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|The Prey Series|
Three of them, hard men carrying nylon bags, wearing work jackets, Carhartts and Levis, all of them with facial hair. They walked across the parking structure to the steel security door, heads swiveling, checking the corners and the overheads, steam flowing from their mouths, into the icy air, one of the men on a cell phone.
As they got to the door, it popped open, and a fourth man, who'd been on the other end of the cell-phone call, let them through. The fourth man was tall and thin, dark-complected, with a black brush mustache. He wore a knee-length black raincoat that he'd bought at a Goodwill store two days earlier, and black pants. He scanned the parking structure, saw nothing moving, pulled the door shut, made sure of the lock.
"This way," he snapped. "Yalla."
Inside, they moved fast, reducing their exposure, should someone unexpectedly come along. No one should, at the ass-end of the hospital, at fifteen minutes after five o'clock on a bitterly cold winter morning. They threaded through a maze of service corridors until the tall man said, "Here."
Here was a storage closet. He opened it with a key. Inside, a pile of blue, double-extra-large orderly uniforms sat on a medical cart.
The hard men dumped their coats on the floor, and pulled the uniforms over their street clothes. Not a big disguise, but they weren't meant to be seen close-up just enough to slip past a video camera. One of them, the biggest one, hopped up on the cart, lay down and said, "Look, I'm dead," and laughed at his joke. The tall man could smell the bourbon on the joker's breath.
"Shut the fuck up," said one of the others, but not in an unkindly way.
The tall man said, "Don't be stupid," and there was nothing kind in his voice. When they were ready, they looked at each other and the tall man pulled a white cotton blanket over the man on the cart, and one of the men said, "Let's do it."
"We don't hurt anyone," the tall man said. The sentiment reflected not compassion, but calculation: robbery got X amount of attention, injuries got X-cubed.
"Yeah, yeah..." One of the men pulled a semi-automatic pistol from his belt, a heavy, blued, no-bullshit Beretta, stolen from the Army National Guard in Milwaukee, checked it, stuck it back in his belt. He said, "Okay? Everybody got his mask? Okay. Let's go."
They stuffed the ski masks into their belts and two hard men pushed the cart into the corridor. The tall man led them further through the narrow tiled hallways, then said, "Here's the camera."
The two men pushing the cart turned sideways, as the tall man told them to, and pushed the cart through a cross-corridor. A security camera peered down the hall at them. If a guard happened to be looking at the monitor at that moment, he would have seen only the backs of two orderlies, and a lump on the cart. The tall man in the raincoat scrambled along, on his hands and knees, on the far side of the cart.
The big man on the cart, looking at the ceiling tiles go by, giggled, "It's like ridin' the tilt-a-whirl."
When they were out of the camera's sight-line, the tall man stood up and led them deeper into the hospital the three outsiders would never have found the way, by themselves. After two minutes, the tall man handed one of the outsiders a key, indicated a yellow steel door, with no identification.
"This is it?" The leader of the three was skeptical the door looked like nothing.
"Yes," said the tall man. "This is the side door. When you go in, you'll be right among them. One or two. The front door and service window is closed until six. I'll be around the corner until you call, watching."
He'd be around the corner where he could slip out of sight, if something went wrong.
The other man nodded, asked, "Everybody ready?" The other two muttered, "Yeah," tense now, pulled on the masks, took their pistols out. The leader put the key in the lock and yanked open the door.
Weather Karkinnen had taken a half-pill at nine o'clock, knowing that she wouldn't sleep without it. Too much to do, too much to think about. The procedure had been researched, rehearsed, debated, and undoubtedly prayed over. Now the time had come.
Sleep came hard. She kept imagining that first moment, the first cut, the commitment, the parting of the flesh beneath the edge of her scalpel, on a nearly circular path between the skulls of the two babies but sometime before nine-thirty, she slipped away.
She didn't feel her husband come to bed, at one o'clock in the morning. He took care not to disturb her, undressing in the dark, lying as unmoving as he could, listening to her breathing, until he, too, slipped away.
And then her eyes opened.
Dark, not quite silent the furnace running in the winter night. She lifted her head to the clock. Four-thirty. She'd been asleep for seven hours. Eight would have been the theoretical ideal, but she never slept eight. She closed her eyes again, organizing herself, stepping through the upcoming day. At twenty minutes to five, she got out of bed, stretched, and headed to the en-suite bathroom, checking herself: she felt sharp. Excellent. She brushed her teeth, showered, washed and dried her short-cut blond hair.
She'd laid out her clothes the night before. She walked across the bedroom barefoot, in the light of the two digital clocks, picked them up: a thick black-silk jersey and grey wool slacks, and dressy, black-leather square-toed shoes. She would have preferred to wear soft-soled cross-training shoes, like the nurses did, but surgeons didn't dress like nurses. She'd never even told anyone about the gel inner-soles.
She carried her clothes back to the bathroom, shut the door, turned on the light again, and dressed. When she was ready, she looked at herself in the mirror. Not bad.
Weather might have wished to have been a little taller, for the authority given by height; she might have wished for a chiseled nose. But her husband pointed out that she'd never had a problem giving orders, or having them followed; and that he thought her nose, which she saw as lumpy, was devastatingly attractive, and that any number of men had chased after her, nose and all...
So, not bad.
She grinned at herself, turned to make sure the slacks didn't make her ass look fat they didn't switched off the light, opened the bathroom door and tiptoed across the bedroom. Her husband said, in the dark, "Good luck, babe."
"I didn't know you were awake."
"I'm probably more nervous than you are," he said.
She went back to the bed and kissed him on the forehead. "Go back to sleep."
Downstairs in the kitchen, she had two pieces of toast, a cup of instant coffee and a yogurt, got her bag, went out to the car, backed out of the garage, and headed downtown, on the snowy streets, across the river to the Minnesota Medical Research Center. She might be first in, she thought, but maybe not: there were forty people on the surgical team. Somebody had to be more nervous than she was.
At the hospital, the yellow door popped open and the three big men swarmed through.
Two people were working in the pharmacy a short, slender man older man, who might once in the 60s have been a dancer, but no longer had the muscle tone. He wore a skuzzy beard on his cheeks, a soul patch under his lower lip. First thing, when he came to work, he tied a paper surgeon's cap on his head, for the rush he got when people looked at him in the cafeteria. The other person was a busy, intent, heavy-set woman in a nurse's uniform, who did the end-of-shift inventory, making sure it was all there, the stacks and rows and lockers full of drugs.
Some of it, put on the street, was worthless. Nobody pays street prices to cure the heartbreak of psoriasis.
Most of it, put on the street on more than one street, actually; there was the old-age street, the uninsured street, the junkie street was worth a lot. Half-million dollars? A million? Maybe.
The three hard men burst through the door and were on top of the two pharmacy workers in a half-second. The woman had enough time to whimper, "Don't," before one of the men pushed her to the floor, gun in her face, so close she could smell the oil on it, and said, "Shutta fuck up. Shut up." Soul-patch huddled into a corner with his hands up, then sank to his butt.
The leader of the three waved a pistol at the two on the floor and said, "Flat on the floor. Roll over, put your hands behind your back. We don't want to hurt you."
The two did, and another of the men hurriedly taped their hands behind them with grey duct tape, and then bound their feet together. That done, he tore off short strips of tape and pasted them over the victims' eyes, and then their mouths.
He stood up: "Okay."
The leader pushed the door open again and signaled with a fingertip. The tall man stepped in from the hallway, said, "These," and pointed at a series of locked, glass-doored cupboards. And, "Over here..."
A row of metal-covered lockers. The leader of the big men went to the man on the floor, who looked more ineffectual than the woman, and ripped the tape from his mouth.
"Where are the keys?" For one second, the man on the floor seemed inclined to prevaricate, so the big man dropped to his knees and said, "If you don't tell me this minute, I will break your fuckin' skull as an example. Then you will be dead, and I will ask the fat chick."
"In the drawer under the telephone," soul-patch said.
As the big man retaped soul-patch's mouth, the tall man got the keys and began popping open the lockers. All kinds of good stuff here, every opiate and man-made opiate except heroin; lots of hot-rock stimulants, worth a fortune with the big-name labels.
"Got enough Viagra to stock a whore-house," one of the men grunted.
Another one: "Take this Tamiflu shit?"
"Fifty bucks a box in California... Take it."
Five minutes of fast work, the tall man pointing them at the good stuff, sorting out the bad.
Then the old guy on the floor made a peculiar wiggle.
One of the hold-up men happened to see it, frowned, then went over, half-rolled him. The old guy's hands were loose he'd pulled one out of the tape, had had a cell phone in a belt clip under his sweater, had worked it loose, and had been trying to make a call. The big man grunted and looked at the face of the phone. One number had been pressed successfully: a nine.
"Sonofabitch was trying to call 911," he said, holding up the phone to the others. The old man tried to roll away, but the man who'd taken the phone punted him in the back once, twice, three times, kicking hard with steel-toed work boots.
"Sonofabitch... sonofabitch." The boot hit with the sound of a meat hammer striking a steak.
"Let him be," the leader said after the third kick.
But the old man had rolled back toward his tormenter and grasped him by the ankle, and the guy tried to shake him loose and the old man moaned something against the tape and held on, his fingernails raking the big guy's calf.
"Let go of me, you old fuck." The guy shook him off his leg, and kicked him again, hard, in the chest.
The leader said, "Quit screwing around. Tape him up again and let's get this stuff out of here."
The old man, his hands taped again, was still groaning as they loaded the bags. That done, they went to the door, glanced down the hallway. All clear. The bags went under the blanket on the cart, and the three big men pushed the cart past the security-camera intersection, back through the rabbit-warren to the utility closet, replaced the orderly uniforms with their winter coats, picked up the bags.
The leader said, "Gotta move, now. Gotta move. Don't know how much time we got."
Another of the men said, "Shooter dropped your glove."
"Ah, man, don't need that." He picked it up, and the tall man led them out, his heart thumping against his rib cage. Almost out. When they could see the security door, he stopped, and they went on and out. The tall man watched until the door re-latched, turned, and headed back into the complex.
There were no cameras looking at the security door, or between the door and their van. The hard men hustled through the cold, threw the nylon bags in the back, and one of them climbed in with them, behind tinted windows, while the leader took the wheel and the big man climbed in the passenger seat.
"God damn, we did it," said the passenger. He felt under his seat, found a paper bag with bottle of bourbon in it. He was unscrewing the top as they rolled down the ramp; an Audi A5 convertible, moving too fast, swept across the front of the van and caught the passenger, mouth open, who squinted against the light. For just a moment, he was face to face with a blond woman, who then swung past them into the garage.
The leader braked, and looked back, but the A5 had already turned up the next level on the ramp. He thought they might turn around and find the woman... but then what? Kill her?
"She see you guys?" asked the man in the back, who'd seen only the flash of the woman's face.
The guy with the bottle said, "She was looking right at me. Goddamnit."
"Nothing to do," the leader said. "Nothing to do. Get out of sight. Shit, it was only one second...."
And they went on.
Weather had seen the man with the bottle, but paid no attention. Too much going through her head. She went on to the physicians' parking, got a spot close to the door, parked, and hurried inside.
The tall man got back to the utility closet, pulled off the raincoat and pants, which he'd used to conceal his physician's scrubs: if they'd been seen in the hallway, the three big men with a doc, somebody would have remembered. He gathered up the scrubs abandoned by the big men, stuffed them in a gym bag, along with the raincoat and pants, took a moment to catch his breath, to neaten up.
Listened, heard nothing. Turned off the closet light, peeked into the empty hallway, then strode off, a circuitous route, avoiding cameras, to an elevator. Pushed the button, waited impatiently.
When the door opened, he found a short, attractive blond woman inside, who nodded at him. He nodded back, poked "1," and they started down, standing a polite distance apart, with just the trifle of awkwardness of a single man and a single woman, unacquainted, in an elevator.
The woman said, after a few seconds, "Still hard to come to work in the dark."
"Can't wait for summer," the tall man said. They got to "2," and she stepped off and said, "Summer always comes," and she was gone.
Weather thought, as she walked away from the elevator, No point looking at the kids. They'd be asleep in the temporary ICU they'd set up down the hall from the operating room. She went instead to the locker room, and traded her street clothes for surgical scrubs. Another woman came in, and Weather nodded to her and the other woman asked, "Couldn't sleep?"
"Got a few hours," Weather said. "Are we the only two here?"
The woman, a radiologist named Regan, laughed: "No. John's got the doll on the table and he's talking about making some changes to the table, for God's sakes. Rick's here, he's messing with his saws. Gabriel was down in the ICU, he just got here, he's complaining about the cold. A bunch of nurses..."
"Nerves," Weather said. "See you down there."
She was cool in her scrubs, but comfortably so: she'd been doing this for nearly fifteen years, and the smell of a hospital, the alcohol, the cleaners, even the odor of burning blood, smelled like fresh air to her...
No point at looking at the kids, but she'd do it anyway. There were two nurses outside the temporary ICU, and they nodded and asked quietly, "Are you going in?"
"Just a peek."
"They've been quiet," one of the nurses said. "Dr. Maret just left."
Moving as silently as she could, in the semi-dark, she moved next to the babies' special bed. When you didn't look closely, they looked like any other toddlers, who happened to be sleeping head-to-head; small hands across their chests, eyes softly closed, small chests rising up and down. The first irregularity that a visitor might notice was the ridges in their skulls: Weather had placed a series of skin expanders under their scalps, to increase the amount of skin available to cover the skull defects the holes when they were separated.
There was really no need for her to look at them: she simply wanted to. Two babies, innocent, silent, feeling no pain; their world was about to change. She watched them for a minute, and Ellen sighed, and one foot moved, and then she subsided again.
Weather tiptoed out.
