Books · Journalism · Information
|The Prey Series|
Randy Whitcomb was a human stinkpot, a red-haired cripple with a permanent cloud over his head; a gap-toothed, pock-faced, paraplegic crank freak, six weeks out of the Lino Lakes medium-security prison. He hurtled past the luggage carousels at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, pumping the wheels of his cheap non-motorized state-bought wheelchair, his coarse red hair a wild halo around his head.
"Get out of the way, you little motherfucker," he snarled at a blond child of three or four years. He zipped past the gawking mother and tired travelers and nearly across the elegant cordovan shoe-tips of a tall bearded man. "Out of the way, fuckhead," and he was through the door, the anger streaming behind him like coal smoke from a power plant.
The bearded man with the elegant cordovan shoes, which came from a shop in Jermyn Street in London, leaned close to his companion, a dark-haired woman who wore blue jeans and a black blouse, running shoes and cheap oversized sunglasses with unfashionable plastic rims. He said, quietly, in a cool Alabama accent, "If we see yon bugger again, remind me to crack his skinny handicapped neck."
The woman smiled and said, "Yon bugger? You were in England way too long."
Brutus Cohn, traveling under the passport name of John Lamb, tracked the wheelchair down the sidewalk. There was no humor in his cold blue eyes. "Aye, I was that," he said. "But now I'm back."
Cohn and the woman, who called herself Rosie Cruz, walked underground to the short-term parking structure, trailing Cohn's single piece of wheeled luggage. As they went out the door, the heat hit them like a hand in the face. Not as bad as Alabama heat, but dense, and sticky, smelling of burned transmission fluid, spoiled fruit and bubble gum. Cruz pushed the trunk button on the remote key and the taillights blinked on a beige Toyota Camry.
"Ugly car," he said, as he lifted the suitcase into the trunk. Cohn disliked ugly cars, ugly clothes, ugly houses.
"The best-selling car in America, in the least attention-getting color," Cruz said. She was a good-looking woman of no particularly identifiable age, who'd taken care to make herself mousy. She wore no makeup, had done nothing with her hair.
Cohn had once seen her in Dallas, where women dressed up, and she'd astonished him with her authentic Texas vibe: moderately big hair, modestly big lipstick, two-inch heels, stockings with seams down the back; her twice-great-grand-uncle might have died at the Alamo. Cruz, when working, dressed for invisibility. She fit in Dallas, she fit in Minnesota, she fit wherever they worked she was wallpaper, she was background. She took the driver's side, and he sat on the passenger side, fiddling with the seat controls to push it all the way back. At six-foot-six, he needed the leg room.
"Give me your passport and documents," Cruz said, when the air conditioning was going.
He took a wallet out of his breast pocket and handed it over. Inside were a hundred pounds, fifty euros, fifty dollars, an American passport, a New York state driver's license, two credit cards, a building security card with a magnetic strip, and a variety of wallet-detritus.
The whole lot, except for the passport and currency, had been taken from the home of the real John Lamb by his building superintendent, who was a crook. Since the credit cards would never be used, noone would be the wiser. The passport had been more complicated, but not too a stand-in had applied by mail, submitting a photograph of Cohn, and when it came to Lamb's apartment, it had been stolen from the mailbox. As long as the real Lamb didn't apply for another one, they were good.
Cruz took out the currency and handed it back to Cohn, tucked the wallet under the car seat and handed over another one, thick with cash. "William Joseph Wakefield Billy Joe. Everything's real, except the picture on the driver's license. Don't use the credit cards unless it's an emergency."
"Billy Joe." Cohn thumbed through the cash. "Two thousand dollars. Three nights at a decent hotel."
"We're not staying at a decent hotel," Cruz said. She reached into the back seat, picked up a baseball cap with a Minnesota Twins logo, and said, "Put this on and pull it down over your eyes."
He did, and with his careful British suit, it made him look a bit foolish. She wouldn't have given it to him without a reason, so he put it on, and asked, "Where're we set up?"
She backed carefully out of the parking space and turned for the exit. "At the HomTel in Hudson, Wisconsin, just across the state line from here. Thirty miles. Two hundred and twenty dollars a night, for two rooms for you, adjoining, which is twice as much as they're worth, but with the convention in town, you get what you can. I'm upstairs and on the other side of the motel."
"Where're the boys?"
"Jesse's across the street at the Windmill, Tate is at the Cross Motel, Jack is at a mom-and-pop called Wakefield Inn, all in Hudson. All within easy walking distance from the HomTel." Multiple nearby rooms in different hotels made it easier to get together, and also easier to find an emergency hideout if the cops made one or another of them. They could be off the street in minutes, in a motel where they'd never been seen by the management.
Standard operating procedure, worked out and talked-over in prisons across the country. Cohn nodded and said, "Okay."
"I almost went home when you invited Jack back in," Cruz said, threading her way through the concrete pillars of the parking ramp.
"Better to have him inside the tent pissin' out, than outside the tent pissin' in," Cohn said.
"I don't know what that means," she said.
"It means that when he gets picked up and I do mean when, it's only a matter of time he'll try to cut a deal," Cohn said. "We're one of the things he's got. I need to talk to him."
"He'd cut a deal whatever we do."
"No. Not really. I've thought on that," he said, in an accent that spoke of the deep southern part of Yorkshire. "There are circumstances in which he would not cut a deal, no matter what the coppers might have offered to him."
"You've got to lose that bullshit British syntax, right now," Cruz said. "You're Billy Joe Wakefield from Birmingham, Alabama. You need khakis and golf shirts."
"Give me two minutes listening to country music," Cohn said. "That'll get 'er done."
"Anyway, about Jack..."
"Let it go," he said. "I'll take care of Jack."
"Okay," she said. "Put your sunglasses on."
At seven o'clock, the sky was still bright. Cohn took a pair of wrap-around sunglasses from his jacket pocket and slipped them on. At the pay booth, Cruz dropped the window and handed ten dollars to a Somali woman in a shawl. Cruz got the change from the ten, and a receipt, rolled the window back up, pulled away from the booth and handed the receipt to Cohn.
"Check it out," she said.
He looked at the receipt, said, "Huh. The tag number's on it."
"There's a scanning camera at the entrance," Cruz said. "I'm wondering if it might digitize faces at the same time that it picks up the license plates hook them together, then run them through a facial recognition program."
"Would that be a problem?"
"Not as long as somebody doesn't put your face in the car with your face in the FBI files," she said. "That's not a question with me, of course."
"Got the beard, now," he said. "And the hat and glasses. I cut the beard off square to give my chin a different line. I was wondering about the baseball hat..."
They rode along for a minute or two, as she got off the airport and headed into St. Paul, past the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. Even in the middle of a big urban area, the river valleys had a wildness that reminded him of home in Alabama. In Britain, even the wild areas had a groomed look.
"Jack, I can't get him off my mind. I'm sorry..."
"Never mind Jack." He was looking out the window. "You almost went home, huh? That'd be... Zihuatanejo?"
"Never been to Mexico in my life, Brute," she said with a grin. "Give it up."
"With a name like Cruz, you gotta have been in Mexico."
Her eyes flicked to him. "Why would you think my name is Cruz?"
He laughed, and said, "Okay." But she looked like a Cruz.
She clicked on the radio, dialed around, found a country station. "Instead of worrying about where I'm from, see if you can get the Alabama accent going."
The first song up was Sawyer Brown singing "Some Girls Do," and Cohn sang along with it, all the way to the end, and then shouted, "Jesus Christ, it's good to be back in the states. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and North Ireland can go fuck itself."
Randy Whitcomb, Juliet Briar and a man whose real name might have been Dick, but who called himself Ranch, lived in a rotting wooden house on the east side of St. Paul, that sat above a large hole in the ground called Swede Hollow; once full of houses full of Swedes, the hole was now a neglected public park.
Whitcomb was a pimp. He'd become a pimp as soon as he could, after his parents had thrown him out of the house twelve years earlier. He liked the idea of being a pimp, and he liked TV shows that featured pimps and pimp-wannabes and his finest dream was to own a Mercedes Benz R-Class pimpmobile in emerald green. He enjoyed the infliction of pain, as long as he wasn't the object of it.
