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|The Prey Series|
That was the summer of the cast and the cell phones. Cell phones everywhere. He sometimes felt as though he were caught like a fly in an electronic spider web, and anytime anyone, anywhere, had an urge to waste his time, they could reach out and ring his bell.
When it began, though, at that one specific moment, he had no phone...
Lucas Davenport ran through the night, a fine mist cool on his face, the tarmac smooth and reliable under his Nike training shoes. They'd been through a rough winter. Most years, the last of the parking lot snow piles would be gone by early April. Now, as April ended, with the temperatures ballooning into the seventies, there were still mounds of ice at the edge of the larger lots, and they'd still be there on May Day.
But not on the streets the streets were finally clear.
As he ran he thought about everything and anything, about the life he'd led, the children, the snatches of time frozen in his mind: a moment when he'd gotten shot in an alley, and the flash of the man who'd shot him; the first sight of a newborn daughter; his mother's face, crabby with an early morning slice of toast in her hand, her image as clear in his mind as it had been twenty-five years earlier, on the day she died...
They all came up like portraits and landscapes hanging on the wall of his memory, flashes of color in the black-and-white night. With all the trouble and struggle and violence he'd seen, the deaths of parents and friends... it'd been pretty good, he thought. Not much to regret. Not yet.
He was getting older, with almost as much grey hair as black at his temples, with the beginnings of what would someday be slashing lines beside his mouth, but right now, on this spring day, he could run five miles in a bit less than thirty minutes, even on wet city streets; and at home, there were four people who loved him.
As much as he could have hoped for.
Running through the mist in a faded Bass Pro-Shops sweatshirt with cut-off sleeves and grey sweat shorts, he turned up the hill off Mount Curve and eventually slowed and looked through the windows on the Ford Parkway Wells Fargo ATM. The booth was empty, which was good. He was panting and smelled like he'd just run a hard five miles, which is not necessarily what somebody else wants to see from a stranger inside an ATM booth.
He went inside. He had nothing with him but the ATM card, his driver's license and fifteen dollars, in a Dunhill money clip. No phone: for this rare half-hour, no cell phone. He stuck the card in the ATM slot, punched in his four-digit code, hit the video square that said his most frequent withdrawal was five hundred dollars, and in the next few seconds, collected his card, his five hundred in twenties, and the receipt. He pushed the card and his ID back in the money clip, and slipped the money clip back in his pocket, and was looking at the receipt, which showed he had $19,250 in his checking account, as he pushed through the door...
The tweeker was right there, with a piece-of-shit chromed revolver shaking like a leaf, three feet from Lucas' eyes. The hole of the muzzle large as the moon, and the man was saying "Gimme the money gimme the money gimme the money..."
The gunman's eyes were pale blue, almost as though they'd been bleached. He had spiky reddish hair, hanging raggedy over his ears, as though it had been cut with pinking shears. He was missing several teeth, his face was touched with a patchy rash, and the muscles of his gaunt forearms twitched like pencils under the skin.
Lucas thought, "I could die." It'd be a weird way to go, killed in a street robbery with this clown, after chasing down dozens of heavy hitters in his life, serious killers with functioning brains...
Lucas became aware of a woman, looming two or three feet behind him. He glanced at her, quickly: she was big, raw-boned, and empty-handed, with the same gaunt meth-addled eyes as the man. Across the street, another woman was walking toward the bookstore at the top of the hill, under a black umbrella, a dachshund on a leash beside her, the dog's legs churning like a caterpillar's as it tried to keep up. There were cars passing by, their tires hissing on the wet streets, and he could smell the fleshy stink of run-over worms, and the tweeker was almost screaming, spit rolling down his chin, "gimme gimme gimme" and Lucas handed over the five hundred dollars.
He'd lost track of the woman, as he concentrated on the muzzle of the gun and the man's fingers on the butt and trigger. If they turned white, if he started to squeeze, Lucas would have to go for it...
But as soon as her partner had taken the money, the woman hit him between the shoulder blades with both hands, and simultaneously hooked his ankles with her foot. With his feet pinned, he went down hard, full-length, broke the fall with his hands but still smacked his knees and chin on the concrete sidewalk, and rolled, and saw the two of them hoofing it down the block. The woman was large with broad-shoulders and wide hips, but bony for all of that; the man was thin, jagged-looking.
Lucas got to his feet, his first thought to give chase, but the man turned as he ran and waggled the gun at him. Lucas had nothing on him: nothing but the money clip, two cards and fifteen dollars in cash. No gun, no phone.
And he hurt. His back hurt from the impact, his hands and knees were skinned, his wrists sprained. He touched his lower lip, came away with a bloody finger, and realized that he'd cut his lip on his upper teeth. His teeth felt okay; nothing wiggled.
He took a few steps after the robbers, then stopped as they turned the corner. A few seconds later, a car screeched away, out of sight. Lucas looked around: nobody there on a wet Sunday night, nobody but the woman across the street, and her umbrella and her dog, rapidly headed away, up the hill, unaware that anything had happened.
He said, "Shit," and limped toward home. Reviewed what had happened, walked through it in his mind. He had, he decided, done the right thing. The piece-of-shit revolver was probably a .38. Not the most powerful weapon, but one that could have sprayed his brains all over the street. And he thought, they'd done it before. The woman had taken him down like a pro, smooth, efficient, practiced.
Lip hurt. Knees hurt. Hands hurt. Five hundred dollars gone.
But they'd made a large mistake.
Sooner or later, he'd see them again.
Weather, his wife, a surgeon who had spent part of her internship in an emergency room, tried to be the calm one, talking tough while she fluttered around him. She said his lip was nothing, he just had to suck it up like a man, instead of whining about it. His knee required a Band-Aid and some antiseptic, and he might have a couple of small pulled muscles in his back, but he hadn't lost any function and his spine wasn't involved.
"You've got muscles in your neck, which is good. Helps prevent whiplash," she said. She was kneading his shoulder as he sat in a kitchen chair, eating an Oreo, tasting a little blood with the crème filling.
She was most worried about his left wrist.
His teen-aged adoptive daughter, Letty, asked, "What are you going to do about this?"
"Put them in jail," Lucas said. "If it's the last thing I do."
Letty, her arms crossed over her chest, grunted "At least."
He called the St. Paul cops, and a couple of uniforms rolled around and took a report and suggested he come to the station and look at the meth files. When they were done, Weather drove him over to the Hennepin County Medical Center and told the doc on duty that she wanted Lucas' wrists x-rayed. Because of her status in the place, Lucas got instant service.
The doc came back in five minutes, took them around to a computer screen, tapped on some keys. The x-rays came up on the high-def screen, and he said, "You busted your left scaphoid."
"Ah, God," Weather said. She peered at the digital image. "Yeah, it's clear." She pointed at a line on a wrist bone.
The line looked like somebody had dropped a white hair on the screen. Lucas said, "It can't be too bad. The bone's about the size of..."
"Never mind what it's the size of," Weather said. Lucas tended to compare the size of almost anything, either large or small, to his dick. "You'll need a cast."
"A cast?" He flexed his wrist. It hurt, but not all that bad. He looked at the doc, who nodded, and then at Weather. "You've got to be kidding."
"With luck, we can take it off in three months," the doc said. "A lot of people go six."
"What? For that?" He couldn't believe it. A little crack, barely visible in the x-ray.
Weather explained in big words. He didn't know all of the words, but understood that the carpal bones, of which the scaphoid was one, and which was once called the navicular because it supposedly looked like a boat, allowed the wrist to turn and the hand to work. If the bone was cracked, and didn't heal, it might die, and rot. Then his hand wouldn't work right.
That didn't sound good.
Forty-five minutes after they walked in, they walked back out of the emergency room, Lucas with a fiberglass cast from his elbow to knuckles, and a bottle of hydrocodone in his pocket.
"One good thing," Weather said, "it's your left hand."
"This cast is like a fuckin' rock," Lucas said. "If I catch that fuckin' tweeker, I'm gonna use it to fuckin' beat him to death."
"That's your daily quota on the f-word," Weather said. "And don't worry about that guy. If he's as far gone as you say, he's a dead man anyway."
"He's a dead man if I catch him," Lucas said.
When they got home, Letty said, "Whoa, that cast's the size of..."
"Never mind," Weather said.
The cast was a constant annoyance. Lucas was a touch-typist, and unable to spread his fingers, had to learn to use the keyboard using only one finger on his left hand. And he had, over the years, gotten used to carrying an old-fashioned Colt .45 ACP, which really required two functioning hands. He switched to a double-action nine-millimeter, but never really liked it. He couldn't hang onto a steering wheel, though he hardly ever held on tight with his left hand anyway.
The biggest frustration came one day when he was fishing off the dock at his cabin and hooked into a small bluegill, only to watch the bluegill get chased down, right at the surface, by what he estimated to be a two-foot-long large-mouth bass. He got the bass back close to the dock, but he couldn't just lift it out of the water: he wasn't even sure it was hooked. He needed to hold the rod in one hand, and use a net with the other... and stood helplessly looking down at the fish as it ran crazily back and forth, finally did a heavy-bodied leap, and came off.
He was pretty sure, as the fish swam away, that it gave him the finger.
The cast was cut off, momentarily, at three months, and his wrist was x-rayed again, and the doc said it needed another month. A scum of dead skin covered his arm, and the muscles looked too thin withered, Lucas thought. His arm reminded him of the tweeker's too-thin forearm. The doc let him scrub the dead skin off before he put the new cast on. Under his arm hair, the new skin was as pink and soft as a baby's butt. "Come back in a month," the doc said. "In a month, you're good. And lucky. Some people go six."
"That's what the last guy said. But he said if I was lucky, I'd get out in three."
"That's really lucky," the doc said. "You're only a little lucky."
The summer of the cast and cell phones, though meteorologically excellent, was professionally slow. Lucas' job at the BCA was mostly self-invented, and included politically sensitive cases, or cases that might attract a lot of media attention. That summer, the politicians stayed away from ostentatious felonies, as far as anyone knew something could always pop up at a later date ("I didn't know she was fourteen; honest to God, she said she was thirty-two.")
So Lucas focused on a self-invented, long-term, statewide intelligence project that involved finding, working and filing police sources in Minnesota's criminal underworld. The project was kept secret for fear that it would encounter media ridicule. Most people didn't believe that there actually was a Minnesota criminal underworld, and those who did the cops often didn't want to give up sources.
Just as in any other state, Minnesota had plenty of crooks. Ten thousand people sat in prison, from a population a little short of six million, with a constant coming and going. Of those, quite a few were one-timers, or criminals of a kind that didn't interest him: repeat drunk drivers, people convicted of manslaughter or negligent homicide, or white-collar crime. Those kinds of people were singletons, who generally acted alone, out of stupidity and greed, and, aside from the drunk drivers, were not given to repeated mayhem.
He was interested in the repeaters, the professionals, the people who lived and worked in a criminal culture bikers, gang members, burglars, robbers, pederasts, drug dealers. Lucas had a theory that every county, and every town, would have a "node" that pulled in criminals of that area a bar, a bowling alley, a roadhouse.
Furthermore, he thought that criminals in one area would know most of the nodes for the surrounding areas, no matter how urban or rural the countryside might be, and would be attracted to those nodes when away from home.
He wanted a thousand names of sources who'd talk to the cops, across that whole web of nodes; at least one or two sources for each.
They would all know him by name, and there would be certain implicit guarantees in their transactions. Like no police comebacks.
To set up his system, he first had to learn about spreadsheets, and then a bit about computer secrecy: he had no interest in building a general criminal database, and needed a way to keep the work away from prying cop eyes. It wasn't that he didn't want to help other cops, it was just that as soon as more than one person began operating the database, it would stop functioning. Tipsters wanted a relationship: they didn't want their names in a cop newspaper, and if they thought that was what was happening, they'd shut up or disappear.
