Gathering Prey · Preview Chapters
Skye and Henry stood on a corner of Union Square on a fading San Francisco afternoon in early June, the occasional odor of popcorn swirling through, trying to busk up a few dollars. Skye saw the devil go by in his black '85 T-top, crooked smile, ponytail, twisty little braids in his beard. His skinny blond girlfriend sat beside him, tats running across her bare shoulders like grapevines, front teeth filed to tiny sharp points. Skye turned away, a chill running down her back.
Henry was strumming on a fifty-dollar acoustic guitar he'd bought at a pawnshop. Skye played her harmonica and kept time with a half-tambourine strapped to one foot, jangling out into the evening, doing their version of "St. James Infirmary," Henry banging between chords and struggling through,
"When I die, bury me in a high-top Stetson hat..."
He did not sound like any kind of black blues singer from the Mississippi Delta. He sounded like a white punk from Johnson City, Texas, which he was.
Skye was stocky with high cheekbones and green eyes. She wore an earth-colored loose knit wrap over a sixties olive-drab army shirt, corporal's stripes still on the sleeves, and gray cargo pants over combat boots. Her hair was apricot-colored and tangled, with a scraggly braid hanging down her back.
Henry was a tall apple-cheeked man/boy with a perpetually smiley face, dressed in a navy blue Mao jacket, buttoned to the throat, and matching slacks, and high-topped sneakers. Their packs sat against the wall of the building behind them, big, capable nylon bags, with a peeled-pine walking stick attached to one side of hers.
"Put a ten-piece jazz band on my tail-gate to raise hell as we roll along..."
They both smelled bad. They washed themselves every morning in public bathrooms, but that didn't eliminate the musty stink of their clothes. A laundromat cost money, which they didn't have at the moment. A cigar box on the sidewalk held five dollar bills and a handful of change. They'd put in two of the dollar bills themselves, to encourage contributions, to suggest that their music might be worth listening to.
They weren't the worst of the buskers on the square, but they were not nearly the best, and in terms of volume, they couldn't compete with the horn players.
As Henry wound down through the song, his shaky baritone breaking from time to time, Skye noticed the young woman leaning on a fire hydrant, watching them.
Was she with the devil? She was the kind he went for. Thin but hot. Not blond, though. The devil went for blondes.
The young woman was casually dressed in a loose, multicolored blouse, jeans, and sneakers, each of those separate components suggesting money: the blouse looked as though it might be real silk, the jeans fit perfectly, and even the sneakers suggested a secret sneaker store, one that only rich people knew about.
Her dark hair had been styled by somebody with talent.
Skye thought, Maybe with the devil but if not, maybe good for a five? Even a ten? A ten would buy dinner and a cup of coffee in the morning....
Henry gave up on the "St. James Infirmary," said, "Fuck this. We ain't doing no good."
"Don't have enough cash to eat. Let's give it another ten minutes. How about that Keb' Mo' thing?"
"Don't know the words yet." He looked around the square. "We should have gone up to the park. Can't fight these fuckin' horns."
The young woman who'd been leaning against the fire hydrant ambled up to them. She smiled and nodded to Henry, but spoke to Skye. "I don't give money to buskers... or panhandlers... because I'm afraid they'll spend it on dope. I got better things to do with it."
"Well, thank you very fucking much," Skye said. Her voice was harshed by smoke and a good bit of that had been weed.
"You're a traveler," the woman said, showing no offense.
"You know about us?"
"Enough to pick you out," the woman said. "My name's Letty. What's yours?"
"Skye. My friend is Henry." Skye was calculating: this woman was either with the devil, or... she could be worked. And Skye was hungry.
"Let's go up to the park," Henry said.
"Hang on," Skye said. Back to the young woman: "If you won't give us money, could you get us a bite?"
"There's a McDonald's a couple blocks from here," Letty said. "I'll buy you as much as you can eat."
"Them's the magic words," Henry said, suddenly enthusiastic, his pink face going even pinker.