Briar was his only employee.
A heavy young woman who wore a shapeless grey dress, her hair was the sad tatters of a curly perm gone old. She sat half-crouched over the steering wheel of Whitcomb's handicapped van, and alternately chirped brightly about the sights on the street, and sobbed, pressing her knuckles to her teeth, fearing for what was coming. What was coming, she thought, would be a whipping from Whitcomb, with his whipping stick.
He'd broken the stick out of a lilac hedge a block from their house. A sucker, looking for light, the branch had grown long and leggy, an inch thick at the butt, tapering to an eighth of an inch at the tip. Whitcomb had striped the bark off with a penknife; the switch sat, white and naked, spotted here and there with blood, in the corner of the room next to his La-Z-Boy chair.
He'd beaten her with it three times over the summer, when her performance had sagged below his standards.
He liked the work. He couldn't stand up, so he made her drop on the floor like a dog, on her hands and knees, while he sat on his chair and whipped her with the switch. The thing was limber enough that it didn't break bone he wouldn't have cared, except that broken bones would have kept her from waiting on him but it did maul her skin. So she laughed and chirped and pointed and giggled and then sobbed, the fear rising in her throat as they got closer to the house.
They couldn't afford a van equipped for handicapped drivers, and Whitcomb hadn't been trained on one anyway. They did get one with a hydraulic ramp, bought used and cheap through CurbCut, a St. Paul charity. At the house, Briar parked next to a wooden ramp built by Make a House a Home, and Whitcomb dropped the ramp and rolled out of the van, used the remote to retract the ramp and close the van door. He hadn't spoken a word since the airport, but his breath was coming in fast chuffs.
Whitcomb was getting himself excited, though, of course, nothing would come of it. He'd taken the bullet low in the spine, and he'd not have another erection in this life.
Now he spoke: "Inside."
"The light's on," Briar said. She stopped. She was sure she'd turned the lights off as they left. "I turned them off."
She was stalling, Whitcomb thought. "Ranch must be up."
"Ranch is not up."
Stalling. The crazy bitch had got the flight wrong, and now a pharmaceutical salesman was wondering why he couldn't find his sample case, and somebody else was wondering why a green nylon bag was going round and round on a baggage carousel somewhere else. Eventually they'd look in it, and find the sample case, and put two-and-two together, and the whole goddamn racket could come down around their ears. She was stalling.
"In the house," he said.
He shouted at her now: "Get in the fuckin' house..."
She turned and climbed the ramp, unlocked the door and pushed inside, holding the door for him, and he bumped over the door jamb and turned toward the living room and accelerated. Moving too fast to turn back. And there were the Pollish twins, Dubuque and Moline, sitting on the couch, big bulky black men with corn-rowed hair, drop-crotch jeans and wife-beater shirts.
Ranch was lying in a corner on a futon, face down, mouth open, a white stain under his chin, breathing heavily.
Moline had one of Whitcomb's beers in one hand and a piece-of-shit .22 in the other. The twins were managers in the sexual entertainment industry, and were known around the St. Paul railroad tracks as Shit and Shinola, because stupid people found them hard to tell apart. The cops and the smarter street people knew that Dubuque had lost part of his left ear in a leveraged buyout on University Avenue. Moline pointed the gun at Whitcomb's head and said, "Tell me why I shouldn't shoot you in the motherfuckin' head."
"What are you talking about?" Whitcomb asked. "What are you doing in my house?" He rolled across the room to Ranch and jammed the foot-plate on the wheelchair hard into Ranch's ribs: "You alive?"
Ranch groaned, twitched away from the pain. The door slammed in the kitchen. Dubuque jumped and asked, "What was that?"
"Woman runnin' for the cops," Whitcomb said. "She knows who you are. You're fucked."
Moline looked at the front door, then asked, "Why you running Jasmine down my street?"
"Jasmine?" Whitcomb sneered at him. "I ain't seen her in two weeks. She's running with Jorgenson."
"Jorgenson? You pullin' my dick," Moline said.
"Am not," Whitcomb said. "Juliet's all I got left. Jasmine got pissed because I whacked her lazy ass with my stick, and she snuck out of here with her clothes. The next thing I hear, she's working for Jorgenson. If find her, she's gonna have a new set of lips up her cheek."
Dubuque said to Moline, casually, "He lying to us."
"Juliet knows us, though," Moline said. He was the thinker of the two.
"I'm not lying," Whitcomb said.
Moline stood up, pulled up his shirt, stuck the .22 under his belt and said, "Get the door, bro."
Whitcomb figured he was good: "You next time you motherfuckers come back here..."
Dubuque was at the front door, which led out to the front porch, which Whitcomb never used because of the six steps down to the front lawn.
"We come back here again, they gonna find your brains all over the wall," Moline said, and with two big steps, he'd walked around Whitcomb's chair, and Moline was a large man, and he grabbed the handles on the back and started running before Whitcomb could react, and Dubuque held the door and Whitcomb banged across the front porch and went screaming down the steps, his bones banging around like silverware in a wooden box.
The whole crash actually took a second or two, and he wildly tried to control it, but the wheels were spinning too fast, and there was never any hope, and he pitched forward and skidded face-first down the sidewalk, his legs slack behind him like a couple of extra-long socks.
Moline bent over him, "Next time, we ain't playing no pattycake."
Juliet showed up three or four minutes later, crying, "Oh, god, oh, god. Are you all right, honey? Are you all right? The cops are coming..."
Whitcomb had managed to roll onto his back. Most of the skin was gone from his nose, and he was bleeding from scrapes on his hands and forearms and belly.
He started to weep, slapping at his legs. He couldn't help himself, and it added to the humiliation. "Davenport did this to me," he said. "That fuckin' Davenport..."
Brutus Cohn didn't have much to unload. He tossed his suitcase on the motel bed and said, "I need to take a walk haven't been able to walk since I got on the train in York. You get the guys together. See you in a half hour."
Cruz nodded and picked up a pen from the nightstand and handed it to him: "Write my room number in your palm. Remember it."
Cohn wrote the number in his palm and Cruz led the way out, and he said, "See you in a bit, babe," and gave her a little pat on the ass. She didn't mind, because that was just Cohn being Cohn, no offense meant.
So Cohn took a walk, looking up and down the street. They'd gotten off at Exit 2 in Wisconsin, a major fast-food and franchise intersection outside the built-up part of the metro area.
From the front of the motel, straight ahead, he could see a Taco Bell, which made his mouth water, and a McDonald's, both a block or two away. Closer, an Arby's, Country Kitchen, a Burger King and a Denny's. To his right, across the main street off the interstate, a Buffalo Wings, a Starbucks, a Chipotle and a couple of stores. To his left, a supermarket, a liquor store, some clothing stores, a buffet restaurant. Behind the hotel, to the left, a Home Depot.
Excellent. He needed fuel, liquor and a hardware store, and here it all was.
He hit the Taco Bell first and got a grilled stuft burrito with chicken; while he ate, he read the StarTribune about the Republican convention. The paper was just short of hysterical, which was good. The more confusion, the more cops doing street security, the better. Besides, he was a political conservative and wished John McCain well. He liked the thought of a bunch of little anarchist assholes getting beat up by the cops.
Out of the Taco Bell, he stopped at the supermarket, got some apples, one doughnut, and three Pepsis. He picked up a bottle of George Dickel at the liquor store, then carried the whole load down to Home Depot, where he bought a box of contractor's clean-up bags and a crescent wrench, the biggest one he could find.
"Big wrench," said the cute little blonde at the checkout.
He gave her a twinkle: "I gotta big nut to deal with," he said.
She giggled, seeing in the comment a double-entendre of some kind, which may or may not have existed, Cohn thought, as he walked back to the motel with his bags.
So the gang was back in town.
Jesse Lane was a white man with dirty blond hair that fell on his shoulders, a thick face with eyes too closely spaced, a bony nose marked by enlarged pores, and thin, pale-pink lips. A hand-made silver earring, big as a wedding ring, hung from his left ear lobe. Fifteen years earlier he'd done time in an Alabama prison, for armed robbery, where he picked up the weight-lifting habit. He was still a lifter, and showed it in the width of his shoulders and his narrow, tapered waist.
