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|The Prey Series|
The first machines on the site were the wreckers, like steel dinosaurs, plucking and pulling at the old houses with jaws that ripped off chimneys, shingles, dormers and eaves, clapboard and brick and stone and masonry, beams and stairs and balconies and joists, headers and doorjambs. Old dreams, dead ambitions and lost lives, remembrance roses and spring lilacs, went in the dump trucks all together.
When the wrecking was done, the diggers came in, cutting a gash in the black-and-tan earth that stretched down a city block. A dozen pieces of earth-moving equipment crawled down its length, Bobcats and Caterpillar D6s and Mack trucks, one orange Kubota, grunting and struggling through the raw earth.
Now gone quiet as death.
The equipment operators gathered in two and threes, yellow helmets and deer-skin work gloves, jeans and rough shirts, to talk about the situation. Slabs of concrete lay around the trench, pieces of what once had been basement floors and walls. Electric wire was gathered in hoops, pushed into a corner of the hole, to await removal; survey stakes marked the lines where new concrete would go in.
None of it happening today.
At one end of the gash, twelve men and four women gathered around a bundle of plastic sheeting, gone a pinkish-yellow with age. It was still set down in the earth, but the dirt on top of it had been swept away by hand. A few of the people were construction supervisors, marked by yellow, white and orange hardhats. The rest were cops. One of the cops, whose name was Hote, and who was Minneapolis' sole cold-case investigator, was kneeling at the end of the bundle with her face four inches from the plastic.
Two dead girls grinned back at her, through the plastic, their desiccated skin pulled tight over their cheek and jaw bones, their foreheads; their eyes were black pits, their lips were flattened scars, but their teeth were as white and shiny as the day they were murdered.
Hote looked up and said, "It's them. I'm pretty sure. Sealed in there."
The day was hot, hardly a cloud in the sky, the July sun burning down; but the soil was cool and damp, and smelled of rotted roots and a bit of sewage, from the torn-up sewer lines leading out of the hole. Another woman, who'd walked into the pit in low heels and two-hundred-dollar black wool slacks that were now flecked with the tan earth, asked, "Can you tell what happened? Were they dead when they were sealed in?"
Hote stood up and brushed the dirt from her jeans and said, "I think so. It looks to me like they were hanged."
"Hanged," Hote repeated. "There appears to be some upward displacement of the cervical spine in both girls but that's looking through a lot of plastic. Their arms go behind them, instead of lying by their sides, so I think they'll be tied or cuffed. Anyway let's get them over to the ME."
"Marcy..." Hote was always reluctant to commit herself without all the facts; a personal characteristic. Most cops were willing to bullshit endlessly about possibilities, including alien abduction and Satanic cults.
"There's a lot of tissue left," Hote said. "They're mummified it's almost like they were freeze-dried inside the plastic."
"Will there be anything organic left by the killer?" The woman meant semen, but didn't use the word. If they could recover semen, they could get DNA.
"If there was anything to begin with, it's possible there are still traces," Hote said. "Since hardly anybody had heard of DNA back then, we might find the killer's hair on them... But, I'm no scientist. So who knows? Let's get them to the ME."
One of the cops in the back said, "Marcy? Davenport's coming down."
Marcy Sherrill, head of Minneapolis homicide, turned and looked over her shoulder. Lucas Davenport, a dark-haired, broad-shouldered man in black slacks, French-blue shirt, his suit jacket hung by a finger over his shoulder, was trudging down the earthen ramp toward the group around the plastic sepulcher. He looked as though he'd just stepped out of a Salvatore Ferragamo advertisement, his eyes, shirt and tie all entangled in a fashionable blue vibration.
She said, "Okay. This makes my day."
An older man said, "He worked on it. This." He gestured at the plastic.
"I don't think so," Sherrill said. "He'd have been too young."
"I remember," the old man said. "He was all over it. I think it was his first case in plainclothes."
Nothing sells a Minnesota condo faster than an underground parking garage, because every Minnesotan knows, in his bones, that as warm and gorgeous as summer may be, winter is always on the way. An underground garage will keep your car happy, and make it possible to travel from your home to another enclosed garage without feeling the bite. This particular condo development was a half-mile west of the University of Minnesota, and would replace a block of shabby wood-frame homes that had, over the years, been converted to apartments. The apartments drifted toward the status of slums, and finally grounded-out as student housing.
The new condos would be aimed at middle-income retirees moving in from the suburbs to finish their days closer to the restaurants and theaters and stadiums at the heart of the Cities.
The old houses had a bad-enough reputation for rats, bugs, bad wiring and broken sewers that the requisite community protests, about displacement of affordable student housing, had been half-hearted and generally ignored. Besides, the city needed the additional tax revenue that the condos would generate.
So the permits slid through the many doors and windows of City Hall, leaving behind only a modest amount of baksheesh campaign donations, that kind of thing. The houses went down, plucked to pieces by the wrecking machines and diggers, bulldozers and scrapers. Everything was looking good for a spring opening, until a big yellow Cat D6 up-turned up a rectangle of concrete basement floor, to reveal the bundle of plastic sheeting. The equipment operator had gone over to peer into it, a bad feeling in his heart, and had seen the bony smiles.
Sherrill was the senior active Minneapolis cop on the scene, a solid, dark-haired woman in her late thirties, with a great slashing white smile and what older cops called a "good figure." She'd had a reputation as a cop not afraid of a fist-fight, and still carried a lead-weighted sap on a key ring. Sherrill had come on the police force at a time when women were still suspect, when it came to doing street work. She'd erased that attitude quickly enough, and now was accepted as a cop-cop, rather than as a woman cop, or, as they were still occasionally called, a Dickless Tracy. She'd hardly mellowed as she moved up through the ranks and would someday, most people thought, either be the Minneapolis chief or go into politics.
There were five retired cops in the group around her, men who'd worked on the original investigation. As soon as the bodies had been discovered, the police had been called, and word of the find had begun leaking out. All over the metro area, aging cops and ex-cops got in their cars and headed downtown, to look for themselves, to see the girls, and to talk about those days: the hot summers, the cold winters, all the time on the sidewalks before high-tech came in, computers and cell phones and DNA.
Davenport came up, and the older cops nodded at him they all knew him, from his time in Minneapolis and he shook hands with a couple of them, and a couple who didn't like him edged away, and Sherrill asked, "How'd you hear?"
"It's all over town," he said, peering at the plastic sheeting. He worked for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and, with his close relationship with the governor, was probably the most influential cop in the state. Minneapolis was technically within his jurisdiction, but he was polite. He flipped a thumb at the sheeting and asked, "Do you mind if I look?"
"Go ahead," Sherrill said.
Hote pointed and said, "They're face-up, heads at that end."
Lucas squatted in Hote's knee-prints at the end of the plastic, looked down at the withered faces for a full thirty seconds, then, paying no attention to the neat crease on his wool-blend slacks, got on his knees and crawled slowly down the length of the bundle, his face an inch from the plastic. After a moment, he grunted, stood up, brushed his knees, then said, "That's Nancy on the left, Mary on the right."
"Hard to know for sure," Hote said. "It likely is them the size is right, the hair coloring..."
Lucas said, "It's them. Nancy was the taller one. Nancy was wearing a blouse with little red hearts on it, that she got from her father on Valentine's Day. It was the last gift he gave her. It's wadded up between her thighs. I can see the hearts."
Sherrill looked up at the sides of the trench and said, "I wonder what the address was here? We need to pull some aerials and figure out which one was which. I thought the guy who did it..."
"Terry Scrape," Lucas said. "He didn't do it."
She stared at him: "I thought that was settled. That he was killed..."
Lucas shook his head. "He was. I was there. I thought, back then, that there was a chance he was involved. But with this... I don't think so. There was somebody else. Somebody with a lot more energy than Scrape ever had. Somebody with more brains, too. Somebody pretty smart. I could feel him, but I could never see him. Couldn't catch him. Anyway, he hung it on Scrape like a hat on a witch, and we had us a witch hunt."
"I gotta look at the file," Sherrill said.
"Scrape lived way over by Uptown," Lucas said, remembering. "There's no way he killed these kids and buried them in the basement of a private house, under the concrete floor. He was only here for a few weeks, homeless most of the time. He lived in a hole for part of the time, for Christ's sakes. He didn't even have a car."
"Gotta get the addresses, see who was living here," Sherrill said again.
Lucas looked up out of the hole at the surrounding neighborhood, as Sherrill had, and said, "I knocked on two hundred doors. Me and Sloan. We never got within two miles of this place. Never crossed the river."
"Mark Towne owned a bunch of these houses down here," said one of the older cops. "The Towne Houses. I don't know if these were his."