The two travelers shouldered their packs and Henry carried his guitar case and they started down Geary, walking toward Market Street, weaving through the tourists. "Where are you coming from and where are you going?" Letty asked.
Skye said, "We were in Santa Monica for the winter, then we started up here a couple weeks ago. Planning to be here for a couple of weeks, get some money, then go on up to Eugene, and maybe Seattle."
Henry said to Skye, "I could have sworn I saw Pilot go by a few minutes ago. I heard they were traveling this summer."
"We stay away from that asshole," Skye said. "He's the devil."
"Is not," Henry said. "He's cool."
"He's not cool, Henry. He's a crazy motherfucker."
"Been in movies, man," Henry said. "He said he might be able to get me a part."
Skye grabbed his shirtsleeve, turning him: "Henry. He'll kill you."
"Ah, bullshit." Henry started walking again and they could see the McDonald's sign beyond him. He looked back at the two women. "You don't know a chance when you see one, Skye. He could get me a part. I'd like to be in a movie. I'd really like that."
"Why? So you know you're alive? You're alive, Henry. Let's try to keep it that way."
Henry shut up and they got to the McDonald's.
Inside, the two travelers loaded up on calories: Henry ordered a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, large fries, a chocolate shake. Letty said, "Get a couple burgers, if you want."
"You serious?" Henry asked.
They did two sandwiches, two fries, and a shake for each of them. Letty got a fish sandwich and a Diet Coke. When they'd spread out at a table, Letty asked Skye, "So... you feel safe when you're on the road?"
"Yeah, I'm pretty safe," Skye said. She took a big bite of the first burger and said, "I'm usually with somebody. Which helps. When I'm alone, getting ready to move, I'll find a festival, or something like that, where there are a lot of people. You can ask around, find somebody going in your direction. Check up on him. Or her. Sometimes, when I got the money, I'll ride the dog. One time, I met this guy in San Antonio, he was a dope dealer but, you know, he was okay. He bought me a ticket on the train to Los Angeles. More than three hundred dollars. And he didn't want anything for it."
"They usually want something for it?" Letty asked.
"Oh, sometimes they think they might get something... but they don't," Skye said. "If they're the kind of guy who's going to push it, I can usually figure that out ahead of time and I don't go."
"Ever make a mistake?" Letty asked.
Skye grinned at her, showing her yellow teeth, and said, "You're kinda snoopy, aren't you?"
Letty smiled back and said, "I used to work at a TV news station."
Skye bobbed her head and took another bite of the sandwich. Eventually she said, "I made a couple of mistakes."
"What'd you do about it?" Letty asked.
"Nothing. What could I do?"
"I would have killed them," Letty said.
Henry was examining the side of his sandwich, and his eyes cut over to her and he said, "Easy to say, not so easy to do."
"Not that hard," Letty said.
Skye and Letty locked eyes for a few seconds, then Skye said, "Jesus." She swallowed and said, "You're with Pilot, aren't you?"
Henry brightened up: "Hey, really? You're with Pilot?"
"I don't know who Pilot is," Letty said. "I'm a student. At Stanford. I'm meeting friends in fifteen minutes, back at the square. We're on a last shopping trip before summer vacation."
Skye looked at her for another moment and then said, "Yeah. I can see that. You don't know Pilot? He likes college girls. Or at least, college-girl types."
"No. Who is he?"
"He's an asshole," Skye said. "Maybe the biggest asshole in California. Travels around with his disciples, he calls them. Fucks them all, men and women alike."
"Does not," Henry said. "Nothing queer about Pilot."
"You hang with him, you'll find out, little pink cheeks," Skye said. She reached out and pinched his cheek. "And I'm not talking about these cheeks, either."
"Fuck you, Skye." He didn't sound like he meant it, though.
"'Biggest asshole in California' would put him in the running for the national title," Letty said. "What'd he do?"
Skye looked at her steadily for a moment, then said, "Might be a little more than a college girl would want to know," she said.
