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|The Prey Series|
Charlie Pope trudged down the alley with the empty garbage can on his back, soaked in the stench of rancid meat and rotten bananas and curdled blood and God knew what else, a man whose life had collapsed into a trash pit and still he could feel the eyes falling on him.
The secret glances and veiled gazes spattered him like sleet from a winter thunderstorm. Everyone in town knew Charlie Pope, and they all watched him.
He'd been on the front page of the newspaper a half-dozen times, his worried pig-eyed face peering out from the drop boxes and the shelves of the supermarkets. They got him when he registered as a sex-offender, they got him outside his trailer, they got him carrying his can.
Pervert Among Us, the papers said, Sex Maniac Stalks Our Daughters, How Long Will He Contain Himself Before Something Goes Terribly Wrong? Well—they didn't really say that, but that's exactly what they meant.
Charlie tossed the empty garbage can to the side, stooped over the next one, lifted, staggered, and headed for the street. Heavy motherfucker. What'd they put in there, fuckin' typewriters? How can they expect a white man to keep up with these fuckin' Mexicans?
All the other garbage men were Mexicans, small guys from some obscure village down in the mountains. They worked incessantly, chattering in Spanish to isolate him, curling their lips at the American pervert who was made to work among them.
Charlie was a large man, more fat than muscle, with a football-shaped head, sloping shoulders and short, thick legs. He was bald, but his ears were hairy; he had a diminutive chin, tiny lips and deep-set, dime-sized eyes that glistened with fluid. Noticeable and not attractive. He looked like a maniac, a newspaper columnist said.
He was a maniac. The electronic bracelet on his ankle testified to the fact. The cops had busted him and put him away for rape and aggravated assault, and suspected him in three other assaults and two murders. He'd done them, all right, and had gotten away with it, all but the one rape and ag assault. For that, they'd sent him to the hospital for eight years.
Hospital. The thought made his lips crook up in a cynical smile.
St. John's was to hospitals what a meat hook was to a hog.
Charlie pushed back the thought of St. John's and wiped the sweat out of his eyebrows, wrestled the garbage cans out to the truck, lifting, throwing, then dragging and sometimes kicking the cans back to the customers' doors. He could smell himself in the sunshine: he smelled like sweat and spoiled cheese and rotten pork, like sour milk and curdled fat, like life gone bad.
He'd thought he'd get used to it, but he never had. He smelled garbage every morning when he got to work, smelled it on himself all day, smelled it in his sweat, smelled it on his pillow in that hot, miserable trailer.
Hot and miserable, but better than St. John's.
Charlie was across the park from the famous Sullivan bank when the chick in the raspberry-colored pants went by. The last straw? The straw that broke the camel's back?
Her brown eyes struck Charlie as cold raindrops, then flicked away when he turned at the impact; he was left with the impression of soft brown eyebrows, fine skin and raspberry lipstick.
She had a heart-shaped ass.
She was wearing a cream-colored silk blouse, hip-clinging slacks, and low heels that lengthened her legs and tightened her ass at the same. She walked with that long busy confident stride seen on young businesswomen, full of themselves and still strangers to hard decision and failure.
And honest to God, her ass was heart-shaped. Charlie felt a catch of desire in his throat.
Her hips twitched sideways with each of her steps: like two bobcats fighting in a gunny sack, somebody had once said, one of the other perverts at St. John's, trying to be funny. But it wasn't like that at all. It was a soft move, it was the motion of the world, right there in the raspberry slacks, with the slender back tapering down to her waist, her heels clicking on the sidewalk, her shoulder-length hair swinging in a backbeat to the rhythm of her legs.
Jesus God, he needed one. He'd been eight-and-a-half years without real sex.
Charlie's tongue flicked out like a lizard's as he looked after her and he could taste the garbage on his lips, could feel even if they weren't there at this minute, he could feel them the flies buzzing around his head.
Charlie Pope, thirty-four, a maniac, smelling like old banana peels and spoiled coffee grounds, standing on the street in Owatonna, passing eyes like icy raindrops, looking at a girl with a heart-shaped ass in raspberry slacks, and telling himself,
"I gotta get me some of that. I just gotta..."
The mist came in waves, now almost a rain, now so light it was more like a fog. Across the Mississippi, the night lights of St. Paul shimmered with a brilliant, glassy intensity in the rain phases; and dimmed to ghosts in the fog.
After two weeks of Missouri-like heat, the mist was welcome, pattering down on the broad-leafed oaks and maples, gurgling down the gutters, washing out the narrow red-brick road, stirring up odors of cut grass, damp concrete and sidewalk worms.
A rich neighborhood, generous lawns, older houses well-kept, a Mercedes here, a Land Rover there, window stickers from the Universities of Minnesota and St. Thomas and even Princeton...
And now the smell of car exhaust and the murmur of portable generators...
Six cop cars, a couple of vans and a truck jammed the street. Light bars turned on four of the vehicles, the piercing red and blue LED lights cutting down toward the river and up toward the houses perched on the high bank above it. Half of the cops from the cars were standing in the street, which had been blocked at both ends; the other half were down the river bank, gathered in a spot of brilliant white light.
People from the neighborhood clustered under an oak tree; they all wore raincoats, like shrouds in a Stephen King chorus, and a few had umbrellas overhead. A child asked a question in an excited, high-pitched voice, and was promptly hushed.
Waiting for the body to come up.
Lucas didn't want to get trapped, so he left his Porsche at the top of the street, pulled a rain shirt over his head, added a green baseball cap that said John Deere, Owner's Edition, and headed down the sidewalk toward the cop cars.
When he stepped into the street, a young uniformed cop, hands on her hips, maybe twenty-three or twenty-four, in a translucent plastic slicker said, "Hey! Back on the sidewalk."