Lane owned a farm in Tennessee, on the 'Bama border, where he grew soybeans and worked on cars in a shop in the barn. His specialty was turning run-of-the-mill family vehicles into machines that could flat outrun the highway patrol not for crooks, but just the everyday Dukes-of-Hazzard wanabees.
Tate McCall was a black version of Jesse Lane. He'd done a total of ten years in California, both sets for robbery, but had been clean for eight years. Like Lane, he'd been a lifter, but where Lane was square, McCall was tall and rangy, like a wide receiver, with hands the size of dinner plates. McCall owned a piece of a diner on Main Street in Ocean Park, a neighborhood in Santa Monica.
Jack Spitzer was from Austin, Texas. He looked like a big-nosed French bicycle racer, or a runner, mid-height but greyhound-thin, his thinning black hair slicked back on his small head. His nose had been broken sometime in the past. He was mostly unemployed.
Lane was sitting at the computer desk, McCall was draped over an easy chair, Spitzer sat on a bed, more-or-less facing the other two. Lane and McCall were wearing golf shirts and slacks, while Spitzer wore a short-sleeved dress shirt and a black sport coat, because, all the others thought, he was carrying a pistol in the small of his back, the dumb shit.
Rosie Cruz came through the door that connected Cohn's two rooms, and said, "He's coming."
"Nothing around here to see but chain restaurants," McCall said.
"How'd you know?" Cruz asked.
"I looked," McCall said. "While you were pickin' up Brute."
"And that's what Brute's doing looking," she said. "You know what he's like."
"We gotta get this shit straightened out," McCall said, looking at Spitzer.
Spitzer said, defensively, "I'll do whatever Brute says."
"Goddamn right," Lane said.
They all sat, waiting, the television on, but muted, a CNN chick soundlessly running her mouth with a forest fire on a screen behind her head. A minute or two, then a key rattled in the door lock, and Cohn came in. He was wearing tan golf slacks, a red golf shirt and a blue blazer, carrying a grocery bag and a plastic sack. He looked like a city manager on his day off.
He saw them and flashed his smile, genuinely happy to see them, and they knew it. He shut the door and said, "Boys. Damned good to see you. Jesse. Tate. Jack..." He stepped through the room, shaking hands, slapping shoulders. Cruz was leaning in the doorway to the second room, watching.
Lane said, "Man, you're looking good. I like that beard."
"Yeah, yeah," Cohn said, scratching at the beard. "Let me run down the hall and get some ice..."
He picked up the ice bucket, went out, and was back in a minute with a bucket of ice cubes.
"Got some Dickel," he said. "I been drinking nothing but scotch and gin and it's good but it ain't bourbon."
McCall said, "We got some shit to figure out." He looked at Spitzer.
"All right," Cohn said. "Let's get it out." He found a glass, scooped some ice into it, and poured in a couple of ounces of bourbon. "I think we agree that Jack sorta screwed the pooch the last time out." He took a sip of the drink and closed his eyes and smiled: "That's smooth."
"Screwed the pooch? He signed us up for death row," Lane said. "Wasn't no point in shooting those boys."
"Accident," Spitzer said. "Goddamn one in a million. I thought he was coming for me. What the fuck was I supposed to do? Once he was down, I had to do the other one..."
"They were cops," McCall said.
"Jack's right, though. After the first one went down, he had to do the second," Cohn said. He was standing next to Spitzer, one hand on his shoulder, drink in the other hand.
McCall said, "Brute, you know I like working with you. You got a class act. But this asshole..."
Spitzer turned his head toward McCall and away from Cohn. When he did that, Cohn put the drink down, pulled the eighteen-inch-long crescent wrench from his back pocket, cocked his wrist, and slammed it into the back of Spitzer's head. Spitzer jerked forward, his face suddenly blank, eyes wide, and fell on the floor.
Cruz said, urgently, "No, no, Brute..."
"Go in that other room," Cohn said.
"Brute..." She didn't move.
Cohn ignored her, went to a closet alcove with a dozen wire coat hangers on a rod. He'd already unwrapped one of them and he took it down, carried it back to Spitzer's body. Spitzer was out, and maybe dying, but making low growling sounds. Cohn bent the coat-hanger around Spitzer's neck, put his knee down hard on the unconscious man's spine, and pulled up on the wire until it cut halfway through his neck. His teeth bared with the effort, he did a quick twist of the wire, turning it around itself. Spitzer stopped making any sound, though a minute later, his feet began to tremble and run as his brain died.
Cohn looked at McCall and Lane and said, "Sooner or later, he'd of given us up. He didn't have a job, like you boys. He was on the street. Sooner or later, he was going to get caught, and then he was gonna cut a deal. We were nothing but money in the bank, to him."
They all looked at the body for a minute, then Cruz said, "You should have told me what you were going to do."
"Didn't know how you'd react," Cohn said, in apology. "I'm sorry if this offends you..."
"That's not what I meant," Cruz said. "What I mean was, if you'd told me, I'd have figured out a better place to do it. He's bleeding, ah, for Christ's sakes, if they find blood in the carpet..."
She took three long steps to the closet niche, snatched a HomTel plastic laundry bag off a hanger, and as the men watched, bent over Spitzer's body, lifted his head by the hair on the back of his skull, and pulled the bag over his head. Then she tugged the head to one side and said, "The carpet's okay. Goddamnit, Brute, try thinking about consequences once in a while."
Cohn was embarrassed and shrugged, and said, "Sorry, babe."
"Go wash that wrench. We'll throw it out the car window somewhere," she said. "And don't call me babe."
McCall looked at Lane, who shrugged. "Be good if nobody found out about this for a while."
"We'll take him out in the woods and bury his ass," Cohn said. "When I was buying the wrench, I bought some garbage bags at Home Depot. We can pick up a shovel on the way out."
They looked down at the body, and Cruz said, finally, "Four guys would have been better."
Cohn grinned at her: "You'll just have to carry a gun yourself, darling."
She shook her head. "I need to be outside. If I'm not outside, I can't manage the radios and all the other stuff. Three is okay, four would be better. I don't know how many people we'll be handling."
Cohn looked at Lane. "How about your brother?"
Lane shook his head. "We can't go on the same job. You know, so there'll be somebody to take care of the families, if something happens."
McCall asked, "You remember Bob Mortenson from Fresno?"
"... He had a wheelman named Steve Sargent, he was in Chino until last year. He got caught on a jewelry deal that broke down in LA after Mortenson quit. I know him, some, he's careful, he can keep his mouth shut. If we needed him..."
"We'll talk about it," Cohn said. "But I'd rather not work with something new. Look what happened when we brought in this piece of shit." He prodded Spitzer's body with a toe of his shoe. "We'll work it with Rosie, see if we can do it with three. What happened with Mortenson? I haven't heard about him in years."
"He retired. He's in Hawaii," McCall said. "Got a place there. Goes fishing a lot. Plays golf."
"That's what we're talking about," Cohn said, the enthusiasm lighting his eyes. "That's what this job'll do for us. Rosie says this should be large: we pull this off, we're all done."
Lane levered himself to his feet. "In the meantime, we gotta get rid of Jack," he said.
"You the farm boy," McCall said. "You know about the woods. I'm city, man. I'm scared of them bears and shit. Wolfs."
A bad smell was coming from the body flatulence, emptying lungs, or maybe death itself. Cruz said, "We need to get some air freshener. Some pine scent, that's what the motel uses."
Lane said to Cohn, "You know, even if we weren't here for a job, Jack would have been worth doing. I feel a hundred percent safer already."
McCall said to Cohn, "If you got that garbage bag..."
But then Lane asked Cruz, "What're we gonna hit, anyway? You never said."
"Not one hit," she said. "Maybe six or eight."
Lane and McCall stared at her for a second, and Cohn said, "She'll tell you all about it but let's get rid of Jack and she can lay it all out."
"Just give me one minute of it, right now," Lane said. "Not the details, just the outline."