The old man in the pharmacy was moaning, the woman trying to talk, and the old man heard the woman fall down against a chair, after trying to get up, and then somebody was rapping at the service window and they both tried to scream, and they were loud, but muffled. He was chewing at the duct tape on his mouth, and finally it came loose from one side and he spat it away from his face.
"Dorothy, can you hear me?"
A muffled "Yes."
"I think I'm hurt bad. If I don't make it, tell the police that I scratched one of the robbers. I should have blood on my hand."
She replied, but the reply was unintelligible. He'd been working on the tape on his wrists, and eventually pulled one free... he tried to get up, but was too weak. He couldn't orient himself; nothing seemed to be working. He fumbled at the tape over his eyes, failed to get it free, moaned, moaned...
More time went by and the old man felt himself going dark; didn't know what was happening, but his heart was pounding and he told himself, calm down, calm down. He'd had heart and circulatory problems, clots, and he didn't need a clot breaking free, but his heart was pounding and he was sweating and something was going more wrong than it should be, more wrong than rolling around on a tile floor gagged and blinded and beaten. Hurt bad.
Then the door rattled and he shouted and he heard an answering shout, and he shouted again and Dorothy tried to scream through her gag, and some time later the door rattled again, and he heard it open, and somebody cried out, and then more people were there.
He blacked out for a moment, then came back, realized he was on a gurney, that they'd put a board on him, they were moving down a hallway. Somebody said, a few inches from his face, "We're moving you down to the ER, we're moving you..."
He said, as loud as he could as the world faded, "I scratched him. I scratched him. Tell the police, I scratched him..."
The operating room had been reworked for the separation operation. Maret had stripped out all the general surgery stuff, put in more lights, brought in the custom table. The table had been made in Germany, and lined with a magic memory foam that would adapt to the kids as their bodies were moved this way and that.
Sara and Ellen Raynes were joined at the skull, vertically, but slightly turned from each other. If an observer was standing at Sara's feet, looking at her face, and Sara was looking straight up, then Ellen's face was upside down and rotated to the observer's left. Imaging studies, done by Regan and her associates, indicated that their brains were separate, but they shared a portion of the dura mater under the skull, a kind of fibrous lining that protected and facilitated the drainage of venous blood from the brain.
The in-coming blood, in the arterial system, was good in both babies; but if the blood couldn't be drained away, and recirculated, it would put increasing pressure on the brains, eventually killing them.
Sara and Ellen were eighteen months old. Their parents had known the babies were conjoined before birth. The option of abortion had been proposed, but rejected by the parents, Lucy and Larry Raynes, for religious and emotional reasons. The children had been delivered by caesarian section at seven-and-a-half months. Sara had been born with a congenital heart defect, which further complicated matters.
Weather pushed into the OR and found three surgeons working with the baby-doll a life-sized, actual-weight dense-foam model of the Raynes twins. They had it on the table, and were rolling it against the foam.
"So... no change," Gabriel Maret said.
Maret was a short man, with a head slightly too large for his body, the size emphasized by a wild thatch of curly black hair, shot through with silver. He was dark-eyed, olive-complected, with a chipped front tooth. He favored cashmere in his carefully-tailored, French-cut winter suits, and the women around the hospital paid close attention to him: He was French, and the observing women agreed that his accent, in English, was perfect.
Maret had come to dinner with Lucas and Weather every week or so over the winter, enjoying the kids and the family life. He was divorced, with four children of his own. He and his wife still shared an apartment in Paris, and, sometimes, he said, a bed. "It's insane," he said. "She is more stubborn than one of your mules."
"More stubborn than you?" Weather had asked.
He considered the question: "Maybe not that stubborn," he said.
He and her husband, Lucas, who got along improbably well, once spent an hour talking about men's fashion, nearly driving Weather crazy with the inanity of it. She'd said, "Fifteen minutes on loafers? Loafers?"
"We were just getting started," Lucas said. She wasn't sure he was joking.
"So... no change," Maret said.
"Not as long as everything goes right," said John Dansk, a neurosurgeon. "If we run into trouble splicing the six vein, if we lose it, we may have to take out another piece and that means rolling Sara this way and Ellen will torque back to the right."
The six vein was a vein shared by the twins. They'd tie it off on Ellen's side, and attempt to splice it into the five vein on Sara's, the better to move blood out of Sara's brain. The vein numbers simply came from imaging charts prepared by the radiologists.
"So what are you suggesting?" Maret asked. He glanced at Weather: "You are gorgeous this morning."
"I know," she said, to make him laugh. As did the other women around him, she liked to make him laugh.
Dansk scowled at them and said, "I'm suggesting that we slice a few wedges out of the base of the mold, so that we can use them as shims if we have to brace one of the kids."
"Why not have a nurse hold her?" Maret asked.
"Because we might be talking a couple of hours, if worse comes to worse."
"You know how much that mold cost?" Maret asked.
"About one nine-thousandth of your annual salary," Dansk said.
Maret shrugged. "So, we cut a few wedges. Why not? If we need them, we have them, and if we don't, it won't matter."
"Should have thought of this before now," said Rick Hanson, an orthopedic surgeon who would make the bone cuts through the kids' shared skull. He seemed shaky; he'd invented a half-dozen little saws for this operation, and would be the focus of a lot of attention. Because of the way the children's skulls intersected, they formed a complex three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle basically, an oval ring of bone of which he'd be removing only a few pieces at a time. Normally the cutting would have been done by the neurosurgeon, with drills and flexible wire saws. Hanson, from Washington University in St. Louis, had developed his own set of electric saws matched to jigs cutting templates for complicated bone cuts. Maret had decided that Hanson's technique would be ideal, and would make it possible to prepare perfectly fitted composite plates to cover the holes in the babies' skulls.
"We're just nervous," Maret said now. "That's normal." Maret was the team leader, the one with all the experience. He'd done two other craniopagus separations, one in France, one in Miami. Of the four children involved, two had survived one from each operation. When he talked about the work, he talked mostly about the children who'd died.
Another doc pushed into the room, followed by a second one. They had all kinds anesthesiologists, radiologists, neurosurgeons, cardiologists, plastic and orthopedic surgeons, and a medical professor who specialized in anatomical structures of the skull, as it pertained to craniofacial reconstruction. They had twenty nurses and surgical assistants.
Weather said to Dansk, the neurosurgeon, "If you want to cut those wedges, you better get it done: they've got to start cleaning the place up."
Dansk said, "I'm on it," and, "I need a scalpel or something. Anybody got an X-Acto knife?"
Above the table, in an observation room behind a canted glass wall, people were beginning to filter into the stadium seating.
A nurse came into the OR one of the sterile nurses and said, "I wanted to see if we could make the move one more time."
She wanted to practice breaking the tables apart, so that when the final cut was made, and the twins were separated, they could be moved to separate operating areas for the fitting of the new composite skull shells.
"Why don't we visually check the linkage..." Maret began.
It was starting; Weather didn't think it, but she felt it, felt the excitement and the tension starting to build. She worked almost every day, cutting, sewing, cauterizing, diagnosing. This was different.
She thought, "Remember to pee."
The Raynes twins were a rare and complicated medical phenomenon. Craniopagus twins comprise only about one percent of conjoined twins. Because of the rarity of the condition, experience with separation surgery was limited. One of the twins, Sara, suffered from defects in the septum of the heart the wall that divides the right side of the heart from the left side and the defects were already causing congestion in the circulatory system.
The type of surgery usually favored for craniopagus separation might take place over several months. The most critical part of most operations was doing a staged separation of the brain's blood-drainage system. Each operation would isolate the drainage systems a bit more, and would allow the bodies to create new bypass channels.
In the Raynes' case, surgeons feared that a protracted series of operations would weaken and possibly kill Sara, which would also threaten the stronger Ellen, especially if Sara were to go into a rapid decline.
The additional factor in the Raynes' case was that the conjoined area was relatively small the hole left behind in the babies' skulls after the separation would be no bigger than the diameter of an orange. That meant that a single operation was possible even with some shared venous drainage, it was thought that one continuous operation would be the best chance for saving both twins.
The surgical team would do the separation, and once separated, the team would break in two, each working on an individual twin. The joint surgery was expected to last up to twenty hours.
The team was committed to saving both twins.
Weather did aesthetic, reconstructive and microsurgery. Her availability in Minnesota, and a paper she'd done on a thumb reconstruction, had caught Maret's eye when he began to consider the Raynes twins.
In Weather's case, a young boy had caught his thumb in a hydraulic log-splitter: the thumb had been pulped. After the wound healed, Weather had removed one of the boy's second toes, and used the toe to replace the thumb. Since a thumb represented a full fifty percent of the function of the hand, the reconstruction gave back the kid the use of his hand. As he used the new thumb, it would strengthen and grow, and eventually come to resemble a normal thumb, except for the extra knuckle.
As part of the eleven-hour operation, Weather had hooked up two nerves, two tiny arteries and two even smaller veins veins the size of broom straws. The photomicrographs of the sutured veins had particularly attracted Maret's attention. The more veins that could be hooked up, the better off the twins would be and Weather could do that work, even on the smallest vessels.
He'd also been attracted to her sheer stamina: eleven hours of microsurgery was a super-marathon. He sold her on the idea of joining the team, which also made her available to study the twins, to get to know the parents, and to place the skin expanders under their scalps.
Weather had turned away from Maret and the argument "Remember to pee" when they heard a commotion outside the operating room.
"What is that?" Maret asked. Dansk had just come back with a large scalpel, and he turned to look. A few seconds later, an anesthesiologist named Yamaguchi burst into the room. He looked, Weather thought, like someone who'd just come to the emergency room to see his child: panicked.
He said, urgently, to Maret, Weather, and the others, "It's off. The operation's off. We've got, we've got..."
Weather caught his sleeve and said, "Slow down, slow down."
"It's off," Yamaguchi said. "Some guys just raided the pharmacy and cleaned the place out. Everything is shut down. Everything."
Maret's face clicked through a series of expressions, from, "Is this a joke?" to astonishment: "What?"
"Some guys with guns," Yamaguchi said. He was flapping his arms, like a loon trying to take off. "Robbers. They robbed the pharmacy. The police are here. There's nothing left, they took everything... That old guy who works there, the one who wears the surgical hat..."
"Don," said Weather.
"Yeah, Don he's hurt pretty bad. They're taking him into the ER."
"You must be shitting me," Maret said with a non-Gallic precision, looking around at his astonished crew.
Alain Barakat stood at the back of the emergency operating room, mask dangling around his neck, watching the work: the surgeon was cursing at the nurse, who was fumbling the gear, and they were all watching the blood pressure dropping and the surgeon was saying, "Get it in there, get it in there, get some pressure on it," and the nurse stood on a chair and lifted the bottle of saline and somebody else said, "Two minutes for the blood." The surgeon said, "I don't think we have the time, I don't think we've got it..." and the anesthesiologist said, "We're losing him man," and the doc said, "Fuck this, I'm going in," and he cut and cut again and again, going in through the beginning of a brutal black bruise on the old man's belly, and the anesthesiologist said, "Hurry it up, man," and the surgeon said, "Ah, Jesus, I've got no blood, I got no blood here," and he hurled the scalpel into a corner and it clanged around and he said, "It must've been his goddamn kidneys, let's see if we can roll him..." and the nurses moved up to help with the roll and the anesthesiologist said, "Man, he's arresting..."
Barakat, standing in the corner, said, "Shit shit shit shit shit shit..."
One minute later, the old man was gone. No point in trying to restart the heart there was no blood going through it. They all stood around, shell-shocked, and then the surgeon said, "Let's clean up."
One of the nurses said, "We had no time. He was going too quick."
They all looked at the body on the table, worn Adidas sneakers pointed out at 45-degrees, chest flat and still, the bloody gash on the gut. The anesthesiologist turned to get something and saw Barakat, a tall man, standing in the corner, hands pressed to the side of his head, and the anesthesiologist said, "Wasn't you, man. You did good. Everybody did good. He was gone when we got him."
And Barakat thought: Now everybody will be here. Now the police will tear the place apart.
Because he really didn't care about the old man.
The separation team was standing around, repeating what Yamaguchi had said, when Thomas Carlson, the hospital administrator, came hurrying down the hall. Carlson was wearing his white physician's coat, which he often did on public occasions, to remind people that he had an MD in addition to the MBA; but for all that, not a bad guy, Weather thought.
He went straight to Maret: "Gabe, you've heard."
"I've heard there was a robbery."
"Unfortunately. The problem is, we've also got a man down. He's hurt pretty badly, and we won't have access to your drugs any drugs, except in an absolute emergency, and then we'll be crawling around on the floor trying to find them. The place is completely wrecked. They threw everything out of the lockers, what they didn't take..."
"So: everybody is here," Maret said.
"But you're going to have to wait," Carlson said. "God, I'm sorry, man. But this is an incredible mess. As long as the kids are stable..."
Maret nodded: "Well. I guess we can wait."
Weather and Maret went together to tell the Rayneses. The parents were waiting in what the team called the "separation lounge," once a meditation room, which had been converted for family use and for team conferences.
The Rayneses were sitting on a couch, looking out over a table full of magazines: neither one was reading. They were in their early thirties, and except for their sex, as alike as new marbles: honey-blond, tall, slender, from the small town of New Ulm in southern Minnesota. Larry worked in a heating and air-conditioning business owned by his father; Lucy worked at the Post Office. Neither had lived outside of New Ulm. Both of them spoke fluent German, and went to Germany every summer, to hike. They had no other children.
They'd conferred with Maret on the separation process, but had worked more with Weather than any other physician, because of Weather's involvement in the preliminary surgery.
They were astonished by the news. "What does it mean? It's off? For how long?" Lucy Raynes blurted. "I mean...?"
"We'll go tomorrow," Weather said, patting her arm. "Same time. This whole thing is so bizarre... there are police everywhere, I guess. The girls are fine, no change for them."