"Sloan called me," Lucas said.
He was about to add, "I'm with the BCA," when she jumped in, sharp, officious, defensive about her own inexperience part of the new-cop scripture that said you should never let a civilian get on top of you: "Get on the sidewalk. I'll see if detective Sloan wants to talk to you."
"Why don't I just yell down there?" Lucas asked affably. Before she could answer, he bellowed, "HEY SLOAN."
She started to poke a finger at his face, and then Sloan yelled, "Lucas: Down here."
Instead of shaking her finger at him, she twitched it across the road and turned away from him, hands still on her hips, shoulders square, dignity not quite preserved.
A portable Honda generator had been set up on the street, black power cables snaking down the riverbank where a line of Caterpillar-yellow work lights, on tripods, threw a couple of thousand watts of halogen light on the body. Nobody had covered anything yet.
Lucas eased down the hillside, the grass slippery with churned-up mud. Twenty feet out, he saw the body behind a circle of legs, a red-and-white thing spread on the grass, arms outstretched to the sides, legs spread wide, face-up, naked as the day she was born.
Lucas moved through the circle of cops, faces turning to glance at him, somebody said, "Hey, chief," and somebody else patted him on the back. Sloan stood on the slope below, leaning into the bank. Sloan was a narrow-faced, narrow-shouldered man wearing a long plastic raincoat, shoe rubbers, and a beaten-up snap-brim canvas hat that looked like it had just been taken out of the back closet. The hat kept the rain out of his eyes. He said to Lucas, "Look at this shit."
Lucas looked at the body and said, "Jesus Christ," and somebody else said, "More'n you might think, brother. She was scourged."
Scourged. The word hung there, in the mist, in the lights. She'd been a young woman, a few pounds too heavy, dark hair. Her body, from her collarbones to her knees, was crisscrossed with cuts that had probably been made with some kind of flail, Lucas thought: a whip made out of wire, maybe. The cut lines were just lines: the rain had washed out any blood. There were dozens of the cuts, and the way they wrapped around her body, he expected her back to be in the same condition.
"You got a name?" he asked.
"Angela Larson," Sloan said. "College student at the U, from Chicago. Worked in an art store. Missing since yesterday."
"Cut her throat like she was a goddamn beef," said one of the cops. A strobe went off, a flash of white lightning. Lucas walked around the body, down to stand next to Sloan.
Because his feet were lower than the victim, he could get closer to her face. He looked at the cut in the throat. As with the wire cuts, it was bloodless, washed clean by the rain, resembling a piece of turkey meat. He didn't doubt that he could have buried a finger in it up to the knuckle. He could smell the rawness of the body, like standing next to the meat counter in a supermarket.
"The neck wound's what killed her, I think," Sloan said. "No sign of a gunshot wound or a stab wound. He beat her, whipped her, until he was satisfied, and then cut her throat."
"Ligature marks on her wrists," said a man in plainclothes. His name was Stan, and he worked as an investigator for the Hennepin County Medical Examiner, and was known for his grotesque sense of humor. His face was as long as anyone's.
"We got a call last night when Larson didn't get back to her apartment," Sloan said. "Her roommate called. We found her car in the parking lot behind Chaps, she worked at a place called The MarkUp down the block..."
"I know it," Lucas said. Chaps was a younger club, mixed straights and gays, dancing.
"... and used to park at Chaps because the store didn't have its own parking, the street is metered, and the Chaps lot has lights. She got off at nine o'clock, stopped and said hello to a bartender, had a glass of white wine. Bartender said just enough to rinse her mouth. Probably about twenty-after she walked out to her car. She never got home. We found her car keys in the parking lot next to the car; no blood, no witnesses saw her taken."
Lucas looked at the ligature marks on her wrists. The rope, or whatever she'd been tied with it was rope, he thought had been a half-inch thick and had both cut and burned her. There were more burns and chafing wounds at the base of her thumbs. "Hung her up," Lucas said.
"We think so," Sloan said. He tipped his head down the bank. "Give me a minute, will you?"
They stepped away, twenty feet down the bank, into the privacy of the darkness.
Sloan took off his hat, brushed his thinning hair away from his eyes, and asked, "What do you think?"
"Pretty bad," Lucas said, turning back to the circle of lights. Even from this short distance, the body looked less than human, and more like an artifact, or even an artwork. "He's nuts. You've checked her friends..."
"We've started, but we're coming up empty," Sloan said. "She was dating a guy, sleeping with him off-and-on, until a couple of months ago. Until the end of the school year. Then he went back home to Pennsylvania."
"Didn't come back to visit?"
"Not as far as we can tell he says he hasn't, and I sorta believe him. He was there when she disappeared, we talked to him ten hours after she dropped out of sight and the Philadelphia cops called a couple people for us, and he checks out."
"He said they were a little serious, but not too she knew he planned to go in the army when he got out of school, and she didn't like the idea. Her friends say he's a pretty straight guy, they can't imagine that he's involved. They don't know she was involved with anyone else, yet. And that's what we've got."
Lucas was still looking at the body, at the rain falling around the cops. "I'd put my money on a semi-stranger. Whoever did this... This guy is pushed by brain chemistry. He's got something wrong with him. This isn't a bad love affair. The way she's displayed..."
Sloan half-turned back to the lights: "That's what I was thinking. The goddamned display."
They just stood and watched for a minute, the cops moving around the lights, talking up and down the bank. The two of them might have done this two hundred times. "So what can I do for you?" Lucas asked. Lucas worked with the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Minneapolis had its own murder investigators, who would tell you that they were better than any BCA cherry who ever walked the face of the earth.
Lucas, who had been a Minneapolis cop before he moved to the state, mostly bought that argument: Minneapolis saw sixty or eighty murders a year, the BCA worked a dozen.
"You agree he's a nut?"