Cruz said, "There are two parts to the deal, but they're not really connected. The Republican convention is starting, and the people who run the party down at the street level are here, as delegates and spectators. So these big lobby guys come in with suitcases full of cash, and pass it out, expense money. They call it street money, hire guys to put up signs and all that, off the books. Everybody knows about it, nobody tells. Can't tell, because it's illegal. I've got the names and hotel rooms for seven of them. They could have anywhere from a quarter-million to a million dollars, each. We hit them until we feel nervous. We'll have to feel it out as we go, but three or four guys anyway. Five, maybe? We'll see. Look for reaction on TV, watch the targets see if they get bodyguards, whatever."
"Who watches them?" Lane asked.
"I do, basically. I've got a file on each of them," Cruz said. "They're schmoozers, they want to make sure they get the credit for the cash they're handing out, they'll be hooking up with people all the time."
"You're going into the convention?" McCall asked.
"No. Neither will theses guys. The security is super-tight and they don't want to get caught with a hundred thousand in small bills," Cruz said. "So they do the business at the hotels. Two of the guys are thirty seconds apart in the same hotel, we can do them both at the same time and they're two of the biggest money guys. The third guy and the fourth guy we'll have to check. If we see any reaction from the cops, we quit, and go on to the second part."
"Which is?" Lane asked.
"A hotel job. The night McCain gets nominated there's a big ball at the St. Andrews Hotel downtown. We hit the strong-room afterwards. Three in the morning. I'm thinking twenty million in jewelry, maybe a million or two in cash."
"You got a guy inside?" McCall asked.
"Had one. A guy in Washington. Worked for the committee that sets up room assignments."
"What about at the hotel?"
"I couldn't find anybody there, that I could risk recruiting," Cruz said. "The Secret Service is all over the place. I stayed there a couple of times, a week at a time, did a lot of scouting...put my stuff in a safe deposit box, I've been in and out of the strong-room a half-dozen times. I know the hotel, top to bottom."
"Lot of people coming and going in a hotel," Lane said.
"That can be handled," Cruz said. "There's no more risk than an armored car or a bank. And I'm working a little thing that'll keep the cops occupied while we're inside."
Nobody said anything for a moment, and she added, "Guys, this is it: this is one where we all get out. If we get two million from the political guys and a million from the hotel and twenty million in diamonds, that'd be another seven or eight in cash and we'll get at least that, I swear to god we can quit. Shake hands and walk."
They'd worked with her on a dozen jobs and she'd never been wrong. And they'd talked about quitting. Lane had a family, McCall had a long-time lover, Cohn was getting old, Cruz was getting nervous. Past time to quit. Lane and McCall glanced at each other again, McCall tipped his head and said, "All right; we can get the details later. Right now, we need those white-trash bags."
Randy Whitcomb, strapped into the back of the van, with Juliet Briar at the wheel, Ranch sitting in a fog layer in the passenger seat, rolled past Lucas Davenport's house every few minutes, until they saw the girl getting out of a private car. She waved at the driver and headed up the driveway to Davenport's house. She was a rangy blond teenager, dressed conservatively in dark slacks, a white blouse and sandals.
"Maybe a baby-sitter," Ranch said.
"She's got a key," Briar pointed out. "They don't give keys to baby-sitters."
"Then its gotta be his daughter," Whitcomb said. "Too young for him to be fuckin'. Daughter'd be good."
"Never done anything to us," Juliet said, doubtfully.
"Davenport did this to me," Whitcomb said, whacking his inert legs. "Set it up. Started it all."
"The girl didn't..."
"Davenport set me up," Whitcomb said. He watched the girl disappear into the house. "I'm gonna get him back. No fun just shootin' him. I want to do him good, and I want him to know what I done, and who done it. Motherfucker."
"Motherfucker," Ranch said, and the word made him giggle, and then he couldn't stop giggling, even when Whitcomb started screaming "Shut up, shut up, you fuckin' scrote." He didn't mention it, but he was also frightened of Davenport, who he thought was crazy.
They went back to the house, Ranch trying to suppress the urge to laugh, but cloudbursts of giggles broke through anyway.
Because Ranch was crazy.
Lucas Davenport rolled in his Porsche through the August countryside, green and tan, corn and beans, the blue oat fields falling in front of the John Deeres, weeping willows hanging over the banks of black-water ponds, yellow coneflowers climbing the sides of the road-cuts, Wisconsin farms with U-Pick signs hung out on the driveways, Dutch Belted cows and golden horses and red barns, Lucas' arms prickling from sunburn...
One of the finest summers of his life.
His wife, Weather, dozed beside him, despite the gravelly ride of the car. She'd tuned to a public radio station before she'd gone to sleep, and it was playing something by Mozart or one of those big guys, and the sound floated around them like the soundtrack in a chick flick.
Weather's nose was burned and would be peeling; so was her stomach and her thighs. Twenty minutes, she said, only twenty minutes, lying back in a two-piece bathing suit, on the front deck of Lucas' boat. She'd known better, but she'd done it anyway.
Twenty minutes was all it took. Lucas grinned at the thought of it: she was cooked. Because she was almost constitutionally unable to admit error, she wouldn't even be able to complain about it.
He idled through Hammond, up the hill past the golf course, down the hill past the high school, the small-town boys out on the football field, turning at the burble of the car's exhaust to look at the Porsche; and then on down County T to I-94, where he made the turn toward the Cities in the evening's dying light.
They'd spent two days at their lake cabin outside of Hayward; hiding out. Two weeks before, one of Lucas' agents, Virgil Flowers, had arrested two Homeland Security officials for conspiracy to commit murder.
The shit hit the fan with all the expected velocity. The governor and his chief weasel were handling it had asked for it. The arrest was as political as legal, although the big newspapers, the New York and L.A. and even the London Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, said the legal looked fairly strong. Of course, it was hard to tell whether the papers were serious, or just fucking with George Bush.
The governor was definitely fucking with George Bush, since the Republican National Convention was in town the next week.
In any case, Lucas took two days at the lake to avoid the growing siege of phone calls, while Virgil went fishing in northern Minnesota, and the governor continued to make the rounds of the Washington talk shows. They'd watched him on satellite and Weather had been delighted. She'd once had a favored pair of manicure scissors seized by the TSA, and as far as she was concerned, this was payback time.
Now Weather woke up and groaned and said, "Ah, god, where are we?"
"I-94. Six miles from the river," Lucas said.
"Mmm." She fumbled around for her purse, took out her Blackberry and punched it up, stared at the screen for a moment, then put it back in her purse. "Nothing from anybody...I can't believe you're listening to Chopin."
"Well, no phone calls means that everything's okay," Lucas said. Weather hadn't wanted to leave Sam, their son, though he was almost two, and they had a live-in housekeeper who was like a second mother to the kid. Still, she was anxious about it: she'd never been away from him for more than eight or ten hours, and wanted to get back.
"You feeling a little pink?" Lucas asked.
"Oh, not really," she said. "It's nothing."
He laughed and said, "Bullshit you're toast."
She said, "Check your phone. See if Ellen called."
Ellen was the housekeeper. He fished out the phone, opened it, turned it on: three messages, all from the same guy. "Dan Jacobs," he said. "Nothing from Ellen."
"Too late to call him tonight," Weather said.
"He called three times... last time was twenty minutes ago... he'll be working twenty-four hours a day now."
He punched re-dial and waited. Jacobs ran the convention-security coordination committee for Minneapolis and St. Paul. A woman's voice, tired: "Jacobs committee, Sondra speaking."
"This is Lucas Davenport, returning a call from Dan."
"Just a minute, Lucas, I'll switch you in."
After a snatch of country and western music, Jacobs came up: "Lucas we've got a problem. I'm going to send you a file on a man named Justice Shafer. We need to get our hands on him. I'd appreciate it if you could coordinate with your opposite number in Wisconsin."
"Who is he?"
"A nutcake. Sells copies of Rogue Warrior at gun shows... you know Rogue Warrior?"
"Yeah, sort of." Guerrilla war fantasies set in a future America somehow taken over by Islamic revolutionaries, except for those parts run by the Jewish bankers. "Something more specific?"