Letty said, "I'm not the standard-issue college girl. What's he do? Besides being hot for Henry?"
"Shut up," Henry said.
"Hot for Henry we ought to write a song," Skye said to Henry.
Henry knew the two women were teasing, and said again, "Shut up," and, "You want all them fries?"
"Yes, I do," Skye said. "So: Pilot. Pilot has these people he calls disciples, and they steal for him, the men do, and the women give him their paychecks and sometimes he sells them, the women. He peddles dope to TV people and sometimes these TV guys need to hustle a deal or hustle up some money, and Pilot's women will go over and do whatever the money-men want."
"Nasty," Letty said.
"That's not even the bad stuff," Skye said. "There are probably twenty guys in Hollywood doing that. Pilot's like one of those cult guys. He says the end of the world's coming he calls it the Fall and the only thing that'll be left are the outlaws. Like him and the disciples, and the dope gangs and bikers and Juggalos and the skinheads and like that. He believes that the groups need to bind themselves together with blood. By killing people. We both heard that he's killed people. That the whole gang has."
"All bullshit," Henry said.
The women ignored him and Letty asked, "Why don't you call the cops?"
"Nothing to call them about," Skye said. "We say, 'We heard he's killed someone.' They go, 'Who?' 'We don't know.' 'When?' 'We don't know that, either.' 'Who told you?' 'We don't know. Some street guy.' The cops say, 'Uh-huh, we'll get right on it' and hang up."
Letty said, "Huh."
Skye: "He'd snatch you off the street in a minute."
Letty showed some teeth in what wasn't exactly a smile. "He'd get his throat cut."
Henry swallowed a smile and said, "Yeah, right. Pilot eat you right up..."
Letty stared at him until he turned his eyes away. Skye squinted at her: "Where'd you get that mean streak?"
"I grew up dirt poor out on the prairie in northern Minnesota," Letty said. "My old man dumped us and my mom was a drunk. I kept us going by trapping muskrats and coons, wandering around in the snow with a bunch of leg-hold traps and a .22. Must've killed a thousand rats with that gun. Pilot's just another rat to me."
"Bet you had to trap a lot of coons to get into Stanford," Skye said.
Letty smiled again, and said, "Well, my mom got murdered and the cop who was investigating, he and his wife adopted me. They're my real mom and dad. It was like winning the lottery."
Skye: "For real?"
"For real," Letty said.
Skye said, "Huh. How about your real pop?"
"Never really knew him," Letty said. "He's a shadow way back there."
"He never... messed with you, or anything?"
"No, nothing like that," Letty said.
"Sorry about your mom," Skye said.
"Yeah, thanks. She... couldn't deal with it. With anything."
Skye nodded. "My mom is like that. She didn't get murdered or anything as far as I know, she's still living in her old trailer."
"What about your dad?"
"He's probably still around, too. Probably messing with my little sister, if she hasn't taken off already."
Letty didn't ask the obvious question; the little sister comment made it unnecessary.
Skye felt that and bent the conversation in another direction. "What's that little teeny watch you're wearing?" she asked, poking a finger at the red band around Letty's wrist.
"Ah, it's one of those athlete things. Not a watch. Tells you how many steps you've taken in a day, and how high your heart rate got, and all of that."
Skye held up a wrist. A piece of dark brown, elaborately braided leather was wrapped around it, and she said, "My bracelet doesn't tell me anything."
"Yours has more magic," Letty said.
Letty's eyebrows went up. "Are you serious? It isn't important to you?"
"Nah. I buy the leather in craft shops, we go in and ask if they've got any scraps, and I make these up, then we sell them, when we can."
"Even up," Letty said. She peeled the band off her wrist, and Skye did it with hers, and they traded.
"If this Pilot guy is such an asshole, why does Henry like him so much?" Letty asked.
Henry: "He's a movie guy."