Lucas wiped his eyebrows, which were beading up with rain. "Yeah. No question."
"I need to talk to somebody who is really on top of this shit," Sloan said. "That I can get to whenever I need to. I don't need some departmental consultant who got his BA three years ago..."
"You want to talk to Elle," Lucas said.
"Yeah. I wanted to see if you'd mind. And I wanted you to look at the body, too, of course. I'm gonna need all the brains on this I can get," Sloan said.
"Elle's an adult," Lucas said. "She can make up her own mind."
"C'mon, man, you know what I'm saying. It's a friendship thing. If you said not to call her, I wouldn't. I'm asking you."
"Call her," Lucas said. "I would."
Sloan called Elle Sister Mary Joseph in her professional life. She was the head of the department of psychology at St. Anne's College and literally Lucas's oldest friend; they'd walked to kindergarten together with their mothers.
When Lucas became a cop, and she became a teacher, they got back in touch, and Elle had worked on a half-dozen murders, as an unofficial advisor, and not quite a confessor. Then, once, a crazy woman with a talent for misdirection caught Elle outside at night, and had nearly beaten her to death. Since then, Lucas had shied from using her. If it happened again...
Elle didn't share his apprehension. She liked the work, the tweezing apart of criminal psyches. So Sloan called Elle, and Elle called Lucas, and they all talked across town for two weeks. Theories and arguments and suggestions for new directions...
Nothing. The murder of Angela Larson began to drift away from them out of the news, out of the action. A black kid got killed in a bar outside the Target Center, and some of the on-lookers said it had been a racial fight. Television news pushed Larson back to an occasional mention, and Sloan stopped trudging around, because he had no place further to trudge.
"Maybe a traveler?" Elle wondered. She had a thin, delicate bone structure, her face patterned with the white scars of a vicious childhood acne; Lucas had wondered if the change from a pretty young blonde girl in elementary school, to a irredeemably scarred adolescent, might have been the impulse that pushed her into the convent.
She'd known he'd wondered, and one time patted him on the arm and told him that no, she'd heard Jesus calling...
"A traveler? Maybe," Lucas said. Travelers were nightmares. They might kill for a lifetime and never get caught; one woman disappearing every month or so, most of them never found, buried in the woods or the mountains or out in the desert, no track to follow, nobody to pull the pieces together. "But real travelers tend to hide their victims, and that's why you never hear much about them. This guy is advertising."
Elle: "I know." Pause. "He won't stop."
"No," Lucas said. "He won't."
A week after that conversation, a few minutes before noon, on a dry day with sunny skies, Lucas sat in a booth in a hot St. Paul bar looking at lonely piece of cheeseburger, two untouched buns, and a Diet Coke.
The bar was hot because there'd been a power outage, and when the power came back on, an errant surge had done something bad to the air conditioner. From time to time, Lucas could hear the manager, in his closet-sized office, screaming into a telephone, among the clash and tinkle of dishes and silverware, about warranties and who'd never get his work again, and that included his apartments.
Two sweating lawyers sat across from Lucas and took turns jabbing their index fingers at his chest.
"I'm telling you," George Hyde said, jabbing, "This list has no credibility. No credibility. Am I getting through to you, Davenport? Am I coming in?"
Hyde's pal Ira Shapira said, "You know what? You leave the Beatles out, but you got folk on it. Heart of Saturday Night? That's folk."
"Tom Waits would beat the shit out of you if he heard you say that," Lucas said. "Besides, it's a great song." He lifted his empty glass to a barmaid, who nodded at him. "I'm not saying the list is perfect," he said. "It's just an attempt..." "The list is shit. It has no musical, historical or ethical basis," Hyde interrupted.
"Or sexual," Shapira added.
Lucas was a tall man, restless, dark hair flecked with grey, with cool blue eyes. His face was touched with scars, including one that ran down through an eyebrow, and up into his hairline; and another that looked like a large upside-down apostrophe, where a little girl had shot him in the throat, and a doctor had slashed his throat open so he could breathe. He had a chipped tooth and what he secretly thought was a pleasant, even pleasing smile but a couple of women had told him that his smile frightened them a little.
He was wearing a grey summer-weight wool-and-silk suit from Prada, over black shoes and with a pale blue silk golf shirt, open at the neck; a rich-jock look. He'd once been a college jock, a first-line defenseman with the University of Minnesota's hockey team. Lucas was tough enough, but he'd picked up six pounds over the winter. They'd lingered all through the spring and into the summer and he'd finally put himself on the South Beach Diet. An insane diet, he thought, but one that his wife had recommended, just before she left town.
Now he leaned back, chewing the last bite of cheeseburger, yearning for the buns. He hadn't had a carbohydrate in a week. Now he held his hands a foot apart, and after he'd swallowed, said, earnestly, rationally: "Listen, guys. Rock and its associated music divides into two great streams. In one, you've got Pat Boone, Doris Day, the Beatles, Donny and Marie Osmond, the Carpenters, Sonny and Cher, Elton John and Tiffany, or whatever her name is the chick with no stomach. Anybody that you might snap your fingers to. In the other stream, you've got Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Aerosmith, Tom Petty. Like that." He touched himself on the chest. "That's the one I prefer. I guess you guys are... finger snappers."
"Snappers?" Hyde shouted. A couple of guys at the bar turned to look at him, the bored, heavy-lidded howya-doin' look. In the back, the manager screamed, "I don't give a fuck what's happening on Grand Avenue, I want a fuckin' truck outside this place in three minutes..."
"If you're so much against snappers, how come you got the fuckin' Eagles on your list?" Shapira demanded. "I mean, the Eagles?"
"Only Lyin' Eyes," Lucas said, looking away. "I feel guilty about it, but how can you avoid that one?"