"Well, we never heard of him, tell you the truth," Jacobs said. "Then some guy who goes to gun shows ran into him at a quarry over in Wisconsin, in Barron County, where he was sighting in a .50 cal. The guy talked to him and said Shafer got going on Jews and jihad and how the politicians were selling out America, you know... and he had this .50 cal, and the guy who saw him said he was knocking over metal plates at 745 yards."
"Unusual distance," Lucas said.
"Which has us worried. For one thing, Shafer lives in Oklahoma, and we've got no idea what he's doing up here. He's poor as a church mouse and he runs around in a rat-trap Ford pickup but he's got this shiny new rifle with a thousand-dollar scope and a Nikon rangefinder, and he's shooting at this specific distance... 745 yards. Like he had the distance in mind. He's got an FBI file: he tried to join the Marines and then the Army, years ago, but they didn't want him, said he was a little shaky on his feet. He may have hooked up with some of the extremist white gangs he's got a skinhead brother who did some time. The feds think he might have painted some swastikas on a synagogue in Norman, tipped over some Jewish tombstones... Got '88' tattooed on his chest. Like that."
"We'll get on it," Lucas said. "The file's on the way?"
"I'm pushing the button on it. ATF is working it, too, and the FBI's interested, so you may be bumping into some of them."
"I'll warn everybody," Lucas said.
Lucas Davenport was a tall, tough, dark-haired man, heavily tanned at the end of the Minnesota summer. The tan emphasized his blue eyes, his hawkish nose and his facial scars: a long thin one down through his eyebrow, like a piece of white fishing line, another circular one on this throat, with a vertical line through it, like the Greek letter phi the remnants of a .22 wound, followed by the tracheotomy that kept him alive. The tracheotomy had been done by Weather, with a jack knife.
"So?" Weather asked.
"Some redneck with a .50-caliber sniper rifle, up here from Oklahoma," Lucas said. "One of the eighty-eights. They're worried, but not too worried."
"What's an eighty-eight?"
"You know H is the eighth letter in the alphabet, so 88 is HH. Heil Hitler," Lucas said. "You got guys who get it tattooed on their scalps."
"Then I'd be worried, if I were Dan Jacobs," she said.
"Yeah...The ATF guys are out looking for him, and probably the Secret Service," Lucas said. "They want me to call our Wisconsin contacts, and people around the metro, see if we can spot him. I'll make some calls tonight, get some deputies looking around."
"Good luck with that," she said. The longer they'd lived together, the more skeptical she'd become of the concept of sharp-eyed cops picking the bad guys out of a crowd. She'd moved toward Lucas' view, as regarded cops and robbers: it was all chaos, accident, stupidity, insanity and coincidence.
He'd cited as evidence the case of the doper who'd gotten out of Stillwater prison on Wednesday, who'd promptly gotten drunk with his release money, had fallen asleep at midnight in a filling station parking lot, had woken at three o'clock in the morning, out of money, only to spot the Coke machine right there, with a brick sitting next to it, had smashed open the machine with the brick, and was still scooping up the coins when the cops arrived. On Friday, he was back in Stillwater for the remaining three years of his original term.
They crossed the St. Croix River into Minnesota, and twenty-five minutes later, were home. There were lights all over the house, and from the garage, they could hear Letty, their ward, shrieking with laughter. Inside, they found Letty and Sam playing a kind of volleyball using a sponge batted over a string.
Sam quit the moment he saw Weather and Lucas, and Letty called, "Quitter," which he understood, and he said, "No-no-no-no," one of his few dozen words, and ran to Weather.
Perfect, Lucas thought. Just perfect. The kid was obviously brilliant, as well as athletically gifted, and probably the best-looking toddler in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. And Letty was growing up into something interesting. Her mother had been murdered in a case broken by Lucas; and he'd been so taken with the child that he'd brought her home to Weather.
Now she was growing up, and Lucas and Weather were back in court, with her consent, to formally adopt her, to make her Letty Davenport. She feigned nonchalance, but once or twice a week, she'd ask, "So, how's things with the court?"
Lucas brought in a fabric cooler full of beer with a slab of walleye fillets the only cooler he'd found that would fit in the Porsche and Weather's overnight case. He gave Letty a hug, Sam a head-rub, got a piece of blueberry pie from Ellen, and went off to the den and brought up the computer.
The file on Justice Shafer was sitting in the e-mail at his office, at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. He pulled it out, opened it, and read it as he ate the pie.
Shafer was one of the border-states bad boys who looked like an antique photo of Cole Younger or Jesse James: hair like straw, freckles, pale eyes, bones in his face; like he hadn't had enough to eat as a kid, like he'd never had baby fat. In the photograph, he was standing next to the back of a pickup truck, a pump .22 in his hands, a pile of dead squirrels on the tailgate. His tongue was tucked in one corner of his mouth, the tip protruding, and it made him look both stupid and crazy, the kind of guy who couldn't keep his tongue out of the cold.
His file was full of the small detail that spelled trouble: never made it out of high school; juvenile record for theft; failed the psychological tests for both the Marines and the Army. Might have robbed a couple of gas stations, but hadn't gotten caught at it. Hung out with the Clan, a mid-continent neo-Nazi motorcycle club that mostly got in fights with other neo-Nazi groups and Chicano gangs.
All right. Lucas did some editing on the file, then called the duty man at the BCA and told him to circulate the file to sheriff's departments in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.
Kicked back, and thought about the Republican convention.
In the months leading up to the main event, the nomination of John McCain for the presidency, he'd argued that the Twin Cities weren't prepared to deal with it. He'd made the argument hard enough, and loud enough he had excellent contacts with the local TV stations and the two major newspapers that the local agencies finally got some intelligence work underway, and contracted with police agencies around the country to bring in more cops. In doing that, he'd made himself unpopular enough that he'd been dis-invited from the party.
Well, what the hell. He didn't want to go anyway.
Glanced at his watch, called a pal in the Ramsey County sheriff's office. "Surprised you're home," he said, when the guy came up. "I thought you'd be out violating the rights of the protesters."
"I would be, but my kid's leaving for Madison this weekend. I'm packing a trailer," the guy said.
"Not bad," Lucas said. "I always liked that place. When I was at the U, we'd go down there and try to get laid."
"Glad to hear that, since it's my daughter I'm taking down," the guy said.
Oops. "Mmm. Anyway, you got things under control?"
"I think so. We're going out tomorrow night, hit some of the assholes," the guy said. "Pre-empt them. They think they're hiding in Minneapolis, but we've got a couple of guys with them."
"You're welcome to come along and watch..."
Lucas was tempted, but it would be a bit humiliating, standing there, rubbernecking, while the other guys got the action. "Ah, you know. I pissed off too many people. But...glad to know you got it covered."
They talked a few more minutes, then he went out and hung with Letty and Sam, and started an Alan Furst novel, and eventually went to bed and slept the sleep of the righteous.
Friday morning, another gorgeous day, driving north up Cretin Avenue.
Antisemites were milling around the corner at Summit Avenue, with signs about Palestine; on up to I-94, then blowing the doors off the chain of Camrys and Priuses as he merged into traffic. Made him smile, made him feel happy, as though there were possibilities in the world. He hustled across town, up I-35E, off on Maryland, down the road to the headquarters of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension... past the filling station where a madwoman once tried to shoot him to death.
He parked in the BCA lot and walked up to his office, peeling off his jacket to show the .45 he carried under his armpit. Pulled off the shoulder rig, stuck the whole apparatus in a file cabinet. His secretary, Carol, trailed him into his office.
"You've got a call, sounds like it might be important," she said.
"The security committee? I got that..."
Carol looked at a piece of paper. "From New York. You know a woman named Lily Rothenburg? Says she's a captain with the NYPD?"
"Absolutely," Lucas said.
"She wants you to give her a call," Carol said. "She says it's semi-urgent."
"Ring her up and transfer it in," Lucas said. "Dig up a phone number for Dan Coates over in Wisconsin it's the Special Assignments Bureau in their Justice Department. I need to talk to him right after Lily."
"Gotcha." She hesitated in the doorway. "One more thing. You got a nut call: the guy says, 'Is this Davenport's office?' I say 'Yes.' He says, 'Tell that motherfucker that I'm coming for him.'"
Lucas laughed: "Did he say who it was?"