Lucas said, "That seems right to me. Before the kids came in, it was mostly elderly. Retired railroad workers, lots of them. Towne was buying them up for a few thousand bucks apiece."
Sherrill said, "We'll check."
"Towne got killed in a car crash, maybe ten, fifteen years ago," somebody offered.
Lucas nodded at the bodies: "How'd they come out clean like this? So flat?"
A guy in a yellow helmet said, "I was pulling up the pieces of the basement slab, to load 'em up." He gestured at his Cat. "I got hold of that one block and tipped it up, and there they were."
"You could see them?" Lucas wasn't disbelieving, just curious.
"I could see the plastic and something in the plastic. I had to check in case..." He stopped and looked around the hole, searching for a place that didn't look back at him with bony eye sockets. "You know what? I got the creeps looking at it. I had a feeling it was something bad, before I ever got down to look."
Lucas nodded at him, said, "Bad day," and then turned back to Sherrill. "I'd keep the slabs around. He must've poured the concrete right over the top of them. You might find fingerprints, some kind of impressions. Something."
She nodded. "We'll do that."
"And you gotta find the Joneses. George and Gloria, and let them know, right away. Before the news gets out. If you want, I've a got a researcher who can find them, and I can have her call you with the phone numbers. I heard they got divorced a couple years after the kids were killed... but I don't know that for sure."
"If you've got somebody who could do that... but have him call me."
"Her," Lucas said. And, "I will."
Sherrill and Davenport drifted away from the group, and Sherrill asked, "Haven't seen you for a while. How've you been?"
"Busy, but nothing crazy," Lucas said. He touched her on the shoulder, and added, "This Jones thing. It was amazing, if you worked it. Big news cute little blond girls, vanishing like that. The way things are now, I doubt anybody will care. It was too long ago. But the guy who did it is still around. We can't let it slide."
"We won't let it slide," she said.
"But you've got other things to do, just like I do. And the girls are dead."
"You sound like you've got a special interest," Sherrill said.
Lucas looked over to the plastic-wrapped bodies: "You know, all those years ago... I kinda messed up. I've always thought that, and now... here it is, back in my face. "
A Channel Three TV truck slowed on the open street at the far end of the gash. One of the older cops called, "We got media."
Lucas said to Sherrill, as they stepped back to the group around the grave, "You got my number if you need anything. I'll get you that information on the Joneses."
She said, "I'm still a little pissed about the last time."
The winter before, Lucas had trampled all over a Minneapolis investigation of a series of murders that started in a Minneapolis hospital. It had all ended with a shootout in a snowstorm, to which Sherrill felt she had not been properly invited. Grenades had been involved.
Lucas grinned and said, "Yeah, well, tough shit, sweetheart. Listen, I remember a lot about this thing. If you need me, call. Really."
She softened, but just half an inch she and Lucas had once spent a month or so in bed; and that month had been as contentious as their hands-off relationship since then. "I will." And "How's Weather feeling?"
"Getting better; she was pretty cranky last month."
"Say hello for me..."
Lucas said he would, looked a last time at the hole with the plastic-wrapped bodies: "Man, it seems like it was a month ago. That was the year of Madonna. Everybody listening to Madonna. And Prince was huge. Soul Asylum was coming up. I used to go to the Soul Asylum concerts every time they played Seventh Street Entry. And we'd ride around at night, look at the crack whores, listen to "Like a Virgin" and "Crazy for You" and "Little Red Corvette." Hot that summer. And I mean, Madonna was young, way back then."
"So were we," said one of the old cops. "I mean, I used to dance."
Another asked, "What're you gonna do about this?"
"We've got one more guy to catch," Lucas said. "I hate to think what this cocksucker's done between now and then. Excuse the French."
Lucas went back to his office, in the BCA building on the north side of St. Paul. It was a solid, modern building, which felt more like a suburban office complex than a police headquarters. He climbed the stairs to his second-floor office, with a quick flash of a hand at a friend down a hallway. His secretary said, "Hi, I need to..." and he said, "Later," and went into his office and closed the door.
The image of the dead girls hung in his eyes, the stony smiles asking, "What'll you do about this, Lucas Davenport?"
Lucas pulled a wastebasket over beside his desk and propped his feet on it, tilted his chair back and closed his eyes, and let himself slip back to the first days of the Jones case. He took the investigation a day at a time, as best as he could remember it, and there wasn't much that he'd forgotten.
And when he got to the end of the review, he decided that right at the beginning, he'd done something worse than anything else he'd done in his entire career since then even though some of the things he'd done since then were technically criminal. Criminal, but not immoral. What he'd done back then was immoral: He'd caved.
He'd been a still-impressionable kid eager to get into plainclothes, and a path had been laid out for him. That path meant putting the early days of his career in the hands of Quentin Daniel, a very smart and occasionally quite bad man. Daniel wanted to be chief of police, and maybe mayor.
The Jones case was an ugly one, with all kinds of frightening undertones, and as the head of violent crimes homicide Daniel was on the hot seat. He'd pushed a strong and legitimate investigation, but when a suspect popped up, somebody who was essentially unable to defend himself, and against whom there was substantial evidence, Daniel had grabbed him and held on tight.
Then the suspect got himself killed, and once you kill a guy, you own him, for good or evil. If he's innocent, and you kill him, your career may be over; if he's guilty, well, then, no harm done.
Scrape, Lucas thought, had seemed to him innocent even at the time; and now, almost certainly so. He could have pushed harder, he could have slipped more information to the Star-Tribune, he could have publicly challenged the verdict on Scrape... but he hadn't.
He'd done some poking around, but then, as the youngest member of Daniel's team, he hadn't rocked the boat. Daniel hadn't been dumb enough to forbid him from continuing an investigation, but had simply joked about his efforts and kept him on the hop with daily investigative chores in the middle of the crack explosion and Lucas had eventually let the Jones case go.
Had caved, had given up. Had put the Jones girls in his personal out-basket.
God only knew what the killer had done after that. In the best of all worlds, he might have frightened himself so badly that he never again committed a crime. But in the real world, Lucas feared, his own... negligence... had allowed the killer to continue to kidnap and murder kids. That's what these guys usually did, after they started.
A thin cold blanket of depression fell over Lucas' thoughts. He ran his hand through his hair, once, twice, again and again, trying to make the train of thought go elsewhere.
The Jones girls, back for their summer tour.
There was an instant, just before the fight, when Lucas Davenport's overweight partner said, "Watch it; he's coming," and he pulled his nightstick and Lucas had time to set his feet. Then Carlos O'Hearn came steaming down the bar, through the stink of spilled beer and hotdogs with relish and boiled eggs in over-sized jars, came knocking over bar stools like ten-pins, a beer bottle in his right hand, while the bartender leaned away and said, "Noooo..."
Ten feet out, O'Hearn pitched the bottle at Lucas' head. Lucas tipped his head to the right and the bottle went by and bounced down the bar, taking out glasses and ashtrays and silverware as it went, so it sounded like somebody had dropped a kitchen tray. A woman made a scream-like sound, but not quite a scream, because it seemed more interested than terrorized. Lucas didn't register much of that, because he was focused on O'Hearn, who'd spent some time as a Golden Gloves fighter, in what must have been the germ-weight class.
O'Hearn was one of three siblings known as the asshole brothers to cops working the south side. They also had an asshole mother, but nobody knew for sure about the father. Fleeing Mother O'Hearn may have been simple self-preservation by whoever had made the mistake of impregnating her three times, because she was as violent and crooked and generally rotten and no-good as her sons.
The O'Hearns usually did minor strong-arm robbery, but they'd gotten ambitious and had gone into the back of a True Value hardware store, from which they'd stolen a pile of power tools. Everybody knew exactly what they'd taken because of the video cameras that the asshole brothers hadn't noticed, up on the ceiling behind silvered domes. The cameras had taken photos that would have made Ansel Adams proud, if Ansel Adams had ever taken pictures of assholes.
Enzo and Javier were already in the Hennepin County jail, and the bar owner had called 911 to report that Carlos had come in, and was in a bad mood, which usually led to a fight and broken crockery.
So Lucas and his partner rolled, and here they were, O'Hearn coming down the bar with a Golden Gloves punch. Lucas set his feet, dodged the bottle, and, with a reach about nine inches longer than the Golden Glover's, and with an extra eighty pounds or so, and with a fist loaded with a roll of nickels, tagged O'Hearn in the forehead.
The punch had been aimed at his nose, but O'Hearn, too, could dodge, and though the punch crossed his eyes, his momentum kept him coming and they collided and O'Hearn got in two good licks to Lucas' ribs as they went to the floor, where Lucas pinned his arms and his partner started playing the Minnesota Fight Song on O'Hearn's back and right leg with his nightstick.