So Lucas had spent the summer talking on the phone, taking long rides out into the countryside to meet unusual men and women at sandwich shops and parks, filling out the database.
He realized, at some point, what the computer had done for him. He'd been tempted, at one time or another, to move to a bigger police agency one of the federal agencies, or to a really large city, like New York or Los Angeles. He'd not done that because he'd realized that the Minneapolis-St. Paul area was the largest size he could comprehend.
In Los Angeles, a cop was caught in a blizzard of shit, and there was never any way to tell where the shit was coming from. You get three murdered in Venice, and the killer was almost as likely to come from Portland or St. Louis as from L.A.; was likely to be unknown to the local cops. Serial killers had operated for decades in the L.A., without the cops even knowing about it. Chaos ruled.
That wouldn't happen in the Twin Cities. There were three million people outside his St. Paul door, but he could just about understand who was out there, and where the shit was coming from.
There were another two million in the state of Minnesota, and with the help of a computer and a spreadsheet, he was beginning to hope that he might also come to comprehend the state's criminal base.
The rise of the cell phone added another aspect to it: with the cell phone, an office was anywhere you wanted it to be. At one time, you might drive out to a crime scene, however many minutes or even hours from the office, and then drive back to get started on the case. With cell phones, you could be constantly hooked into a developing web of contacts, sources and records.
The downside, of course, was that you were constantly hooked into a web of contacts, sources and records, and didn't often have the time needed to simply think.
A side benefit to the construction of the intel network was that he had time to look for the robbers who'd taken his five hundred dollars and had broken his wrist. He quickly found out that he'd been right about one thing: they'd done it before.
They'd done it four times on the south side of the Twin Cities and its suburbs, and a half-dozen more times trailing down I-35 to the south, which made Lucas think they lived down that way.
As he pulled together his intelligence nodes south of town, he asked about them thin shaky guy, big rough woman, up to their eyebrows in meth.
He hadn't yet found them when, in August, the peace and quiet ended.
The BCA superintendent, who didn't particularly like Lucas, but found him to be a valuable foil when it came to dealing with political issues, called him at home as Lucas was working his way through the Times and a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal, which his wife and daughter said was good for something it was organic and saved the whales, or lowered his cholesterol. One of those things; he yearned for a simple glazed doughnut, but not if it doomed Mother Earth.
His cell phone began ringing, and simultaneously rattling like a snake, on the table next to his hand.
"Really big trouble," the superintendant said. "There's gonna be a lot of media. Shaffer and his crew are on the way. You'd better get out there too, so you're up to speed. I'm trying to find Rose Marie to tell her about it..."
Murder, he said. An entire family slaughtered.
Lucas backed the Porsche out of his garage, and found a grey sky and a cool day going cold; rain coming, disturbing the summer, hinting at what all Minnesotans knew in their bones: winter always comes.
The death house sat down a leafy blacktopped lane, a stone, brick and white-board lakeside palace where the Great Gatsby might have lived, made for summer soirees with mimosas and mint juleps. The deep-green summer trees grew in close and dense, so thick that even nearby noises seemed muffled and distant, and a perfect lawn dropped down a gentle slope to Lake Minnetonka. A floating dock stuck into the lake like a finger; a fast fiberglass cruiser was tied to one side of the dock, an oversized pontoon boat to the other, ready to party.
The scene was dead quiet, except for the moaning wind in the trees. The incoming clouds were so grey and low, the house so touched with a cool decorator chic, a tightness, a foreboding, that a Hollywood camera corkscrewing down the lane to the front door would have automatically hinted at horrors to be found behind the well-scrubbed window glass. A crazy housewife with poison, a husband with a meat cleaver in his hand, a couple of robotic kids with a long-barreled revolver and blank grey eyes...
None of which would have done justice to the real horror behind the doors.
Lucas got to the house at a little after eleven o'clock in the morning, and walked back out on the front porch five minutes later, looking for a breath of fresh air and maybe a place to spit, to get the taste of death out of his mouth.
He was a tall, hard, very rich man with broad shoulders and a hawkish nose, wearing a two-hundred dollar white shirt and a dark blue Purple Label suit with a red Hermes necktie, the necktie twisted and pulled loose behind the knot. His face was tanned, and the thin white line of a scar dropped across one eyebrow onto his cheek; another white scar showed in the pit of his neck, where a young girl, barely into her teens, had shot him with a street pistol that he hadn't seen coming.
He rubbed his face with the fingers of his left hand, which protruded from a slightly dirty-looking cast. Del Capslock followed him out on the porch. Del looked back over his shoulder and said, "I don't think I've ever been to a crime scene this quiet."
"Whatta you gonna say?" Lucas asked. He sniffed at the cast. Nasty. He needed to wash it again.
"You know what freaked me out?" Del asked. "It wasn't the kids. It was the dogs. The dogs couldn't tell us anything. They weren't witnesses. They weren't attack dogs. Two miniature poodles and a golden retriever? They killed them anyway. Hunted them down. They were killing everything, because they liked it."
"I don't know. There's a lot going on in there," Lucas said. "Maybe they killed the dogs first, to extort information. Went around and shot them just to prove that they'd do it. Then the boy, then the wife and daughter, then the guy. They wanted something from the guy."
"We don't know they did it that way," Del said. Del was too thin grizzled, some would say unshaven, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and Nike cross-trainers. The T-shirt said Menard's, which was a local building supply chain. His comment reflected an ingrained skepticism about any unsupported assertion: he wanted facts.
"I feel like they did," Lucas said. He was more comfortable with assumption and speculation than Del. He looked up and down the street, past the cluster of official cars and vans. He could see pieces of two houses, one in each direction. There were more along the way, but out of sight. "The thing is, they shot the dogs, that's three shots. They shot the boy three or four times. That's a lot of gunshots. Even in a neighborhood like this, with the doors closed and the air conditioners going, and boats... that's a lot of shots. Makes me think they had silencers, makes me think they were pros, here for a reason. Then the guy, they go to work with a knife. They started out terrorizing him, ended up torturing him."
"Gotta be. Gotta be, here in the Twin Cities. Too calculated for anything else. Shaffer says the guy ran a software place that peddles Spanish-language software down in Mexico. It looks custom-made as a money laundry," Lucas said. He looked back into the house, though he couldn't see anything from the porch.
Del said, "Here's something."
Lucas turned back to see a lone patrolman jogging back down the street. He was overweight, and his stomach jiggled as he ran. The patrolman cut across the lawn.
"The neighbors," he said to Lucas. He was red-faced and seemed to run out of words, tried to catch his breath.
"The neighbors, the Merriams, they're three houses down." The cop pointed down the street. "The husband, Dave, saw a van parked in the driveway yesterday afternoon. He saw it three times, coming home, going out, and coming back from town. There for a couple hours, at least. He says it was a blue van, a Chevy, and he says the first three letters of the plate were S-K-Y. He thinks it stuck with him because of sky-blue. Sky on the plate and blue on the van."
Lucas nodded. "Okay, that's good stuff." He turned and yelled back into the house. "Shaffer? Shaffer?" He said to the cop, "Go tell that to Shaffer. We need to run that right now."
The cop went inside and Del asked, "What are we going to do?"
Lucas shrugged: "Call everybody. Look for blue vans. Push the DNA on the wife and daughter... I wouldn't bet on semen. If they were professionals, they were probably wearing rubbers. We might pick up some blood or something, maybe one of them scratched or bit somebody."
Del nodded. "You look around the house, around the neighborhood, and it's screaming rich. Could have been a couple of crazy dopers thinking they kept a lot of money in the house..."
Lucas said, "Nah."
Del scratched an ear and then said, "All right."
"They were looking for something," Lucas said. "It looks like drugs. It looks like that stuff in Mexico. So harsh. So cruel."
"Maybe they'll pop right up in the DNA bank," Del said.
"Yeah." Del looked up in the sky. "It's gonna rain."
"We need it," Lucas said. "Been hot for a long time. First cool day in a while..."
"Fall's coming," Del said.
They went back inside, where an agent named Bob Shaffer was talking to the patrolman. When he saw Lucas, he said, "Maybe a break."
Lucas nodded, once. "Anything more?"
"Romeo's worked out a sequence. I think it's probably right."
Romeo was a lab tech, a short man with a swarthy complexion, a fleshy nose, and a neat little soul patch that actually looked good. Lucas and Del found him in the living room, looking at the dead adult male, a notebook in his hand. He might have been taking inventory in a dime store. But the living room didn't smell like a dime store; it smelled like the back room at a meat locker.
The dead man, who was almost certainly named Patrick Brooks, 45, blond, once good-looking with big white Chiclet teeth, lay on his back, on the living room carpet, in a drying circle of blood. His arms, down to his elbows, were taped to his sides with ordinary duct tape. There were no fingers on his hands: they'd been cut off, one knuckle-length at a time, and lay around the room like so many cocktail wieners. He had no eyes they were over by the television. His pants had been pulled down to his knees; he'd been castrated. They'd cut off his ears, but left his tongue, probably so he could talk. He had apparently died while the killers were cutting open his abdomen, because they hadn't finished the job.
"Shaffer said you have a sequence," Lucas said.
"I think so," Romeo said. He ticked his yellow pencil at the dead man. "He went last. I think they came in with guns, to keep everybody under control. Rounded them up, taped them up, put them on the floor. They started out shooting the dogs. The golden got it right here, the poodles ran into the kitchen. Shot them there. Did the wife next: Candace. Raped her, beat her, whatever, then cut her throat. Then the kid, uh, Jackson, started screaming or struggling or something, and they shot him: some of the blood splatter and brain tissue from the head shot landed on his mother's leg, which was already naked, and didn't move after the blood landed on it."
"So she was dead first," Del said.
"Right. Then, they did the daughter, Amelia. She's pretty messed up, so I'm thinking... they did a lot of stuff to her. The ME'll have to give you that. Then they cut her throat. She bled out, and you can see, there are a couple finger joints on her blood, it looks like they rolled across her blood and picked some of it up..."
"Unless it's his blood," Del said.
"No, it looks like they rolled across wet blood... I think it'll turn out to be hers."
"Like we were talking about," Lucas said to Del. "They wanted something from him; or they were sending a message."
"Did they bring the knives, or use the kitchen knives?" Del asked.
"Brought them. The knife block is full. Looks like razors, or scalpels, and for some of it, it was probably pliers, side-cutters. You get that kind of crushing-cut with side-cutters. They knew what they were going to do," Romeo said.
"Then they wrote on the wall," Lucas said. They all turned and looked at the wall, where a bloody message said, "Were coming." No apostrophe.
"Yeah... they took a couple of the finger joints and used them like markers. The joints are the ones on the couch, they've got wall paint on them, like chalk. We're hoping we might get some DNA, but I'll bet you anything that they were wearing gloves."
"Didn't gag them; had the tape, but didn't tape their mouths," Del said.
"I think they wanted them to talk back and forth. I think they wanted them to hear each other dying," Lucas said.
"That would be the gloomy interpretation," Romeo said.
"You got another one?" Lucas asked.
"No, I don't," Romeo said. "You're probably right. One thing: we've got precision, rather than frenzy. Del was talking before, about maybe some crazy guys. I don't think so. I think it was cold. It feels that way to me. Three or four guys."
Lucas looked at the bodies; at the mess. "What about DNA? Any chance?"
"Oh, yeah. We'll get some DNA," Romeo said. "We'll get sweat or skin cells off the woman's or the girl's thighs, if no place else."
Del said, "If they're professionals, they'll know that sooner or later, they'll do time, and if they pop up in a DNA bank, they'll go down for this. So, I'm thinking, they're not too worried about DNA banks."
"Because they're stupid?" Romeo suggested.