"I can't believe it," Larry Raynes said. "After we got this far..."
His wife put an arm around his waist and squeezed him: "We'll be okay. It'll be all right."
Of the two Rayneses, Lucy was the most demanding of information, had studied the details of the separation, used terms like 'superior sagittal sinus' and 'calvaria,' read medical papers on other separations. She'd spoken to the media on a number of occasions, both televised and print. Larry, on the other hand, mostly talked about timing, and the children's development; and often, to Weather, seemed to simply want to get it over with it. He wasn't stupid, but swept along in a current too strong for him, part medical science, part circus. He wanted to go home.
Maret had warned everybody about the circus. "Whenever this is done, we get the media, because of the drama and the sympathetic aspects. You have to be prepared. In Miami, we had reporters following the surgeons home, knocking on doors, waiting in the streets."
Now he said to the Rayneses, "I'll talk to the media in ten minutes or so. I'd like you to be with me."
Larry Raynes said to his wife, "You go. I'll go sit with the kids."
Weather left them talking, and went back to the locker room to change back into her street clothes.
By the time she got back, most of the team had drifted away. The OR nurses were shutting the place down. Weather stopped to talk with her surgical assistant, when one of the team's cardiologists, Alan Seitz, who'd been called to the ER, came ambling down the hall, looking distracted. "What?" Weather asked.
"That Don guy died," Seitz said. "One of the robbers kicked him to death. Broke up his kidneys. He was soaked in Coumadin. He bled out before we could get anything going. We were dumping fluid into him fast as we could, nothing to do."
Weather stepped up and gave him a squeeze. Seitz was an old friend. "Nothing to do. You only do what you can."
"Yeah." Seitz looked around and said, "I mean, Jesus Christ: kicked to death. In the hospital."
Lucas Davenport cracked his eyes at nine o'clock and did the calculation: Weather should be done with the initial part of the operation. Starting weeks earlier, she'd placed expanders under the kids' shared scalp, to stretch the skin. The extra skin would be used to cover the wound left by the separation. She'd be removing one of the expanders, as the first step in the operation, and also making the first cuts down to the skull itself. If it had gone off as scheduled, at seven-thirty, she'd be drinking a cup of coffee, while the bone-cutter went to work.
All right. Interesting.
He lay under the blankets for a couple of minutes, listening: nothing to hear. Might be snowing again. Lucas had helped the architect put the house together, and had isolated the bedroom suite at the north end, away from the other bedrooms, and the kids. Weather had imported a baby monitor, so she could hear Sam wake in the night, but the monitor was quiet: the housekeeper would have Sam in hand, by this time.
He rolled out, dropped to the carpet, did a few push-ups, a few sit-ups, picked up two twenty-five-pound dumbbells and did a hundred curls with each arm. In the bathroom, he brushed his teeth and shaved, watching himself in the mirror. Still in good shape, even after a lot of hard years. But it was something he'd have to work on, he thought, as he got to fifty once the tone is lost, it's tough to get back.
Still had all his hair, dark, but threaded through with grey. His face was too white after three months of Minnesota winter gloom, showing scars and dimples from fifteen years of hockey and twenty-five years of cops; he'd kept the winter weight off by playing basketball, his cheekbones showing beside his hawkish nose. At least he didn't smoke. He could see the smoke eating into guys like Del.
He was standing in the shower, lathered up with Weather's body wash, when she called from the bedroom "You still in there?"
"One more minute..." he shouted back. Surprised: he hadn't expected to see her until sometime in the evening. He rinsed off the body wash, gave the ugly bits a final scrub, climbed out and found her standing in the doorway.
She reached across to the towel bar, pulled a towel free and handed it to him. "The operation was cancelled because a man got murdered in the pharmacy and they took all the drugs."
"What?" He was dripping, and started to dry down.
She said, "Mmm, you smell like spring rain."
"There were about a million media people there, all the cable networks, and Gabe had to go out and tell them the hospital got held up and they murdered Don Peterson by kicking him to death."
Held up his hands: "Wait-wait-wait. I can't listen to this naked."
"Ah, God, this is the third most awful day of my life," she said, but she popped him on the ass as he went by.
Lucas got his shorts on and pulled a t-shirt over his head. "Now. Start from the beginning."
"Okay. The hospital pharmacy got robbed. One of the pharmacists was beaten up so bad that he died. Guess who's running the investigation for Minneapolis?"
He shrugged. "Who?"
"Your old pal Titsy."
Impatient, didn't want to hear about it: "Weather... just tell me."
She backed up and sat on the bed as he dressed: "Okay. I got there on schedule..."
The brothers Lyle Mack and Joe Mack, Mikey Haines, Shooter Chapman, and Honey Bee Brown sat in the back of Cherries Bar off Highway 13, looking at an old tube TV balanced on a plastic chair, the electric cord going straight up to a light socket. The room smelled of sour empty beer bottles and wet cardboard. Three nylon bags full of drugs sat on the floor behind them, and Lyle Mack said, "You dumb fucks."
"What was we supposed to do? The guy was calling the cops," Chapman said. Haines, who'd done the kicking, kept his mouth shut.
Honey Bee stared at them, as she worked through a wad of Juicy Fruit the size of a walnut. She said, around the gum, "You guys could screw up a wet dream."
Lyle Mack was sweating, scared, and thinking: Too many witnesses. Too many people knew that Joe Mack, Haines and Chapman had raided the pharmacy. He and Honey Bee, the three of them, anyone they may have talked to and there were probably a couple who'd taken some hints plus the doc, and maybe the doc's pal, the square doc, whoever he was.
"Tell me about the woman in the Audi," Lyle Mack said.
"She rolled in as we were rolling out. She might not connect us," Joe Mack said. "She saw me, I think, but who knows? Our lights was in her eyes. She was blond, she was short, was driving an Audi. Could have been a nurse."
"She totally saw you, dude," said Haines, trying to take some pressure off himself. Christ, he'd kicked that dude to death. He didn't know what he thought about that. Shooter had once killed a spade out in Stockton, California, but that was different. "That dude that died, it was like totally a freak accident. They said so on TV, he was on some meds that made him bleed. Wasn't me. I kicked him a little."
"Punted the shit out of him," said Joe Mack, passing back the pressure.
"The old fuck scratched me," Haines said. "He was hanging on."
"That was after you kicked him," Joe Mack said.
Lyle Mack asked, "How bad you hurt?"
"Aw, just bled a little, it don't show," Mikey said.
"Let me see," Lyle Mack said.
Mikey pulled up his pant leg. "Nothing," he said. He looked like he'd been scraped with a screwdriver, a long thin scratch with some dried blood.
The TV went back to the morning show where some crazy woman was talking about making decorations for Martin Luther King Day from found art, which seemed to consist of beer-can pull-tabs and bottle caps. They all watched for a minute, then Joe Mack said, "She's gotta be on something bad. You couldn't do that, normal."
Lyle Mack pointed the remote at the TV and the picture got sucked into a white dot. He scratched his head and said, "Well, now."
Honey Bee cracked her gum. "What're we gonna do?"
"Lay low," Lyle Mack said. "Dump the dope at dad's farm. Put the guns in with the dope they could be identified too. Nobody touches anything for a month. You three... no, Joe Mack, you better stay here. Honey Bee can give you a haircut. Cut it right down to a butch."
"Aw, no," Joe Mack groaned.
Lyle Mack rode over him: "Mikey and Shooter, you go out to Honey Bee's. When Joe's cleaned up, me'n him'll come over. I think the three of you better get the hell over to Eddie's. Hit a couple bars every night, let everybody see you, until nobody knows exactly when you got there, and then you can say you were over there a week before this shit happened."
"Man, it's fuckin' freezin' over there," Haines said. Eddie's was in Green Bay.
"It's fuckin' freezin' here, and we can trust Eddie, and this shit wouldn't have happened if you hadn't kicked that old man to death," Lyle Mack said. "So shut up, and go on over to Eddie's. Wait until night. Get over to Honey Bee's right now, until it's dark. Don't stop for no food, don't get no beer, don't let anybody see your faces. We don't want anybody sayin', 'I saw him the day it happened.'"
"What about, you know..." Chapman glanced at the packs full of drugs. "This was supposed to pay us something."
Lyle Mack got to his feet, a short heavy man in a black fleece and jeans. He went out to the front of the bar, and came back three minutes later with a thin pile of fifty-dollar bills. He cut the pile more-or-less in half and gave one stack each to Haines and Chapman. "You go on, now. That's two thousand for each of you. It'll keep you for a month, at Eddies. After we sell the shit, you'll get the rest."
"Green Bay, dude," Haines moaned.
"Better'n Oak Park Heights," Chapman said. Oak Park Heights was the state's supermax prison.
They all looked at each other, for a moment, no sound other than a hum from a refrigeration unit, and Honey Bee's gum-chewing, and then Lyle Mack said to the brothers, "So take off. I'll get over there soon as I can. You can get some pizzas from the freezer and take a couple cases of beer."
"Biggest score we ever did," Haines said.
"Yeah, but you had to go and fuck it up," Lyle said.
Haines and Chapman got four pizzas and two cases of Miller, and shuffled out through the back, off the loading dock. Their 2002 Trans Am was leaning against a snowdrift, and Lyle Mack stood on tiptoe, looking out of the garage door windows, watching as the two got inside, still watching until the car turned the corner.
Then he turned back to Joe Mack and Honey Bee and said, "Honey, go get me a hot fudge sundae."
"What?" Her jaw hung open, and he could see the wad of gum; it looked like a piece of zombie flesh. She was a good-lookin' woman, Lyle Mack thought, who ruined it all when she did something like that, and she did something like that all the time.
"A fuckin' hot fudge sundae," he said, patiently. "Get me a hot fudge sundae. Put the hot fudge in the microwave so it's really hot."
She shook her head, looked at her watch it was five minutes after eight o'clock in the morning, a weird time for a hot fudge sundae, but she got up and wandered off to the front of the bar. Lyle Mack walked behind her, shut the door, and turned back to Joe.
"You crazy fuckers," he said, shaking his head. "You couldn't have done worse if you'd shot a cop. You dumb sonsofbitches."
"That fuckin' Mikey," Joe Mack said. "And I don't think sendin' us to Eddie's is gonna do much good. How many times have you heard about Shooter killing the colored dude out in California?"
Lyle Mack shook a finger at him. "That's why they aren't going to Eddie's."
"We got no choice, Joe. That old fart scratched Mikey," Lyle Mack said. "That means the cops got DNA on him. You remember when Mikey fucked that high school chick over in Edina and the cops came and made him brush his gums? That was DNA. About two minutes from now, they're going to come looking for him, and they'll give us up bigger'n shit."
Joe Mack thought about that for a few seconds, then a frown slowly crawled over his face. "If you're talking about killing them, I mean, fuck you. I'm not killing anybody," Joe Mack said. "I mean, I couldn't do it. I'd mess it up."
Lyle Mack was nodding. "Me and you both, Joe Mack. We gotta get hold of Cappy."
"Ah, man." Joe thought about Cappy for a minute, and then thought about getting a drink.
"Got no choice," Lyle Mack said. He listened toward the front of the bar for a minute, then said, "Don't tell Honey Bee about this. She likes those boys, and she'd get upset."
"What if Cappy... I mean, Shooter and Mikey is his pals."
"I don't think anybody is Cappy's pals," Lyle Mack said. "Cappy is his own pal."
Out in the Trans Am, Haines said, "Hope Honey Bee's got Home Box Office."
"Gotta stop at the house first," Shooter said.
"It's Lyle that worries me," Chapman said. "I could see him thinkin.' He's worried about us."
"About us?" Haines didn't understand.
"About us givin' him up. I could see his beady little eyes thinkin' it over. So he sends us out to Honey Bee's, which is so far out in the country a goddamn John Deere salesman couldn't find us. Why is that? Maybe he wants to get us alone and do us."
"But he said we can't be seen," Haines whined. "He said we're going to Eddie's."
"Well, he's sorta right about not bein' seen, but we gotta take the chance," Chapman said. "We gotta run by the house, grab the guns, and then we can take off. Turn the furnace down. If we was going to Eddie's for a month, we'd at least turn the furnace down. Take the shit out of the refrigerator. Take us two minutes."
The chrome yellow Trans Am fishtailed around the corner; a great car, in the summer, but with its low-profile, high-performance rubber, a pig on ice.
Lucas finished dressing, checked himself in the mirror: charcoal suit, white shirt, blue tie that vibrated with his eyes. Weather said, "And now, something occurred to me this very minute. When I was going in the parking ramp, a van was coming out really fast. We almost ran into each other."
"You weren't driving too fast, were you?" Of course she was; he'd given her a three-day race-driving course at a track in Vegas, as a birthday present, and she'd kicked everybody's ass.
Weather ignored him. "The man in the passenger seat looked like a lumberjack or something. One of those tan canvas coats that lumberjacks wear. Long hair, brown-blond, down on his shoulders, and a beard. He looked like a Harley guy. Big nose. That was just about..." She rubbed her forehead, working it out, and said, "That must have been just about the time of the robbery." She looked up: "Jeez, what if that was the guys? The driver looked the same way, I didn't see him so well, but he had a beard..."
Lucas held up a finger, picked up his cell phone, sat on the bed, and punched up a number. A moment later, said, "Yup, it's me, but I can't talk, because my wife is standing about a foot away."
"Hey, Marcy," Weather called. Marcy Sherrill was a deputy chief with the Minneapolis cops: Titsy.
Lucas said, "What we need to know is, what time exactly did this whole thing happen? What time did it start, and when did it end?"
Marcy: "I don't think this is for the BCA."
"Listen, just shut up and tell me, and then I'll tell you why I want to know," Lucas said.
He listened for a moment, turned to Weather and said, "Between five-thirty and five-forty, right in there."
Weather said, "Lucas, that was... I mean, that was exactly the time I got there."