O'Hearn took about six shots before he whimpered the first time, then Lucas got back just enough to pop him in the nose with the weighted fist, and blood exploded across the bar floor and O'Hearn went flat.
After that, it was routine.
All of which explained why, when Lucas rolled out of bed and stretched, a lightning stroke of pain shot through his left side, from the cracked ribs he'd taken from those two quick Golden Gloves punches. He stretched again, more carefully, then looked down at the soft round ass of a blond-haired woman and said, "DeeDee. Rise and shine."
"What?" She sounded drugged. She wasn't getting much sleep, she said, between her law practice and keeping two guys happy.
Lucas said, "Get up. You got a bitter woman to talk to."
DeeDee McAllister groaned and said, "Go away."
He smacked her on the bottom and said, "C'mon. You told me not to let you sleep. Let's go. You got a client. You got a three o'clock."
She pushed up and looked at the clock on the bedstand: two o'clock. Dropped back and said, "Ten minutes."
"Ten minutes," Lucas agreed.
They'd rendezvoused in his first-floor apartment in an old brick house in Minneapolis' Uptown. He had two rooms, and a three-quarters bath, with a compact kitchen at one end of his living room, and an oversized leather chair that faced an undersized television.
He headed for the bathroom a shower, no tub scrubbed his face, brushed his teeth, hopped in the shower, sudsed up, rinsed, and was out in five minutes.
He stopped to look at himself in a full-length mirror on the back of the bedroom door: he was tall, dark-haired, broad shouldered, heavily muscled from twenty years of hockey, the last few as a first-line defenseman for the Minnesota Golden Golphers.
He'd lost some muscle since graduation, but that was okay. He'd stopped the obsessive muscle-building workouts, at the advice of the team trainers, and started spending more time on endurance workouts, with lighter weights and more reps. And he was running more.
"You think my dick is bigger than average?" he asked, looking at himself.
McAllister pushed herself up, saw him posing in the mirror, said, "Oh, for Christ's sakes," and fell flat again.
"Well, what do you think?"
"You've seen about a million times more penises than I have, since you spent your entire friggin' life in lockerrooms," she said. "I've seen about four."
"Four?" He sounded doubtful.
"Okay, six. Or eight. No more than eight. You've seen a million."
"Yeah, but they weren't, you know, erect," Lucas said. He looked in the mirror again. "I think I'm fairly big."
"I'd say you're on the big side of average," she said. "Now let me get my last minute."
"You think I'm big," he said.
"Big side of average. Maybe. Now gimme my goddamn one minute."
He stood sideways: Big.
He stepped around a pile of hockey gear next to the bed, got out a fresh pair of shorts and a t-shirt. As he was pulling on a t-shirt, McAllister sat up and said, "One thing is, your body gets me hot."
"Gets me hot, too," Lucas said. He rubbed his nipples with the palms of his hands.
"Ah, Jesus." She rubbed her face. "He plays with his own tits." She watched him dress, and smacked her lips and scratched her ass.
"C'mon," he said. The apartment bedroom had a tiny closet, too small for his growing collection of clothes, so he'd bought an old oak clothing rack from a used furniture store. From it, he selected a clean pair of uniform pants and a shirt. DeeDee got out of bed and went into the bathroom, stared at her face in the mirror above the sink, and said, finally, "I almost look happy."
"I wish Mark could see me this way," she said.
"Would I have to be standing here?" Lucas asked. Mark was her husband; McAllister was a divorce attorney. She sometimes talked about Mark's gun collection.
"I'd have to think about that," she said. She stepped back into the bedroom and picked up her panties. "He has a nasty temper and you could protect me. Make me kinda hot seeing two guys fighting over me. Like a princess."
"Everything gets you hot. A domestic protection order gets you hot," Lucas said. They both knew he was telling the truth.
"On the other hand," she continued, "It's considered somewhat déclassé for a prestigious divorce attorney like myself to be caught screwing a humble cop. Even one with an average dick."
"Large." Lucas checked himself in the mirror: Hair still damp, uniform shirt tight across the shoulders and loose around the waist, tightly pressed slacks. Chicks liked pressed slacks, even the hippies; or at least, he suspected they did. His study of women continued. "So you'd have to decide whether you'd rather get beaten up, or be considered déclassé."
"Yeah. I hate to think which way I'd go," she said. "Getting beat up only hurts for a while." He turned and watched her get dressed: She'd draped her clothes neatly on wooden clothes hangers, and hung them on a curtain rod: a woman's business suit, navy blue jacket and skirt over a white blouse, big pads in the jacket shoulders, a narrow red ribbon tie. She had fairly wide, feminine hips, and the combination of shoulder pads and hips made her look, from the back, like a duck.
Lucas didn't say so. His study of women had gotten that far. Quack.
Instead, he picked up his duty belt and strapped it around his waist, pulled the Glock from its holster, did an automatic check. He didn't much like the weapon too white-bread, in his opinion but that was what he'd been issued and was required to carry. When he made detective, he'd change to something classier. European or something.
McAllister was back in the bathroom, checked herself in the mirror, and came out, smiled, not shyly, but said, "Don't kiss me, you'll mess up my lipstick."
"I'd like to throw you back on the bed and do you one more time," Lucas lied. He liked her all right, and she wasn't short on enthusiasm, but he was itching to get out in the car. He liked working nights, and this night was going to be interesting. Early August, people all over the street, and the heat had been building for a week. Rock-out. "Or maybe twice."
"Save it," she said. "I gotta go talk to the bitter woman."
Lucas stuck a finger through the Venetian blind, and peeked out: the sky was clear and blue and shimmering with humidity. No sign of her husband.
Lucas had been a cop for three years. He'd graduated from the University of Minnesota after five years of study, and four years of hockey he'd been a rare red-shirt the first year, to pick up weight and muscle with a major in American studies, which, he quickly discovered, qualified him to go back to school. He considered law, but after talking to a few law students, decided that life might be too short.
One of his AmStud professors suggested that he look at law enforcement. "My old man's a cop," the professor said, "You've got the attitude. I think you'd like it. Do it for a few years, then look at law school."
His mother was against it: "You'll get shot. Then there'll be nobody left."
She meant, nobody left in the family. His father had died of congenital heart disease when Lucas was in fifth grade. His mother had now been diagnosed with breast cancer, and had convinced herself that she wasn't going to make it.
Lucas had looked into it, sitting up in the University's medical library, and thought she was probably right. He tried not to dwell on that conclusion, because there didn't seem to be anything he could do about it.
Stopping cancer, he thought, was like throwing your body in a river to stop the water. You could weep, scream, demand, research and pray, and nothing seemed to help. The only help he'd found was in denial: he didn't think about it, particularly when she seemed to be in remission.
He also didn't worry about his own heart his father's mother had German measles during the pregnancy, he'd been told, and that accounted for the defect that eventually killed him. No genetics involved.
Lucas went off to the police academy, scored at the top of his class would have been at the top in any class anyone could remember spent a few weeks on patrol, spent six months working dope, then went back on patrol.
Dope was interesting, but he didn't get to do much investigation. He mostly hung out, a white guy in a letter jacket who always knew the spread on college sports, and tried to buy dope in commercial quantities by making friends with the dealers he met. The dealers were everywhere meeting them wasn't a problem. The problem was, some of them didn't seem like bad guys. They were more like guys his age who couldn't get real jobs. So they'd come up with a kilo, or a pound, and then the real narcs would move in, and bust the dealer....
The whole thing smacked too much of betrayal. You made friends, you bought dope from them, you busted them. The accumulating bad taste moved him back to patrol, which was fun for an ex-jock, a hockey defenseman. There was some excitement, new sights new insights and the sense that he was doing something worthwhile.
But after three years, he'd decided he wouldn't do it for too much longer. They'd make him a detective, and pretty quickly, or he'd find something else to do.
What, he didn't know.
Law school. Something. The military? There were no decent wars in sight...
Lucas was out sitting on the hood of his assigned squad when Fred Carter, his partner, finally showed up. Carter had missed the second-shift briefing, said he'd been caught in traffic, but he smelled of an Italian meatball sandwich.
"What're we doing?"
"Usual," Lucas said. "Homer's pissed at you."
"I'll talk to him. It was unavoidable," Carter said.
Lucas said, "You got some tomato sauce under your lip. I'd wipe it off before you talk to him."