"No," Del said, surveying the shambles. "It'd be because they're not from here. They're from some place else. Mexico, Central America. Could be Russia."
"Good thought," Lucas said.
Shaffer called from the next room: "Hey, Lucas, Rose Marie's here."
"Got it," Lucas said.
Rose Marie Roux, the commissioner of public safety, once state senator, once Minneapolis chief of police, once for a short time a street cop, was coming up the sidewalk. She was a stocky woman in a blue dress who looked a lot like somebody's beloved silver-haired mother, except for the cigarette that dangled from her lower lip. She was a quick-study, and a long-time winner in the back-room battles at the Capitol.
She shook her head at Lucas: "I'm not going in there. I don't want to see it," she said. "I do need something to tell the media."
"They're all four dead," Lucas said. "Patrick Brooks, his wife, son and daughter. Tortured, the females raped. I wouldn't give them any detail just, brutally murdered."
"Is there anything... promising?" Roux asked.
"No, not that I've seen," Lucas said. "It looks professional. Brutal, impersonal. Meant to send a message. We might never find them, truth to tell."
"I don't want to tell three million people that we're not going to catch them," Roux said.
"So, say that we're looking at some leads, that we have some definite areas of interest that we can't talk about, and that we'll be doing DNA analysis," Lucas said.
"Do we actually have any possibilities? Or am I tap-dancing?"
"One," Lucas said. "They wrote on the wall, 'Were coming,' no apostrophe in the were. But that suggests... suggests... that they may be looking for somebody else. The way they did this, looks like there may have been an interrogation. Like they were questioning Brooks, trying to get something out of him, and he didn't have it."
She mulled that over for a few seconds, then said, "Excuse me, but did you just tell me that they might do this again? To somebody else?"
"Can't rule it out," Lucas said. "
"That's bad. That's really bad," she said.
"Gives us another shot at them," Lucas said, looking on the bright side.
"Ah, jeez... Who's got the detail?"
"Okay." She mulled that over for a minute, then said, "He's competent. But keep talking to him. Keep talking to him, Lucas."
"What are you doing out here?" Lucas asked. "Is there some kind of... involvement?" He meant political involvement.
"Yeah, some marginal engagement," she said. "Candace Brooks was going to run for something, sooner or later. Probably the state senate, next year, if Hoffman retires. The Brookses maxed out contributions for the major offices last few elections, and they're strong out here in the local party... but, it's not any big political thing."
"So it won't make any difference if we find out that they were running a drug-money laundry, and giving cash to the local Democrats?"
She shrugged, a political sophisticate: "It'd hurt for about four minutes. Then, not. But, you know, they were our people." She meant Democrats.
Del asked, "So what are you going to tell the media?"
She looked him up and down, raised her eyebrows, and said, "Jesus, Del, you look like you just fell out of a boxcar."
"Professional dress," Del said. "Around home, I wear Ralph Lauren chinos and Tiger Woods golf shirts."
She made a rude noise and turned to look down toward the end of the street, where the media was stacked up, out of sight. "I'll tell them the truth, just not all of it four brutal murders, motive unknown. That we've got lots of leads and expect to make an arrest fairly quickly."
"That'd scare the shit out of me, that promise, if anybody had an attention span longer than two seconds," Lucas said.
"That's what we're working with," Roux said. "Though I have to say as the state's chief law enforcement official, I do expect you to catch them." She poked Lucas in the chest. "You."
Lucas walked halfway down the block and watched from a distance as Rose Marie spoke to the media. She gave them the basics, and nothing more. She stood in a neighbor's lush green yard, a mansion in the background, with the media in the street. She used the word brutal, and refused to enlarge upon that.
That was accurate, but, in the eyes of the reporters, inadequate.
One of them knew a cop who was working the roadblock, and Channel Eleven headlined his comments: rape, torture, murder. Finger joints, eyeballs, castration, throats cut with razors. The message on the wall. "We're coming" the producer supplied the missing apostrophe on the phonied-up blue-screened graphic behind the anchor woman.
The Channel Eleven report set off a media firestorm, which intensified when another station "confirmed rumors from earlier today..."
The media was large in the Twin Cities. A juicy murder would go viral in seconds.
Rumors of the massacre at the Brooks' house swept through Sunnie Software minutes after the bodies were discovered. Patrick Brooks had been scheduled to meet with marketing and development and hadn't shown up. Neither he nor anyone else answered the home phone, and his cell phone rang and was never picked up.
The vice-president for sales, named Bell, had a bad feeling about it. A lawyer friend of Bell's lived near the Brooks home, and Bell asked the lawyer to call his wife, who ran over and found the front door cracked open.
Nobody answered her call, so she pushed the door open with a fingernail, and peeked inside...
As she ran back down the street, she called 911, and then her husband, who called back to Sunnie with a garbled story of blood and murder.
The cops came, and then the BCA.
Then the media, ambushing employees in the street.
"This is really fucked," said one of the account managers, a young man with hair to the middle of his back. "Who are they going to suspect, huh? The guy with the hair..."
"Rob, stop thinking about yourself," one of the women said. "They're all dead..."
"But who are they gonna think did it?" Rob cried.
Several of them told him to shut up; and guiltily gave thanks for their neatly coiffed hair.
The murder story caught Ivan Turicek and Kristina Sanderson at work in the systems security area at Hennepin National Bank. Sanderson was getting ready to go home: she worked the six-to-two shift, while Turicek came in at noon and took it until eight. They were alone, with a bank of computers. Turicek had seen a fragment of a story on a television in the Skyway, and now had one of the computers set to catch the web broadcast from Channel Eleven.
Channel Eleven was the one with the source: rape, torture, murder, eyeballs, castration... "We're coming" with an apostrophe.
"Oh my God, what have we done?" Sanderson blurted, staring at the screen. A thin schizophrenic with blond, frizzy hair and a fine white smile, when she used it, she was pale as a sheet of printer paper, one hand to her mouth.
Turicek shook his head: "Not us."
"Ivan, I don't want to be bullshitted," Sanderson said, as she looked down at the flat panel. "This was us and you know it."
They were alone in the security area, but cameras peered down at them from the end of the work bay. They supposedly didn't record sound, but Turicek was an immigrant from Russia, and never believed anything anybody said about limits of surveillance. In his experience, somebody was always listening.
He said, "Shh." Then, after a moment, "We need to call Jacob. Or you should go see him. He's probably still asleep, doesn't know about this."
She looked at her watch: two o'clock. Nodded. Jacob Kline normally worked an eight-to-four shift, but was out, sick, again. "Yes. I should probably go see him."
"And it wasn't us," Turicek said again. He turned to her, worried. Sanderson suffered from a range of mild psychological disorders, and he considered her fragile. She didn't use meds, and the bank put up with her occasional acting-out, because she was also obsessive-compulsive when it came to the neatness of numbers. If a number was out of place, Sanderson could sense it, and push it back where it belonged.
That made her an excellent programmer and an asset for a bank. But still, she was a head case, and, at times, delicate. "One thing I learned in Russia is, if you didn't do it, you didn't do it," Turicek said, pressing the case. "You're not responsible for what other people do. You can't be; if you are, there's no end to the chain of responsibility, so then, nobody winds up being responsible."
"I don't need a philosophical disquisition; I was a philosophy major for three semesters," Sanderson snapped.
"We need to be calm," Turicek said. "We keep working, we keep our heads down. We know nothing. We know nothing."
"What about the 'We're coming?' If they get to us? Eyeballs gouged out and cut throats? No thank you. No thank you!"
Turicek dropped his voice. "Twenty million," he said. "Twenty million dollars."
That stopped her. Her eyes narrowed, and she said, "More like twenty-two, now. We need to call Edie: it's time to get out."
"How much more is in the system?" Turicek asked.
"Two million. Not enough to risk moving. Time to finish the harvest," she said.
"I agree. You go see Jacob, I'll call Edie."
Edie Albitis freaked when she heard. She was standing on the Vegas strip, outside of Treasure Island; it was a hundred and five degrees and an obscenely fat woman was rolling down the sidewalk toward her, carrying a small dog and wearing what looked like a tutu. "I'm the one who's dangling in the wind out here," she said into her cell phone, one eye on the fat woman. She didn't want to get run down. "The banks have about a million pictures of me."
"But they don't know it," Turicek said in his most comforting tone. "In every one, you look like the Sultaness of Istanbul."
Albitis was wearing a hijab, a traditional Arabic women's robe, and, though even most conservative Arab states allowed an uncovered face, she also wore a niqab, or veil. These were somewhat culturally uncomfortable for a woman who'd danced both topless and bottomless, sometimes simultaneously, in both Moscow and New York, whose parents were Jews now living in Tel Aviv, which was where she picked up her Arabic; and who was blond, to boot. But, if you were doing major money laundering through America's finest banks, it was best to show as little skin as possible when you were setting up the accounts.
She did speak Arabic well enough to fake her way past North African Arabs, or Iranians who got most of their Arabic from the Koran, but if she ran into a Jordanian, or a Lebanese, or an Iraqi, she could be in trouble. Of course, most Arabs working in American banks seemed to be Jordanians, Lebanese or Iraqis. That was just the way of the world, she thought: set up to fuck with you. "Who the hell did it? This killing?"
"The police don't know. They're investigating," Turicek said.
"Ah, god. It'll take me a week to clear out the accounts..."
"No, no. We're going to leave it," Turicek said. "Kristina is correct: there's not enough for the risk involved. What if we just buy what we've already got on-line, and collect what we've already paid for?"
Albitis thought about it for a moment, then said, "If I run, I can do it in three or four working days."
"Then do that. Are we still solid with the dealers?"
"Yes. They won't ask any questions as long as the wires keep coming," Albitis said. "But they won't ship the gold until they clear the transfers. That's a full day, sometimes. They know that when the gold is gone, it's gone."
"I can't leave here right now," Turicek said. "Not with these murders. We need to be really quiet. I doubt they'll even talk to us, but if they do show up, we all need to be here."
"Shit. Why'd this have to happen right now? Another week..." Albitis pulled at her lip, through the veil. "All right, listen: let me think about this. I don't know if I can widen out the number of dealers, so I'm going to have to make up some bullshit story and sell it to the ones we've got. Some reason to jack up the purchases. There are not that many goddamn Arab women running out the door with a quarter-million in gold. You know what I'm saying?"
"I know what you're saying, but what I'm saying is, we might not have a choice," Turicek said.
Getting the gold was the touchy part. There were gold dealers all over the place, and they sold a lot of gold but they might start to wonder if the amounts got too big. They might wonder about drugs, or spies, or terrorists, or something... She didn't need to walk into a dealer's office, and find the FBI waiting for her. "Just routine, ma'am..." they'd say, and then discover a blonde with a shaky passport.
"So we're getting out," Turicek said. "Jacob will go along."
"You've got to watch Jacob," Albitis said.
"I know. We will. Kristina has him under control."
"They're both nuts."
"And I'm watching both of them."
"Okay. Do that, Ivan. I'll start right now. I was going to set up four more accounts this afternoon, but I'll quit and get out of here. Get down to L.A., make some pickups, put in some more orders," Albinis said. "Make up my story."
"Be careful," Turicek said. "If you feel anybody is looking at you, quit. Better to take what we've got now, than spend the next twenty years in prison. Or have these crazy people come down on us."
"I thought it was a hedge fund," Albinis said. "This isn't something a hedge fund would do."
"No, it's more like the fuckin' Vory," Turicek said, and he shuddered as he said it. If they'd stolen from the Russian mob, the mob would want both the money and their heads; or, if forced to choose, just their heads.
"Jesus," said Albinis. She glanced nervously up and down the street: the fat woman was receding in the distance. Albinis worried about her epithets. Being disguised as observant Muslim woman was fine for handling bank cameras, but as a natural-born wise ass, she'd never been that good at controlling her language.