"There was a caller ID. Do you know an Achmed Mansoor?"
Lucas shook his head. "Nope. Did he say anything about Allah?"
"No... and this guy sounded like an American. Ghetto accent. I did a reverse directory and came up with a Middle Eastern sandwich shop in Dinkytown."
"Gimme the address: I'll look into it."
Del Capslock had come through the door while they were talking, and said to Carol, "You sweet thing."
Carol, feigning propriety: "How's the pregnant wife?"
"She's fine. She's great," Del said. "She looks like a goddamn rosebud. Doc says she's starting to dilate, but she's still a while out. She's got me running around like a Shriner parade."
Lucas asked, "Do they still have those?"
"They must, somewhere," Del said. "They still got Shriners." He eased into one of the visitors' chairs and put his boots on Lucas' desktop. "So what's this about a sandwich shop in Dinkytown?"
Carol explained and Del said, "I'll go over and have a chat with the guy."
"I'm not doing much," Lucas said.
"Yeah, but you go walking in the door, maybe he pulls out a shotgun and kills you," Del said. "Me, he doesn't know from Adam."
"As far as you know."
"Whatever." Del yawned then added, "I never heard of a cop getting killed by somebody who called ahead."
"Probably happened somewhere," Lucas said.
"Everything's happened somewhere."
Del was a battered man in his late forties, in jeans and a Pennzoil t-shirt with grease spots on it, rough-side-out Red Wing work boots and an old, unfashionable nylon fanny pack, worn in front. He had a cell-phone-sized digital camera hung on a string around his neck and a .38 revolver in the fanny pack. He'd been working the streets around the convention center.
"So what's happening?" Lucas asked.
"Ah, you know: kids and old people. There are some assholes out there, but most of them are hobbyists. They seem like my mom... you know, old. They've got these recycled signs from the Sixties. 'Hey, hey, John McCain, how many kids did you kill in your day?' Like that."
"With a few assholes."
"A few," Del said. "Vandals. Red-and-black flags. Slingshots. Guys who want to wreck the place for the pure pleasure of it. I could point out twenty people, if we picked them up and put them in the basement for a few days, the convention would be a sea of peace."
"Ramsey County sheriff is setting up a raid tonight, tomorrow night, pick some of those guys up," Lucas said. "Or so I'm told."
"No, over in Minneapolis," Lucas said. "They're pulling in some Minneapolis cops."
They talked about that for a while, and Lucas told Del about the guy with the sniper rifle, and Del shook his head and said, "That's all we need."
"You having a good time?" Lucas asked.
"Yeah, I am," Del said. "I like talking to them; pretty good folks, for the most part. Even the assholes are interesting."
"I'd like to get out there; just to see it, you know?" Lucas said.
Del was doubtful. "You look too much like a cop or even a Republican."
"Well you got that vibe. You'd have to tone it down," Del said. "Like, borrow clothes from me."
Lucas shuddered: "Maybe not."
He was, in fact, a clothes horse, this morning wearing a light checked sportcoat over an icy-blue long-sleeved dress shirt, black summer-weight woolen slacks hand-knit by an Italian virgin, and square-toed English-made loafers.
Carol shouted: "Lily Rothenburg on Two."
Lucas said to Del, "I got a call coming here."
Del said, "Pick it up. I ain't going anywhere, if it's Lily calling."
"Fuck you," Lucas said. He and Lily had once been a passing fashion, including a geometrical insanity in an earlier Porsche. Del knew all about it: Lucas shook his head and picked up the phone. "Lily?"
"Lucas Davenport," she said, "How's every little thing?"
"Well, we got a lot going on, so... pretty good," Lucas said. "How about you? How's the kid? If you're divorced, I can offer you space in my garage."
She laughed and said, "From what I hear about Weather, it'd be more like the backyard. But, the kid's fine and I'm not divorced."
"Del's here, he says hi..."
They caught up for a few minutes, then she said, "Look. We've got a problem or, maybe, you've got a problem. We had an armored car robbery here two and a half years ago, and two guards were killed. They were off-duty cops. The robbery crew got away with a half-million dollars."
"Not that big, for an armored car," Lucas said.
"Well, there was more inside, but the thing went bad. Most of the money was behind a locked barrier inside the truck," Lily said. "The idea was, if trouble started, the guards would put the keys in a solid-steel lockbox inside the back, which they didn't have keys to, and then nobody could get at the money... that's what they did. But somebody got pissed, we think, and started shooting, and all the shooters got were the receipts from a couple of big-box stores that hadn't been put behind the barrier yet."
"How does that get to us?"
"We think the leader of the crew was a guy named Brutus Cohn," Lily said. "We got an anonymous tip. A male caller, deep southern accent, calling from Kennedy. He said that he'd seen Cohn getting on a plane at Heathrow, in England, yesterday, going to Los Angeles. He said he knew him from Alabama, and Cohn is from Alabama. He said Cohn had grown a red beard, and Cohn is a redhead."
"So he sounds good," Lucas said.
"Yes. Anyway, this guy said he was waiting to get on his plane, when he saw Cohn. He didn't want to call from London, because he was afraid we'd identify him, and he's afraid of Cohn. So he got way back and watched Cohn going into a gate for a flight to Los Angeles. By the time we got to the LA cops, Cohn's flight was an hour out. They met the plane, and there was no Brutus Cohn. There was no way to get back to the original source, so we checked with Heathrow. Everything was right: there was the Kennedy gate, and down the way, the LA gate. But the gate was a joint gate and the next gate down, where Cohn could also have been headed..."
"... came here."
"Right. The Minneapolis plane was on the ground for three hours before we got it straight. Our people talked to the flight crew, and there was a man in first class who probably was Cohn. He almost certainly was the guy that the source saw, and the source said he knew Cohn pretty well. The crew said he was very tall, fairly thin, muscular, red hair, and charming with the flight crew. The girls liked him, and that's Cohn, from what we hear."
"What's he doing?" Lucas asked.
"Don't know. It's possible he moved right on through the Cities, changed planes, and is gone. But it's also possible that he's up to something," Lily said. "He's a serious, ultra-violent holdup man who needs a big score so he can bury himself somewhere. He mostly worked in the south, down to Florida, north to Atlanta, west to New Mexico. Maybe California. Maybe one job in Mexico. The FBI isn't sure about all of that, but if they've got him right, there have been at least five dead in thirty to forty robberies, and one survivor shot through the chest who should've died. He's the guy who eventually identified Cohn for the FBI, from prison photographs. So. We've been looking, and waiting, and here he is. You've got that convention going on... lots of cash there. A boatload of cash."
Lucas said, "Let me ask you this how'd the caller know you were looking for Cohn?"
"We didn't make any secret about it," she said. "We put out posters, we sent some guys to Birmingham to look up his old acquaintances, his relatives, dear old mom. They got some TV time, it was sort of a thing, you know, a modern Jesse James. Got some attention down there."
"You want him pretty bad," Lucas said.
"Yes, we do."
"Send me what you got," Lucas said. "I'll spread it around to the TV stations."
"Ah don't do that," Lily said. "He's very careful. You could almost call that his MO. If he suspected we were onto him, he'd be gone in a minute..."
The problem, she said, what that New York really had no solid proof that he'd been involved in the armored car robbery. They had DNA that they believed had come out of the struggle between the cops and the shooter, but they didn't know whether it was Cohn's DNA, or DNA from somebody else in the gang.
"Cohn would have done the killing, if he thought he needed to, but we don't know that he was the shooter. He was there, but maybe didn't pull the trigger. Then, we think we found the place where they got together before the robbery, a motel out in Queens, but they burned it down, so we got nothing. No DNA, nothing."
"Burned it down?"
"Yeah. Fire guys say somebody doused the place with a mix of gasoline and motor oil, and torched it," Lily said. "Fire kills DNA..."
"I know. But it seems kind of extreme," Lucas said.
"That's Cohn. He's Mr. Extreme. He did three years in prison in Alabama, a newbie, for a prison, but he was running the place by the time he left."
"So if you don't want us to spread his face around, what do you want?" Lucas asked.
"We want to send you a bunch of photos," Lily said. "They're twelve years old, but we Photoshopped them to age him, and we added the beard. We thought some of your guys could walk them around to the local hotels and motels, see if you can spot him. And then... see what he's doing."