Hyde sighed, nodded, took a hit on his drink: "Yeah, you're right about that. When you're right, you're right."
"A piece of country trash, if you ask me," Shapira said.
"About the best song of the last fifty years," Lucas said. "Rolling Stone had a survey of the best 500 rock songs. They had Hotel California and Desperado on the list, and not Lyin' Eyes. What kind of shit is that? Those guys have got their heads so far up their asses they can see their own duodenums."
"Duodeni," said Shapira.
"You ever hear Hotel California by the Gipsy Kings?" Hyde asked. "Now there's a tune..."
"Goddamnit," Lucas said. He took a black hand-sized Moleskine notebook out of his pocket. "I forgot about that one. I got too goddamn many songs already..."
Lucas was looking for the barmaid, for another Diet Coke, when his cell phone rang. He fished it out of his pocket, and Hyde said, "They ought to ban those things in bars. They distract you from your drinking." Lucas put the phone to his ear and stuck a finger in his opposite ear, so he could hear.
His secretary said, "I've got Gene Nordwall on the line and he wants to speak to you. He says it's urgent. I didn't know what to tell him: you want me to put him through?"
"Put him on," Lucas said. He sat through a couple of clicks and then a man said, "Hello?" and Lucas said, "Gene? This is Lucas. How's it going?"
"Not going worth a good goddamn," Nordwall said. He sounded angry and short of breath, as if he'd just been chased somewhere. Lucas could see him in his mind's eye, a tall overweight chunk of Norwegian authority, a man who'd look most natural in Oshkosh bib overalls. Nordwall was sheriff of Blue Earth County, fifty or sixty miles southwest of the Twin Cities. "Can you come down here?"
"Six miles south, out in the country," Nordwall said. "We got a killing down here like to made me puke. We called in your crime scene crew but we need you."
"Somebody killed a kid and tortured his dad to death," Nordwall said. "Tortured him and raped him, we think, and maybe cut his throat with a razor. I ain't seen anything like it in fifty years."
Sloan's case popped into Lucas's head: "You say it's a guy?"
"Yeah, local guy. Adam Rice."
"It's not a gay thing? Or did he screw around with bikers or..."
"He was absolutely straight," Nordwall said. "I've known him since he was a kid."
"And he was raped?"
"Jesus Christ, you want a photograph?" Nordwall said, the anger flashing again. "He was fuckin' raped, pardon my French."
Lucas waited for a second, until Nordwall got himself back together. "Are you right there, Gene?"
"I'm out in the side yard, Lucas. Came runnin' out of there, like to strangled myself to death on this old clothes line."
"Was the guy's body, you know, arranged? Or was he just left however he died?"
A pause, and then Nordwall asked, "How'd you know that? What they did with him?"
"I'll be down there in an hour," Lucas said. "Don't let anybody touch anything. Get out of the house. We're gonna work this inch-by-inch."
"We'll be standing in the yard waitin'," Nordwall said.
"Gimme your cell-phone number, and tell me how I get to this place..."
"What's going on?" Hyde asked when Lucas punched off.
"Got a bad killing down by Mankato," Lucas said. He finished his Diet Coke in a single gulp, dropped a twenty on the table. "Pay this for me, will you guys? I gotta get my ass down there."
"Too bad," Hyde said. "I've got a closing on a shopping center at two o'clock. I thought you might want to see it."
Lucas got Sloan on his cell phone as he went out the door: "Where you at?"
"Sitting at my desk reading a British Esquire," Sloan said. "They got nudity now."
"You might want to spend some time looking at the clothes... listen, get a squad, lights and sirens, get down to the top of the 24th Avenue off-ramp to the Mall of America. I'll be down there fast as I can make it: twelve minutes. You gotta run."
"Where're we going?"
"Mankato. It's weird, but we might have something on your nut case."
Off the phone, Lucas jogged down the street to the Marshall Field parking ramp. He'd taken the Porsche to work that morning, which was good. He had a new truck, but the truck was awkward at speed and he was in a hurry. He wanted to see the scene in the brightest possible daylight, and he wanted to see neighbors, rubberneckers, and visitors as they came by the murder scene.
"Goddamnit," he muttered to himself. He slapped his pockets as he jogged, found the slip of paper with Nordwall's number on it, and called him back.
"Gene, this is Lucas again. I'm heading for my car. Listen, put a guy down by the road... how far is this house from the road?"
"Couple hundred feet, maybe. Old farm house."
"Put a guy down by the road and have him take down the license number of every car that comes along. Don't stop them from coming. Let them go by, let'm rubberneck, but I want all the numbers. Put your guy where he can't be seen."
"How about a photographer?
"That'd be good, but don't put somebody out there who'll screw it up, so we get a bunch of out-of-focus pictures we can't read. Better to write the numbers down."
"We'll do both," Nordwall said.
Then Lucas was into the ramp, into the car, out on the street, slicing through traffic in the C4, to the I-35E ramp, down the ramp and south, running fifty miles an hour above the speed limit, across the Mississippi to I-494, west on 494 across the Minnesota River and up the 24th Avenue ramp.
The Minneapolis squad was sitting at the top of the ramp, lights flashing into the sunshine. Sloan got out of the squad, jogged around the back end of the truck, and said, "The all-time speed record from the airport to Mankato is an hour and one minute," Sloan said.
"Must have been an old lady in a Packard," Lucas said.
"Actually, it was myself in a fifteen-year-old bottle-green Pontiac LeMans my old man gave me," Sloan said as he strapped in.
Lucas blew through the red light and down the ramp and they were gone west and south into the green ocean of corn and soybeans of rural southern Minnesota.
They were slowed by road work north of the city of Mankato, where one side of the divided highway had buckled, and traffic was switched to the east lane.