Carter was a fleshy, bull-necked man who looked like a cab driver, with blunt features and fingers, and a growing gut. He wasn't stupid, but he was going nowhere in the police department. He knew it, and didn't care. He was in for twenty, and then out. He'd gotten fourteen, and now his main concern was to avoid injury, and to plot out his move to state government, for a second dip in the pension stream
That attitude was the main bone of contention between them: Lucas enjoyed the occasional fight and didn't mind chasing a man though dark backyards. Carter said, "I don't care if you get your ass kicked, but the problem is, you pull me into it. Stop doing that."
"We're cops," Lucas said.
"We're peace officers," Carter snapped back. "Try to keep a little fuckin' peace, okay?"
Yeah, keep a little peace. But what did it mean if a guy went through life thinking about nothing but football Carter was a big Vikes fan and a pension? What kind of life was that?
On this afternoon and evening, they checked out their squad and started rolling around in south Minneapolis, taking in the sights; it was one of those late afternoons in the city when everything smelled like melting bubble gun, spilled soda pop, and tar. Then a drunk Ojibwa, down from Red Lake, climbed up on a fire hydrant, for reasons unknown, gave a speech, fell off, and gashed his head on the top nut. They thought for a moment that he'd been shot, until a witness explained. They called an ambulance and had him transported to Hennepin General, and rolled again.
Carter was short of his quota on traffic tickets that month, so they hid at the bottom of a hill and knocked off three speeders in forty-five minutes, which put him back square, plus one.
Hit a convenience store on Lyndale, scowled at the dope dealers, who moseyed off, and Carter got a fried cherry pie and a Pepsi. They rolled away, and the dope dealers moseyed back. A half hour later, they checked out a report of a fight in the parking lot of a bar. There'd been one, all right, but everybody ran when the car pulled up, and there were no bodies and no blood, and nobody knew who was involved.
They got a couple more soft drinks, Diet Coke for Lucas, another Pepsi for Carter, and moved along, arguing Coke versus Pepsi, took a call about another fight, this one at an antique store.
When they got there, two women, one heavy and one thin, both with fashionable blond haircuts, were squared off on the sidewalk, the dealer between them, a clerk peering out from the gold-leafed doorway. The fight hadn't actually taken place yet, and Lucas and Carter separated the two women, one of whom told the other, "You're lucky the cops got here, or I would have stuffed that chiffonier right up your fat butt."
"Oh, yeah, bitch-face, let me tell you..." What she told her couldn't be reported in any of the better home furnishings magazines, Lucas thought, as it included four of the seven words George Carlin said you couldn't use on television. The fat one was definitely ready to go, until Carter said, "If we have to take you in, they will discover any chiffoniers you got up there. It's called a body-cavity search, and you won't like it."
That cooled them off, and they left in their respective Mercedes.
"It's the heat that does it," Carter observed to the antiques dealer.
"Maybe not," the dealer said. "It's a gorgeous chiffonier."
"What the fuck is a chiffonier?" Lucas asked, as they rolled away.
"One of those coffee-serving things," Carter said. "You know, that go around in circles."
Lucas studied him for a moment, then said, "You got no idea what a chiffonier is."
"But I liked the way you handled it. That strip-search line," Lucas said. "Took it right out of them."
"Like I said: keep the peace," Carter said.
"Really. You shoulda been a cop or something."
At five o'clock, Lucas spotted a man named Justice Johnson, who'd beaten up his old lady once too often; a warrant had been issued. They corralled him in the recessed entry of a locksmith's shop. He'd been eating a raw onion, as though it were an apple, and it bounced away into the gutter as they cuffed him. He didn't bother to fight, and bitched and moaned about his woman, who, he said, did nothing but pick at him.
"Bitch said I'm a dumbass," Johnson said from the backseat of the squad. He was breathing out onion fumes, which were not diminished in any way by his over-indulgence in Drakkar Noir.
"You are a dumbass, Justice," Carter said.
"Hey, she ain't supposed to say it," Johnson said. "She's supposed to take my side, but she never does. All she does is bitch, you ain't done this, you ain't done that..."
"So you beat her up," Lucas said.
"I slapped her."
"Broke her nose," said Carter.
"Didn't mean to do that..."
"Shut up, dumbass," Lucas said. "And quit breathing on me."
He didn't. He sat looking out the window for a minute, then said, "I think I'm peeing my pants."
"Ah, Jesus, don't do that," Lucas said.
"Gotcha, cop," Johnson said. He laughed for a minute, going huh-huh-huh, then said, "And my name ain't Jesus. You think I look like a fuckin' Puerto Rican?"
"You shoulda made the cuffs tighter," Carter said.
"I shoulda put them around his fuckin' windpipe," Lucas said.
They booked him into the Hennepin County jail.
At twenty minutes after six o'clock, they took a call on two missing girls. It was still full daylight, and the dispatchers sent them down to the Mississippi, below the I-94 bridge. The two girls had been known to play along the river, although they'd been warned against it by their parents.
In the four years Lucas had been a cop, he'd seen most of what he'd ever see from a patrol car: murders, actual and attempted, the aftermath of robberies and burglaries, and even a couple of those in progress, as well as suicides, fights, mini-riots, car and foot chases, even an emergency pregnancy run, the woman screaming for help from the backseat. The baby arrived one minute after Lucas put the car at the emergency room door, delivered by a doc and a couple of nurses right on the gurney. The baby, rumor had it, had been named named Otto, after the car ride.
Carter said, "That's always the rumor. That they called him Otto." "It's a pretty good rumor," Lucas said. "I've been telling it to everybody."
There'd been a couple of lost kids over the years, but they'd been quickly found. These two had vanished between four and five o'clock, when kids were walking home for dinner, not heading down to the river.
They parked the car and headed over to the slope down to the Mississippi. The river at that point was a few hundred yards across, a sullen dark green, with streaks of foam from the falls just up the river. The bank down to the water was steep and overgrown with brush, cut by slippery dirt paths down the slope worn by walkers, marked with thrown-away food wrappers, and here and there, a wad of toilet paper back in the bushes.
A concrete walk ran along the river's edge, leading both north and south, with an informal beach area where Lucas and Carter came down to the river. A fat woman in shorts was wading in the water up to her knees, and a kid in cutoff jeans was further out, with a spin-fishing rod, casting out into deeper water. A few more people were scattered along the edge of the water, sitting, wading or swimming.
None of them had seen the girls.
They'd finished talking with people at the beach when they were joined by cops from another squad, and the four of them split up, two north and two south, up and down the Mississippi, from the access path that the girls would have taken to the water. Three hundred yards downstream Lucas and Carter came upon a group of gays, at the gay beach. One of the men said that they hadn't seen the girls, either on the bank or in the water, and they'd been there all afternoon.
Lucas and Carter walked back upstream, Carter fulminating about the gays: "Fuckin' queer motherfuckers, buncha goddamn fudge-punchers walking around in jockstraps in the middle of the day. Did you see that guy? He didn't give a shit..."
"You sound kind of excited about it, Fred," Lucas observed. "Kind of aroused."
"Screw you, skate boy," Carter said. "Where in the hell are the sex guys, is what I want to know."
"They didn't see the kids," Lucas said. "If the kids'd gone in the water, you think they would have seen them. They say the kids could swim."
"Yeah." Carter hooked his thumbs over his belt and looked out at the water, which was low and flat and smelled of carp. "Not very deep here, either. I got a bad feeling about this, Lucas. I don't think they're in the river."
"I think somebody took them," Carter said. "I think they're getting raped, right now, while we're standing here with our thumbs up our asses."
Carter wasn't much of a cop, but his gut had a record of good calls. Fourteen years rolling around on the street seemed to have given him or his gut, anyway a sense of the rightness of particular behavior. If his gut said that he and Lucas were doing the wrong thing, they probably were, and Lucas had come to recognize that fact. "What do you think we oughta be doing?"
"Looking up there," Carter said, pointing at the top of the bank, but meaning the south side in general. "The kids were walking past a lot of houses with a lot of weirdos in them. We ought be shaking them out."
"Somebody's doing it," Lucas said.
"Everybody ought to be doing it," Carter said.
The other two cops, who'd walked upstream, came back with nothing to report. "You get down to the fruit market?" one of them asked Carter.
"Yeah, they saw nothin'," Carter said. "Bunch of bare-assed perverts..."
They were talking to a bum who'd appeared from under the I-94 bridge when a thin, freckled, red-haired man came jogging down the bank and called, "You find them? Anybody see them?"
Lucas asked, "Who are you?"
"George Jones, I'm their father, I'm their dad. Did anybody see them?" He was in his middle to late thirties, panting, and his sweatshirt, sleeves ripped off at the shoulder, was soaked in sweat, which they could smell coming off him, in waves. He was wearing a green Army baseball cap with a combat infantryman's badge on it, and was breathing hard. One of the other cops stepped up and said, "You gotta take it easy we'll find them."