"You mean, let him take a shot at another armored car?"
"You wouldn't have to wait until the last second," she said, but her tone was rich with suggestion.
"But they'd have to be making a move..."
"Yeah, well. Life in the big city, huh?" Lily said. "The thing is, if he knows he put some DNA on somebody, here in New York, he'll try to shoot his way free."
"You want us to kill him," Lucas said.
"I didn't say that. I said, he killed two of our guys, and probably three more people, along the way," Lily said.
Lucas thought about it for a moment, then said, "Send the stuff. I'll get it to the people who need it."
"Lucas... thank you. And stay in touch."
"Interesting little conversation," Del said.
Carol routed through a call from Dan Coates, his opposite number in Wisconsin. Lucas filled him in on Justice Shafer. "We sent the file across the river, to the sheriffs' departments between us and Eau Claire, but it'd help if you goosed them along a little. You know, so you can deflect the blame when something goes wrong."
"Who'd point the finger at us? If something went wrong?" Coates asked. He was crunching on something like a carrot or a celery stick.
"Listen, if something goes wrong at the convention, with a 750-yard shot from a .50-cal, everybody will point the finger at you. And at me, and every other local cop. Think about it."
"I'll call everybody," Coates said. "How much you want to put on the Vikings?"
"Screw the Vikings. They're a bunch of criminals," Lucas said. "Not that Green Bay won't stink the place up."
"Let me tell you..."
They were discussing the possibilities when Del yawned and stood up and said, "I'm gonna go see that Arab dude in the sandwich shop."
Lucas took the phone away from his mouth: "Careful."
"Think about a disguise," Del said. "If you go out on the street."
From the outer office, Carol called, "Why don't you drive the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile? Nobody would suspect."
Lucas said, "Del... shut the door on the way out, okay?"
Del didn't shut the door. Carol propped herself in it, and when Lucas got off the phone, asked, "Are you serious about going out there?"
"Yeah. There are about a million people wandering around out there, and I'd like to go out and see it," Lucas said.
She nodded: "Listen, I was looking at National Geographic..."
"Didn't know you were an intellectual..."
"... and one of the guys in it, one of the photographers, this war photographer, looked like you. Attitudenally, if you know what I mean. If you got some Levis and gym shoes and like, a long-sleeved shirt and rolled the sleeves way up over your elbows, and messed up your hair, and put some convention credentials around your neck, and borrowed a camera bag from Dan Jackson and a couple of cameras you could make it as a photographer."
Lucas shook his head. "Pretending that you're a reporter tends to piss people off."
"Don't. Wear your official ID," Carol said. "Who looks at it? They just see the tags."
"I'll think about it," Lucas said.
She shrugged. "Do what you want but you could look like a photographer."
He thought about Lily for a while, and the Cohn gang, and then he went out on the Internet and looked at pictures of war photographers. Carol was right, he decided; he could be a photographer. Maybe. He called Jackson, said he was coming down for wardrobe and make-up.
On the way out of the office, he told Carol to print the pictures of Justice Shafer, and of Brutus Cohn, when they came in. "Call Minneapolis and St. Paul and Bloomington and get a list of firearms dealers who might be dealing dirty. Big enough so that their names would be around: somebody that a bad guy could find if he blew into town."
"You want them rated by their dirt quotient," she suggested.
"Yeah. I'll go chat with them. Give me something to do," he said.
Lucas had a small Nikon single-lens reflex digital camera, given to him for Christmas by Weather, along with a couple of zoom lenses. He used it to take pictures of the kids. When Jackson backed out of the equipment closet with two Nikon cameras, and an old Domke cloth camera bag and three lenses, he knew more or less how they worked.
"What we're gonna do," Jackson said, peeling a strip of black gaffer tape off a roll, "Is we're gonna tape out the Nikon and the D2x logos, which some war guys do to reduce visibility, you know? Then, not many people will know that you're shooting older cameras..."
"I'm not going to be shooting them much," Lucas said.
"Gotta look like it, though," Jackson said. "Do take a few shots, you might like it. The other thing is, make your shirt kinda military. Black, or olive green, with the sleeves rolled up. Military's sort of photo-trendy."
"What do I do if somebody asks me who I'm with?" Lucas asked.
"I just keep moving, and say, 'BCA,' and they'll nod like they know who it is," Jackson said. "Sounds sort of like BBC, NBC, CBS, ABC."
"Maybe I oughta wear white socks," Lucas suggested.
"Maybe you oughta take it seriously," Jackson said. "You could get your ass kicked, if somebody took you the wrong way."
"Lots of cops around..."
Jackson looked up. "You know, one way you'd be safe is, wear a police uniform. Nobody'll fuck with you. Nobody'll talk to you, either, other than to say hello."
"This is better," Lucas said, peering around through the camera's viewfinder. "I'm looking pretty good here..."
"Your hair is way too combed," Jackson said. "You gotta get some Brylcreem or something, get some hair spiked up. Wear jeans. And you gotta scuff them up you're way too neat. Way too neat. You gotta look like you slept in the jeans. Every time I see you in jeans... What do you do? Do you dry-clean your jeans?"
"No, I don't dry-clean my jeans," Lucas said.
"Then you iron them," Jackson said.
"The housekeeper irons them, sometimes," Lucas admitted.
"Irons your jeans?" He was appalled.
"You're sorta getting into this," Lucas said.
"Well, you know, it's interesting." Jackson said. "Carol was right: you do sorta look like a conflict photographer. So: let me show you how to handle the camera. It's like shooting on the range, very similar to a gun..."
Del called during the lecture, from the Middle East sandwich shop, and talking around a gyro, said, "They got a phone on the counter here, no long distance company, so they let anybody use it. They got no idea who called you, but they say they remembered one guy yelling into it, and Carol told me the guy who left the message was yelling, but this yelling guy was in a wheelchair."
"That's a relief," Lucas said. He hung up and asked Jackson, "You got any lighter lenses? This lens is big as my dick."
Jenkins and Shrake were chipping golf balls at a cup in a corner of the atrium, using an old MacGregor eight iron that had been in the evidence room since sometime in the eighties. Shortly after the turn of the millennium, somebody had gotten tired of looking at it and had thrown it away, and Jenkins rescued it from a trash can.
When they hit the ball, it would go "chock" and then "chink" if it hit the glass at all, or "tock" if it hit the wall's baseboard.
Lucas watched for a minute, then said, "I need an assistant."
Shrake, without looking up from the ball, said, "Take Jenkins. He's a born assistant." He chipped it and the ball clinked off the side of the glass.
"Take both of them," said a dark-haired woman from the DNA lab. She was sitting at a table with a New York Times and an egg-salad sandwich. "That clinking sound is driving me crazy. It's like water dripping on my forehead."
Shrake said to Lucas, "I've got a date. If I go out with you, god only knows when we'll get back. Jenkins ain't doing shit."
"Not entirely true," Jenkins said.
Shrake said to Jenkins, "I'll cancel your debt on this game, today's game, if you go with him."
Lucas asked Shrake, "You're not still dating Shirley Knox?"
"Yeah, he is," Jenkins said. "He's in love."
"Aw, for Christ sakes, Shrake, she's in the Mafia," Lucas said.
Shrake chipped again, but this time missed the cup entirely, and the ball tocked against the baseboard. "You made me jerk at the ball," he said.
"Honest to god, it's driving me nuts," the woman said. "I can't stand that sound."
"She's not in the Mafia," Shrake said. "I asked her. She said no, she wasn't, and I believe her."
Lucas said to Jenkins, "He's lost his grip. She's in the fuckin' Mafia."
"His grip was never that good in the first place," Jenkins said.
"Have you tried talking to him about it?" Lucas asked.
"I did. I says, 'Shrake, the chick is in the Mafia,' but then he says the woman could suck a golf ball through a water hose. So how do I answer that?"
"Aw, for Christ's sakes," the DNA woman said, "I heard that. Am I invisible or something?"
Jenkins turned to her and said, "Shut up." Then to Shrake, "Cancel today's debt and half of the rest and I'll go with Davenport."