"Wonder if they bother to put concrete in the fuckin' roads anymore," Sloan grumbled. "Everything falls apart. The bridge over to Hudson was up for what, six or seven years, and they're tearing the whole thing apart again?"
"Thinking about it will drive you crazy," Lucas said. When he had a chance, he pulled the Porsche onto the shoulder of the road, hopped out, stuck a flasher on the roof and used it to jump the waiting lines of traffic.
On the way down, Lucas told Sloan what Nordwall had said about the killing, and Sloan had grown morose: "If I'd just gotten a break. One fuckin' thing. I couldn't get my fingernails under anything, you know?"
"Maybe it's not your guy, or it's a coincidence. The victim this time is male," Lucs said.
"Seen it before, nut cases who go both ways..."
They talked about serial killers. All major metro areas had them, sometimes two and three at a time. The public had the impression that they were rare. They weren't.
"I remember once, I was in L.A. on a pick-up. The L.A. Times had a story that said that the cops thought there might be a serial killer working in such-and-such a neighborhood," Sloan said. "The story just mentioned it in passing, like it was going to rain on Wednesday."
They came up behind a pickup struggling through the traffic, and flicked past it. A woman's hand came out of the passenger-side window and gave them the finger. Lucas caught it in the rear-view mirror and grinned. Generally, he felt some sympathy for women who'd give the finger to cops, especially if they were good-looking. The women, not the cops.
"One thing about this guy he's leaving the bodies right in our faces. He took Larson somewhere to torture her, killed her somewhere else, and then brought her back and posed her almost in her own neighborhood... the neighborhood where we're most likely to take a lot of shit, where it'd get the most attention," Lucas said. "This guy, this Rice guy, he tortures and leaves in his own house..."
"He's probably scouting locations, putting them where they attract attention, but he feels safe doing it."
"For sure," Lucas said. "None of this feels spontaneous..."
Besides the serial killer talk, they argued a little about Lucas's rock 'n roll list. Lucas's wife, Weather, had given him an Apple iPod for his birthday and a gift certificate for one hundred songs from the Apple website. He'd taken the limit of one hundred songs as an invitation for discipline: one hundred songs, no more, no less, the best one hundred songs of the rock era.
Word of the list had spread through the BCA, and among his friends, and after a month of work, he had a hundred and fifty solid possibilities with more coming in every day. He still hadn't ordered a single tune. "What bothers me is, I think I'm just about set, and then I'll hear something I completely forgot about, like Radar Love," he told Sloan. "I mean, that's gotta go on the list. What else did I forget?"
"One thing, since you're mostly making it for road trips it can't be all hard stuff. It can't be all AC/DC," Sloan said. "You've got to have some mellow stuff. You know, for when you're just rolling along. Or at night, when the stars are out and it's cold. Billy Joel or Blondie."
"I know, I know. I got that. But right now, the way I'm thinking, you're going on a road trip you start off with ZZ Top, right? Gotta start off with ZZ. Sharp-Dressed Man, Legs, one of those."
"I can see that," Sloan said, nodding. "Something to get you moving..." He turned away, stared at the acres and acres of corn. "Jesus Christ, if I'd just gotten a single fuckin' break."
"Could be dry out there," Sloan said, as they came down on Mankato. "Hot and dry."
"We'll stop," Lucas said.
Mankato was the site of the largest mass hanging in American history, thirty-eight Sioux Indians in a single drop. The Sioux said that thirty-eight eagles come back to fly over the river-bank site every year on the anniversary of the hanging. Lucas didn't believe in that kind of thing, but then, one time he'd been in the neighborhood, on the anniversary, and he'd seen the eagles...
"There," Sloan said. "Holiday store. They got Krispy Kremes."
They picked up 24-packs of Coke, Diet Coke and Dasani water, a throw-away Styrofoam cooler and a bag of ice, a couple of hot dogs and a couple of Krispy Kremes.
"I thought you South Beach Diet guys weren't even supposed to eat the buns, much less a doughnut," Sloan said through a mouthful of hot dog, as they headed back into the country.
"Fuck you," Lucas said. The Krispy Kreme tasted so good that he felt faint.
They followed Highway 169 for three or four miles south of town, turned east across a thirty-foot-wide river, took a narrow blacktopped road out a mile or so, then jogged onto a gravel lane. As soon as they got onto the gravel they could see a covey of cars, mostly cop cars with lightbars, arranged under an old spreading elm tree next to a white clapboard farmhouse.
The farmhouse, with a detached one-car garage on its east side, sat on an acre of high ground. A grassy lawn supported a dozen old elms and oaks and two apple trees. A tire swing hung from one of the oaks, and bean fields crept right up to the unfenced lawn. A hundred feet out behind the house, a series of old sheds or chicken houses were slowly rotting away, slumping back into the soil. Not a working farm, Lucas thought, just the remnants of one.
"How'd he find them?" Lucas asked, as they came up. "How'd he pick them out?"
They went past a mailbox that said Rice, in crooked black hand-painted letters, and spotted a cop up on the lawn, looking at them through a camera lens. Four cops, including the sheriff, were standing on the lawn, just as Nordwall said they'd be. Four more people, including three women, civilians, and a cop sat in an aging Buick on the grass beside the driveway. A red-eyed woman drooped in the back seat, the door open, and looked toward them as they came up.
"Relatives," Sloan said.
Lucas pulled onto the lawn next to the end cop car, and he and Sloan got out.
"Davenport, goddamnit, you got the crime scene coming?" the sheriff asked. He was a tall man, and wide, with white hair, a red-tipped button nose, and worry lines on a head the size of a gallon milk jug; he was anxious.
"You call them?"
"I called them and they said they were rolling..."
"Takes a while," Lucas said. He turned to the house. "You shut everything down?"
"Everything." Nordwall was looking at Sloan. "Who's this guy?"