Lucas went back to the phone: "You know Weather is on the surgical team that's separating the twins? Yeah? So she pulled into the parking ramp right then, and saw a van coming out, and the face of a guy in the passenger seat. Said he looked like a lumberjack, blond or brown hair, down on his shoulders. Beard. Yeah, saw him pretty clearly. Saw the driver, too, not so well, but he had a beard. They were moving fast, and a little recklessly. Said the passenger was wearing like a yellow lumberjack coat."
"Tan canvas," Weather said.
"Tan canvas coat," Lucas repeated. He listened, then took the phone down and asked, "You get any impression of size?"
Weather closed her eyes for a minute, then said, "Yes. He was a big guy. Bigger than you. Taller, I think, and heavier."
Lucas passed it on, listened again, and said, "All right. How about... ten o'clock? Is ten good?"
When he hung up he said, "The robbers were three guys, wearing blue orderly scrubs, but the woman in the pharmacy doesn't think they were orderlies. They were apparently wearing the scrubs over street clothes. They were wearing heavy boots, and ski masks, but the woman thought that at least a couple of them had beards. One of them was a really big guy. We need to talk to Marcy. Probably do a computer sketch, see if they can figure out who the guy was."
"Probably nothing, though," Weather said, as though she regretted telling him about it.
"Maybe not," he said. "But hell, you've got the day off. The kids are out of the house let's go hang out. Talk to Marcy, do lunch. Hit a boutique. I could use a new suit or two, for spring."
She nodded, quickly, and repeated, "It's probably nothing."
Lyle Mack sat in his tiny loading-dock office and thought about it for a minute, then got on the cold phone and called Barakat. He said, "We gotta talk."
"Why should I talk to you? My hands are clean," Barakat said. "You and that bunch of idiots are in trouble. I'm walking away. I know nothing. Why are you calling me? You know the police can follow phone calls..."
"I ain't stupid, we all got cold phones. You gotta get one, too."
Lyle Mack was patient: "Go down some place and buy a phone and a card and give them a fake name, if you gotta give them a name," Lyle Mack said. "You can get them at the grocery store. Some grocery stores. You can go to Best Buy."
"I'm telling you, I am out of all this..."
"Man, you were there. You can't walk. And I got your goods," Lyle Mack said.
"I'll get them some other time," Barakat said.
"Look. When the guys were going out the ramp, some chick was coming in. Black Audi convertible. Blond. She saw one of the guys, and we want to know who she is, just in case. They think she was probably a nurse."
"How am I going to find out? I'm not a mind reader," Barakat growled. "What am I supposed to do, walk around asking people who saw the killers coming out of the ramp? How am I supposed to know that? That somebody saw somebody?"
"Just listen," Mack said patiently. "People will talk about this for weeks just listen. You don't have to fuckin' investigate."
Long silence. Then, "If she's a nurse, she was working the day shift," Barakat said. "There are probably a hundred Audis out in the ramp right now. So, I can keep an eye out tomorrow. If she's a shift worker, she should be coming in about the same time. That's all I can do."
"And listen around," Lyle Mack said. As an added attraction: "The goods we got for you. It's the best I've ever seen. It's like 100 percent gold."
Alain Barakat hung up and wandered into the kitchen. Glanced at his watch; had to get back.
He was tired: he'd just worked the overnight shift, and was continuing straight through the day, with only the hour-long lunch break. He'd already used half of that, and had come home hoping to find a package inside the push-through mailbox.
Hoping against hope.
The box was empty. Lyle Mack still had the goods. The knowledge of that would drive him crazy, he thought: and sooner or later, he would be over begging for it. He could tell them he was out, but he wasn't.
Barakat lived in a modest brick house in St. Paul's Highland Park, a street of tidy houses and neatly shoveled sidewalks and kids and yellow school buses coming and going. His father bought the house for him, but carefully kept the title for himself, part of the family's move out of Lebanon. They were investing in real estate houses and farm land socking away gold coins, buying American educations for the kids.
The price of American houses had never gone down, his father had told him. A year later, when prices started going down, the old man had title to at least thirty houses in the hot markets of California and Florida. He was losing his shirt and he'd cut Barakat's allowance to five thousand a month. He said, "You're a grown man now and a doctor. You can be rich if you work."
"I don't want to be a doctor," Barakat had said. "I don't want to be in St. Paul. This is not Lebanon, Pops, this is like the North Pole. It was minus twenty here the other day."
"Men have to work. That's what men do. Finish the residency, then go where you like. Move to Los Angeles. What I know, is, I'm cutting back. You live on five thousand a month, or you go hungry."
But Barakat couldn't live on five thousand; couldn't feed the habit for five thousand. The financial problem had led to his involvement with the Macks, a solution he'd suggested himself. The whole thing had seemed so simple.
And the blond woman.
If the blond woman was the same one he'd seen in the elevator and he'd have bet she was, she had to have been coming down from the parking ramp, and the timing was right then he had a problem, too. He had no reason to be back there at that time of day the emergency room was at the far end of the hospital, and nothing at the back end was even open. If she'd picked out one of Lyle Mack's guys, and was asked if she'd seen anyone else...
He dropped in an armchair and propped his head up with his hand. Thought about the blonde, and about the goods: Lyle Mack said he had the goods. Fire in the blood; needed the goods, despite what he'd said. Why had he said he'd get them some other time? He needed them now...
Think about the blonde.
Arriving at that time of the morning, she had to be staff, and medical staff, not administrative. If she'd been an emergency case, she would have gone down the street, instead of up the ramp. If she was a nurse, she had a rich husband nurses didn't drive Audis.
A doc? Maybe. There were lots of women docs.
His brain switched tracks again. Mack had the goods. All he had to do was pick them up. They were right there. Like a fat man thinking about a donut, he thought about the heft and feel of a big bag full of powder cocaine.
The keys to the kingdom of glory. He'd been sober for three days, and he didn't like it. Though he'd read that there was no real physical dependency he wasn't shaking or seeing snakes the psychological dependency was just as real. Without the coke, without money for the coke, he was living a drab, colorless existence, a life of shades and tints. The coke brought life, intelligence, wit, excitement, clarity: primary colors.
He looked in his wallet. Nine dollars, and he hadn't eaten in a day. Had to eat. Had to get the goods.
The Minneapolis police department is in the city hall, which is an ungainly, liver-colored building that squats in the Minneapolis glass-and-steel loop like an unseemly wart. Marcy Sherrill was slumped in her office chair, door closed to a crack. Lucas poked his nose in, called, "Hello?" He got what sounded like a feminine snore, so he knocked and tried again, louder this time. "Hello?"
Marcy twitched, sat upright, and turned and yawned, disoriented.
"Ah, jeez... come on in. I dozed off." She half-stood, then dropped back in her chair, dug in her desk drawer for a roll of breath mints, popped one.
Marcy was a tidy, athletic woman, forty or so, who'd never had a problem jumping into a fight. Dark-haired and dark-eyed, she and Lucas had once, pre-Weather, spent some time together or as Marcy said, forty days and forty nights. She'd later had a lengthy, contentious affair with a local artist, then married a medium-bigshot at General Mills.
And quickly produced James.
James was just back to pre-school after a bout with the flu, she said, as Lucas and Weather settled into visitor's chairs. "I've been getting about two hours of sleep a night," she said. "As soon as he got better, he started running again. He never stops. He starts when he gets up, he runs until he drops, he sleeps like a log, then he starts running again."
"Same with Sam," Weather said. "Sam is starting to learn his letters now..."
They one-upped each other for a minute or two, on their respective kids' looks, intelligence, vigor and overall cuteness. When they were done, Lucas scored it as a tie, though, of course, Weather was correct. Sam was the superior kid.
"So what do you think about this Don Peterson guy?" Lucas asked. "What'd you get?"
"The killing was pretty straightforward," Marcy said. "The killer probably didn't mean to do it. Kicked the guy a few times. According to Baker..."
"Baker's the nurse," Weather said.
"Yeah. Dorothy Baker. She was doing inventory on the drugs. She couldn't see anything, or say anything, because they taped her up, but she could hear everything. Peterson got a hand free, somehow, tried to slip his cell phone out, and call 911 Baker heard the robbers talking about it but he fumbled it, and got caught. One of the guys kicked him a few times, in the back, and in the chest. That broke him up. He bled to death, internal bleeding around his kidneys. They got him to the emergency room before he died, but he only lasted a few more minutes. He was on Coumadin, there was no way to stop the bleeding."
"So this Baker..."
Marcy held up a hand, cutting him off. "You know what Peterson did? Took some balls, but he did it on purpose. When the guy started kicking him, he grabbed him, probably on his leg, and scratched him. He told Baker what he'd done, and on the way down to the ER, he came to and told one of the docs. That he scratched this guy. He had blood on his hands, skin under his nails."
"DNA," Lucas said. He'd never met Peterson, but he was suddenly proud of the guy. "That's terrific... if we can find the guy who did it."
"Yeah: we find him, we've got him," Marcy said.
"She hear anything else? Baker?" Lucas asked.
"Yes. Interesting stuff. These guys were talking as they cleaned the place out, and she said they sounded kind of dumb like street guys," Marcy said.
"White, four of them. She saw their hands hands of three of them, anyway. Big guys, wearing ski masks. Their hands were rough, like they worked outside. They sounded dumb, but they knew exactly what they were doing. More interesting is the fourth guy, and what she didn't hear. Or see."
"What didn't she hear?" Weather asked.
"She didn't hear anybody knock on the door, because nobody did," Marcy said. "The door just popped open and there they were, all over Baker and Peterson. The fourth guy stayed out of sight until they were on the floor."
"That door should have been locked," Weather said.
The door was locked, Marcy said. It locked automatically, and to prevent that, it had to be deliberately disabled. Peterson was already inside when Baker got there, and she used her key to get in. "She's absolutely sure the door was locked, because when she put her key in, she didn't turn it far enough, didn't click it, and when she tried the handle, it was still locked and she had to twist the key harder. So, it wasn't disabled."
"The robbers had a key," Weather said.
"Yes. Plus, the fourth man stayed out of sight until both Baker and Peterson were blind. Baker said he came in and pointed out specific lockers... and she thinks she might have heard his voice before. She said he sounded like a doctor, but she didn't know who. If so, that's why they taped their eyes they would have recognized the fourth guy. Maybe even if he wore a mask. He's the inside guy, who got the key for them."
"Interesting," Lucas said. "You're pushing that?"
"Of course. We're pushing everything," Marcy said. "We looked like goofs this morning. All the TV stations were there, a couple of cable networks, for this operation on the twins and we had to cancel it because our hospital gets knocked over? It's like when the I-35 bridge fell in the Mississippi: people ask, what the hell are you doing, your bridge fell down? Now they're asking, 'Your hospital gets held up? Your hospital? What's going on up there?'"
"Hard to believe it's a doctor," Weather said.
"Why? I've known a couple of psycho doctors," Lucas said.
Marcy nodded: "Don't even get us started on nurses." She stood up and said to Weather, "Let's get you going on that drawing. I'd like to get it on the noon news."
As they were walking down the hall, Marcy added, "I want you guys to take it a little easy until we've got them locked up."
"Why's that?" Lucas asked.
Marcy said, "Well, Weather saw them so they probably saw her."
Lucas stopped in his tracks: "I never thought of that." He looked at Weather. "I'm so dumb. That never occurred to me."
Honey Bee had once been a professional hairdresser, so she offered Joe Mack a choice of styles: greaser, punk, industrial, skater, Mohawk or military sidewall.
"We don't want a rearrangement. We want something so different that nobody'd dream that some long-haired guy might have been him," Lyle Mack said. "Cut it all off. Right down to the scalp."
But she did it, using a couple of plastic attachments on a barber's clipper, and took his hair down to a quarter-inch, Joe Mack sitting on a toilet with a towel around his neck. That done, she lathered him up and using a straight razor, gave him the most sensuous shave of his life, not only because he was scared of the razor, which added a certain frisson to the proceeding, but because either her left or right tit was massaging his either left or right ear, depending.
"You think Mikey meant to kill that man?" Honey Bee asked.
"No way," Joe Mack said. "He's just... dumb."
Honey Bee nodded. Mikey was dumb. And violent. Unlike Joe Mack, who was just dumb. Mikey might not have meant to kill the old man, but he probably enjoyed it. Give him a month or two, and he'd be bragging it around, just like Shooter and the black dude in California.
When she was done with Joe Mack, he washed off his face and looked at himself in the mirror. Christ: he looked like a German butcher, big, red wind-burned nose sticking out of a dead-white face.
"What do you think?" Honey Bee asked.
"Ah, man... Not your fault, though." He rubbed his head. "Bums me out."
She went to the back door, peered through it. Lyle Mack was in the back, moving stuff around. She turned back to Joe Mack, hooked the front of his jeans. "You could come upstairs, later, if that'd make you feel better."
Joe Mack's eyes cut toward the door. Lyle would be really upset if he found out that Joe was screwing his girlfriend. Maybe.
"He's way in the back," she said.
"Yeah, but still..."
"I don't mean right this minute."
"Well..." He stepped close to her, slipped his hand up under her skirt to her underpants. She wore white cotton underpants, and for some reason, that really wound his clock. "That'd help, Honey Bee. I mean, I'd really appreciate it. I'm feeling kinda low."
They backed away from each other when they heard Lyle Mack coming back. Lyle pushed through the swing door, took in Joe and said, "Whoa."
Joe Mack rubbed his head again and said, "I look like I just got out of the joint. I look like they been sprayin' me down for head lice."
"Better'n taking a fall on the old guy," Lyle Mack said. "You know, you look about ten years younger."
Lyle Mack turned to Honey Bee and said, "I need you to run out to Home Depot and get some stuff. I got a list."
"I gotta get the wieners started," she said.