"Done," Shrake said, and Jenkins asked Lucas, "Where're we going?"
"See some gun guys," Lucas said.
"Thank God," said the woman with the egg-salad sandwich.
They took Jenkins' new Ford CVPI, for which he'd had to get a special authorization from the head of the agency. "I can't believe you bought another one of these things. It's like riding in a Boston Whaler. You'd lose a drag race to a John Deere," Lucas said.
"Not once I get this baby rolling," Jenkins said, and, "You won't see anybody doing moonshiner turns with one of those cheap-ass front-wheel drives. The tranny would be all over the street. This baby..." He patted the dashboard. "Which way we going?"
The first stop was a shop on Arcade at East Seventh, a hole in the wall with a hand-painted steel sign that said, "Terry's Sports." Inside the front window, behind a steel mesh screen, was a pump twelve-gauge shotgun with the butt cut down to a pistol grip.
"7-Eleven special," Jenkins said, as they walked past it.
"I could never figure out why it's a federal crime to saw the barrel off a shotgun, but it's okay to cut off the butt," Lucas said. "Same effect you can carry it under your jacket."
"Lawyers," Jenkins said. "They make laws, they got no idea."
They rattled the door and the owner buzzed them in; the shop smelled of cigarette smoke and gun-cleaning solvent. Terry was a nervous, dried-out man of fifty, the fingers of his right hand stained amber with nicotine. He nodded when they came in, recognized them as cops, and said, "Officers."
"How much you want for the cop-killer in the window?" Jenkins asked, getting the interview off on the right foot.
"Self-defense gun," Terry said with a placating smile, showing teeth as yellow as his fingers. "Sell them mostly to women."
"Right," Lucas said. He took the photos of Justice Shafer and Brutus Cohn out of his pocket, unfolded them, with Cohn's picture on top. "You seen this guy?"
Terry looked at the picture for a long five seconds, then shook his head. "Can't say as I have."
"How about this guy?" Lucas shuffled the papers, and put the Shafer head-shot on top.
Terry looked at it for a couple of seconds, then an extra wrinkle appeared among the set on his forehead. "What'd he do?"
"Never mind that," Jenkins said. "You seen him?"
"I did," Terry admitted. "About a week ago. He was here maybe twenty minutes. I didn't think he was gonna buy anything, and he didn't."
"Was he looking for anything in particular?" Lucas asked.
"He was looking for some .50-cal rounds in bronze," Terry said. "I told him I could get it, good lathe-cut stuff. He asked how much, and I said, 'Eighty bucks for ten rounds,' and he said that was a little high. Then he looked at a Bushmaster M4, and went on his way. Haven't seen him since."
"Didn't buy any ammo?" Lucas asked.
"Nope. Didn't buy a thing," Terry said.
Lucas said, "We're local guys, and I gotta tell you, you'd be better off dealing with us if you're not telling the truth. The Secret Service and the ATF are chasing all over looking for this guy. With the convention in town, I don't have to tell you why. You don't want to be the one who sold him some ammo and then get caught lying about it."
"Didn't sell him anything, with Jesus as my witness," Terry said, holding up his right hand as though taking an oath. He looked satisfactorily worried.
Lucas nodded. "All right. Gonna have to talk to the ATF though, so you'll probably be hearing from them. Maybe the Secret Service."
"How much you want for the cop killer in the window?" Jenkins asked.
"Six hundred dollars," Terry said. "Lot of handwork in a self-defense gun. There is a police discount."
Out on the street, Jenkins said, "Ten percent. I'd almost be willing to do it, to get the piece off the streets, but the little cockroach would make another one."
"First stop, and Justice Shafer is right there," Lucas said. "That's a hell of a coincidence."
"That happened to me one time," Jenkins said. "One-stop shopping."
"When did it happen to you?" Lucas asked.
"Well, it didn't exactly happen to me, but it happened to a guy I knew," Jenkins said.
"Never happened to me," Lucas said.
Back in the car, he got on the phone to Dan Jacobs at the security committee. "I don't want to yank your weenie when everybody else is, but I've got some news about your pal Justice Shafer."
Lucas told him about Terry's, and Jacobs said, "That's pretty interesting. The Secret Service and the ATF are doing research on him, down in Oklahoma, and they're getting worried. Some of these gang guys say Shafer's never been accepted because he's sort of a pussy never proved himself."
"I'll call them with this. They'll send a guy around to talk to... Terry?"
Their second stop was a two-man weapons outlet in a warehouse district in Eagan, south of the Twin Cities core, a concrete-block building filled with hunting knives, compound bows, crossbows, samurai and fantasy swords, a barrel half-full of Louisville Slugger baseball bats, a shelf of lead-weighted fish-whackers, and a rack of used guns; but mostly knives. To one side, a customer in camo cargo pants was methodically pounding a six-inch target with carbon-fiber arrows, on a four-lane archery range.
The two owners, who were brothers, named Jenkins they agreed with Jenkins that they weren't related both checked the photographs, and swore they'd never seen either man. Lucas asked, "What's the advantage of the crossbow over the compound bow?"
The customer, who was shooting a compound bow, said over his shoulder, "You don't have to know nothing to shoot a crossbow."
Jenkins asked one of the Jenkins brothers, "If I were to ask you where I could get a switchblade, you wouldn't know, would you?"
The Jenkins brother looked puzzled: "Well, sure. Right here. What do you want?" He walked down the counter and tapped the top of a case. Inside, a half-dozen switchblades nestled on red velvet.
Jenkins was taken aback: "Switchblades are legal?"
"Well, sure, in Minnesota," Jenkins said. "You can order them on the Internet."
"I didn't know that," Jenkins said. "Is there a police discount?"
The fourth and fifth dealers hadn't seen either Cohn or Shafer, but the sixth one, their last stop of the day, had seen Shafer. The dealer, Bob Harper, worked out of his house. "He said he'd heard of me down in Oklahoma, a boy named Dan Oaks outa Norman. He thought maybe I'd have some premium .50-cal, but I didn't. Wouldn't have sold it to him anyway."
"Why not?" Lucas asked. He wrote 'Dan Oaks' and 'Norman' in his notebook.
Harper was a thin man gone old, but still hard, with shiny cheekbones and killer eyes, two dry wattles hanging under his chin. "Cause I'm not stupid. Some skinhead from Oklahoma shows up on my doorstep looking for .50-cal, the week before the Republican convention? I don't need that kind of publicity."
In the car, Lucas called Jacobs again, gave him Harper's name, and the name of the Oklahoma dealer. "I don't know what Shafer's doing, but he sure as hell isn't hiding out," Lucas said.
"Okay hey, thanks for the time, Lucas. This has been a help. Could you keep spreading those photos around? We need to talk to this guy..."
"All done?" Jenkins asked. He pushed the button on his new switchblade, and the blade jumped out and snapped into place.
"All done," Lucas said. "You know, you're gonna reach in your pocket for your cell phone and you're gonna hit that button, and blade's gonna jump out and cut your nuts off."
"I'll give it to Shrake," Jenkins said. "If it cuts his nuts off, maybe he'll stop dating Shirley."
"We really ought to do something about that relationship," Lucas said. "I mean, if he won't give it up, maybe put a legal notice in the newspaper, so nobody could accuse us of covering it up."
Jenkins dropped him at the office. Carol had gone home, and Lucas looked at all the paper that she'd printed out from New York, on Cohn, looked at Cohn's picture for a while this was a different personality than Justice Shafer; this was a serious guy and then slipped it in a file and walked out to his car.
Great late summer day. He trolled once through St. Paul, looking at all the cops around, saw shoulder patches from Virginia and Illinois. Like a big storm coming in, he thought, everybody watchful and hoping for the best.
He got home, kissed Sam, kissed Letty, kissed Weather, got a banana from the housekeeper, and Weather asked, "Whatever happened to the assassin?"
He told her about his day, and she said, "Well, you're done with that, anyway. One less thing to worry about."
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.
All original content on the website (excluding some other specifically disclaimed text) is copyright © 1997-2018 by Roswell Anthony Camp. Please do not steal anything from these pages. If you want to borrow something, write and ask first. Help keep moofs happy.