"They've never done this," Jones said, his eyes and voice pleading with them for help. "Never. They're always on time. They're three hours late, nobody's seen them..."
Carter said, "I don't believe they're down here, Mr. Jones. We've talked to people all along here, they didn't see them. Quite a few people down here on a hot Saturday, they would have been seen."
Jones said, "All right. All right, thanks. They're probably... goddamnit, I'm going to beat their butts when they get back, they're probably at a friend's house." Still talking to himself, he jogged back up the bank and they heard him shout to someone out of sight, "They're not down there... nobody's seen them."
One of the other cops said, looking out at the dark, drifting river, "Coulda stepped in a hole and got sucked under..."
Carter shook his head. "They ain't down here," he said. "We're wasting our time."
George Jones, the girls' father, belonged to a lefty ex-military organization, and he'd put out a call for help. Members of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War began showing up at seven o'clock, still not dark; a miscellaneous collection of haunted-looking men wearing pieces of military uniform, mixed with anti-war buttons and patches. A few dozen strong, they began working their way through alleys and backyards, within a half-mile of Jones' house, staying in touch by calling back and forth.
Just before it got seriously dark, Lucas and Carter were flagged by a vet off XXX Avenue. When they stopped, the vet leaned into the car window and said, "We got a girl's blouse. Nobody touched it, but somebody needs to take a look."
They parked and called in, and Lucas walked down an alley to where a bunch of vets had gathered around what looked like a rag, lying beside a hedge, as though somebody had thrown it out a car window. Lucas squatted next to it, and shined his flashlight on it. A girl's blouse, all right, blue with little white speckles. He called in again, on his shoulder set. Then he stood up and said, "We got some detectives coming. I don't know if it's anything, but good work, guys."
Carter said, "Good eyes."
"I hope it's not hers, I hope it's not," said a thin, crazy-looking man with a six-day beard. He was wearing an Army OD uniform shirt with the sleeves cut off just below a buck sergeant's black-on-green stripes. "I got girls of my own, I mean..."
A car turned in at the mouth of the alley, and a man got out: Harrison Sloan, a youngish detective not long off patrol. He ambled down the alley, and Lucas pointed. Sloan squatted, as Lucas had, and Lucas put his flashlight on the blouse. Sloan looked at it for a minute, then said, "Goddamnit."
"Is it one of theirs?" asked one of the vets.
Sloan said, "Could be." He stood and looked around, and then asked, "Who found it? Who exactly?"
One of the vets raised his hand.
Sloan worked the group, taking notes, and a couple more plainclothes guys showed up, then Quentin Daniel, the homicide lieutenant, and Carter muttered to Lucas "It's her shirt. They know it. They're gone."
Daniel took his own long look at the shirt, shook his head, said a few words to the three detectives now talking to the vets, then turned and walked back to Lucas and Carter. "We need to go over this whole block, foot-by-foot. Carter, I already talked to Phil..." Phil Blessing was the head of the uniform section "... and he's rounding up twenty guys to get down here and walk it off. You think you can organize that?"
"Sure, I guess," Carter said.
Daniel turned to Lucas. "This is gonna be a mess. I'm borrowing you. Go home and put on a shirt and tie. You got a shirt and tie?"
"All right. I'm hooking you up with Sloan. I want you guys door-to-door. We're gonna interview every swinging dick for a half-mile around. Take the squad: I want you back here in twenty minutes."
"You got it, chief," Lucas said.
Daniel had been his boss when he was working dope, just out of the academy. Daniel had taken an interest, enough that Lucas wondered briefly if he was queer. But he realized after a while that Daniel was interested in the way other people saw the world; other people including new cops. He also learned that Daniel expected to be chief, one day, and didn't mind being called that.
And Lucas knew that he wasn't being promoted. He was being used to pump up the apparent number of detectives working the case. There'd be four or five more patrolmen walking around in shirts and ties before the night was done.
He could think about that later. He climbed in the squad, drove it to the end of the block before he hit the lights and sirens, and took off, the traffic clearing out in front of him, pedestrians stopping with their toes on the curb, watching him go by. Wondering, maybe, about the smile on his face.
He was back at his apartment in six minutes, and took another thoughtful six minutes to get into a pair of light khaki slacks, a short-sleeve white shirt, and a navy blue linen sport coat with a wine-colored tie. He hesitated over the short-sleeve shirt, because Esquire magazine despised them; but then, Esquire editors probably didn't have to walk through slum neighborhoods in ninety-degree heat.
He accessorized with black loafers, over-the-calf navy socks, and, from behind his chest of drawers, a Smith and Wesson Model 40 revolver with a belt-clip holster. He checked himself in the mirror again.
Lucas liked clothes always had. They were, he thought, the chosen symbols of a person's individuality, or lack of it; not a trivial matter. They were also uniforms, and it paid a cop to understand the uniform of the person with whom he was dealing, to distinguish between, say, dope dealer, hippie, gang-banger, biker, skater, artist and bum.
In addition to his intellectual interest, he liked to look good.
He did, he thought, and was out the door.
Still a little worried about the short sleeves.
Lucas worked with Sloan late into the night, slogging up and down the dark, declining residential streets, pounding on doors. Ordinarily, there might have been enough bad people around crack cocaine had arrived that spring, and was spiraling out of control to inject some extra stress into the work. On this night, there were so many cops on the street that the bad people moved over.
"Weird thing happened with crack," Sloan observed, as they tramped between houses, and the dark shadows between streetlights and elm trees. "The pimps got fired. We used to think that the hookers were slaves. Turns out it was more complicated than that."
"I gotta say, I haven't seen some of the boys around," Lucas said.
"They're gone. They've been laid off. Had to sell their hats," Sloan said.
Lucas said, "When I was working dope, nobody even heard of crack. You had a few guys free-basing, but other than that, it was right up the nose."
"Chemical genius out there somewhere," Sloan said.
"Sales genius," Lucas said. "Toot for the common people."
Sloan was a few years older than Lucas, a narrow-slatted man who dressed in earth colors from J.C. Penney. When he wore something flashy, it was usually a necktie, probably chosen by his wife; and it was usually a glittery, gekko green. He'd been developing a reputation as an interrogator, because of a peculiar, caring, soft-talking approach he took to suspects. He was as conservative in life-style as in dress, having gotten married at eighteen to his high-school sweetheart. He had two daughters before he was twenty-one, and worried about insurance. As different as they were, Lucas liked him. Sloan had a sense of humor, and a good idea of who he was. He was quiet and cool and smart.
"The word is, you're moving to plainclothes right away," Sloan said, as they moved across the dark end of a block, ready to start on another circle of houses. "Compared to patrol, it's a different world. Patrol is like football; plainclothes is like chess."
"Or, like hockey," Lucas said.
Sloan looked at him suspiciously. "I'll have to assume that's your sense of humor talking," he said.
"Why's that?" Lucas asked.
"It's well-known that hockey guys are almost as dumb as baseball players."
"I didn't know that," Lucas said.
"It's true," Sloan said. "In the major college sports, football's at the top of the intelligence ratings, then basketball, then wrestling, then golf, swimming, hockey, baseball and tennis, in that order."
"Tennis is at the bottom?"
"It's true. Not only that, the further west you go, the dumber the athletes get. By the time you get to the Midwest, tennis players are dumber'n a box of rocks. Across the Rockies? Don't even ask. The tennis players out there are not so much human, as dirt."
"Something else I didn't know," Lucas said.
"Well, you were a hockey player."
They pushed through the gate on a chain-link fence, toward a clapboard house with a narrow front porch with a broken down couch sitting on it, and a light in one window. Sloan pointed his flashlight into the side yard, at a circle of dirt around an iron stake, and said, "Bad dog."
"Could be a horsehoes pit," Lucas said.
Sloan laughed. "So you go first."
Lucas moved up to the door and knocked, and a dog went crazy behind the door.
"Bad dog," Sloan said behind him. "Sounds like one of those bull terriers."
Nobody answered for a minute, then two. Lucas pounded again, and a light came on at the back of the house. Another minute, and a man appeared, opening the door just an inch, looked at them over a heavy chain lock. "Who're you?"
Sloan explained, and the man started shaking his head halfway through the explanation. "I didn't see no white girls doin' nothin'," he said. The dog was snuffling at the man's pant leg, it's toenails scratching anxiously on the linoleum. "I gotta go to bed. I gotta get up at five o'clock."
Walking back down the sidewalk, Sloan asked, "You hear what happened to Park Brubaker?" Brubaker was a Korean-American detective, now suspended and looking at time on federal drug charges.