"I'll get the wieners. I want you out of here," Lyle Mack said. "Like, now. Don't come back for an hour."
She looked at him for a minute, then said, "More trouble."
"I don't want you to know about nothing, 'cause then you can't get hurt," Lyle Mack said. He followed her around, being nice, gave her a squeeze she was in a huff and got her out the door and on the way.
When she was gone, Joe Mack asked, "What was that all about?"
"Cappy's coming over," Lyle Mack said.
Caprice Marlon Garner dreamed of flying alone out of Bakersfield, up though the mountains, straddling his BMW, wind scouring his shaved scalp, sand spitting off the goggles, slipstream pulling at his leathers; and then down the other side, in the night, toward the lights of Tehachapi, then down, down some more and boom! out into the desert, running like a streak of steel lightning past the town of Mojave, blowing through Barstow to the 15, then up the 15 all the way to the lights of Vegas, coming out there at dawn with the lights on the horizon, the losers heading back to L.A. in the opposite lane...
Pulling up to the city limits, getting gas, sitting there with the BMW turning over like silk, and then boom! back down into the desert, the BMW hanging at 120, the white faces of the people in their Audis and Benzes and Mustangs, like ghosts, staring out at the demon who whipped by them in the dawn's early light...
The ride was the thing. The world slipped away work, history, memory, dreams, everything until he was nothing more than a piece of the unconscious landscape, but moving fast, a complex of nerves and guts and balls, bone and muscle and reaction.
And he dreamed of sitting up on a high roof in Bakersfield, and looking out over the town, the roofscape, the palm trees and mountains, the hot dry wind in his face. Sitting up there, it felt like something might be possible. Then you'd smell the tar, and realized it wasn't.
And he dreamed of the men he'd killed, their faces when he pulled the trigger. The BMW had come from one of them. He'd put the shotgun to the man's head, as he signed the papers, whining and pleading and peeing himself, and when the papers were in Cappy's pocket, boom! another one bites the dust. The Mojave was littered with their bones.
He'd killed them without a flicker of a doubt, without a shred of pity, and enjoyed the nightly re-runs...
Sometime in the early morning, the Minnesota cold got to him, and he stirred in his sleep. Eventually he surfaced, groaned and rolled over, the images of California dying like a match flame in a breeze. He'd kicked off the crappy acrylon blankets, and the winter had snuck through the ill-fitting windows, into the bed. He'd unconsciously pulled himself into a fetal position, and now the muscles of his back and necked cramped up like fists.
He groaned again and rolled over and straightened out, his back muscles aching, pulled the blankets up to his chin, and listened: too quiet. Probably snowing again. Snow muffled the sounds of the highway, of the neighbors. He caught sight of the alarm clock. Nine o'clock. He'd been asleep since six, after a three-day run on methamphetamine and maybe a little cocaine, and work; they were all mixed up in his mind, and he couldn't remember.
He was still tired. Didn't want to get up, but he swung his feet over the side of the bed, found the pack of Camels, lit one in the dim light that came through the window shade. Sat and smoked it down to his fingers, stubbed it out and trudged to the bathroom, the old cold floor boards flexing under his feet, the room smelling of tobacco and crumbling plaster and peeling wallpaper.
The only bathroom light was a single bulb with a pull string. Cappy pulled on it, and looked at his face in the medicine cabinet mirror. Picked up some new lines, he thought. He was developing a dusty look, with a slash from the corner of his nose down toward his chin. Didn't bother him; he wasn't long for this world, Cappy thought.
Today was his birthday, he thought. One more year and he could legally buy a drink.
He was twenty years old, on this cold winter morning in South St. Paul.
After coming back to Minnesota, he'd stopped in his hometown, looked around. Nothing there for him. He looked so different than he had in junior high, that it wasn't likely that even his father would recognize him.
But one guy had. A kid he'd grown up with, named John Loew. Loew had come into the SuperAmerica as Cappy was walking out. Cappy had recognized him, but kept going, and then Loew had stopped and turned and said, "Cap? Is that you?
Cap turned and nodded. "How ya doin', John."
"Hey, man... you really..."
Cappy gave him the skeleton grin. "Yeah?"
"... look different. Like a movie guy or something. Where've you been?"
"You know. L.A., San Francisco, West Coast."
A woman got out of a Corolla and came walking over and asked, "John?"
Loew said, "Carol. This is Cap Garner. We grew up together, went to school together."
The woman was Cappy's age, but he could tell she was also about eighteen years younger: a woman that nothing had ever happened to, a little heavy, but not too; a little blond, but not too; a little hot, but not too. She looked at Cappy with utter disdain, and said, "Hi, there."
Cappy nodded, threw his leg over the BMW, and asked Loew, "So what're you doing? Working?"
"Going to Mankato in business administration. Finance." He shrugged, as if apologizing. "Carol and I are engaged."
Cappy pulled his tanker goggles over his eyes, and said, "Glad it's working for you, John."
John said, "Yeah, well," and stepped toward the store. "Anyway..."
"Have a good day," Cappy said.
Riding away, he thought, Isn't that just how it is? This guy grew up next door, he's going to college, he's got a blond chick, he's gonna get married, he's gonna have kids, and not a single fuckin' thing will ever happen to him. Except that he'll get married and have kids. For some reason, that pissed him off. Some people go to college, some people go to work throwing boxes at UPS.
Minnesota was grinding him down. Before the last cold front came through, he'd taken the BMW for a ride down the highway, and in fifteen minutes, even wearing full leathers, fleece and a face mask, he'd been frozen to the bike like a tongue to a water pump.
He needed to ride, he needed to do something, but he had no money. None. His life couldn't much be distinguished from life in a dungeon: work, a space for food and drugs, sleep, and work some more with nothing at the end of it.
He smeared shaving cream on his face and thought of California; or maybe Florida. He'd never been to Florida. Had been told that it was lusher and harder than California meth as opposed to cocaine with lots more old people.
And he thought again about the liquor store. Big liquor store in Wisconsin, next to a supermarket. He'd been in just before closing on a Friday night, nobody else in the store, and he'd paid $12.50 for a bottle of bourbon, fake ID ready to go.
They never even asked: he looked that old. But more interesting was that when he'd paid with a fifty, the check-out man had lifted the cash tray to slip the bill beneath it, and there'd been at least twenty bills under there, all fifties and hundreds. With the five, tens and twenties in the top, there had to be two thousand dollars in the register.
Enough to get to Florida. Enough to start, anyway.
He caught his eyes in the mirror and thought, stupid. Every asshole in the world who wanted money, the first thing they thought of was a liquor store at closing time. They probably had cameras, guns, alarms, who knew what?
No liquor stores, Cappy. Have to think of something else.
Some other job.
He was staring at himself, thinking about the bed, when the phone rang.
He picked it up, and Lyle Mack asked, "That you, Cappy?"
Cappy sat in the back of Cherries and looked at Lyle Mack and said, "So that fuckin' Shooter told you I kill people."
"He made it pretty clear. Didn't exactly say the words," Lyle Mack said.
"That could get you locked away in California," Cappy said. "Maybe get you the needle.
"That's exactly the reason we have a problem with Shooter. He talks," Lyle Mack said.
Cappy, his voice flat: "Ten thousand dollars?"
"Five thousand each."
"Then what?" Cappy asked.
"What do you mean?"
"You can't just leave them laying out there," Cappy said. He'd had some experience with the disposal issue.
"We'll... dump them somewhere."
Cap sat staring at Lyle Mack for a long time, his flat crazy-man stare, until Mack began to get nervous, then said, "Fifteen."
"Aw, man, we don't have a lot of cash," Lyle Mack said. "C'mon, Cappy, we're asking you as a brother." Lyle Mack had never contracted for a murder, and he was jumpy as hell. Joe Mack sat next to him, and kept rubbing his face, as though he couldn't believe it.
"Fifteen is the brother price," Cap said. "I need a new van."
"You can't get a new van for fifteen," Joe Mack said.
"Well, it's not a new-new van, it's new for me," Cap said.
Joe Mack leaned forward. "Tell you what. I'll sign my van over to you. It's worth that, Blue Book. Perfect condition. Dodge Grand Caravan Cargo, three years old, good rubber, twenty-eight thousand actual. It's got XM radio and a drop ramp for bikes, it's got nav. It'd be perfect for you."
"How's the tranny?"
"The tranny's perfect. Never been a glitch," Joe Mack said.
"I gotta Dodge; it's been some trouble," Cappy said. But he was thinking: Florida.
"Everything got some trouble. But in vans, the Dodges is the best," Joe Mack said.
Cappy stared at Joe Mack, then said, "I'd want to look it up in the Blue Book."
"Be my guest," Joe Mack said.
"And two grand in cash. I gotta eat, too."
Lyle Mack, staring into Cappy's pale blue eyes, realized what an insane little motherfucker he really was.
Then they got practical, and Lyle Mack called Honey Bee on her cell phone: "You still at Home Depot?"
"Just got back in my car."
"I thought of a couple more things we need," Lyle Mack said. "Run back and get some of those contractor clean-up bags, okay? Like big garbage bags, but really big. And some Scrubbing Bubbles, and, uh, you know, some of those rubber kitchen gloves."
"So when am I the goddamn maid around here?"
"Well, you're right there at the store, goddamnit, Honey Bee..."
They'd sent Cappy down the street to wait at the Log Cabin Inn, and picked him up after Honey Bee got back. Honey Bee would open the bar: "You didn't start the wienies. They're still gonna be cold when we open."
Lyle Mack shook his head, "Honey Bee, I'm just so... busy. You know we've got some trouble. Help me out, here."
When Lyle had gone out the back, and Joe Mack was getting his coat on, he tried to cheer her up by squeezing her butt, and giving her a little leg hump, but she wasn't having it: "Get out of here. Go get busy."
Honey Bee had a horse ranch thirty miles south of St. Paul, though as ranches went, it was on the small side forty acres. But Honey Bee liked it, and so did her three horses. The Macks were not horse persons themselves; their attitude was, if God had meant people to ride horses, He wouldn't have invented the Fat Bob.
They rode out in Joe Mack's van, so Cappy could hear it run, with the Macks in the front seats, and Cappy on a back seat with a shotgun that he'd brought from home. Joe Mack said to his brother, "I totally know where you're coming from, you know, with this thing but I gotta say, I kind of like these guys, when they're not being assholes."
"But they're assholes most of the time," Lyle Mack said. "Now look at this. We have a perfect job, big money, no trouble, and now what? Now we're looking at a murder. I mean, fuck me. Murder? And they keep lettin' you know about that eggplant that Shooter killed out in California. You can't sit down and have a beer without them hinting around about it. It's gonna be the same thing here."
"You're right about that," Cappy grunted. The Macks had told him about the bind they were in; not because they wanted to, but because he said he needed to know. "I didn't know him but two minutes when he started ranking me about it."
"So we shouldn't have used them," Joe Mack said.
"Well, you're right. You know? You're right," Lyle Mack said. "We made a mistake. There they were, handy. I shoulda gone, it shoulda just been me and you and the doc, but you know I'm no goddamn good in the morning."
They both thought about that and the fact that Lyle Mack was too chicken to have gone in and then Lyle Mack added, "We made a mistake, and now they're going to have to pay for it. I gotta say, it's not fair, you know, but what're we going to do? They'll flat turn us in, if they get in a pinch."
"Bother you?" Joe Mack asked Cappy.
Cappy shook his head. "Don't bother me none, long as I get the van."
They rode along in silence for a while, looking at the winter countryside, then Lyle Mack said, over his shoulder to Cappy, "One thing I gotta tell you. If they're sitting on the couch in front room, it's a purple couch, we gotta get them off it. We can't shoot them on that couch. Honey Bee would have a fit. We need to get them up on their feet."
"Not on the couch," Cappy said.
"It's velour, and it's brand new," Lyle Mack said. "If we do them on the couch, the couch is toast. She'd be really, really pissed. She just got it from some place like Pottery Barn. One of those big-time places."
Joe Mack asked, "What do you think about the van? Pretty nice, huh?"
"It's okay," Cappy conceded. He looked in the back. With one rear seat folded, he could get the BMW in there, no problem.
They were coming up to the turn-off, and as they came down off the blacktop onto the gravel road, Lyle Mack said "Okay, listen, I got an idea."
Honey Bee's house wasn't much, an early twentieth century clapboard farmhouse with a front porch that was no longer square to the rest of the structure, and a round gravel driveway big enough to circle a pickup with a two-horse trailer. The barn was newer, red metal, with a loft for hay. A detached garage was straight ahead, an exercise ring off to the left.
They pulled in, and the Macks climbed out of the van, opened the side door and took out the big bag of Home Depot stuff. Instead of walking up to the house, they walked back to the barn, talking loudly. Lyle Mack slipped on what might have been a big puddle of frozen horse urine it was yellow, anyway, and ice and they went to the barn door and Lyle Mack went inside while Joe Mack waited outside. Joe Mack said to Lyle's back, "I'm gonna be sick. I think we oughta call it off."
"Gone too far," Lyle Mack said. "Just hold on. It's your ass we're trying to save."
A minute later, Joe Mack said, "Ah, shit, they're coming," and Lyle Mack said, "Uh-huh."
Outside, Joe Mack called, "Lyle's looking at one of the horses. Honey Bee's worried that one of them got something."
Lyle Mack heard a reply, couldn't quite make it out, and then, closer, heard Shooter Chapman say, "Horse's supposed to be good eatin.' I saw on TV that the French eat 'em."
"Yeah, the fuckin' French," Joe Mack said, friendly. His face was white with the stress, and he could feel the words clogging in his throat.
Then Haines said something and Lyle Mack didn't understand quite what it was, just that Chapman and Haines were walking up. He stepped outside and saw the two men coming up to the van with its open door, his brother frozen like a statue.
Haines glanced at the open van as he passed and said, "Hey..."