Skye turned on him: "You know, I don't usually think you're stupid, but you're stupid about Pilot. He tells you he was on TV and you believe him. If he's on TV, why's he driving around in a piece-of-shit Pontiac? That thing is fifteen years older than you are, Henry."
"It's a cool car, man."
"It's a piece of shit." Skye turned back to Letty. "We made the mistake of hanging round with some of the disciples for a while. If you're on the street, down in L.A., if you're around the beaches, you'll run into them."
"If you hate him so much, why'd you hang with them?" Letty asked.
"They share," Henry said.
Skye nodded. "They do. That's one thing about them. They'll feed you if you're willing to listen to Pilot talk about the Fall. You get hungry enough, you'll listen."
"I would have been curious to meet him," Letty said.
Skye said, "Not unless you're crazier than you look. I'm not kiddin' you: he is an evil motherfucker."
They talked for a few minutes more, then Letty checked the time on her cell phone. "I've got to go."
"Where's your home?" Skye asked.
"Really? Maybe I'll see you there. Henry and I are gonna hit the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, the bikers are usually good for something. Problem is, Pilot's going there, too. To Sturgis, to sell dope. That's what he told a friend of ours, anyway."
Letty took a miniature legal pad out of her shoulder bag and scribbled a phone number on the page, with her first name only. "If you make it to Minneapolis, give me a call, I'll buy you another cheeseburger," she said. She took a fifty out of her purse, folded it to the same dimensions as the note and pushed it across the table. "Emergency money."
"Thanks. I mean really, thanks." Skye took it and asked, "Do you really think you could kill somebody?"
Letty nodded: "I have."
Skye cocked her head: "Really?"
"Really. Believe me, Skye, when it's you or them, you tend to choose them. And not feel bad about it."
Skye said, "If you say so. If we get there, I'll call. In fact, I might come there just to get the sandwiches."
"I'll look for you," Letty said, and she slid out of the booth and added, "Take it easy, Henry. And if you get in the shower with the devil, don't pick up the soap."
Skye laughed and Henry nodded, his mouth too full to reply. When Letty was gone, he swallowed and said, "Man, this turned out good. That killing stuff, though, I mean, what a bunch of bullshit."
"I don't think it was," Skye said. After a moment, "You weren't looking in her eyes."
Skye and Henry spent June in San Francisco, then Eugene, and the Fourth of July in Seattle. Later that month they caught a ride to Spokane and made a little money before the cops started hassling them. They got lucky at a truck stop and a trucker hauled them all the way to Billings, Montana.
In Billings they took a big risk or Henry did, but if there'd been trouble, they both would have gone to jail.
The trucker dropped them off on the edge of I-90, a few blocks before he'd have to turn off to his terminal. "They wouldn't want to see me giving people a ride," he told them, and they thanked him, and he went on his way. It was nearly ten o'clock at night, and they found themselves in an industrial area on the edge of town, with some farm fields and brushy areas mixed in.
Three hundred yards away, a dark building stood under a dozen orange security lights, which illuminated a bunch of farm equipment tractors, trailers, combines, as well as a few bulldozers and graders. They went that way, walking along the frontage road, because it seemed to be more toward the center of town.
As they were walking along, a man pulled into the parking lot of the farm-equipment dealership, got out, locked his car the car was small and swoopy and expensive-looking. The man went to a glass door on the side of the building, unlocked it, went inside.
They continued to walk along the frontage road, moving slowly in the dark, and were fifty yards away when the man came back out of the building. He'd left a light on inside and they could see he was now wearing shorts and a T-shirt. He took off running, or jogging, away from them, along the frontage road, moving fast.
Henry said, "Take my pack."
"Get off the road and take my pack. Get back in the weeds," he said. "Wait for me."
He didn't say anything else, but wrenched the walking stick off her pack and ran toward the building. Skye watched him cross the parking lot, crouch by the door, and a minute later, heard the distant sound of breaking glass. Henry disappeared inside, and a minute later, crawled back out and ran toward her.