"Yeah. Dumb shit."
"He had problems," Sloan said.
"I got problems," Lucas said. "I don't go robbing people for their Apple Jacks."
They came to a door on 35th Avenue, answered by a heavy-set white man with a Hemingway beard and a sweaty forehead and an over-sized nose. A fat nose. He said, "We didn't see nothin' at all. Except what was on TV." A woman standing behind him, said, "Tell them about John."
"Who's John?" Lucas asked.
"Dude down at Kenny's," the man said, with reluctance. "Don't know his last name..."
"He's got a suspect," the woman said.
The man scowled at her, and Lucas pressed: "So what about John?"
"Dude said that there was a crazy guy probably did it," the man said. "Crazy guy's been running around the neighborhood."
"You know the crazy guy?" Sloan asked.
"No. We heard John talking about him."
"We've seen him, walking around, though. The crazy guy," the woman said.
"Did John say why he thought the crazy guy did it?" Lucas asked.
"He said the guy was always lookin', and never getting' any. Said the guy had a record, you know, for sex stuff."
"He call the cops?" Sloan asked.
"I dunno. I don't know the guy. I don't know the crazy guy, either, except that I see him on the street sometimes."
"Gotta call it in," Sloan said.
He had a handset with him, and walked back down the sidewalk while Lucas talked to the man, and especially past him, to the woman. He asked, "What do you know about John? We really need to find him. If he knows anything... I mean, these two girls might not have much time..."
He got a description John was an overweight man of average height, with an olive complexion and dark hair that curled over his forehead, "Italian looking," the woman said.
Lucas said, "You mean, good-looking?"
"No. He's too fat. But he's dark, and he wears those skimpy t-shirts the kind Italians wear, with the straps over the shoulders? under regular shirts that he wears open. He's got this gold chain."
The last time they'd seen him, he was wearing jeans and a blue long-sleeved shirt, open over the wife-beater. She added that he liked some of the girls who came in, and she put a little spin on the word "girls."
"You mean, working girls," Lucas said. "I didn't know they hung at Kenny's."
"They don't, but there's that massage place across the street," she said. "They come over, sometimes, when they don't have clients. I don't like to see them in there, myself. I mean, what if somebody thought I was one of them."
The guy said, "I wouldn't mind a massage," and the woman punched him on the arm, and he said, "Ouch."
They didn't have much else. A moment later, Sloan came back up the walk. "Cherry and McGuire are coming over," he said.
"What for? We got what there is," Lucas said.
"Because they don't think we got what there is," Sloan said. "We're supposed to wait until they get here, then knock on some more doors."
"Fuck that," Lucas said. "We need to get over to Kenny's."
"Closed two hours ago," the man said.
"Might still be somebody there," Lucas said.
Everybody shrugged, and Sloan said, "They want us to finish knockin' on the doors."
Cherry and McGuire showed up, two fortyish veterans, and took over. Lucas and Sloan moved on down the block, and got nowhere, Lucas fuming about being knocked off the only positive hint they'd gotten.
"We did the work, man, they oughta let us take it."
"Get used to it," Sloan said. "Takes about four years before you're a pro. That's what they're telling me. I got three to go."
"Fuck a bunch of four years," Lucas said. He hadn't told the older detectives about the massage parlor girls who might know John. Let them find it out themselves.
They worked for two more hours, and Sloan finally quit at the end of his shift and went home to his wife. "I don't even know what we're doing," he said. "We think the kidnapper'll come to the door and confess?"
"Somebody must have seen something," Lucas said. "Seen the kids getting in a car. Seen them going through a door. They can't just go away."
"Somebody would have called, if they were gonna talk," Sloan said. "When we found that blouse... we should have looked around at the baddest guy on the block, and squeezed his pimple head until he coughed them up."
Lucas shook his head. "That blouse wasn't right."
"Wasn't right. Why in the hell would you throw a blouse out a car window? I can see throwing the girl out, if nobody was looking. But why would you throw a blouse out? Tell me one reason?"
Sloan thought for a moment and said, "The guy killed her, took her blouse as a trophy. The bodies are already in a dumpster somewhere, and he was driving around with the blouse over his face, smelling the chick, getting off on it. At some point, he gets tired of it, or can't smell her anymore, so he throws it out the window."
Lucas grinned at him and said, "That's perverted. I kinda like it."
The night was still warm, for August, with a hint of rain in the still air. They drove back to Lucas' place in Sloan's Dodge, arms out the side windows, Lucas thinking how quiet the city was, and for all they knew, somewhere in its quiet heart, two little girls were being tortured by a monster.
Sloan dropped him, and went on his way. Lucas went inside, got a beer, sat at the kitchen table and looked at a blue three-ring binder stuffed with paper. In school, he'd lived in an apartment inhabited mostly by nerds from the computer center. Despite his jock status, he had been pulled into some of their role-playing games. Then he wrote a module, which had impressed the nerds, who said it was as good as the commercial modules.
Talking around with the computer guys, he developed an idea for a football-based strategy game, similar to the war games popular in the 70s, but that would be played on a computer. A computer guy promised to program it, if Lucas could write the scenarios. The work had been harder than he'd expected, and had been delayed when he'd had to take course in statistics: he wanted the game to be real.
He sat and looked at paper, which, after the day hunting for the girls, looked like silly paper. Games. Something awful was happening outside, and he was sitting at the kitchen table looking at silly paper.
He fooled with the coaching modules for a while, then gave up and got a second beer, glanced at the clock. Two o'clock in the morning. He wondered if Cherry and McGuire had gone down to Kenny's, and what they'd found.
Restless, he picked up his sportcoat, climbed in his Jeep and headed downtown, left the car at the curb, and walked into City Hall. The place was dark but busy, with cops all over the hallways. Lucas stopped a uniformed guy named Morgan and asked what had happened. "Nothing," Morgan said. "No sign of them. People are talking about the river again."
"I don't think they're in there," Lucas said. "How many guys are working it?"
"Right now? A half dozen. Daniel's still here, but people are starting to freak the TV people are driving around in their truck. It's turning into a circus."
"You seen Cherry or McGuire?" Lucas asked.
"Not for a while."
Lucas went down to homicide, stuck his head in the office, spotted Daniel with his feet up on a desk, talking to a couple of detectives. Lucas went in, idled off to the side for a minute, until Daniel said, "Davenport. What's happening?"
"I wondered if Cherry and McGuire got anything at Kenny's?"
Daniel shook his head and said, "Not much more than you got." He looked at a piece of paper on his desk. "The place was closed, but they talked to the manager. He says it's a guy named John. Nobody knows where he lives, or how to get in touch. Just a guy."
"So they struck out," Lucas said.
"Well, it's something," Daniel said.
"Right, " said one of the detectives. "We've got a suspect named 'John.' That narrows it down."
Daniel ignored him: "How come you're still running around?" he asked Lucas.
"Couldn't sleep," Lucas said. "I was thinking, you know, if it's all right with you... I might go down and hit that massage place across from Kenny's. Unless Cherry and McGuire already did."
"No, they didn't," Daniel said. "Why would they?"
"Didn't they get that? That John knows some of those chicks? Maybe that's why they call him John. Maybe he is one." Lucas said.
An annoyed look crept across Daniel's face. "I guess they didn't get that. You didn't mention it?"
"They told us to take a hike," Lucas said. "So... I'm not doing much."
"Step outside with me," Daniel said, standing up.
In the hall, he said, quietly, but showing some teeth, "You're not fuckin' with us, are you? Withholding information so you can get a shot at it? With these two girls, this wouldn't be the time to make points."
"Hell no," Lucas lied. "I wouldn't do that."
"You should have told Cherry and McGuire what the woman said."
"They didn't want to hear it," Lucas said. "They were like, 'Uh-huh, go knock on doors, rook.'"
Daniel looked at him for a minute, then said, "I can't pay you overtime. But if you go down there, I'll back you up if anything comes out of it."
Lucas nodded. "Okay. How long you gonna be here?"
"Not much longer. Don't call me unless you get something serious but call me if you do." He gave Lucas his office and home phone numbers.
"Did we get anything tonight? Anything?"
Daniel shook his head. "We got that blouse, and it was Mary's. Nobody knows how it got there. We think the kids might have walked past Andy's Cleaners. One of the desk girls says she saw them. That's only about a block from their house, so maybe she did. It was early, before they were missing."
"But they were together?"
"That's what the girl says," Daniel said.
"Were they walking toward their house, or away?'
"Any blood on the blouse?" Lucas asked.
"Not sure. There's a small discoloration, could be blood that somebody tried to wash out. We'll know tomorrow morning."
"You think they're dead?" Lucas asked.