Did conservative Arab women walk around blurting out, "Jesus Christ," or "Holy shit?" She suspected they did not. "All right," she said. "I'm running."
While all that was going on, three Mexican males were checking out of the Wee Blue Inn in West St. Paul, fifteen or twenty minutes apart.
The Wee Blue Inn catered to hasty romances and to men who arrived on foot, who really needed a shower and a few hours' sleep, a sink to wash their clothes in, and who had no credit card to pay with. Didn't bother the owner: cash was as good as credit, but you had to have the cash.
The Mexicans had checked in two days before, a half hour apart, small young men two of them were still teenagers but with muscles in their arms and faces, no bellies at all; and with hard eyes that reminded the owner of the obsidian-black marbles of his childhood, the ones called peeries.
They checked in a half hour apart, and got separate rooms, but they were together. The owner didn't ask them any questions. That didn't seem prudent. An illegal Latino was cleaning up around the place, saw them check in, and told the owner he was going to take the next day or two off.
"I didn't hire you to take no days off," the owner said.
"I take them anyway," the illegal said. "You wanna fire me, so fire me. I'm going."
It occurred to the owner that the temporary departure of his wage slave might have something to do with the small men.
Once again, it didn't seem prudent to ask.
In certain businesses, prudence is mandatory.
Patrick Brooks had run Sunnie Software out of an office suite in a rehabbed brick warehouse north of Minneapolis' downtown. Lucas decided to swing by on his way back to the BCA offices, to sniff around, and get a feel for the Brooks operation.
He left the car on the street, and climbed the internal stairs to the third floor; the office was glass-and-grey-carpet, with potted palms sitting around on red-brick room dividers. The place smelled like feminine underarm deodorant and carpet cleaner. A dozen employees were sitting in a low-walled cube farm, each with his or her own computer, but nobody was working. Instead, they'd pulled their chairs into groups of three and four, and were talking about the killings.
A BCA agent named Jones was keeping an eye on them. He spotted Lucas at the door, and as the employees turned to watch, came over and said, "We're talking to them one at a time. Not seeing much yet."
Lucas said, "Shaffer says they do Spanish-language software."
"Yeah. We already talked to the office manager. She said some of the sales are down in the Southwest, but most of them are south of the border Mexico and Central America. They do some down in South America, Colombia and Venezuela."
"All drug countries," Lucas said. "You think they're running a money laundry?"
"Can't tell yet," Jones said. "If it is, it's not that big. They only did about two million in sales last year. Brooks took out about two hundred thousand, himself. They got a million-dollar payroll on top of that, they're paying some stiff rent, they contract for the software, there're taxes... There's not really much left over. "
"Is there any way to verify the sales?" Lucas asked.
"Not really, not if somebody wanted to tinker with the books. It's all delivered on-line, there aren't any physical deliveries." Jones nodded at the office, and added, "We've got all of these people sitting here, they all say they get paid, we know they pay rent on the office space... It'd be a hell of a conspiracy."
"We've got a killing that looks like it's dope related, we've got people peddling untraceable software in Mexico. It's gotta be here somewhere," Lucas said.
Jones shrugged. "You're welcome to look. I'll tell you one thing. If it's a laundry, and they were stealing money, it wasn't worth it." Jones had been to the murder house, and had seen the damage.
"No, it wasn't," Lucas agreed.
"So... Dick and Andi are in the back, doing the interviews," Jones said. "You want to sit in?"
"Maybe... but you're done with the office manager?"
"For the time being."
"Let me talk to her," Lucas said.
Barbara Phillips was a heavy-set blonde in her late forties or early fifties, with an elaborate hairdo, low-cut silky tan blouse and seven-inch cleavage. She'd been crying, and had mascara running down her face, with wipe lines trailing off toward her ears. She'd been sitting in her office with two other employees when Jones stuck his head in: "We have another agent who'd like to chat with you," he said to Phillips.
She nodded and said, "You guys be careful," to the other employees, and they all shook their heads, and trooped out of the room. When Lucas stepped in, Phillips asked, "You think the killers are looking for us?"
Lucas took a chair and said, "I doubt it... unless there's some reason you think they might be."
"Mr. Chang, Agent Chang, said they thought maybe a Mexican drug gang did it. What does that have to do with us?"
Lucas shrugged. "I don't know. Can you think of anything at all?"
Tears started running down her face, and she sniffed, and wiped the tears away, and said, "Our business is with Mexicans. We like Mexicans. Half the people working here are Mexicans, or Panamanians."
"Liking Mexicans doesn't mean much to these people, if they're actually a drug gang," Lucas said. "Most of the people they murder are Mexicans."
"Well, I don't know," she said, her voice rising almost to a wail.
Lucas sat and watched her for a moment, and she gathered herself together and said, "Those poor kids. God, those poor kids. I just hope they didn't suffer."
Lucas didn't know how to respond to that, given the truth of the matter, so he said, "Tell me one thing that would let this business..." He paused, then continued, "What am I asking here?" He scratched his chin. "Tell me one thing that would allow a drug gang to use this business for their own purposes. I'm not asking if they did, just make something up. One possibility."
She peered at him for a moment, confused, and then sat up, looked at a wall calendar as if it might explain something to her, then looked back and said, "There isn't any. Not that I can think of. We don't buy or sell any physical product, so you can't use us to smuggle anything. There aren't any trucks, nobody crosses any border. We don't make that much in profit... and all of our income is recorded because it's all done with credit cards. So, I don't know."
"Is there any way they could use your computer systems for communications of some kind?" Lucas asked. "Or anything like that?"
"Why would they?" she asked.
"I don't know. I'm just trying to think of anything that might help," Lucas said.
Phillips said, "Listen, if they want to communicate, they can buy an encryption package, for a few dollars, that the CIA couldn't break, and just send e-mails. Why would they go through us?"
Lucas turned his palms up. "Don't know. Maybe they didn't. But somewhere, there's a reason they were killed. Possibly in this company. Did Mr. Brooks speak Spanish?"
"Oh, yes. He was fluent. So was his wife," Phillips said. "They lived in Argentina for five years, and that's where Pat got the idea for the company. Everybody's got computers down there, but it's hard to get good software in Spanish. His idea was, get some of these really good, inexpensive, second-level software packages business software, games, whatever and translate them into Spanish. That's what we did. We'd buy the rights, get a contractor to recode in Spanish, and put it on-line."
"Then the customers would download it and that'd be the end of it," Lucas said.
"That's it," she said.
"But couldn't a drug gang be somehow using the..." He faltered, then said, "But why do it that way, when they could do it with an encrypted e-mail?"
"I can't think of why," she said.
"Who does the books?"
"Merit-Champlain, they're an accounting company over in North St. Paul."
"I know them," Lucas said. He'd used the same outfit when he was running his computer company in the mid-nineties. As far as he knew, they were straight. "Did Brooks finance the company himself?" he asked.
"As far as I know, yes. He used to work for 3M, he made very good money," Phillips said. "He had savings, and he borrowed money from his 401K. I think his brother chipped in. When we started, there were only three of us, fulltime, Pat and me and Bob Farmer, who was the computer expert. Candy would come in after the kids were at school, and she'd stay until it was time to pick them up. Everything else, we'd farm out. Contract work."
"Pretty much a success right from the start?"
"Not hardly," Phillips said, shaking her head. "It was two years before Pat took his first paycheck. After that it came on pretty good, and we're still growing. Well, we were still growing... I don't know what'll happen, now."
"Are Brooks' parents still alive?" Lucas asked.
"Yes. Nice folks. They live out in Stillwater. Agent Chang..."
"Dick," Lucas said.
"Yes, Dick said they were being contacted."
"They'd probably inherit," Lucas said.
"Unless it's his brother," Phillips said. "I really don't know. Nobody thought... this could happen. That they'd all be gone. Never in a million years."
Lucas worked her a bit more, got the name and address of Brooks' brother, but had the feeling he was pushing on a string. He thanked her, and left her in the office. Chang was standing in the hallway with a water-machine paper cup in his hand, and Lucas nodded and asked, "Anything?"
Chang shook his head. "Lot of Mexicans here, but I'm not seeing anything. They're all confused as hell. The confusion feels real."
"I wish they were making more money," Lucas said. "I'm not seeing how they could be running a laundry. Maybe the accountants will have something."
"Maybe," Chang said. There was doubt in his voice. "You want to talk to anyone else?"
Chang shrugged. "Well... no. If there's some kind of secret deal going on, I don't think they're all in on it. Probably only one of them... and he'll lie about it. Just talking to them won't help much."
Lucas headed back to his office, a nice quiet space where he could brood. In a complicated investigation, he found it useful to take whatever pieces he had, and concoct a story around them. Even if the story was far-fetched, it gave him a starting place, and angles to work.
On the drive from Wayzata to downtown Minneapolis, his lead story had been "Money Laundry:" that the Brookses had been killed by a drug gang, after doing something fancy with the gang's money. Chipping off an extra piece.
Other kinds of organized crime, where you might see the same level of violence, didn't need the same level of money laundering, because they didn't operate with huge numbers of small bills. Their violence was usually aimed at eliminating competition.
Sunnie would have been perfect for a drug gang, with small payments coming in from all over Latin America, consolidated, and moved to a bank. Except, if Phillips and the books were telling the truth, the money wasn't large enough.
That one little fact was hard to get around. If it was a laundry, where was the money?
The other problem, and it could probably be checked, was that the business had been shaky at the start. If it had been set up as a laundry, it shouldn't have been. Perhaps, he thought, it had been set up as a legitimate business, and had only later been spotted by the gang as a potential laundry.
His other story but it was far back, number ten on his list of two was Del's suggestion, that the murders had been the result a home invasion by a couple of crazy killers, who'd picked a random house in a rich neighborhood. A couple of stupid, crazy guys who looked at the house and thought that there must be big money inside, not being all that familiar with checking accounts and American Express. When they got inside, and found that there wasn't much in the way of money, they amused themselves with rape, torture and murder. That happened, a few times a year, most often in California or on the East Coast; not in Minnesota, though.
Another problem with that scenario was that the crime scene people in Wayzata were positing at least three killers, and maybe four. House invasions of the crazy, murderous kind usually involved one or two people: three or four crazy people would be unusual.
Of course, there was always Charlie Manson to worry about...
Yet, he didn't like the Manson scenario, even with the bloody "were coming" written on the walls. The murders didn't seem crazy enough for crazy people. They'd taken too long, there was that apparent progression, and there wasn't the level of frenzy that you'd expect.
He was halfway back to the office when a phone call came in. The identifying tag said, "City of Northfield." He answered and a man asked, "Is this Lucas Davenport?"
"This is Chuck Waites at Northfield PD. I'm calling about your flier. You said you'd be interested in ATM robberies, man and a woman, knocking down the victim..."
"Yeah, I sure am," Lucas said. "You bust them?"
"No, no. They picked out one of our college kids taking cash out of a street ATM, robbed him with a gun, knocked him down, and ran off. This happened last night. Kid's got a broken arm and he's out eighty bucks."
"Man and a woman?"
"Yeah, it's like that flier said: skinny guy, big woman," Waites said. "Have no idea who they are, but we've got a clue for you."
"I don't like the way you said 'clue,'" Lucas said.
The other cop laughed. "Well, it might be an identifier..."
"What is it?"
"The kid said they smelled like horse shit. Horse shit, specifically. We asked him if he was sure it wasn't cow shit or sheep shit, but he said, 'No sir, it's horse shit.' He grew up on a dairy farm, and they ran a couple of riding horses and a few other animals. Sheep, chickens," Waites said. "He said anybody who grew up on that kind of a place could tell the difference between cow shit, horse shit, sheep shit and chicken shit. He said they had all those animals, and the people who robbed him smelled like horse shit. Like they'd been shoveling out a stable."