Lucas introduced them and Sloan told him about Angela Larson. "Ah, jeez, I saw that in the paper," Nordwall said. "But I don't remember... you must not have given them all the details."
"No, we didn't," Sloan said. Sloan dropped the cooler on the ground, and said, "Cokes, if anybody's thirsty," and started passing around the cans.
"Might get some to Miz Rice and Miz Carson," Nordwall said to one of the deputies. He looked past Lucas at the Buick and said, "Rice's mom, and her sister, and a friend. Miz Rice wants to see them, but I ain't gonna allow it. Not until after they're bagged. She'd have that picture in her head until she went to the grave."
Lucas nodded and gestured toward the farmhouse. "Who found them?"
"One of my deputies, George," Nordwall said.
One of the deputies, a thin man with shaggy black hair and a ricocheting Adam's apple, lifted his Coke.
"Me," the deputy said.
"Tell me," Lucas said.
The deputy shrugged. "Well, Rice didn't come to work. He's the manager of a hardware store in Mankato and he has the keys to the place. Today he was supposed to open the store. When he didn't show, the gals who worked there called the owner, who came down to open up. He tried to call Rice, but got a phone out-of-order thing. When he still didn't show up by ten o'clock, the owner got worried and called us."
"And you came out?"
"Well, first Sandy, she takes our calls..."
"Sandy's chatting with the store owner, and he says Rice had a boy in grade school. So Sandy called over to the elementary school and asked if the kid showed up. They said no, and that Rice hadn't called in an excuse. I was down this way patrolling, and they asked me to swing by. I come up, saw a car around back, but nobody answered. The doors were open and then, uh, I went around back and looked in through the back door and I saw the boy lying on the floor, and man, he looked like, you know, he was dead. He looked like a rag doll. Then I come in and found him and I got the heck out of there and alerted the sheriff."
"Didn't touch anything?"
"I been trying to think," the deputy said, looking over at the house. "The door handle, for sure. And I think I put my hand on the door frame on the way out. The main thing was, I didn't know if somebody was still in there, and I wanted to get outside where I could see somebody running, if they were. Then I stood here until everybody come in."
"Sounds like you did okay," Lucas said, and the deputy bobbed his head, taking the compliment. Lucas said to Nordwall, "We gotta have your guys figure out if they touched or moved anything. It'll make things easier. We're gonna be looking for DNA, and that's a touchy thing."
"I figured," Nordwall said. He looked up at the house. "You gonna go in?"
"Just for a quick look," Lucas said.
Lucas had little faith in crime scene analysis as a way of breaking a case, but it often came in handy after they caught somebody. He got thin vinyl throw-away gloves from his car, handed a packet to Sloan. They went in through the back door, since that entry route had already been contaminated, trying not to bump anything, or scuff anything. The door opened into a mud room, six feet square with coat hooks on wall, ancient linoleum flooring, then through a glass-paneled door into the kitchen. The boy was lying in the kitchen, a pool of dried blood around his head; he was wearing pajamas.
"Been there a while," Sloan said. He stepped closer, squatted. "He was hit on the head with something. Something crushed the skull."
"He never moved, the skid marks lead right into the blood," Lucas said. Lucas had a toddler at home, and swallowed, the bitter taste of acid in his throat. "Must have killed him outright."
Sloan sighed, put his hands on his thighs, and pushed himself back up. "I'm gonna quit," he said.
"Yeah, right." Lucas led the way toward the next room, a hall. They could see the living room beyond it.
"I'm serious," Sloan said. "I got the time in. I'm gonna put this guy away, and then I'm gonna do it. That dead kid is one dead kid too many."
Lucas looked at him: "Let's talk about it later."
"Fuck later. I'm gonna quit."
Adam Rice was in the next room. He was naked, kneeling, his hips up, his head on the floor. He had duct tape on both wrists, as though they'd been taped together, and then cut loose. His body was a mass of blood, a hundred bloody stripes across his chest and stomach and thighs. Scourged, Lucas thought. Blood spattered the walls, a round oaken dinner table, two short book cases full of books and china; and splashed across the faces of a dozen people smiling down from pictures on the living room wall. Sloan looked at him and said, "That's our guy. No question about it."
Rice's clothes had been flung in one corner, and were rags. The killer had cut them off with some kind of razor knife or box cutter or scalpel. He'd brought it with him, Lucas thought, and had taken it away with him.
"He's got some muscle," Sloan said, looking at the dead man. "The killer must have had a gun on him. Doesn't look like he fought back much."
Lucas nodded. "The guy comes in, he has a gun, points it at Rice, tells him it's a robbery and that there'll be no trouble if he cooperates. Rice is worried about the kid, who's up in bed. He cooperates. He gets his hands taped up and then the shit starts. They're struggling, knocking around, maybe, the kid hears it, comes down, sees what's going on and runs for the door. The killer gets him in the kitchen. Maybe whacks him with the butt of a shotgun."
Sloan nodded: "I'll buy that, for a start."
"The thing is, the killer came for Rice, the father. He wasn't pulled in by the kid. The kid looks like an accident, or an afterthought. Maybe the killer didn't even know he existed."
"Look, if he'd known about the kid, he'd have put the old man on the ground, then he'd have gone up to the bedroom to take care of the kid, to make sure that he didn't get out somehow. Instead, he has to go after him in the kitchen, whack him with something."
Rice made an awkward pile in the middle of a large puddle of blood. The light fixture on the ceiling was bent, cocked far off to one side: a lot of weight had been put on it.
The weight had been Rice: he was a slender blond man, maybe a hundred and sixty pounds. The killer had taped his wrists, then put a rope through them, and hung him from the light fixture. Rice had tried to twirl away from him when the beating began, and his blood sprayed in an almost perfect circle. When the killer cut him down to pose him, he centered Rice's body in the blood puddle.