"Probably not yet. But they will be, soon."
Paul's Therapeutic Massage occupied the end store in a five-business strip that included a movie rental place, a coin laundry, a dog-groomer and a medical-oxygen service. Lucas parked in front of the massage parlor. A light shone from one window, but a red neon 'Open" sign had been turned off.
When Lucas climbed out of the Jeep, and slammed the door, a curtain moved in the window, and he caught the pale flash of a woman's face. He walked up to the entrance, tried the handle: the heavy steel-cored door was locked. He pounded on it, got no answer. He pounded louder, still got no answer, so he kicked it a few times, shaking the door in its frame, and heard a woman shout, "We're closed. Go away."
Lucas pounded again and shouted, "Police. Open up."
He waited for a minute, then kicked the door a few more times carefully, with the heel, since he was still wearing the loafers stopped when he heard a bolt rattling on the other side of the lock. The door opened a couple of inches, a chain across the gap, and a narrow blond woman asked, "Cop?"
Lucas held up his badge: "We're looking for two missing girls. I need information about a guy you know."
"His name is John. You guys hang out with him sometimes at Kenny's. That's all I know," Lucas said.
The door opened another couple of inches. "Did he do it?"
"He was telling people that he knows who did," Lucas said. He pushed the door with his fingertips, and she let it swing open a bit more. "So who is he?"
She looked back over her shoulder and shouted, "Sally."
Lucas pushed on the door again, and she let it open. He took that as an invitation, and stepped into a ten-foot-long room with a Formica counter and yellowing white-plaster walls, like in a dry-cleaning shop. A couple of chairs sat against the window wall, with a low wooden table between them, holding an ashtray and a table lamp with a shade that had a burned spot on one side. A gumball machine sat in a corner, half-empty, or half-full, depending. Not a place that people would linger for long, Lucas thought.
A short dark-haired woman came out of the back, behind the counter, looked at Lucas and said, "I'm all done."
"He's a cop," the blond said. "He's looking for this guy John... you know, John, the joker."
Sally shook her head: "Why would I know where he is?"
The blonde said, "You'd know better than me. They're looking for him about those two girls."
Sally's right hand went to her throat: "He took them?"
"He's been talking about who might have," Lucas said. "We need to talk to him."
"I really don't know him," Sally said. "He's come in a few times, I got him, you know, gave him a massage. He's kinda funny, tells jokes and shit."
"He ever say where he lives? Ask you to come over? Give you any hint...?"
She shook her head: "No, but I'll tell you what. He charged the massage last time. I bet we got the slip."
Lucas ticked a finger at her: "Thank you. Who do I see about the slip?"
"Me," the blonde said. "But since we don't know his last name, I don't know how we figure out..."
Sally pressed her palms to her eyes and said, "Let me think," and a minute later said, "Fourth of July. He was joking about fireworks, you know, when... never mind. Anyway, the night of the fourth. Don had a baseball game on the radio, so it couldn't have been too late."
The blonde went around the counter, took out a metal box, and began running through charge slips. Lucas said to Sally, "You said he's okay. That means, what? He didn't want anything peculiar?"
"Hey, it was a therapeutic massage..."
"I'm sure it was," Lucas said. "Look, I don't care what he wants, or what you do. I'm trying to figure out these girls and whether he might be weird. Can you tell me that? Is he weird?"
Sally shrugged: "He wants the Three start with a handjob, end with a blowjob. Is that weird? I dunno. A hundred and twenty bucks, plus tip. I don't remember the tip, but it wasn't..." She dug for a word, and came up with one: "Memorable."
"So he's got some money."
"He's got some, anyway," the woman said, "But I ain't going to Vegas on a tip I can't remember."
The blonde said, "I got a one-forty at 8:45 Friday... that's it, probably. Says his name is John..."
"That's gotta be him," Sally said.
Lucas took the slip, and walked it to the table lamp. The ink imprint was shaky the name was John Fell, Lucas thought, but the number was clear. Lucas took down the information, then asked, "You got a Xerox machine?"
"I'm gonna take this," he said, waggling the paper slip. "You need the information to make the charge?"
"We already made it," the blonde said. "We send it in while you're still in the room."
"Okay." Lucas flipped a page in his notebook: "I need both your names. I want to see drivers' licenses. I need to know how often he comes in..."
The blonde began, "You said..."
Lucas shook his head: "I'm not arresting anybody. If he turns out to be somebody, I need to know who I talked to."
The blonde's name was Lucy Landry, and Sally's name was Dorcas Ryan. John Fell had come in at least once in the past ten days, had been cheerful, funny, even, had been satisfied with the service, and had paid cash. Ryan had seen him at Kenny's afterwards, and he'd bought her a drink.
"He bought you a drink, but he didn't chat? Didn't tell you about himself?"
Ryan frowned: "You know what? Almost all he does is tell jokes. Like, 'You heard the one about the priest who caught the sonofabitch?' That's what he does. He's got a million of them."
Lucas used their telephone to call Daniel at home, who answered and when Lucas identified himself, said, "This better be good."
"The guy's name is John Fell and I've got a credit card slip on him. How do I get an address off the credit card?"
There was a moment of silence, then Daniel said, "What I usually do is call Harmon Anderson, and he does something on the computer."
"So we gotta wait until he comes in?"
"No, no, I'll bust him out of bed," Daniel said. "Where're you?"
"Down at the massage place," Lucas said.
"Go on downtown. I'll have Anderson meet you there."
He hung up, and Ryan was telling Landry, "... so the Pope takes off his hat, puts his feet up on the table and says, 'You know what? You fuckers are all right.'"
Landry only half-smiled: "It's not that funny."
"I didn't say it was great," Ryan said. She looked at Lucas. "I told her John's sonofabitch joke.
Lucas shrugged: "I missed it. Can you break a dollar? I need a gumball."
Bottom line, Lucas thought, on his way downtown: He didn't know how to get an address for a credit card. He needed to fix that. He chewed through the gumball in two minutes, threw the wad of gum out the window and drove faster.
He got there before Anderson, and had to wait. Anderson showed up twenty-five minutes later, sleepy and annoyed, sat down at his desk and turned on his computer. Lucas was looking over his shoulder and asked, "What're you doing here?"
"A credit check," Anderson said. "All the credit information is in computers, I can get in and look at some of the information for credit card holders. Including addresses and so on."
"Neat," Lucas said. "I'm thinking of getting a Macintosh."
"Wait a while there're rumors that they're going to 512K this fall. The 128K just isn't enough."
"Can't afford it for a while, anyway," Lucas said.
"You patrol guys know all the crack freaks," Anderson said. "You oughta be able to get one wholesale."
"Pretty fuckin' funny," Lucas said.
"No offense," Anderson said.
He sounded insincere, Lucas thought. He shut up and watched Anderson work. Five minutes after he started, Anderson had a name and address: "It's a post office box."
"That's not good." He wasn't a detective yet, but he knew that much.
"The post office will have a name and address for the renter," Anderson said. "But the thing is, credit card companies don't usually take post office boxes. Did the hookers get paid?"
"They said so," Lucas said.
"Huh. Well, something's not right."
The post office worked twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The front end was closed, but Lucas found his way in through the loading dock in the back and showed his ID to a couple of guys throwing canvas mail bags off a truck. One of them went inside and came back with a bureaucrat.
"I can't tell you that," he said. He was a fat little man, fish-pale with what must have been a permanent night shift. "It's privileged information."
"We got two girls missing..."
"I'm sorry, but it's against the law for me to give you that information," the bureaucrat said. "Come back with a search warrant and give it to the postmaster."
"This guy could be killing them," Lucas said.
"The law says..."
"Then give me the number for the postmaster," Lucas said.
"I can't do that. It's the middle of the night."
At some level, Lucas realized, the man was enjoying himself, sticking it to the cops. It was possible and even likely that there was a law or regulation about releasing the names of post office box renters; but, he thought, there sure as hell wasn't a law about calling up the postmaster, even in the middle of the night.
Lucas got his face close to the bureaucrat's. "I'll tell you what. One way or another, I'm gonna get the name off the box. And if these girls are killed, I'm gonna take this conversation to the newspapers and I'm gonna hang it around your neck like a dead skunk. When they find these girls' bodies, you'll have reporters standing in your front yard yelling at you..."
The man flushed: "You can't threaten me. The law..."
Lucas crowded closer: "The law doesn't say you can't wake up the postmaster. Does it? Does the law say that?"
The man was furious, and said, "On your head."
"On yours," Lucas said. "You're now gonna come out looking like an asshole no matter what you do."
The bureaucrat said, "Wait here," and disappeared into the post office.
One of the truck loaders said, "He is an asshole. That's his job."