"You know any meth addicts who run a riding stable?"
"Not me personally, but there're a lot of meth cookers out in the countryside," Waites said. "If these people are far gone on meth, like your flier says, I don't think they could be running a commercial stable. That's pretty heavy work and takes some ability to concentrate... If it really was horse shit on them, I'd have to believe that they're farm hands somewhere."
"Huh. That's interesting," Lucas said. "It's weird, but it narrows it down, and shoveling shit is about what I'd expect of those two. You know of any kind of organization that would have a list of stables?"
"Somebody in the state would, probably they got a list of everything else," Waites said. "If I were you, I'd just call the county agents. They'd know all the farms in their county, and maybe who works on them."
"Thanks. If this works out, you'll get the reward," Lucas said.
"Really? What is it?"
"I go around and tell people that Chuck Waites is alert."
Waites laughed and said, "And America needs more lerts."
Lucas spent the rest of the day at his office, making phone calls and scratching his left arm, under the cast, with the end of a coat hanger. He'd been told not to do that scratch with a coat hanger and he'd thought there was some good medical reason for the advice until Weather told him that it was to keep him from cutting himself and infecting the wounds.
That, Lucas thought, was advice for children. He wasn't going to cut himself with the coat hanger, and besides, he'd rather cut himself than itch to death.
So he sat scratching and calling, making trips to the candy machine, interspersed with spasms of note-taking on yellow legal pads.
Most of it involved the tweekers. The horse shit, he told himself, was actually a pretty interesting clue. Most people he thought, but didn't know would clean up immediately if they'd come in contact with horse shit. But people who were in contact with it all the time, might not even know that they smelled. He believed the kid, and his identification of the odor. He, himself, could tell the difference between the odor of fish slime from a northern pike, and fish slime from a crappie.
A smaller percentage of his time was spent on the murders: he was not the primary investigator there, and the investigation seemed likely to turn into a long, slow grind. If you were intent on locating and knocking down leads, Shaffer could do that as well as anybody. Still, images of the murder scene kept popping up in his mind. He'd seen some bad ones in the past, but this was among the worse. Anything with children...
He called the DEA and asked about unusual activity in the Minneapolis area. He was told they'd check. He called a dozen people in his private intelligence net, including six Latinos, and asked about anything unusual going on in the underground Latino community.
He tried to work up another credible story, beyond Mexican dopers and the Charlie Manson scenario. Stories cost nothing but time.
Not that the BCA would have a lot of time.
Wayzata, the town where the killings took place, was one of the richer places in the Twin Cities, filled with people who felt entitled to a lot of attention, as befitted their economic status. It was also a place where the news media could get in a hurry, and not have to pay much to do it. Every news outlet in town could send a reporter six times a day to ask the locals, "Is the killer living among you? And what about your children?"
The investigation would be pressured.
The BCA had eight people on it: the crime scene people, plus four agents in the team led by Shaffer. Lucas didn't count: he was essentially working for himself. Because the agents generally considered themselves equal, and only occasionally worked a case under hard supervision, they mildy resented Shaffer, though they understood the necessity of having a team coordinator.
Lucas was another matter: he was neither their boss nor their coordinator, and they didn't like being interrupted by his calls. He called anyway, from time to time, and learned very little. They'd found nothing incriminating at Sunnie Software. They did determine that the house hadn't been carefully robbed the crime scene people found two thousand dollars in a bathroom drawer.
Shaffer told him that they had one positive indication that something was wrong with the way the Brookses conducted their financial life. A forensic accountant that's how he referred to himself, though his colleagues called him 'Specs' said that they didn't appear to spend any money on small stuff.
They didn't take much money from the bank in cash, but they didn't charge groceries or clothing or gasoline or consumer electronics. In fact, their credit cards were almost unused, except for a few big-ticket items, like airline tickets. They'd once flown to Orlando, spent five days there, possibly at Disney World, and didn't even show a motel bill.
Brooks had three cashmere jackets in his closet, all newer-looking, probably fifteen hundred dollars each. His wife shopped at Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, had a closet full of clothes from Barney's in New York. They didn't have credit cards at either place.
Shaffer suspected that they were spending cash where a credit card wasn't mandatory; cash that didn't show up anywhere else.
After the first half-day of investigation, that was it. It was way too early to say that the investigation was driving into a ditch, Lucas thought, but it might be true that the passenger-side tires had wandered onto the shoulder.
Lucas went to lunch at two o'clock, ate a couple of bagel sandwiches, alone, thinking about his murder stories, then went back to his office and found a phone message from the Los Angeles office of the Drug Enforcement Administration. He called back and was hooked up with an agent named Tomas O'Brien.
"I was told you're the guy I should talk to," O'Brien said. "I've got a Delta flight out late this afternoon, I'm bringing a couple guys with me. We'd like to look at the books on this Sunnie Software."
"I can fix that," Lucas said. "You know something about Sunnie?"
"The name has come up a few times, but there's been nothing specific. Nothing criminal. We took a look, once, even bought some of their software, like Hable Gringo en Treinta Dias. Sorta sucks and it ain't cheap..."
"We've been wondering if it's a laundry," Lucas said.
"That's why our guy there in the Cities gave me a ring, after your call," O'Brien said. "Sunnie buys product from a company here in LA called Los Escritores, which got started with a lot of twenty-dollar bills... or so we've been told. The software isn't very good, but it sells like crazy. We'd like to look at what Sunnie's been doing with them. Look back down the money chain."
"You know the details on the murders?"
"Your people let our guy walk through," O'Brien said. "From what he says, it looks like the work of Los Criminales Del Norte, one of the cross-border gangs. They do a lot of that revenge-rape stuff. Killing families, sexual mutilation. Chopping off fingers, one joint at a time. They tend to go down shooting."
"You definitely think it looks Mexican?"
"Oh, yeah, absolutely. Don't see it up here, much, but this would be routine in Mexico," O'Brien said. "We'd love to get one of their killers alive, if we could. Turn him over to the Federales for questioning."
"We plan to do that up here," Lucas said. "The questioning."
"You'd get more answers from the Federales," O'Brien said, persisting with the thought. "The LCN supposedly caught a Federale undercover cop, and skinned him alive. Sent his skin to his boss, by FedEx, with a movie of the guy getting skinned. If we extradite one of these guys, to the right Federales, we will definitely get some answers."
"I don't think we'd want to do that," Lucas said.
"Whatever, it's your call," O'Brien said. "Anyway, we're gonna get there a little late. Maybe talk tomorrow?"
"I'll fix things up with the lead investigator," Lucas said. "See you then."
Thinking about the ATM robbers, Lucas called found a list of county agents, missed a couple who were out of their offices, finally connected with one, and was told that there might be a list of some commercial riding stables, but a lot of stables were run off the books, as side ventures, and coming up with a complete list would be tough.
An opaque piece of the underground economy, Lucas thought, when he hung up. He ran into it all the time now; small businessmen had told him that government taxation and regulation had become so rapacious that cheating was often the only way they could survive.
Another step down to a third-world economy.
Del came back at three o'clock, from a surveillance job in Apple Valley, pulled a chair around, and asked, "Why don't you turn on a light?"
"Forgot," Lucas said. "Anything happening with Anderson?"
"Not on my shift. Maybe he knows we're watching."
Terrill Anderson was suspected of stealing a three-ton Paul Manship bronze art-deco sculpture, "Naiads of the North," from the front driveway circle of a home in Sunfish Lake, a town just south of St. Paul. The sculpture depicted three larger-than-life-size nymphs, dancing, flowers in their hair, hands joined overhead, standing in a kind of swirl, or whirlpool, of walleyes.
The owner of the sculpture, the fifth-generation heir of a railroad family, was massively rich, and had a daughter who chaired the state arts council. He wanted his sculpture back the estimated worth, as a sculpture, was four million dollars. Looked at another way, three tons of bonze, which was mostly copper, was worth roughly eighteen thousand dollars if it had been in ingot form, or fifteen thousand or so on the scrap metal market.
The sculpture had been fitted to a granite base with six large steel bolts. Anderson had unbolted the statues, and lifted the whole thing onto a flatbed trailer with a trailer-mounted crane, one night while the owner was inspecting a new home in Rio. The operation had been caught on a murky piece of low-res surveillance video from a house across the street the heir's own camera lenses had been covered with pink goop before the removal began.
Phone calls were made, and the hunt for the statues, or, more realistically now, the bronze scrap metal, which had been somewhat desultory, had sharpened. Somewhere, out there, maybe, Anderson was hiding a flatbed trailer and a lot of heavy metal. Del was watching him, waiting for him to go fetch it.
Lucas yawned, scratched the back of his head. "Hope he didn't drop it in a lake."
"He's probably already shipped it to China," Del said. "It's possible that he had a boxcar waiting, loaded it right off the flatbeds, and shipped it out. I've been talking to the railroad, but those guys have got no idea where most of their cars are, or what's in them. Which I guess is a good thing."
"Yeah. If a terrorist ever wants to blow up New York, he can't just build a time bomb and put it in a railway car, 'cause nobody would have any idea of exactly when it'd get to New York, or how it'd get there," Del said. "More likely to blow up a corn field than a city."
"Or a riding stable," Lucas said.
Lucas told him about the Northfield robbery, and Del said, "Well, you can't say it's a horseshit clue."
"I thought of that joke about fifteen seconds after the guy called me," Lucas said. "I was embarrassed just thinking of it, and I never said it out loud."
"You're not going to ask me to look into it, are you? I mean, I got enough boring horseshit..."
"No, I'm just making phone calls to these county agent guys. See what turns up."
"Might be better than watching Anderson," Del said. "The guy is a slug. Never does anything, goes anywhere. I was sitting out there so long my ass got sore. But then, I read another hundred pages in the Deon Meyer, had four ideas for new iPhone apps, realized I could have had a career in Hollywood as a character actor, and tried to remember all the names of the women I could have slept with, but didn't. How about you?"
"I slept with all the women I could have slept with," Lucas said. "Not being a complete fool. You think about the Brooks family?"
"I tried not to."
Lucas filled him in on the investigation, and finished with, "... so it's gonna be slow and methodical. Lots of paperwork."
"But a big deal unlike Anderson and his statue."
"Mmm. I called some of the people on my list, put out some lines in the Latino community," Lucas said. "Haven't gotten anything back yet. We need to be careful not to step on Shaffer's toes. We'll all be talking to the DEA tomorrow, we can figure out who's doing what."
Del stood up and stretched: "So, we go home and eat dinner with the kids?"
"Nothing wrong with that," Lucas said. He thought about the bodies in the Brooks house.
Lucas went home, watched the Brooks murder coverage on Channel Three; played with his son Sam, throwing a Nerf ball at a basket; got a smile from his infant daughter, Gabrielle, who was now almost a toddler; and had a long, complicated discussion with his daughter, Letty, about television news.
Letty was between her junior and senior years in high school, and had worked part-time at a TV station for three years. She'd met a politician that day, in the green room off the studio, who shook her hand and asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said she was thinking about being a TV reporter, and the politician shook his head and said, "The thing about TV is, every single story is wrong. Nothing is ever quite right. If you go into TV work, you'll spend your life telling lies."
"Then what are you doing here?" she'd asked.
"I'm selling my side," he'd said. "Television isn't news it's sales. I'm selling my ideas."
The conversation had troubled her and she'd expected some reassurance from Lucas. He failed to give it to her. So they talked about that for a while, and then she said, "I dunno. I like it, TV. But..."
"Don't tell me you want to be a lawyer," Lucas said. "And not a cop."
"This politician guy, when he came back out, I asked him what I should be. He said, 'If I were a kid, about to go to college, and was smart, and knew what I know now... I'd study economics.'"
"I wouldn't know anything about that," Lucas confessed. "Sounds kinda... dry. Maybe you oughta talk to your mom."