Rice's eyes were open, blue now fading to translucent brown; his palms were facing up, his fingers crooked. Lucas looked at one hand, then the other, and squatted as Sloan had squatted next to the boy.
"Got some blood here, under his nails. Maybe some skin..."
"Could be something," Sloan said. "All the other blood on him is running down his body he hung him up like he hung up Larson. Wonder if he tried to fight at the last minute, and scratched the guy?" He squatted next to Lucas, then bent to look at the fingernails. "Skin, for sure, I think. Your guys gotta be careful or they could lose it."
"They'll get it," Lucas said. He stood up and made a hand-dusting motion. "What do you think? Look around, or wait for crime scene?"
Sloan shook his head. "I don't think we'll find anything looking around. I've done everything I could think of with Angela Larson went over her apartment inch-by-inch, the place she worked, did histories on her until they were coming out of my ears. I don't think this has much to do with the victims. They're stranger-killings. He stalks them and kills them."
"I don't know. We never found Larson's clothes or her jewelry, so maybe they were taken as trophies... but then... Rice's clothes are right here."
"Never found out where he killed Larson."
"No. Probably a basement. The soles of her feet were dirty, and there was concrete dust in the dirt. So... could have been a basement."
They stood next to the body for a minute, a strange comradely cop-moment, their shoes just inches from the puddle of blood, a half-dozen fat lazy blue-bottle flies buzzing around the room; blue bottles, somebody once told Lucas, were actually blow-flies. One landed on the far side of the blood puddle and they could see it nibbling at the crusting blood.
"You can't really quit," Lucas said.
"Sure I can," Sloan said.
"What would you do?" A fly buzzed past Lucas's head and he swatted at it.
"Ah... talk to you about it sometime. I got some ideas."
Lucas got up, looked around: a pleasant, homey place, the house creaking a bit, a sound that must have seemed warmed and welcome; a glider-chair lounged in one corner, comfortably worn, facing a fat old Sony color TV with a braided rug on the floor in front of it. A couple of nice-looking quilts hung from the walls, between the photographs of the elders.
"You know the problem," Lucas said softly. He was looking at a log-cabin quilt; he didn't know anything about quilts, but he liked the earth colors in it. "We're not going to pick up much here, not unless we get lucky. Maybe DNA. But where's that gonna get us?"
"A conviction when we get him."
"The problem is getting him. That's the fucking problem," Lucas said. "A conviction... that can always be fixed, when we get the right guy. Getting him..."
"I want all the paper from Minneapolis," Lucas said.
Sloan nodded. "I'll get Anderson on it."
"And I'll get the crime scene guys to copy everything to you, from here. You got nothing off the Larson killing?"
"I got names. That's one thing I got."
"Okay. That's a start. I'll get a co-op center going, get them to set up a database. We'll pipe in everything from here, from Nordwall's guys."
"There's gotta be more from here. There's gotta be," Sloan said, looking around, an edge of desperation in his voice. "If we don't get anything, then we won't get him before..."
Lucas nodded and finished his sentence: "... before he does it again."
Outside on the lawn, Nordwall and the other deputies were sitting on the grass, in the shade of an elm, looking like attendees at the annual cop picnic. The summer was at its peak, the prairie grasses lush and tall, just starting to show hints of yellow and tan. A mile or so away, across a wide, low valley, a distant car kicked up a cloud of gravel dust.
Nordwall was chewing on a grass stem; when they came up, he stood and asked, "What do you think?"
"Same guy," Sloan said.
"Sloan did a lot of research on the first one, up in Minneapolis," Lucas said. "We're gonna set up a co-op center out of the BCA. We need a complete biography on Rice and the kid who did they know, who had they met recently. The guy knew about him something about him. He didn't come out here by accident. And he knew about the first one, too. Maybe the two of them, Rice and Larson, intersect somewhere."
"You think... maybe some kind of boy-girl romance thing?" one of the deputies suggested. "A jilted lover? Rice's wife got killed in a car accident a couple years ago, he might have been looking around."
"You get a jilted lover, you get a gun in a bedroom or a knife in the kitchen, but you don't get the boyfriend raped," Sloan said mildly.
Nordwall swiveled and looked at another of the deputies and said, "You get right on this biography, Bill. Don't hold back, and don't worry about the overtime. I'll cover anything you need." To Lucas he said, "This is Bill James. I'll get his phone number for you."
The deputy stood up and dusted off the seat of his pants with a couple of slaps: "I'll go right now. Get started."
"What happened with the wife?" Lucas asked. "A straight-up accident, no question?"
"In the winter, winter before last," said Nordwall. "She came around a snow plow, didn't see the pickup coming the other way. Boom. Died in the ditch."
"Whole goddamn family up in smoke," a deputy said.
"Here comes a truck," somebody else said.
A white Mission-Impossible-style van was rolling down the gravel road toward them. "That's the crime-scene guys," Lucas said. "Why don't you guys get them inside? Me and Sloan'll go talk to Mrs. Rice."
Laurina Rice was in her sixties, with white puffy grandmother hair and a round, leathery face lined by age and the sun. She was too heavy, too many years of potatoes and beef. She wore a dress with small flowers. Her sister, Gloria, was perhaps three or four years older, and the friend about the same.
Laurina Rice struggled to get her feet on the ground and get out of the car as Lucas and Sloan walked over to it. On the other side of the car, a hundred and fifty yards out over the bean field, a flock of red-winged blackbirds hassled a crow, diving on the bigger bird like fighters on a bomber.
As had happened on other crime scenes, Lucas was for a second struck by the ordinariness of the day around him: nature didn't know about crime, about rape and murder, and simply went on: blue skies, puffy clouds, blackbirds hassling crows.
