lucas said.
"American Express or Visa... yeah. Yeah. Ten minutes. Yeah, see you then." He hung up. "All fixed," he said. "One of you gets a loaded three-year-old Oldsmobile, the other one gets a six-year-old five-liter Mustang."
"I'll take the one with the best heater," Del said.
"We need to get over to the sheriff's department, quick as we can," Lucas said. "Is that the courthouse?"
"Law Enforcement Center," Zahn said. "Three years old, state-of-the-art, behind the courthouse and right across the street from Holme's car lot. The LEC is the reason Dick Anderson's the sheriff."
"He built it?" Lucas asked.
"No. The last sheriff did. Bobby Carter," Zahn said. He grinned at Lucas and pumped his eyebrows. "Don't tell anybody I said so Bobby's a friend of mine but he got a little too close to the construction process. Nobody went to jail, but people around here figure that a good chunk of money stuck to his fingers. He's back to farming."
"What was Anderson? Not a deputy?"
"He was a lawyer, private practice. Real estate, mostly. He worked with the county attorney, sometimes. When Bobby got into trouble and figured he better get out, he put up one of his good old boys to run. That pissed people off. Anderson jumped in at the last minute and got elected."
"A political wizard, huh?" Del said.
Zahn smiled into his steering wheel as they bumped over the last set of ruts onto the highway, and turned south toward Broderick and Armstrong. "Never heard anybody use the word wizard around him," he said. "He's pretty much wholly owned by Barry Wilson, who's the head of the county commission. That's okay, most of the time. Doesn't work too well when there's an actual crime, or something."
The town of Broderick was a few hundred yards down the highway, and Zahn took them through it at a crawl.
The town was built along two streets that intersected the highway at right angles. A big four-square farmhouse sat on the north edge of town, on the west side of the highway. A sheriff's car sat in the driveway, in front of the garage, and Zahn said, "That's the victims' place."
"Okay." It looked like a rural murder scene on a CNN report, a lonely white farmhouse surrounded by snow, with a cop car in the yard.
Farther south, still on the west side of the highway, they passed Wolf's Cafe, which looked like a shingle-sided rambler; the Night Owl Club; and a building with a wooden cross fixed above the door and a bare spot where a sign had been pulled down. "That used to be the Holy Spirit Pentecostal Church holy rollers," Zahn said. "They eventually rolled out of town. Now a bunch of women work there. Like religious women, do-gooders, I guess. Some Catholics and some Lutheran women from Lutheran Social Services, and I heard one of them's a Quaker. One of the Catholics is a looker. The other ones are the blue-tights kind."
Scattered among the buildings were a half-dozen small houses, a couple of trailer homes, a corrugated-steel corn silo with a cone-shaped roof, and a red barn.
The east side of the highway was sparser: a Handy Mart gas station and convenience store; Calb's Body Shop & Tow, in a long yellow metal sided pole barn; Gene's 18, an over-the-road truck rehab place; and two more houses.
"That's it, that's the town," Zahn said, as they rolled out into the countryside.
Del asked, "What's all the truck places, the body shops? Isn't that pretty heavy industry for a place like this?"
"Naw... I don't know. Would you drive your car nine miles to get it fixed? We're nine miles from Armstrong."
"I guess I would," Del admitted. "Actually I know I would, 'cause I have."
"And it was an inheritance deal. Gene inherited the body shop from his old man, and then he added the truck rehab business. Truck rehab, you can do anywhere. He does pretty good. He's why the town started coming back. Most everybody who lives here works for him. Not a bad guy."
"A long way out," Del said.
"Some people like it lonely," Zahn said. "Some people don't."
Then they were out of town, out in the countryside. A crow or a raven was flying south, parallel to the highway, a fluttering black speck against the overcast sky, the only thing besides themselves that was moving. Del said, "Jesus Christ, it's flat."
They rode in silence for a couple of minutes, then Zahn started a low, unconscious whistling. Lucas recognized the tune, probably from an elevator somewhere. "What's that song you're whistling?"
"Didn't realize I was whistling," Zahn said. He thought a minute. "It's that thing from Phantom of the Opera."
"That's right." After a second, "You don't seem to be too upset, you know, by the bodies."
"Well, you're with the Patrol, you learn not to be a pussy, like a homicide cop or something," Zahn said.
"All right, pussy," Del drawled from the back seat.
Zahn glanced over the seat and said, "Every time I go out to an accident and there are a couple of high school kids bleeding to death right in front of my face, and screaming for their dad or their mom, I know them. They're kids from down the street. You do that for a few years and a couple strangers up in a tree won't bother you much. Unlike some homicide pussies."
13 August 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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