"You know what she thinks ," Letty said. "She's already writing my essay for medical school. She wants me to take some surgical assistant classes at the VoTech, and assist her in some surgeries next summer. She says she can fix it. But I just, uh, I like getting in the truck and running around town."
"You like watching surgery."
"Yeah, but in a news way," she said. "I'm not sure I'd be interested in doing it," she said. "Mom says every case is different, but to me, they all look a lot alike. I can't see myself doing that for forty years."
"So talk to your pals at Channel Three," Lucas said. "My feeling is, TV's like the cops... it's interesting, but it can get old, and pretty quick."
"Maybe I could be an actress," she suggested.
At ten o'clock that night, Lucas got a call from a Mexican guy who'd been hassled by St. Paul cops for running an unlicensed, backroom bar out of his house. Lucas heard about it through a friend, one thing led to another, Lucas talked to the cops and the pressure went away: the Mexican guy knew everybody, and was too valuable to hassle about a little under-the-counter tequila.
He said, "I talked to a guy today who talks to everybody, like I do, and he said there were some bad people in town from Mexico."
"Yeah? Who's this guy?"
"His name is Daniel. I think his last name is Castle. Something like that. But, he knows the St. Paul police..."
The caller didn't know much more than that, so Lucas rang off and called a St. Paul cop named Billy Andrews. "I'm looking for a guy name Daniel Castle, some kind of hustler around town..."
"That'd be Daniel Castells. What'd he do?"
"Nothing but talk. But we're looking around for some bad Mexicans, and he told a friend of mine that there were some bad Mexicans in town. I understand you guys know him."
"This about the Brooks case?"
"Let me check around. You don't want him spooked..."
"No. All we want at this point is a quiet chat."
"I'll get back to you. Probably tomorrow morning," Andrews said.
Lucas went to bed, thinking about the phone call. A little movement?
But he didn't dream about the killers. He dreamed about the tweekers.
Weather was always out of the house by six-thirty in the morning. The housekeeper got breakfast for the kids and saw Letty off to summer school. Lucas rolled out a little after eight o'clock, which was early for him.
He'd put a small flat-panel TV in the bathroom, and watched the morning news programs as he cleaned up. There was a story about the DEA coming in on the Brooks' murder, and the anchor woman seemed to think the DEA's presence meant that everything would be okay.
He turned off the TV, spent a few minutes choosing a suit, shirt and tie, had a quick breakfast of oatmeal and orange juice, called the office, found out that he was supposed to be at a nine o'clock meeting with the DEA. Because he was hoping for a break on the "bad Mexicans," and might be traveling around town with more than one other person, he left the Porsche in the garage and took his Lexus SUV.
He got to the meeting only a little late.
The three DEA agents were smart, bulky guys in sport coats, golf shirts and cotton slacks. All of them had mustaches. O'Brien was dark-complected Texan, complete with hand-tooled cowboy boots, shoe-polish-black hair and eyes, apparently of Latino heritage. When Shaffer asked him about his last name, he shrugged and said, "My great-grandfather was Irish. He married my great-grandmother, who was Indio. My grandfather immigrated to Texas, but we kept marrying Mexicans. Lot of Irish in Mexico. The Mexican name, Obregon? It comes from O'Brien."
"I didn't know that," Shaffer said. "Never heard the name Obregon."
"He was a president of Mexico," O'Brien said. "Got his ass assassinated. Like Lincoln, up here."
"Didn't know that," Shaffer said. He nodded at Lucas, who'd paused at the doorway to listen.
Lucas took a chair and said, "Sorry I'm late had a late night. Where are we?"
"Getting introduced," Shaffer said. "I'm going to take them over to the house when we're done here. We still haven't moved the bodies. The crime scene people are going over everything with microscopes."
"We want to look at Sunnie's books, is the main thing," O'Brien said. "These two guys..." He nodded at his colleagues. "... are accountants. We'd really be interested in seeing what banks the company is using, and who they're in touch with at the banks."
"We don't even know that this has anything to do with you guys," Shaffer said. "Not for sure."
"Maybe not for sure," O'Brien said. "But it looks to us like these folks were killed by the Los Criminales del Norte, the LCN."
"Where'd they get that name?" Lucas asked. "Not particularly subtle."
O'Brien shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe they gave it to themselves. The usually do"
LCN, he said, specialized in the importation of marijuana and cocaine into the U.S., through New Mexico and Texas. Nobody knew what happened to the money they collected, and there was a lot of it. The theory had always been that it went to off-shore banks, and from there to Europe or Asia, but nobody knew for sure how it got there.
"The thing is," O'Brien said, "when one of their big shots gets killed, he's always off in the sticks in Coahuila or Tamaulipas. No place near Europe or Asia. So where the money goes and what they do with it is really a mystery. If we could figure that out, and find out which banks are involved, we could hurt them."
He said that the LCN had an alliance with growers in Colombia and Venezuela, and may have used some of the South Americans' financial expertise to move the cash.
"They are not subordinates of the Colombia guys they're independent. The Columbians tried to get them under their thumbs, and a whole bunch of Colombians got their thumbs cut off," O'Brien said. "Now the Colombians provide the product, and the LCN gets it across the border to their own retailers on this side. But, they've got the same trouble everybody does who winds up with bales of $100 bills how to get the money clean. We don't know how they do that, either."
"We can't find it at Sunnie," Shaffer said. "We've got an accountant of our own looking at the books, and talking to Sunnie's accountants, and it doesn't look like much money was running through their accounts."
"Maybe we'll have to look at their accountants," O'Brien said.
"They're a pretty big company, been here a long time, and clean, as far as anybody knows," Shaffer said. "It'd be hard to believe that they'd take on something as risky as a Mexican gang account."
"It's there somewhere," one of the other DEA agents said. "Gotta be."
Lucas nodded: he'd said the same thing himself.
Lucas said, "Our big question is, why did they do it this way, this massacre, and turn it into a sensation? Maybe you can get away with that in Mexico, and maybe they do it when somebody needs public disciplining. But this... they're not taking credit for it, so it wasn't disciplinary. It looks like they were trying to extract some information from the Brookses, and not getting it."
"And if the Brookses were knowingly dealing with these guys, it doesn't seem likely that they'd be crazy enough to steal from them," Shaffer said.
"Or not talk when they showed up," Lucas added.
"It's gotta be money," O'Brien said. "Maybe they're killing two birds with one stone looking for their money, and making a point."
"What are the chances that it's a rogue element?" Shaffer asked. "Some smaller group inside the Criminales knew about Brooks, and they came up to hijack the money stream?"
O'Brien shrugged. "Dunno," he said. "I guess it's possible." His voice said that it wasn't possible, and that Shaffer should hang his head in shame for having suggested it.
Shaffer, his face slightly red, began to tap-dance, "Or maybe the Brookses just really pissed them off, or threatened them somehow, and they came up, you know, to shut them down."
"But then, why the whole torture scene?" O'Brien asked. "These guys are brutal, but they're not stupid. They really don't do crimes of passion. They kill for business reasons. If they just wanted to shut Brooks down, they could have come up here, shot Brooks on the street, and gone back home. You guys would be scratching your heads. Nobody would even suspect anything other than a robbery... Now, you're gonna be chasing Mexicans all over town. The DEA gets involved, the Justice Department calls up the Mexican government, and they get more pressure put on them... they're not impervious to pressure, you know. They don't want a battalion of federales up their ass that might have gone up somebody else's ass."
They all thought about that for a minute, then Lucas asked O'Brien, "You're not really here to catch the killers, are you?"
"We'd certainly like to," O'Brien said. There was a tentative note in his voice.
"But basically, you're here to see if you can find a way to mess with the business," Lucas said. "From that perspective, the guys who did the actual killing are probably small potatoes. You're here to look at the books, not to track somebody down in Minneapolis."
O'Brien nodded. "Yeah. That's pretty much the case. We're not equipped to go chasing after individual murderers. We want to bust up their system. We'd like to find the cash that Brooks stole, and take it away from them. That'll amount to a bunch of legal writs, freezing bank accounts somewhere. The street stuff that's you guys."
The BCA guys all glanced at each other, and Shaffer said, "Well, that's clear enough. We'll be glad to cooperate on that."
Lucas asked a few more questions, the most critical one, for his immediate future, being, "Can these guys pass as Americans?"
O'Brien said "Probably not. In the border states, their retailers are mostly Hispanic, recruited out of the prison system in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Some of them are native English speakers, grew up in Los Angeles or Phoenix. Some of them hardly speak a word of English, and sell down in the barrios in L.A. Up north, here, they use a lot of Anglo prison-gangs just a straight money deal. But, their gunmen, their hit men, they almost all come from Mexico. They grow up with the gangs."
"So the guys we're looking for, they're probably Mexican."
O'Brien nodded. "Yeah. If we've got this right. If it's not some kind of... French connection."
They talked around for a while, and then Shaffer said he'd put all the accountants together after the DEA agents walked through the murder scene.
Lucas went back to his office and found a call from Billy Andrews, the St. Paul cop, who said they'd located the guy who knew about bad Mexicans in town. Lucas called Del, who was still in the building, and recruited him to go along for the ride.
Before he left, he called Virgil Flowers, an agent who worked southern Minnesota, and told him about horse shit clue to the ATM robbers.
"Sounds like it's right up my alley," Flowers said. "Horseshit."
"I've been told that we could call around to county agents, to see if they might know about riding stables, and who'd have hired hands as clean-up people... or some such. I'd do it myself, but now I'm all tangled up in this Wayzata murder. We're talking Mexican drug killers."
"Lot more eye-catching than horseshit," Flowers observed.
"Well, I'm a lot more important than you are," Lucas said. "So..."
"I'll do it, but I'm working on the Partridge Plastics thing, so there'll be extra hours involved," Flowers said. "If I get them, I'll want to work a little undertime in the next couple of weeks."
"Just locate them," Lucas said. "You don't have to get them. I want to be there for the get. We can talk about the undertime... if you find them."
"Oh, I'll find them," Flowers said.
Andrews was a detective with St. Paul narcotics/vice. He was so large that he was hard to miss: six-seven or six-eight, maybe two hundred and forty pounds, with over-the-ears blond hair and gold-rimmed glasses. He looked like a tight end with a Ph.D in European literature. He dressed in dark sport coats over black golf shirts because, he thought, they made him look smaller. They didn't; they made him look like a hole in space. His nose had been broken a couple of times, and maybe his teeth: he had an improbably even white smile.
They picked him up at the St. Paul police headquarters. He got in the back seat of the Lexus and said, "Okay, This guy's name is Daniel Castells."
"Dope dealer?" Del asked.
"Don't think so. He just sort of hangs out," Andrews said. "It's not real clear where his money comes from. He buys and sells, we hear... maybe, like stuff that's fallen off a truck. Maybe. If a pound of coke came along, with no strings attached, he might find a place to put it. Or he might put that guy who had the coke with a guy who wanted it. Or maybe he'd run like hell. I dunno. People say he's a smart guy."
"Where is he?"
"He's got a booth at McDonald's, over at Snelling and University," Andrews said. "Drinks a lot of coffee. Eats French fries. Talks to people on a cell phone. He's there now. Dan Walker is keeping an eye on him."
"Does he know we're coming?" Lucas asked.
"We haven't mentioned it," Andrews said.
"Sounds like the guy to know," Lucas said. "I'm surprised I haven't heard of him."
"Showed up here a couple of years ago, keeps his head down," Andrews said. "I've thought about watching him, to see what he's got going. I'd like to get some prints, or even some DNA, maybe track him down somewhere else."
"Not a bad idea," Lucas said.
They took ten minutes getting to the McDonalds, and Andrews called his watchman, Walker, on a handset, and confirmed that Castells was still in his booth.
"He is," he told Lucas, after he'd rung off. "He's been talking on his cell phone for the last hour."