"You're the state man, Mr. Davenport, and Mr. Sloan from Minneapolis..." Rice said. Her eyes were like a chicken, small and sharp and focused.
"Yes. I'm terribly sorry about what happened, Mrs. Rice."
She twisted the fingers of her right hand in her left, literally wringing them. "I need to see my boy, to see that it's him."
Lucas shook his head: "I'm afraid we have to process the scene first. We have to try to catch this man he killed a young woman up in Minneapolis a few weeks ago, and he's going to kill more people if we don't catch him. We can't move the bodies until we have the crime scene processed..."
"Like on the TV show?" Gloria suggested.
"Something like that, but better," Lucas said. "These people are real."
"How long?" Rice asked.
Lucas shook his head again. "I can't tell you. It depends on what has to be done. It would be best if you went home and rested. The sheriff will call you before they move the bodies. That would be the time."
"I'm not going anywhere," she said.
Sloan smiled at her, his best sympathetic smile, and said, "We understand. If you need anything, ask the sheriff. And would you... we have some questions about your son."
"Okay," she said. She sniffed. "We knew there'd be questions."
They did the routine biography who might not like him, who he had arguments with, debts, women, jealous husbands, where he spent his nights, what he did for entertainment.
Lucas asked the hard one: "Mrs. Rice, as far as you know, did your son have any homosexual friends, or acquaintances?"
She looked to Sloan, then back to Lucas. "Are you... he was married. He didn't hang around with homosexuals." She started to tear up.
"This is routine," Lucas said. "We have to ask. There was a good deal of violence here, that sometimes characterizes homosexual murders, especially murders of passion..."
She knew what he was asking. "My boy was not a homo," she snapped. The women behind her all nodded. "He was married, he was widowed, he would have remarried some day, but he just hadn't got started since Shelly was killed. He was not a gay person."
"But did he know any gays?" Lucas persisted. "Somebody who might have built up a fantasy about him? He's a good-looking man."
Laurina looked at Gloria, and they simultaneously shook their heads. "I don't think he even knew any gays," she said. "He would have mentioned it. We had supper together once a week, we talked about everything."
"Okay," Lucas said.
They chatted a bit longer, then moved back into the house, leaving Rice and the others in the car.
The next four hours were taken up with the technicalities and legalities of murder: the crime scene technicians worked the murder scene, the medical examiner came and went, leaving behind an assistant and two men to handle the body. A state representative, who lived ten miles away, stopped and talked to the sheriff, said something about the death penalty, wanted to look inside but accepted the 'no,' and went on his way.
"Dipshit," Nordwall said as the legislator's car trundled down the driveway.
When the crime scene techs had decided that the murders took place pretty much in the area of the two bodies, Lucas and Sloan began working through the small intimacies in other parts of the house, looking at bills and letters, collecting recent photographs, checking the e-mail in the five-year-old Dell computer, stopping every now and then for a Diet Coke. They didn't know exactly what they were looking for in the house, but that was okay; they were impressing images and words on their memories, so they would be there if anything should trip them in the future.
"He has a Visa card about due," Sloan said at one point. "We oughta get the bill and see where's he's been."
"I looked at his Exxon bill out on the kitchen table. He hasn't been far away, not for the last year or so," Lucas said. He was digging through Rice's wallet. "One tank of gas every Friday or Saturday."
"Had the kid in school," Sloan said.
"Yeah..." He flipped through the register in Rice's check book. "Four hundred dollars in checking, seventeen hundred in savings. He didn't write many checks... mostly at the supermarket, and bills." He found an address book, but nothing that looked like a particularly new entry, but Lucas set it aside for the database they'd be creating.
A cop stuck his head in: "They're picking up the kid."
Two minutes later, the same cop came by: "One of your crime scene guys says to stop by for a minute."
They were upstairs, in Rice's bedroom. They followed the cop down, and found a technician working with a small sample bag and some swabs. He looked up when Lucas and Sloan stepped into the room: "Thought you'd want to know. The fingernail blood, I'm almost sure it isn't Rice's. There's skin with it, and a little hair follicle that's darker than Rice's. I think."
"The usual stuff lots more hair around, we're picking it up, but who knows where it came from? And the guy took a trophy he cut Rice's penis off and there's no sign of it around here. Just the penis, not the testicles. The anus seems to have some lubricant still on it, so I think the killer or killers used a condom. Probably won't be any semen."
Lucas looked at Sloan, who shrugged. "Hard to tell what that is," he said. "Maybe he didn't want there to be any DNA, so maybe he knows about DNA and worries about it. Maybe he's afraid of AIDS, which might mean something if we could show that Rice had some homosexual contacts."
"The sexual... um, aspects... really look like a gay thing to me," the tech said. "The violence and the sexual trophy-taking."
Lucas and Sloan nodded. "But why was the first one a woman?"
"Maybe there was a gay thing, then Rice went after the woman, and his gay partner blew up," the tech said. "Maybe he was punishing them, and that's what all this whipping stuff is about."
"Maybe," Lucas said doubtfully.
"It's a concept," Sloan said. He didn't care for the idea either. "We need to get this biography. I need to see if I can link Angela Larson to anything down here."
"You said she was a student; there's a state university branch down here."
"I'll look," Sloan said. "But I did all that background on her, and nobody said nuthin' about Mankato."
When the crime scene people were done, the medical examiner's assistants came in and picked the body up, zipped it into a bag and carried it out. The blood splotch of the floor, which retained the impression of the kneeling body, looked like strange black modern art.
They stood over it for a moment, and then Sloan said, "I don't think there's much more here." They'd been inside, looking for something, anything, for five hours. If they'd found anything useful, it wasn't apparent.
"This guy..." Lucas said. He took a deep breath, let it out as a sigh. He was thinking about the killer. "This guy is gonna bust our chops."
5 April 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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