Cappy was right there with the shotgun. He shot Haines in the face and without looking or waiting or flinching, pumped once and shot Chapman.
Both men went straight down. Cappy stepped out of the van, pumped again, stepped close, carefully, kicked Chapman's foot, looked for a reaction, got none, kicked Haines. Then they all stood up and looked around, like they were sniffing the wind: looking for witnesses, listening for cars. Nothing.
"They're gone," Cappy said. "No couch, no problem."
"Okay," Lyle Mack said. His heart was beating so hard that he thought it might jump out of his chest. Chapman and Haines looked like big fat bloody dead dolls, crumbled on the beaten-down driveway snow. Shooter might have looked surprised, but the surprise part of his face was missing, so it was hard to tell. Mikey had a hand in his pocket and Lyle Mack could see the butt of a pistol in his fist. Joe was leaning against the barn, with a stream of spit streaming out of his mouth.
"Look at this," Lyle Mack said to Joe Mack. "They got guns. I bet the motherfuckers were going to kill us. Can you believe that? Can you believe it?"
"Well, yeah," Joe Mack said, spitting again. "They were probably thinking the same way we were."
They looked at the bodies for a few more seconds, and then Lyle Mack said, "Well, I'll get the garbage bags. We won't need the Scrubbing Bubbles. See if there's a shovel in the barn, we should scrape up any ice that's got blood on it."
Joe Mack went into the barn and found a No. 5 grain scoop, which would be okay for the snow, and scraped it away, though it was hard work; the blood just kept coming. Lyle fished the wallets out of the two men's pockets, retrieved the money he'd given to Chapman, and passed it to Cappy. "Your two thousand. It's my money, not theirs. I loaned it to them this morning."
Cappy nodded and took a drag on his Camel. Lyle said, "And don't go throwing that Camel on the ground. You always see in cop shows where somebody finds a cigarette butt."
Cappy nodded again, and Joe and Lyle put on the gloves and together rolled the dead men into the contractor's bags, while Cappy sat in the van door and watched. When they hoisted the bodies into the back of the van, thought Joe Mack, they looked exactly like dead men in garbage bags.
"Don't want to go driving around like this," Cappy said.
"No, we don't," Lyle Mack said. "I know a place we can dump them. I got lost one day, driving around. Way back in the sticks. Won't find them until spring, or maybe never."
To his brother: "Joe Mack, you take their car, drop it off at the Target by their house."
They scraped up the last bit of blood, wiped the grain scoop with a horse towel, and threw the towel in another bag, along with the rubber gloves. "Burn that when we get back to the bar," Lyle Mack said. "Take no chances."
"How far to the dump-off spot?" Cappy asked.
"Eight or nine miles. Back road, nobody goes there. We can put them under this little bridge. Hardly have to get out of the van. No cops, no stops."
"What about the woman that saw me?" Joe Mack asked.
"We gotta talk about that," Lyle Mack said. He looked at Cappy.
"What woman?" Cappy asked.
Same time, same station, doing it all over again.
Weather slept less well, with the anxiety of the prior day weighing her down. Again she got up in the dark, dressed, spoke quietly with Lucas, and went down to a quick breakfast and the car. Driving down the vacant night streets, to University, along University to the hospital complex. Nothing in her mind but the babies...
Alain Barakat waited for her, one flight up from the security door he'd opened the morning before, freezing in his parka, smoking. The place was a nightmare; dark, brutally cold. Barakat had grown up in the north of Lebanon, with beaches and palm trees. That he should wind up in this place...
When he finished here, one more year, he would move to Paris. He'd gone online, and found that his American medical certificate was good in France, though there would be some paperwork. Paris. Or maybe L.A.
Only one good thing about Minneapolis: He could still get Gauloises, smuggled down from Canada. No: two good things.
He took a long drag and thought about going back inside. Fuck this. He had nothing to do with anybody being dead.
But of course, he did. The whole thing had been his idea. He'd seen a chance to steal a pharmacy key, and he'd taken it, without even knowing why at that moment. Or maybe he'd known why, but not how...
Barakat had started with the cocaine at the Sorbonne, buying it from a fellow student who was working his way through college. He'd tried other stuff, uppers, downers, a little marijuana, a peyote button once, but none of it did it for him: the idea wasn't less control, it was more control.
That's what you got from the cocaine.
It had helped him through med school, but after that, in Miami, getting cocaine had not been a problem. Once in Minneapolis, for his residency, he'd asked around, found a guy who was recommended as a source for decent marijuana, the imported stuff down from Canada. A guy like that knew where to get cocaine.
So he bought his coke from a dealer named Lonnie, and then from a redneck named Rick, who took over Lonnie's route when Lonnie moved to Birmingham. Then Rick got hurt in a motorcycle accident, hurt really bad, and Barakat went stone cold sober for a week and a half, and it almost killed him.
One day Joe Mack showed up on his porch with a free baggie of blow.
Like the cocaine Welcome Wagon.
"Our friend Rick said you were one of his best guys, but he's gonna be out of it for a while..."
At that point, Barakat was spending eight hundred dollars a week on cocaine, with no way to get more money. He hung at eight hundred, until one late night he was waiting at the pharmacy window, the key already in hand, and thought, They've got no protection, and I know the guys who could take it away from them.
It all seemed so simple. And it should have been.
Now here he was, freezing his ass off, trying to set up an assassination. Not simple anymore. Not uninteresting, though, if only he'd been working with a competent crew. The whole concept of crime was interesting: the strong taking from the weak, the smart from the stupid. A game, with interesting stakes... if only he hadn't been working with the Macks.
At twenty minutes after five o'clock, a black Audi convertable rolled up the ramp, headlights bouncing when its tires bumped over expansion joints. The car swooped into a reserved parking place in the physicians' area. Five seconds later, a short blond woman got out, and started toward the exit door opposite Barakat.
Had to be her the same woman seen in the elevator. He let the door close: he couldn't allow her to see him again. Even being in the same part of the building, where she might see him by accident, could trip off a memory.
He waited, nervous, stressed, sweating in the freezing cold, and when she'd gone through the door, went after her. And as he went, the thought crossed his mind: fix it now. Take her. She was a small woman in a deserted building, he could break her neck, who'd know what happened?
Just a thought, but it stayed with him. He might catch her at the elevators... but when he got there, she was gone. A little feather of disappointment trickled across his heart, his gut. He could have done it.
So now, the question remained. Who was she, and where was she going?
She was early for most docs. They wouldn't normally arrive until sometime after six. On the other hand, the Frenchman's surgical team was supposed to start separating the twins...
He went that way.
Thirty people milled in the hallway outside the special operating theater. Like most of the other docs, he'd found an excuse to look the place over the special double operating table, the intricate anesthesia set-up, the newly painted, sign-posted floor, an attempt to better choreograph the movements of the massive operating team, to keep the sterile and the non-steriles separate, even as they walked among each other.
He saw the blond woman, still in her long winter coat, talking to Gabriel Maret, the Frenchman. Maret was listening closely. She had to be somebody important.
Barakat was an emergency room doc, not on the team, or anything close to it, and all the team members knew each other, so he couldn't risk joining the crowd. What he could do, though, was climb into the small observation theater above the OR. If you wanted a seat, all you had to do was get there early. One of the team members would be narrating the surgical procedures for the observers. The woman, if she were central to the work, would be introduced.
Lucy and Larry Raynes were with the children, who were still awake, but about to be moved to the operating theater. Sara saw Weather and her eyes misted up. She was still a baby, but she recognized the woman who'd caused her pain in the past. She began to cry, softly, and then Ellen started, not yet knowing why.
Lucy Raines bent over them, comforting them. Larry flapped his hands around, helplessly, and said to Weather, "They're about to give them something."
Weather nodded: "We're not the only ones who feel the stress. They're babies, but they know something is happening."
Ellen pushed against the sides of the hospital bed, and that torqued Sara, who stopped crying and thrashed with her hands. The babies could hear each other talking, but had never seen each other.
Larry said, "We just talked to Gabriel, he said everything was going smoothly."
"Yesterday was like a freak accident," Weather said. "Everything now is just like it was yesterday maybe better. Maybe some of the nervousness got burned off."
"I felt terrible about that guy," Lucy said.
"So do I." Weather bent forward and kissed Sara on the forehead. "It's hard, baby," she said.
An hour later, the twins were rolled into the OR, sedated, but not yet fully anesthetized. As the two anesthesiologists worked to position them, to rig them with the drip lines and to take a final look at the blood chemistry, to check their monitors, Maret wandered over to Weather and said, "It's time. No problems with the pharmacy this morning."
Weather nodded, and followed him into the scrub room. A few seconds later, Hanson, the bone-cutter, followed them in, with his resident; the surgical assistant stood waiting behind Weather. They scrubbed silently, until Maret said, "That first day of practice, we started with Vivaldi. If no one objects..."
"Perfect," Weather said. She'd always had music in her ORs. "Start with 'Primavera'."
"Your choice," Maret said, smiling at her. "You're okay?"
"Anxious to get going," she said. Her part, her first part, would be routine, nothing more than she did every day: cutting down to bone, cauterizing the bleeders, rolling back the scalp. Then, she'd get out of the way until the bone-cutter was done.
An anesthesiologist stuck his head in: "We're set. You want to say go?"
Maret looked at the team members in the scrub room, pursed his lips, smiled, nodded and said, "Go."
The observation theater was packed: team members had the first choice of seats, but after that, it was first-come first-seated, as long as you had the right ID. Barakat looked around: the watchers weren't just residents, but included a lot of senior docs on their own time. He was at the back, in the highest row of seats.
Down below, three nurses and two anesthesiologists clustered around the two small bodies joined at the skull; so close to perfection, and yet so far. Each was an attractive child if there'd been another inch of separation, they'd have been just fine. Now they lay on the special table, brilliantly lit, cradled in plastic, asleep, their eyes covered and taped, the bottoms of their faces isolated in breathing masks.
The scrub room doors opened in, and a small woman led a first group into the OR. A man sitting in the first row of the observation theater said into a microphone, "Doctors Gabriel Maret, Weather Karkinnen, Richard Hanson. Dr. Karkinnen will begin...."
She was masked, hatted, robed, gloved and slippered, wearing an operating shield over her eyes; but she was the woman from the elevator and the Audi, Barakat thought. Right size, right shape. Now that he knew her name, he could Google her, just to be sure.
The narrator said, "For those who just got here, the first procedure will be to open the scalp at the point of conjoin, to remove the first expander, and to prepare the bed for the initial craniotomy."
The surgical lights were miked. Barakat could hear Karkinnen talking with her surgical tech as they prepared the tools on a tray at her left hand. Karkinnen bent over the babies, with a surgical pen, her head blocking Barakat's view of what she was doing. Then Karkinnen straightened and asked an anesthesiologist, "Where are we?" and the anesthesiologist took a few seconds and then said, "We're good. Sara's heart looks good."
Karkinnen: "Dr. Maret?"
Maret looked around and said, "Everybody... may God bless us all, especially the little children. Weather, go ahead."
With Vivaldi playing quietly in the background, Weather took the scalpel from the surgical tech, leaned over the skulls of the two babies. She'd used a surgical pen to indicate the path of the incision, and now drew the scalpel along it, the black line turning scarlet behind the blade.
All skin has its own toughness and flexibility, and from post-puberty to old age, there was so much variation that you never knew quite what you'd get when you made the first cut. Sometimes it was saddle leather, sometimes tissue paper. Older people often had papery skin, and so did the young, though it was different.
Cutting into the twins was like cutting into a piece of brie; Weather had noted that in earlier operations, and no longer really paid attention to it. There was almost no separation between scalp and bone. She cut the first jigsaw pattern, got one little arterial bleeder, burned it, then slowly peeled the skin away from the incision. The room was suffused with the scent of burning blood, not unlike the smell of burning hair.
Her first part had taken twenty minutes.
She hadn't done much, but at the same time, she thought, everything: they were underway. They could still turn back, but the bone-cutter was right there, with his custom surgical jigs. Once they were in, turning back would be more complicated.
"I'm out," she said.
"Looks good," Maret said. "Perfect."
Separating the twins was not a matter of simply cutting bone and then snapping them apart. The venous drainage inside the skull had to be carefully managed, or blood pressure would build in the babies' skulls and damage their brains, and likely kill them.
The brains themselves were covered by a sheath of thin, tough tissue called the dura mater, which acted like a seal between the brain and the skull, and channeled the blood away from the brain. The dura mater, in most places, was thick enough that it could actually be split apart like pulling a self-stick stamp off its backing leaving each brain covered with a sheet of dura mater.
However, the imaging had shown that there were a number of veins that penetrated the dura mater, and rather than returning to the original twin, instead drained to the other twin. Those veins had to be tied off, and, in the case of several of the larger ones, redirected and spliced into other veins that drained to the appropriate twin.
To get inside, Hanson would fit a custom-made jig, or template, around the join between the twins' skulls. During the course of the operation, he would cut out a ring of bone, with what amounted to a tiny electric jigsaw. When the twins were taken apart, the holes in their skulls should be precisely the shape and thickness of pre-made skull pieces made of a plastic composite material.
Before that could happen, Hanson had to take out the bone, and then Maret, a neurosurgeon, and a couple of associates, would probe the physiology right at the brain, to make sure there was no entanglement of the brains themselves. Imaging said that there was not; if there had been, the shorter operation would have been impossible. When they'd confirmed the imaging, and that the dura mater in stretched across the defect, they would begin separating the tissue, and splicing veins.
Weather's surgical tech started giggling at the scrub sink, and said, "I was so scared. I did three little things, and I was completely freaked out."
"I was a little nervous myself," Weather said. "Are you okay?"
"Oh, sure. It's just that everybody's up there watching. Everybody important. What if I dropped a scalpel on your foot?"
"I'd have to have you killed," Weather said.