University and Snelling was a mess because of construction for a light-rail right-of-way, and Lucas had to dodge around traffic barriers to get into the parking lot. When they were parked, they walked across the blacktop to the McDonalds, past the window where Castells was sitting. He saw them coming, making eye contact with all three of them, one after the other. He looked at his phone, and pushed a button, and Lucas nodded to him.
Inside, they walked over to his booth, and Castells said, "Officers," and Lucas gestured at the other seats in the booth and asked, "Do you mind?"
Castells had sun-bleached eyebrows and sandy hair, over a well-tanned face. His face was thin, like a runner's, his eyes pale gray. He was wearing a lavender short-sleeve shirt with a collar, and narrow jeans, with black running shoes. "Would it make any difference if I did?"
Lucas said, "Sure. Then we'd all stand up and talk to you, and pretty soon everybody in the place would be looking at us."
"So sit down," Castells said, waving at the booth.
Although he was the only one in it, he'd taken the biggest booth in the place, and had his phone charger plugged into a wall outlet below the table. A dealer of some kind, Lucas thought, with his own table at McDonalds...
Andrews fitted in next to Castells, with Lucas and Del sitting across the table. Lucas said, "So, a couple cops from St. Paul were talking to some dope dealers, and one of them said you told him to look out, because there were some bad Mexican people in town. Is that right?"
Castells didn't answer immediately. Instead, he seemed to think for a moment, and then showed a thin flicker of a smile. He'd just figured out who'd talked to the cops, Lucas realized. Castells asked, "Does this have anything to do with those people who got killed on the other side of town?"
Del said, "Maybe."
Castells said, "I gotta change my name; people keep thinking I'm a Mexicano."
Lucas asked, "What kind of name is Castells?"
"Catalan," Castells said. The three cops looked at each other, and Andrews shrugged, and Castells said, "Catalonia is a country currently occupied by Spain."
"You some kind of radical?" Del asked.
Castells laughed and said, "No. I'm an antiquities dealer. You know statues and stuff."
"Who talks to dope dealers," Andrews said.
"I talk to everybody," Castells said. "I'm a friendly guy."
"You never know who might need a statue," Del offered.
"That's right," Castells said, smiling at Del. "You just put your finger on the core of the business, Officer Capslock."
Del leaned back: "Where do you know me from?'
"You were pointed out to me once," Castells said. "I was told that I shouldn't be misled by the fact that you were wearing a trucker's hat backwards."
"Mmm," Del said. Castells had pushed him off-balance.
"So what about these bad Mexicans?" Lucas asked.
"The thing about cops is, cops blab," Castells said to Lucas. "They bullshit with everybody. If somebody's talking about a particular group of bad Mexicans, well... you could get your head cut off on television."
"Not us," Lucas said. "We've all worked in intelligence. We keep our mouths shut."
Castells made an open-hand gesture, as if to say, "Whatever," and asked, "Which one of you is the boss?"
"We don't actually have bosses," Lucas said, but Andrews pointed a finger at Lucas and said, "He is."
Castells looked at Lucas and said, "I don't know very much, but I was talking to a couple of Mexicanos over in West St. Paul and one of them said to the other that it'd be best to stay away from the Wee Blue Inn, because there were some heavy hitters going through, supposedly from Dallas, but actually, he said, from Mexico. That is the sum total of what I know. I passed it on to another guy I know, because he is also a Mexicano. I didn't know he was a drug dealer."
"Why'd you think about the killings on the other side of town?" Andrews asked.
"'Cause I watched the TV news last night. Sounded like Mexican dopers to me."
They talked for a couple of more minutes, and when asked where he'd come from, Castells said, "Washington, D.C."
"You were a Congressman, or something?" Del asked.
Castells said, "Something like that."
"You speak Spanish?" Del asked.
Lucas asked, "French?"
"Mm-hmm. You looking for a language teacher?"
"No. German?" Lucas asked.
"Maybe a little. I travel on business."
"Yes. And high end furniture."
He did not, he said, have any more relevant information, but he'd keep his ear to the ground, his nose to the grindstone, and his feet on the fence. If he heard anything more, he'd call Lucas. Lucas gave him a card and stood up. "Stay in touch. We could be a valuable contact for a hard-working antique dealer."
"Antiquities, not antiques. Antiques were made in Queen Victoria's time. Antiquities were made by the Greeks and Romans and Egyptians. Entirely different market," Castells said, as he put the card in his pocket. He was, Lucas thought, exactly the kind of guy who would keep it.
Outside, Lucas said to Andrews, "Interesting guy."
Del said, "Yeah. So are we going down to the Wee Blue Inn?"
"Thought we might," Lucas said.
The Wee Blue Inn was a hole-in-the-wall motel and bar on Robert Street in West St. Paul. All three of them knew it, and Del and Andrews had been inside. "The owner is a guy named John Poe, like in Edgar Allen, but he doesn't write poetry," Del said. "He sells the occasional gun and he'll rent you a room for an hour at a time."
"He sweats a lot," Andrews said. "He usually smells like onion sweat. I think he eats those 'everything' bagels."
"Can we jack him up without anybody looking in a window at us?" Lucas asked. "I'd rather talk to Poe straight up, see what he has to say, than go in with the whole SWAT squad."
"I could go in and look around," Del said. He looked nothing like a cop, a major asset in his job.
"Except that Poe knows you," Lucas said.
"He won't tell anybody," Del said. "He doesn't want his clientele knowing that cops are hanging around."
"Let's do that," Lucas said. "If there are three bad Mexicans in there, we'll call up the SWAT."
They talked about Poe on the way over, and Andrews called headquarters and got them to put a couple squads in a dry-cleaner's lot two blocks away, no stoplights between them and the Wee Blue Inn. "Just in case," he said.
At the Wee Blue Inn, they dropped Del, and went on their way, around the block. Del called one minute later and said, "I talked to Poe. He says the Mexicans were here, but they're gone. Checked out yesterday morning. They said they were going back to Dallas."
"Did he ask them where they were going, or did they volunteer it?"
Del went away for a moment, then came back: "They volunteered it."
"So they're not going back to Dallas," Lucas said.
"I wouldn't think so," Del said.
"Huh. Be back in one minute."
The Wee Blue Inn was an earth-colored stucco place with a blue-tile roof. The earth color came from dirt.
The floors inside were made of dark wood, and squeaked underfoot, not from polish, but from rot, and the whole place smelled of old cigar smoke and something that might have been swimming-pool chlorine, or possibly old semen. Lucas tried not to touch anything, just in case; no swimming pool was visible.
Poe was a short fat man with a bad toupee and a three-day beard, whose lips formed a small but perfect O. Del had him in his office, where he sat sweating. He fit in the place like a finger in a glove, Lucas thought; or a dick in a condom. Andrews nodded to him, then pointed at him and said to Lucas, "This is Poe."
Poe was adamant about the Mexicans leaving. "They had duffle bags, and they took off. Loaded up, said, 'Thank you,' and they were out of here."
"Speak good English?" Lucas asked.
"So-so. They was Mexican, no doubt about that."
"What, they were wearing sombreros?" Del asked.
"No, they just looked like Mexicans," Poe said. "Mexican boxers. Welterweights. Small guys, good shape. Mean-looking. Most Mexicans around here don't look mean."
"Couldn't have been like, Colombians?" Del asked.
Poe was exasperated: "They was Mexicans. They was fuckin' Mexicans, Del. What can I tell you?"
"They carrying guns?" Del asked.
"That's a little hard to believe," Lucas said. "No offense."
Poe said, "Well, we do. We got it when my ex entered a room and found the city council president banging his secretary. Who was of the same sex. Not that I got anything against fudge-punchers, in particular."
"You always have been sort of a liberal," Andrews said.
"I do what I can," Poe said.
"In other news," Del said, "You got an ex. She around somewhere?"
"No. We agreed that she should stay in the southern states, and I'd stay in the north. We stick to that pretty close. And I got Vegas."
Lucas: "These Mexicans, they said they were going back to Dallas?"
"That's what they said."
"You think they did?" Lucas asked.
"Well, they all told me that," Poe said, "All of them. So that made me think that they weren't. Really going back to Dallas."
Lucas said, "Mmmm," and they all looked at Poe for a while, and Poe sweated some more. "You didn't get their tag number?"
"No, we don't require it."
"They paid cash, up front, so we don't require a credit card," Poe said.
Poe wagged his head. "Too expensive."
"Used glasses that might have fingerprints?"
"Cleaned up their rooms right after they left," Poe said. "In this business, we live on turnover."
"So really... you don't know nothing about nothing," Del said.
"That's about it," Poe said, sweating, "Thank God."
He nodded, and wiped his forehead. "They looked like the kind of little fuckers you don't want to fuck with."
They were still talking to Poe when Lucas got a call from Shaffer, who was at the crime scene with the DEA agents. "Got a call from the patrol. They found that SKY van. They ran us around a little bit. After they stole the van, they stole some tags off another van that looked just like it..."
"So they wouldn't get stopped for a stolen van..."
"Yeah, that's right. We finally got it straight, and a highway patrol guy found the actual stolen van at a rest stop up I-35."
"As a matter of fact, there was. They wiped everything down, but they left a CD by a guy named El Shaka in the CD player," Shaffer said. "The van's owner doesn't speak Spanish and says he never heard of the singer or the record. He listens to Springsteen. Anyway, you can see what looks like a partial thumb print on the top side of the disk."
"You running it?"
"No, no, I thought I'd just admire it for a few days," Shaffer said.
"All right, stupid question," Lucas said. "When you gonna see a return?"
"This afternoon, I hope. You doing any good?"
Lucas told him about the three Mexicans at the Wee Blue Inn, and Shaffer said he'd send an Identikit guy over to build some pictures. Lucas looked across the room at Poe and said, quietly, to Shaffer, "You better do it quick. The guy who saw them is shaking in his shoes. He could take off."
Shaffer said he'd have a couple of people there in a half hour. "I'm going to send along a crime-scene crew, too. A dump like the Wee Blue Inn didn't scrub down all the surfaces: maybe we'll get some more prints."
Lucas turned back to the group, and found Poe explaining where he got the name for the motel. "I stole it from a place up in Duluth," he said. "It's not like there aren't six hundred of them."
"Could have named it Dunrovin," Del suggested.
"Yeah, or the Duck Inn. I thought about it, but I didn't," Poe said. To Lucas: "We done?"
Lucas said, "I may come back in the next couple of hours. Nobody's gonna find out about this chat before then, so there's no point in you running out the door. Hang around."
"I was thinking Vegas," Poe said.
"Vegas is too hot at this time of year," Del said. "Stay here."
Out in the parking lot, Andrews hitched up his pants and said, "There are two hundred thousand Latinos in Minnesota. I know that, because I'm married to one. So all we have to do is eliminate 199,996 of them, counting out my old lady, and we got them."
"You're saying we ain't got much," Del said.
"But we got something," Lucas said. "Maybe we'll get some prints and some pictures, and we'll start putting some pressure on them. Betcha we get them by tomorrow night."
"Exactly how much would you be willing to bet?" Andrews asked, as they climbed into the truck.
Lucas shook his head. "I was using a common cliché intended to express optimism," he said. "But gambling in Minnesota is illegal, outside the Indian casinos and the state numbers racket, so I would be unable to actually put any money on the line."
"That's what I thought," Andrews said.
On the way back to St. Paul, Andrews asked whether Lucas had ever gotten a line on the robbers who'd broken his wrist. "Just did, last couple of days," Lucas said. "I was never able to generate much interest in the whole thing, and I thought I was gonna lose them."
He told him about the horseshit clue. "I got Flowers working it."
"That's pretty high-priced talent for a couple guys who get a hundred bucks at a time, and nobody gets hurt," Andrews said.