"Yeah, well, I got no time for it," Lucas said.
The bureaucrat came back a minute later, and said, "I got the superintendent of mails on the phone."
Lucas talked to the superintendent of mails, who said, "I'm waiving the confidentiality reg in this case because of the emergency, but I'm going to need a letter from your chief outlining the problem. I need to file it."
"You'll get it," Lucas said.
"Put Gene back on the line."
Lucas left the post office ten minutes later with the paper in his hand: John Fell at an address on 6th Street SE, Minneapolis. Five minutes away, the sun coming up over St. Paul.
In his first year as a cop, working patrol and then, briefly, as a dope guy, he'd felt that he was learning things at a ferocious rate: about the street, life, death, sex, love, hate, fear, stupidity, jealousy and accident, and all the other things that brought citizens in contact with the cops.
Then the learning rate tailed off. He'd continued to accumulate detail, to see faces, to interpret moves, but at nothing like the rate of his first ten or twelve months.
Now, investigating, the feeling was back: getting credit card numbers off computers cool. Manipulating hookers. Threatening bureaucrats. He was crude, and he knew it, but it was interesting and he'd get better at it.
He'd learn about disappointment, too, he found out a few minutes later.
The address on 6th Street was a shabby old three-story Victorian house that smelled of rot and microwave food, with six mailboxes nailed to the grey clapboard on the porch. All but one of the mailboxes had names, none of which was Fell. None of them had a John or a J.
The one unlabelled mailbox was for Apartment Five. He curled up a long zigzag stairway, half-blocked at one landing by a bicycle chained to the banister, and pounded on the door to Apartment Five until a woman shouted from Six, "Nobody lives there. Go away."
He stepped across the hall and rapped on her door: "Police. Could you open the door, please?"
"No. I'm not crazy," the woman shouted back. "What do you want?"
"I'm looking for a John Fell," Lucas said.
"There's nobody here named John Fell. Or Anything Fell," she shouted.
"You mean, in your apartment, or in the house?"
"In the house. There's nobody named John Fell. Go away or I'll call 911."
"Call 911. Tell them there's a cop at your door named Lucas Davenport. I'll call them on my handset..."
She did that, and opened the door three minutes later, a woman in her early twenties with bad sleep hair. "It is you. You played hockey with a friend of mine. Jared Michael? I'd see you on the ice."
"Oh, hell, yes," Lucas said. "I haven't seen him lately, maybe a couple years..."
"He's in marketing at General Mills," she said. "He works twenty-two hours a day. You're looking for those girls? I didn't even know you were a cop now."
"Yeah, I am, and we're looking for a guy named John Fell," Lucas said. He described Fell, and she was shaking her head.
"Everybody in this house is a student. Three apartments are Asians, I'm by myself, Five is empty and has been empty all year it's got a bad smell they can't get out. The previous tenants put rat poison inside their walls because they could hear rats running, and I guess all the rats died and now they're in the walls rotting and there's no way to get them out."
"Nice story," Lucas said.
"Yeah, well." She took a moment to sweep her hair back from her face. "The last apartment, One, is Bobby and Vicki Arens, and Bobby's got red hair and he's about six-six."
"Who's been here the longest?"
"Well, me... and the Lees, in Four. We both got here two years ago. The Lees, you know, are Chinese, they're studying medicine. They're really nice."
"Okay. Shoot. I'm sorry I woke you up," Lucas said.
"Listen, come on in for some Rice Krispies," she said. "We can think about it. I won't be able to get back to sleep anyway."
"Huh," he said. He looked at his watch. A little after five-thirty, and he could use a bite, and she was a pretty woman. "All right."
In addition to a bowl of Rice Krispies, he advanced another inch in his education. The woman's name was Katie Barin, and she suggested that a student house would be the perfect place to set up a fake credit card, or a mail drop.
"Nobody knows who's coming and going people move in and out all the time," she said. "The post office still delivers mail to my box for people who haven't lived here for years. So, you know, you want a fake ID, you have it delivered here. The post office doesn't know. Everybody's in class when the mailman comes. He comes at ten o'clock, and this place is empty."
"The guy I'm looking for set up his Visa account two years ago," Lucas said.
"When did he set up the post office box?" she asked.
"Six months ago."
"So he was picking up his mail here, for a year and a half?"
"I guess," Lucas said. "He didn't charge much, but he did from time to time."
"So the mail gets sent to Apartment Five, or wherever, and the mailman doesn't care, he just sticks it in the Apartment Five box," Barin said. "There's probably mail in it right now. This guy probably knows what day his Visa bill would get here, and he'd just come by and pick it up. No problem."
"The question is, why would he set up a fake ID?" Lucas asked.
"Because he's a criminal of some kind," she answered. "Or maybe, political."
"Yeah, you know, somebody who's underground," she said. "Somebody left over from the seventies."
Lucas scratched his nose: "I gotta think about it."
"How long have you been a detective?" she asked.
Lucas looked at his watch: "About eight hours."
She smiled and said, "So you got thrown in the deep end."
"I'll figure it out," he said. "You don't remember anybody like Fell? Do you think the Lees might? They overlapped by a year and a half."
"We could ask them." She looked at the stove clock. Six o'clock. "They'll be up."
The Lees looked like twins, same height, same haircuts, same dress; except that one of them had breasts. The one with breasts remembered Fell. "He was not supposed to take mail. He didn't live here. I ask him once, why do you take mail? He say, the post office still brings it by mistake. But after I ask him, I don't see him again."
That was, she guessed, about six months earlier. She added two details:
Fell was missing the little finger on his left hand. "I see it when he opened the mailbox."
He drove a black panel van.
Lucas took a few minutes to establish that the van wasn't a minivan, but Mrs. Lee was clear. He drove a panel van, with no windows in the sides. Lucas didn't say so, but it occurred to him that whoever took the girls must have had a vehicle, and a panel van would be perfect. More than perfect almost necessary. It'd be tough to kidnap a couple of kids with a convertible.
When they left, Barin suggested that if Lucas became obsessed with finding Fell, he'd taken his eye off the ball. "You're looking for him because he said something about a crazy guy, and other people know the crazy guy. Maybe the other people would be easier to find."
"Good thought," Lucas said. She was not only pretty, she was smart. He looked at his watch again. Ten after six. He was due back in uniform in eight hours. "I gotta roll. Thanks for everything... maybe you oughta give me your phone number, in case I need more advice."
She smiled, then said, "All right."
He went back to City Hall, to the licensing department, prepared to wait until somebody showed up. But when he got there, and looked through the glass panel on the door, he saw a light coming out of an office. He banged on the door for a moment, until a man in a flannel shirt came out of the office and shook his head and waved him off. Lucas held up his badge, and the guy came over. Through the glass, he asked, "What?"
"I need a name."
The guy wasn't the right guy, but he knew how to work the computer, and he pulled up the owners of Kenny's, the bar where Fell had been hanging out, as a Steve and Margery Gardner from Eagan. A half hour later, Lucas pulled into their driveway, and pounded on the door until an irritated Steve Gardner came out from the back of the house in a bathrobe.
"What the hell?" he asked.
Lucas held up hig badge: "We're looking for the two lost girls. You've got a customer named Fell, who was talking about a crazy guy..."
They talked in the house's entry, and Margery came out after a minute. Neither one had any idea who Fell was. "You gotta talk to the manager, Kenny Katz," Steve Gardner said. "We own six bars, we're in Kenny's about three times a week for an hour a time. Talk to Kenny."
They had seen the crazy man. "He's been around all summer. He's tall, thin, he's been dribbling a basketball around. I've seen him down by the river a couple times, and he used to stand by the ramp onto I-94 with a sign asking for money. Said he was a homeless vet, but he doesn't look like a vet. I don't know how you'd find him just drive around, I guess."
Lucas went back to his Jeep. Just drive around, I guess. Patrol cops guys like him could do that, of course, and probably would be doing that, if he couldn't come up with anything better.
He looked back at the Gardner house, and filed away another fact: just because you figured out a possible source of information, and then figured out how to find them, and then rousted them out of bed... didn't mean they'd know a single fuckin' thing. He'd used up an hour learning that.
A thought popped in: the post office. There's probably a guy who systematically walks around the neighborhood every day...
He headed back downtown, around to the back of the post office again. The old bureaucrat had gone at seven o'clock. The new bureaucrat decided that he wouldn't be breaking any regulation by letting Lucas talk to the mail carriers, who were sorting mail into the address racks. The new bureaucrat took him down to one wing of the post office and introduced him to four mail carriers who carried the near south side.
Two of them had seen the crazy man.
One of them knew where he lived.
20 August 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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