The nurse started giggling again, and it was infectious, and Weather started, though it was unsurgeon-like. They'd just stopped when Weather said, "Couldn't you see it? Sticking out from between a couple of toes? What would I say? Ouch?"
They started again.
Weather stripped out of the sterile gown, head-covering, shoe covers and surgical gloves, and tossed it all into disposal baskets and walked down to the lounge where the twins' parents were waiting.
They both stood up when Weather walked in, and she smiled and said, "It's going. I made the first incisions, and Hanson is getting started on the entry."
"How are the girls?" Larry asked.
"They're strong. Sara's heart is fine. This next part will take a while..." The parents nodded. They had a timeline, knew about what each procedure would take. The bone-cutter would be working for a couple of hours, followed by the neurosurgeons.
After talking with the parents, Weather left them in the lounge and walked down to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee and a roll. Several members of the team were there, called or waved to her when she came in; she went to the line for a roll, then joined them.
Barakat had come in well behind her, watching, got a slice of pizza and a cup of coffee, careful to keep his back turned when she might look his way. When she was seated, he carried his tray to a table behind her, his back to her. A few minutes later, after some chatter about the twins, she was telling her friends about doing an artist sketch for the police, of the man coming out of the parking structure.
Barakat finished his coffee, checked the time. Too early for a civilized call, but the Macks weren't civilized, and Lyle Mack said to call as soon as he knew who she was.
Weather was in the gallery when the operation started going sour. The first indication was simple enough, when the anesthesiologist said, "We're looking at a little thing with Sara's heart, here."
Maret nodded to an associate, and backed away from the table. "What can we do?"
He and the anesthesiologist began talking about it, and the cardiologist came in and looked at all the numbers on all the machines. He wasn't sterile, so he stayed back, watching.
The anomalies continued to develop. The cardiologist ordered medication to steady the rhythm of Sara's heart, but the medication began to slow Ellen's, and finally the cardiologist told Maret that they needed to move the children to intensive care, where they could be taken off the anesthesia, and treated for the heart problems.
"You see no alternative?" Maret asked.
"We could go a little longer, but then, if Sara really gets into trouble, it could take longer to bring them both back... we could wind up with an emergency." An emergency most likely meant Sara would die.
"Damnit." But Maret acceded, looked up: "Weather, we'll need to close up here."
"Another five thousand, and all you have to do is make the one ride," Lyle Mack told Cappy. They were back in Cherries, Cappy an hour out of bed. "We've got a bike spotted for you, a Yamaha sports bike. Almost new, perfect condition. Owner's a RUB, he keeps a spare key in a magnet box shoved up under a flap behind the seat. Joe will drop you at his garage. The guy doesn't come home until eight o'clock. You ditch the bike after the ride, Joe'll pick you up. Clean, quick."
Cappy's eyes slid over over to Joe Mack. "Saw your picture on TV. Like you used to look."
"I saw it, it don't look like me. Like I used to look," Joe Mack said.
"Not exactly, but it had all the right parts in the right place," Cappy said.
"Once this woman's gone, it's no problem. Can't identify somebody on the basis of a drawing-thing if the witness is gone," Lyle Mack said.
"The thing that bothers me, a little bit, is the spotter," Cappy said. "You know... that's another guy. I thought we were cutting down on the number of guys who know."
"Well... maybe we can talk about that sometime," Lyle Mack said.
Cappy smiled his minimalist smile, a slight widening of his narrow lips. "I was thinking about it at work. This could be like a job. I could be, like, you know, one of those eliminators."
"You could be," Lyle Mack said. He scratched his head, and like any small businessman, got thinking about the bureaucracy of it. Nobody ever thought about the bureaucracy, but that's most of what any small business was. He said, "I don't know how you'd set it up. You know, find guys who need the work. If any one of them folded up, you'd go down with them. But we ought to think about it. If there was some way to do it, you could sure make some bucks."
"I wish..." Joe began. Then, "I'm not sure we oughta be doing this. This is like, remember that Walt Disney cartoon with the tar baby? It's like we're getting more stuck in the tar baby."
Lyle Mack took a quick circular pace, his jowls shaking, and he said, "Joe... She saw ya, goddamnit. We gotta do something about it, while we got the chance." He looked at Cappy: "By the way, I got a question. That goddamn shotgun, even cut down... how you gonna manage that?"
"Not using the shotgun," Cappy said. He took a revolver from his pocket, wrapped in Saran Wrap, turned it sideways so the Macks could look at it. "Got it in Berdoo. Perfect bike gun. Can't touch it, because I wiped it."
"What the hell is that?" Lyle Mack asked.
"It's the Judge," Cappy said. "Three .410 shells with Four-O buckshot, that's five pellets the size of a .38 in each shell. And two .45 Colts in the other two chambers. Gotta get close, but I won't do it unless the barrel's touching her window glass."
"Dude," Lyle said, "You got the equipment."
As he and Joe went over to get the bike, Cappy thought about killing people for money. Well, what was the difference between that, and killing a guy for his bike? Maybe that was when he crossed some kind of line the first guy he killed, he did almost out of self protection. Later on, he did it because it was interesting.
He'd seen all kinds of killing on TV, ever since he could remember crime movies and war movies, cop shows, people being killed every way you could think of. Machine gunned and executed and shot with long-range rifles and stabbed and strangled and poisoned and electrocuted and beat with baseball bats, everything. Real airplanes flying into real buildings, guys blowing themselves up on the news.
You'd always get some news chick telling you how bad you should feel about it, but Cappy didn't feel much of anything, except interested, and neither, he thought, did the news chick. Or anybody else. It was entertainment, was what it was, and in real life, it was kind of more entertaining.
Like riding a bike too fast: you didn't know exactly what was going to happen. It was almost like he was killing people in a movie, except more. Like you see Bruce Willis cap somebody, that's how much he felt it, times ten. Times a hundred. He liked rerunning it, when he'd pulled one off, but he liked rerunning Bruce Willis movies, too.
The thing is, it was intense.
But, Lyle Mack was right. How would you get in touch with the people who needed the work done? Maybe you could find some big Mafia guy and contract out for it. Have to think about it.
"Here we go," Joe Mack said, as they turned down an alley. He pointed out the garage: "The white one with the red doors. I'll drop you off right in front of it. Nobody can see us, unless they're right in the alley. Got to get in and out quick, though."
Cappy nodded. "I can do that." He reached under the seat and pulled out a Penney's bag with the handgun in it. "See ya."
He seemed really calm, Joe Mack thought, as he dropped him. Joe Mack could hardly hold onto the steering wheel, and every time he closed his eyes, he saw the smiling faces of Mikey and Shooter, followed by a fade-in of the dead faces. It was creeping him out. He planned to drink a lot that night, so he'd get some sleep.
He fished a pint of bourbon out from under the seat and took a pull. Looked both ways for cops, and took another one.
At three o'clock in the afternoon, the sun was already dipping toward the horizon. Weather came out of the parking garage, looked both ways, took a left, down toward the I-94 entrance. She'd take it only a mile or so to the Cretin Avenue exit, then head south.
She was tired. She needed to get home and take a nap. The surgery she'd done hadn't been difficult, but the stress around the operation was taking a toll that she really hadn't expected. It wasn't the work, it was the talk afterwards. The fact was, they could go in and dissect the dura mater from Sara's brain in a half-hour or so; they could finish the bone cutting, take out the dura mater, leave it with Ellen, close up, and Ellen would be good.
Sara would die. In medical papers, they would say that a patient was sacrificed so the other could live. Sacrificed. Nice. The idea of making that decision made her skin crawl. Separating the dura mater, so that each baby could drain blood back into the venous system, was the time-eater. The neuro-surgeons were advancing toward each other a millimeter at a time, sorting veins, saving everything they could.
But if something went too wrong...
Just needed a nap, she thought. The surgery could resume in the middle of the night, if Sara's heart function improved. Or, if it worsened enough that they were compelled to let Sara go, and attempt to rescue Ellen.
As she came out of the parking garage, she glanced in her rear-view mirror and saw the biker break away from the curb a block behind her; paid no attention, saw the stoplight ahead turn yellow, and floored the accelerator, clipping the red light as she went through. She kept the speed up down the block to the next light, and caught an odd motion in her rear-view mirror; the biker had flat run the red light, and had almost been taken out by a car coming through.
She made a right and was on the long sweeping entry ramp, accelerating as she went. She liked to drive fast, and felt, as a surgeon, with a surgeon's reflexes, that she was entitled to; and she'd had that race training, although there had been some knocks and bumps over the years... unforeseen circumstances, she claimed in her own defense... like when she drove through the garage door. She smiled, thinking of Lucas, as he came running out of the house. He'd wanted to kill her, but had pretended to be totally calm about it, and understanding.
Coming down the ramp, she saw the biker again, leaning into the turn, coming fast. Since she'd be getting off quickly, she stayed in the right lane.
She merged with traffic, pushed her speed to sixty-five, and in her left mirror saw the single headlight weave between cars in the right and the right-center lanes, two hundred yards back but coming very fast now. Too dark to see much.
As the bike came up beside her she glanced back, saw the face shield, black leathers. He was on her back quarter-panel when he took his left hand off the clutch and pulled something from beneath his jacket.
She could feel him focused on her window, still coming, saw him lift his hand, in a peculiar way, and of the thousand things that might have occurred to her, only one rang true: she was a cop's wife and she thought, "Gun."
She flicked the car left, into his lane, and at the same instant she hit the brakes on the Audi, hard, and the bike flicked left and surged past her, the rider snapping his head around, dropped whatever it was, tried to grab it with his clutch hand, lost it, and she still thought, "Gun," and she yanked the wheel left and fell in behind him, and with a surge of road rage, floored the accelerator again.
She hadn't had time to process it, but instinct told her that this was one of the guys from the robbery, one of the guys who killed Don, and now they were after her: and she was not the turn-the-other-cheek sort.
Though the Audi was fast, it was no match for the bike. The rider glanced back, saw her coming and took off, the front wheel lifting off the ground. She got the impression of a small man. The people from the hospital were supposed to be fairly big... but there was no doubt about what he'd tried to do, not in her mind.
She stayed with him for a few hundred yards, but he sliced up the white line between two cars and was pulling away when the Cretin Avenue exit came up.
She swerved onto it, up to the top, turned right, stopped beside the golf course, unsnapped her seat belt and turned to watch traffic, as she pulled out her cell phone and punched in 911.
"Is this an emergency...?"
"My name is Weather Karkinnen, and I'm a surgeon. A man just tried to kill me. He's on I-94 going east toward Snelling on a motorcycle, he's going really fast..."
Lucas showed up fifteen minutes later.
Weather had driven around the golf course to the clubhouse. She parked, went inside, told the restaurant manager that she was waiting for police. The first cops arrived two minutes later; in the interval, she'd called Lucas.
"I'm pretty sure," she told him on the phone. "Whatever it was, the gun, if it was a gun, he dropped it, and then he took off."
"You know where he dropped it?" Lucas asked.
"Just after 280. Right there... maybe three or four hundred yards east." she said.
"Okay. Any chance he saw where you went? That you're at the club?"
"No. I called 911, and then came right here to wait for the police," she said.
"Stay there, stay inside. I'm coming."
When the first St. Paul cops showed up, they were skeptical. When she explained that she might have seen the face of one of the robbers who took down the hospital, they became interested. When she mentioned that Lucas was her husband, and that she had some familiarity with assholes, and this particular asshole may have dropped a gun on the highway, they got busy.
Lucas arrived in the truck, shouldered past the cops and asked, "You okay?"
"I'm fine." She was fine, but she could see that he was not. He was white-faced with anger.
He turned to one of the cops and said, "Did you get somebody to look for a weapon?"
The cop nodded. "We're rolling on it. We've got a highway patrol guy to block off 94, and two of our cars down there with him. It's gonna be a mess, though. Rush hour."
Back to Weather: "The guy you saw yesterday. He's got to be the robber. What kind of a bike was it? Anything you recognize?"
"It wasn't a Harley, that's all I know," she said. "The guy's legs were behind him, so he was leaning over the handlebars. When he took off, the front wheel came right off the ground. He was wearing a black helmet. But he was kind of a small guy, I think. That's the impression I got."
"Crotch rocket," one of the cops said. "The highway patrol guy had a stop just east of downtown, and when Miz Davenport called, they passed the word to him and he was looking for the bike. Nothing came through, so the guy got off somewhere."
"Not many bikes at this time of year," the other cop said. "Too much snow and ice."
"Clear right now," Lucas said.
"On I-94 it is, but you wouldn't want to cut any corners on the back streets," the cop said.
Lucas nodded: the cop was right. "Had any reports of stolen bikes?"
Lucas turned back to Weather. "We've got to lose you until we find the guy. We could put you in the University Radisson..."
Weather shook her head. "Nope, nope. I need my sleep, and I need to be at home, with the kids, and I need to get to the hospital at the right time every day. And maybe in the middle of the night."
"How're the twins?"
"Sara's heart is a problem," Weather said. "They're working on it now, but the stuff they need to give her causes problems for Ellen. So maybe we'll be good tomorrow."
She shrugged. "Not terribly but it could get bad if this goes on for a few days. We knew it might, but hoped it wouldn't. That's why I need to be at home."
Lucas said, "What would you think about a house guest?"
She shook her head. "Lucas, I don't want Shrake or Jenkins bumbling around the house. I mean, those guys could fall on the piano and break it."
"I called Virgil. He said he would be here in an hour."
She nodded. "Virgil would be okay. Besides, it sounds like it's settled."
"Yes, it is," he said.
She recognized the tone. They both had tempers, and they had learned to recognize when the other was putting his/her foot down, when things had moved beyond negotiation. She nodded: Virgil it was.
Lucas called the cops' supervisor, an old friend named Larouse, who said he'd call with any news. "You want a car outside your house?"