"I got hurt," Lucas said. "Some poor college kid got his arm broken."
"I mean hurt bad, not getting your little snowflake wrist cracked," Andrews said.
"Thank you," Lucas said.
"Whatever," Andrews said. "If that fuckin' Flowers can't find them, nobody can."
"Especially with a USDA-certified clue like he's got," Del said.
At the office, Lucas had a message from Rose Marie Roux: Call me.
He called her, and she said, "I got a call from Washington, a young boy from the Department of Justice, said they got a call from Mexico. The Mexicans want to send an observer up here to look at the Brooks case. Apparently they've been talking to the DEA about it, and they want to watch. The DOJ said sure, send them along."
"Did you thank them for consulting with us?" Lucas asked.
"You got a problem with it?"
Lucas told her about the DEA agent's suggestion that they send any Brooks murder suspect to Mexico for questioning and why, including the story about the agent who was flayed alive.
"You think that's a true story?" Rose Marie asked.
"Who knows? You hear all kinds of shit coming out of the border. Wouldn't surprise me, one way or the other," Lucas said.
"Well, we're not turning anybody over to Mexico," Rose Marie said. "But, be nice with these people. They've got problems."
"You said they wanted to send an observer, but then you kept saying, 'They.' How many are there?"
"One cop and his assistant," Rose Marie said. "Cop's name is David Rivera. I don't know the assistant's name." "Okay. When do they get here?"
"If their plane's on time... they're coming Delta from LA... about forty-five minutes," she said. "It'd be really, really nice if some senior BCA agent was there to meet them."
Lucas called Shaffer, who'd heard about the Mexicans coming in, but had no details. "I'm going over to pick them up, and run them out there," Lucas said. "Have the bodies been moved?"
"Pretty soon now. Alex is talking to the ME's guys now..."
"Hold off. If everything works, I'll be out there in a couple of hours," Lucas said.
"Why don't you just have... you know... somebody else pick them up?"
"'Cause I want to talk to them about this whole Criminales business," Lucas said. "Hope they speak English."
Besides, he liked driving around town, looking out the window. You could never tell what you might learn. In this case, though, it wasn't much a few leaves turning yellow on maple trees. At the airport, Lucas locked his pistol in the truck's gun safe, went inside, identified himself to the airport police, and got a piece of typing paper from them. He wrote, "David Rivera" on it with a Magic Marker, and the airport cops walked him through security and out to the arrivals gate. The cop said, "With that sign, you're gonna look like a limo driver."
"But a very high-rent limo driver," Lucas said.
They talked to the gate agent about the arrival, then Lucas found a seat while the airport cop wandered away. When the plane was parked, the agent came over and said, "They're here," and Lucas got up with his sign.
Rivera was one of the first passengers off the plane. He was a man of middle height, but more than middle breadth, with dark hair and a short, carefully trimmed mustache. He was wearing what looked like an expensive, but ill-cared-for blue suit and a dress shirt open at the throat.
He looked at Lucas' sign and said, in good English, "You don't look like a limousine driver."
Lucas introduced himself, and Rivera thanked him for coming, and said they had to wait for his assistant, who had been riding in coach. His assistant was female, a pretty woman with dark hair and dark eyes, carrying an oversized briefcase and pulling a rolling carry-on suitcase. Lucas took the briefcase from her, and Rivera said, "She can take it," and Lucas said, "That's okay," and led them down to Baggage Claim, carrying the briefcase.
There was a big bag for Rivera, and a second small bag for the woman, and since Rivera had made no effort to introduce them, Lucas said to the woman, "I'm Lucas Davenport, I'm an agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension." She bobbed her head and gave him a quick smile and said her name was Ana Martinez. Lucas left them at the curb outside Baggage Claim, retrieved the Lexus, pulled around and loaded them up.
"I need to know about the Criminales," Lucas said as they left the terminal. "Who they are, what they want. What their reach is."
As he was talking, Martinez pulled an iPad out of her bag and began typing into it.
Rivera said, "They are not quite the worst of the worst, but they are close. They began with a family, or a clan, in Sonora. At first, they were cross-border smugglers, mostly people, not drugs. What drugs they did smuggle, they took the other way, from the U.S, back to Mexico. Prescription medicine that was hard to get out in the countryside. Then, they began with the cocaine, going into the U.S. There were wars with other gangs, and their leadership got wiped out a few times, and they kept getting lower, and lower, and now they are like mad dogs. They will bite anything that moves. They have several hundred members, two-thirds on this side of the border, in distribution, one-third on our side, for acquisition, smuggling and enforcement. There are still some members of the original family, but most of those are dead. It is not hard to find new management."
Lucas mentioned the agent who was allegedly skinned alive and asked, "Did they really do that? Or is that mostly an urban legend?"
"The skin was sent to my superior I saw it," Rivera said. "Along with a movie. They did it, really."
"He was not involved," Rivera said. "I can tell you something else. You never want to smell a skin that has been three days in the mail."
"So then what?" Lucas asked. "You went to war with the Criminales?"
"We were already at war if we don't kill them soon, the whole snake, they will be coming for me." He looked out the window at the lush August landscape of the Minnesota River Valley. "I come here to the states as often as I can, to stretch out my life."
Martinez passed the iPad over the seat and said, "E-mail from Luis."
Rivera looked at it, then said, "I'll call him later."
She took the iPad back and typed something else into it.
Rivera had more background on the LCN, but it was all fairly standard gang stuff. "They are not innovative," Rivera said. "They are just crazy, and what can you say about that? They don't seem to care whether they live or die."
His real information was not sociological or anthropological, but factual: he had names, fingerprints, DNA profiles in a few cases. "I can tell you who is who, what rank they hold, where they usually are, and what their job is, when we know that. I don't have any secrets. I want everybody to know them."
"I've got people from St. Paul shaking out Latino gang members. Let's see if we can figure out who belongs to who," Lucas said. "If we find a Criminales clique, that'd be a step in the right direction."
"If these killers were doing what we think they were doing, they won't be local, and the local clique won't know them," Rivera said. "They will be from Mexico, and they'll go back to Mexico when they are finished here."
"You don't think they're finished?"
"I hope not," Rivera said. "If they're not, you might catch some of them. If you do, we will ask for extradition through our embassy. Or, if there is no proof, we will ask that you deport them. Illegal aliens."
Lucas said, "Huh."
Rivera smiled at him. "We don't get rough with them."
"Good to hear it," Lucas said. There was a little doubt in his voice.
"We pull down their trousers, then we bring in the garbage disposal," Rivera said. "They always talk. Mexican men are very adverse... adverse, correct?... adverse to having their personal parts placed in a garbage disposal. So, as we work to get it plugged in and operating... we always have to work at it, we invent problems, to invent time for them to watch the machine... drop some walnuts in, to test it... They start talking. We never have to get rough."
Lucas said, "Hmm." Then, "We had three Mexican guys check into a hotel here a couple days ago, and then they took off..."
Rivera was interested.
At the Brooks house, Rivera wandered away from the driveway, to walk slowly around to the back of the house to look out at the lake. "This is very nice. I could retire here, on this lake."
"You'd freeze in the winter."
"So, I go to Argentina in the winter." He looked at Lucas and added, "I speak Spanish." He looked back at the lake. "In the summer, this would be very pleasant. Sit on the grass with a fishing pole, catch some fish, throw them back. Get a hammock, take a siesta. Drink some Cuba Libres. Many Cuba Libres."
Lucas let him talk, then followed him back around the house. Martinez, the assistant, was always three steps behind them.
The doors of the house were closed against the summer heat, and when the Wayzata cop pushed the door open to let them in, they were hit by the odor, and by the cold. The odor was purely one of old blood and death; not decomposition the inside temperature, Lucas thought, must be down in the fifties but it stank anyway.
The dead looked as though they'd been carved from wax, all the blood having drained to the bottom of the bodies; that blood that wasn't soaked into the carpet around them. As they stepped inside, Martinez took some tissues from her purse and passed two to Rivera, who held them to his nose. Martinez did the same, and Lucas could smell the thin floral scent of perfumed bathroom tissues.
Rivera and Martinez had some experience of mass murder: neither one of them flinched at the sight of the four dead. Lucas introduced Rivera to Shaffer, who said he was pleased to meet them, and then took the two of them around the room, to the individual bodies, working through the established murder sequence.
When they were done, Rivera asked Martinez, "Criminales?"
She nodded, "Yes, I believe so. That work that they did in Agua Prieta. That looked like this. Very exactly." She pinched the bathroom tissue to her nose.
"What was Agua Prieta?" Shaffer asked.
"Agua Prieta is a city near the border," she said. "There was another family killed like this. The Criminales learned, or thought they learned, that the family was spotting for another gang, and so they made an example of them."
"You have any names associated with that?"
Rivera nodded. "Six names, although we think there were only three killers. We think it was three of the six, but we don't know which three."
"You have photos? Mugshots?"
"Of four, but we don't know how many are correct," Rivera said.
"We'll take them all, put them on TV," Lucas said. "If anybody shows up to object, we apologize and deport them."
"That would be excellent," Rivera said.
Rivera spent a half-hour prowling through the murder scene, and watched when the ME's people pried the bodies off the floor and bagged them. Martinez turned away from that, and went outside. Lucas followed and said, "It's ugly," and then, because TV Mexicans usually added it to their affirmative sentences, he added, "No?"
"Yes. I see so much. Inspector Rivera is called to many of these."
"How long have you worked together?" Lucas asked.
"Well... four years. But we don't work together. He works, I assist. I am good with the laptop and the iPad. He is the thinker."
"Are you a policewoman?" Lucas asked.
"Technically. I am a sergeant, mm, how do you say it? First Class, I think. But I do not arrest people. I have my iPad and a MacBook."
"Like a researcher." Lucas thought of his researcher, Sandy, who had little interest in street work, or becoming a certified cop.
"Inspector Rivera... sounds like he really has some personal antagonism... for these Criminales."
"Yes," she said. She looked as though she might say something more, but then just smiled. Rivera came out the door at that moment and walked over. "I hope my hotel has a dry-cleaning. I now smell like yesterday's blood."
Lucas walked them back to the truck, and walked around to get in, but Shaffer shouted at him and called him back. When Lucas got close, Shaffer asked, "We know anything about the inspector?"
"No. I was going to ask the DEA guys," Lucas said. "Where'd they go?"
"Conferring. The accountants are going to look at the books, and O'Brien is over at Sunnie," Shaffer said. He glanced past Lucas at the two Mexicans. "Anyway, you know, you read that half these Mexican cops are owned by the narcos. I'm a little reluctant to pass on any real secrets."
"I hear you," Lucas said. "You got any secrets that you're reluctant about?"
"Not yet," Shaffer said. "But I will have."
Rivera was on his cell-phone, speaking in Spanish. A moment later, he hung up and asked Lucas, "I don't want to ask too much, but could we go to a Hertz car rental business in downtown St. Paul? Ana has the address and a map on the iPad."
"Not a problem," Lucas said. "I live in St. Paul, and our headquarters is there. Where are you staying?"
"In Minneapolis, by the University," Rivera said. "The St. Paul Hertz has the car we require, with a, ah, autopilot?"
"Yes. We were awake much of the night last night, and have traveled all day, so we would like to get the car and then go to our hotel. Agent Shaffer has invited us to a strategy meeting tomorrow at nine o'clock."
"Good. I'd like to get those names and photos from you, however we do that. I'll get them out to the television stations."
"Ana has a USB drive, with files translated into English," Rivera said.
A moment later, she passed it over the seat-back. Lucas glanced at it, and stuck it in his shirt pocket. "Mac or Windows?"
"Both," Martinez said. "They are in the file called Agua Prieta. The other files, you can look in them, they are what we know about Los Criminales del Norte."
"Gracias," Lucas said.
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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