"You don't have to park it, but if you'd cruise it pretty steadily, that'd be good."
"We'll check every movin' dog," Larouse said. Then, "Hang on a minute." There was a moment of silence, then Larouse was back. "We've got a gun. A Taurus revolver. Listen to this: It's loaded with three .410 shells and two Colt .45s. Got run over about two hundred times, but the shells are still inside. Maybe we'll get something off them."
They talked for a couple of more minutes, then Lucas signed off: "Get back to me, man."
Weather had been listening and she asked, "Good news?"
"Well, you weren't hallucinating they found the gun."
"I knew it."
"It's all beat up. Got run over a lot. They're running it back to the lab. They'll check the shells for prints and then ship them over to us and see if we can pull any DNA..."
"Doesn't sound too hopeful..."
"Hey: if there're prints on the shells, Lodmell will pull them up. And I believe the guy'll be on record. You don't send somebody out with a man-killer and a crotch rocket if he's a virgin."
He looked at her: "You got lucky."
"Not just lucky," she said. The two cops had gone off a way, and she told him about flicking the Audi into the biker's lane, causing him to fumble the gun, and about going after him with the car.
"Crazy woman," he said, and wrapped an arm around her head, in a head-lock, and gave her a noogie.
But he was scared.
The noogie made her laugh, at least a bit, and then Lucas went off to talk to the cops again, leaving her, and suddenly, for the first time in years, she flashed back to a winter day with a motorcycle crazy named Dick LaChaise, at Hennepin General Hospital in Minneapolis.
LaChaise and two killer friends had come to town looking for Lucas, because Lucas had led a major crimes squad that had killed LaChaise's wife and sister during a bank robbery. LaChaise had taken Weather hostage at the hospital. Lucas had come to negotiate in person, to talk LaChaise out of killing her.
At least, that's what Weather had thought, and LaChaise, too.
But as soon as LaChaise moved the muzzle of his pistol an inch from Weather's skull, a concealed sniper had shot him in the head. Weather went down, covered with blood, brains and fragments of skull.
She hadn't been able to stay with Lucas after that; it had taken years to get back. But they had gotten back, and now here was another motorcycle hoodlum coming for her on the highway, and suddenly she was there again, in the hallway, and LaChaise's head was exploding behind her...
"No." She shook it off.
She might flashback again, she thought, but she wasn't having it, this time. She'd worked all through it. LaChaise was dead, and this had nothing to do with Dick LaChaise or Lucas Davenport.
Lucas touched her on the shoulder. "You okay?"
"You look like you've seen a ghost."
"I suddenly got scared," she said. "Before, I was too busy to be scared."
Cappy swore and tried to grab the gun, fumbled it, then heard the scream of an angry engine, looked back, and realized that the bitch was coming after him. He hit the accelerator, felt the rush as the front wheel lifted free, cut down a center line and was gone. He watched her lights and saw her swerve left, and she was gone up the off-ramp. He took the next one, quick right at the top, then a left, down through the dark streets, careful about the leftover snow, and the black ice at intersections. Three blocks from Central High School, four minutes after he made the attempt on Weather, he stuck the bike between a couple of parked cars, walked a crooked route down to Central, watching his trail, to where Joe Mack was waiting in his van.
"Missed," Cappy said, climbing into the passenger seat. "Bitch saw me and came after me with her car. Goddamn near ran me down. I lost the fuckin' gun."
Mack stretched his neck, looking out of the van in all directions: "You're clean? Nobody's behind you?"
"Nah, that part went fine. Dropped the bike, walked way, nobody saw my face with the scarf and all."
"Gun's clean, too. Hated to lose it, though. I needed that gun. I never fired a shot. I dunno."
Two minutes and they were back on I-94, headed east. Joe Mack said, "I'm thinking about going over to Eddie's. You know? Got some guys who'll say I've been around for a couple of weeks, had the haircut all the time."
"Yeah?" Cappy wasn't too interested. He was thinking about what had happened; the lack of respect. And he'd noticed the alcohol that Joe Mack was breathing all over him: that didn't seem right. Your pickup guy shouldn't be getting drunk.
He said, "That bitch tried to run me down. I was coming beside her, running good, and all of a sudden, she like, jukes into my lane. I goddamn near ran up her tailpipe, I got only one hand on the handbar, and I freak and I drop the gun, but I get back on top of the bike and the next thing I know, she's about six feet behind me and coming for me. What kind of bitch is that?"
"The thing about Eddie's, is, you know, you ever been in fuckin' Green bay?"
"I oughta kill the bitch for free, after that," Cappy said.
Cappy looked at him, and realized that Joe was dead drunk. "Pull over," he said. "Let me drive."
Cappy drove back to his room, in an old house in St. Paul Park, and Joe said he was fine, took the keys and headed back to Cherries. Lyle was waiting in the back.
"No go," Joe Mack said. He told Cappy's story, then shook his head. "I think we made a mistake bringing Cappy into it. If this chick talks to the cops, they'll be looking at bikers. Before, they weren't looking at bikers. If they start showing her pictures, I might turn up."
Lyle Mack said, "I didn't think of that."
Joe Mack said, "You know, maybe we're not smart enough to pull this off. Maybe we oughta run on down to Mexico for a couple of years."
Lyle Mack looked around at the bar: "But what'd we do with Cherries?"
Joe Mack said, "I don't know. Once, you said, we maybe should sell it to Honey Bee. On paper. You know, to keep our names out of it. Maybe..."
"Aw, man. We gotta do better'n that." Lyle cocked an ear to the front room, where "Long Haired Country Boy" was booming out of the jukebox. "How could we leave this?"
A snow flurry had just crossed the Mississippi when Virgil showed up. He got out of his truck and a squad car pulled to the side of the street and two cops rolled out, and Lucas stuck his head through the front door and yelled, "He's good."
The cops waved and moved on. Virgil, watching them go, said, "Heavy."
Virgil was a tall man, nearly as tall as Lucas, but wiry, with shoulder-length blond hair like a surfer's. Lucas, on the other hand, was heavy through the shoulders, and dark.
Virgil lifted a duffel bag out of the truck and came up, and Lucas stepped out on the porch. "They sent a guy after her on a Yamaha sport bike," he said. "St. Paul found it ditched off Snelling Avenue. He picked her up right at the hospital, so they must have a spotter inside. He had a handgun that fires .410 shells. The idea was to pull up beside her and put the barrel one inch from the window and blow her out the other side of the car."
"Have to be a good rider," Virgil said. "Good rider with a good bike gun."
Lucas said, "I think so."
"You had some trouble with the Seed," Virgil said. "Weather was involved."
"A long time ago," Lucas said. "And this gun came out of California."
Lucas thought about it, and then said, "It's the robbery. I doubt they even know who she is. Still, could be a Seed guy with the gun. They've got some kind of deal with the Angels, they've been coming across the river."
The Bad Seed was a Wisconsin club, originally out of Green Bay and Milwaukee; the Angels dominated the Twin Cities.
"All those guys are getting old, they're merging," Virgil said. "I've seen Banditos over on the West Side, riding with their colors."
"Hmm. Don't think we need to bother Weather about it," Lucas said. And, "You got your gun?"
Virgil smiled. "I knew you were going to ask." He patted his side. "Right here, boss. And I got a twelve gauge in the truck, I'll get it later."
As they went back inside, Lucas asked, "You know what she did? After she saw the gun?"
"Tried to run his ass down," Lucas said.
"Semper fi," Virgil said.
Inside, Lucas introduced Virgil to Marcy Sherrill, who'd stopped to talk about the attempt on Weather. "She's a deputy chief over in Minneapolis," Lucas said.
They shook hands and Virgil said, "Yeah, we met a few years ago the Yellow Peril thing," Virgil said. "Don't know if you remember. I was working with Jim Locke, before he retired."
"I remember," Marcy said. "Jeez, that must have been six or eight years ago."
Lucas said, "I don't remember..."
"I think that was after you got kicked off the force, and before you came back," Marcy said. "Some asshole..."
"Louis Barney," Virgil said.
"Yeah Louis X. Barney... He stole a bunch of five-gallon cans of methanol from some race-car guy's garage. He told the judge that he just thought it was alcohol. And, he figures what the heck, the winos wouldn't know any different. He blended it with pineapple juice and started selling it on the street. We had four people go blind, and two people die, before we caught him."
Virgil: "Wonder if he's out yet?"
"He got twenty years... but I think that was under the old two-thirds rule... so not yet, but he's getting close."
"Pretty stiff, for a semi-accident," Lucas said.
"The judge didn't believe him," Marcy said. "Barney was a drunk himself, but he didn't drink any of it."
Weather came in, carrying a coffee pot, followed by the housekeeper with a tray full of cookies, and Weather kissed Virgil on the forehead and messed up his hair, and said, "Your nose looks fine." And to Marcy: "The last time I saw him, he had this big aluminum thing on his nose. From a fight."
"I read about it," Marcy said. "The buried car thing."
"How you doin'?" Virgil asked Weather.
"I've been thinking about it, and thinking about it, and thinking about it," Weather said. "You know what? I can't think about it. I've got too much to think about already, with this operation. So, I'm not going to pay any attention to it. I'm going to let you guys take care of me."
"Good plan," Marcy said. "If they come again, we'll get one. Could break it for us."
"They spotted her in the hospital. Somebody in the hospital set it up," Lucas said.
"I think so," Marcy said. "We're putting hammerlocks on everybody. We're pushing it we've pulled people off about everything else."
"So there's no reason for me to jump in," Lucas said.
She smiled at him. "Nope. No reason at all."
As they were shutting down for the night, with the kids asleep and the housekeeper in her apartment, Weather already gone back to the bedroom, Virgil was jacking triple-ought shells into his twelve-gauge and he said to Lucas, "There is a good reason for you to jump in. You're the second smartest cop in Minnesota. They can always use more of that."
"I'm always a little sensitive around Marcy," Lucas said. "She used to work for me, you know."
Virgil snorted. He knew about their history.
"The point remains," Virgil said. "Never hurts to have a little more IQ on the job. Fortunately, you got me."
In the winter, Weather slept in a variety of ankle-length flannel nightgowns, and on really cold nights, she wore socks, even though it was no colder in the bedroom on really cold nights, than on halfway-cold nights. When Lucas got back to the bedroom, she was wearing a man's wife-beater undershirt, that clung to her body and was low-cut enough to show the rim of her nipples at the top; and white bikini underpants.
Lucas said, "Oh, God. I'm so tired, too."
"Poor baby," she said. "Let me help you with your shirt."
Another thing that Lucas liked about Weather, right from the start, was that when it came to sex, she knew what she wanted, and how to get it, and one thing she didn't want was excuses. So they rolled across the bed, talking and sometimes laughing, stroking this, pulling on that, and Weather wound up on top, straddling his hips and said, like she might say to an over-anxious horse, "Steady, boy," and "Whoa, slow down," and "Easy, there," and she rode up and down and up and down, chewing her lower lip, still wearing the shirt, but now rolled up above her breasts, moving like she wanted to, until she got to the orgasm part, and then she made a sound like a tiny steam whistle from a miniature paddle-wheel boat, urgently signaling a need for more firewood, Ooo, Ooo, Ooo, Ooooooo...
Then, after a few moments, of lying her head on his chest, with some after-shocks, she said, "Okay, go ahead. Pay no attention if I look at my watch."
"You're in no shape to read a watch, even if you were wearing one," Lucas said, rolling her onto her back. "Brace yourself, Bridget..."
When they were done, she asked, "You think it's a bad sign when you're funny when you're having sex?"
"Depends on what you're laughing at," Lucas said. "That wouldn't apply to myself, of course."
"I'm too screwed to be serious. So, why don't you shut up? Or, tell me something."
"What?" In the dark, turning toward him.
"Are you really not scared?"
"Background scared. But I'm not going to dodge. I'm going to do what I do."
"Not gonna fight it, not going to play us."
"No. I'm going to think about the twins, I'm going to take care of them, I'm going to put everything else out of my mind, and I'm going to let you guys take care of me."
Cappy was asleep when he heard the knock on the door. He came awake in a rush, startled nobody ever knocked for him, or even knew where he lived. It didn't sound like a cop's knock or what he thought a cop's knock would sound like. He looked at the clock: after eleven.
He rolled out of bed, went to the door, left the chain on, opened it, and peeked out. Joe Mack was standing in the hallway with a sack.
"Got a sack for you," he said. More bourbon breath.
Cappy looked at him for a moment, then closed the door far enough to take off the chain, opened the door and backed up. Joe Mack stepped inside, looked like he might say something like, "Nice place," but the place was such a shithole that the comment would have been absurd, so he swallowed it, and instead said, "Here."
He thrust the bag at Cappy, and Cappy took it, felt the weight, knew what it was.
He took it out: a Taurus Judge.
"Where'd you get it?"
"Up here, they got anything you want in the way of guns, if you look around. This was stole from over in Minneapolis. So, it's hot, but if the cops chase you down, you say you bought it from a guy on Hennepin Avenue, you know, for self-defense, because you live in such a dangerous place."
Cappy nodded, asked, "You want a smoke?"
Joe said, "Nah, I gotta run. Got stuff to do." He left, leaving behind a cloud of alcohol breath.
The boy had it bad, Cappy thought. He got back in bed with the gun, happy, turned the cylinder, popping out the shells, dropped them on the floor, slipped the gun under his pillow. He lay awake for a few minutes, listening to the zzzzz of the electric clock, then drifted away, the hard lump under his head, relaxed and comfortable as a wooly sheep.
24 February 2019
The Prey series, the Virgil Flowers series, the Kidd series, The Singular Menace, The Night Crew, Dead Watch, The Eye and the Heart: The Watercolors of John Stuart Ingle, and Plastic Surgery: The Kindest Cut are copyrighted by John Sandford. All excerpts are used with permission.
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