As he came up, he said breathlessly, "C'mon we got to go. We got to go."
"What'd you get?"
"Got his billfold."
"Oh, Jesus, Henry."
They jogged until Henry got a stitch in his side, and then they walked for a while, swerving off the frontage road whenever a car came along, going down in the ditch, crouching, catching their breath, then running some more. They were a mile south when they heard sirens and saw the flashing lights of the cop cars back the way they'd come.
They kept going, another mile, and another, and then a cop car went by on the frontage road, as they lay in some weeds in the ditch. When the cop was gone, they ran some more, the best they could, nearly panicked, until after midnight, when Skye couldn't go any farther. She told Henry, and they swerved off into a farm field, dark as pitch, and eventually stumbled into a copse of trees.
They spread out their bags, broke out a flashlight, and looked in the wallet.
Eight hundred and forty dollars. They couldn't believe it: more money than they'd ever had at one time.
"They'll be coming for us," Henry said. "They'll be all over us. I never thought it'd be this big."
"So we hide out," Skye said. "Maybe right here. Tomorrow night, we start walking again."
She pointed back the way they'd come with the trucker. "There were some diners back there, some gas stations. We find some broken-ass guy with out-of-state plates, going through. Give him fifty dollars for gas."
"And we're gone," Henry said.
That's what they did. They buried the stolen wallet in the field, and on the next night, found a ride that took them back through the city, and then south and east. On the fourth of August, a hot day, a trucker with an eagle feather in his hair dropped them off in Sturgis, South Dakota.
Right in the middle of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally; thousands of bikers, mostly old guys with beards and full-sleeve tattoos and hefty old ladies who looked like they'd be more comfortable making Jell-O salads with little pink marshmallows.
And there were a few people like themselves.
They'd been there two days when Skye saw the devil, loafing through town in his black Pontiac with the gold firebird decal on the hood, the blonde still riding shotgun.
Henry saw him, too.
Henry was wandering through the Sturgis marketplace in the gathering dusk, looking at tattoos, thinking about getting one, something small and stylish; looking at chaps, the leather jackets, the Harley accessories. Henry was a traveler, but wouldn't always be one. When his traveling days ended, he thought, maybe he'd get a Harley. Really, though, he liked the looks of another bike, might be Italian...
He was checking out a tall, muscular man dressed all in black leather and silver, with wraparound black shades and a harsh black goatee Henry liked the look, but realistically, he wouldn't get a goatee like that in this lifetime; he barely had blond fuzz when a woman slipped in behind Henry and licked his ear.
He tensed and turned and there was Kristen, she of the filed teeth. She was wearing a leather bikini bottom and a strip of black duct tape across her breasts, little bumps where her nipples pushed against the tape, and black high-heeled boots. She had a silver ring through one wing of her nose, and a bead through her tongue. Her body was a riot of tattooed Wonder Woman comic art.
She said, "Well, well, well. Our Henry. Pilate's been looking for you. He talked to the producer and he thinks they have a slot for you in the miniseries. Think you could do a cowboy?"
Henry didn't know how to answer and didn't know where to look. He backed a step away, blushing but said, "Well, shoot, I grew up in Johnson City, Texas. I guess I could do a cowboy."
"We're out scouting locations, right now. You know what that is?"
"Yup, I do." He'd once talked to a location scout in Pasadena, California.
"Well, fine. Me and Ellen are meeting up at the Conoco at eight o'clock. Be there. You got one chance. Okay?"
"Okay. I don't know where Skye is..."
"We don't want Skye. Skye is a pain in the ass. She's so negative, you know what I mean? You bring Skye, Pilate will say forget it."
Henry swallowed, scratched his nose, glanced over at the black leather guy, who winked at him. He turned back to Kristen and said, "I'll be there."
She stepped right up to him, pushing her breasts into his chest. He tried to step back again but she grabbed his package and squeezed, a little, and said, "Me'n Ellen are looking forward to it." Then she turned and ambled off, her hips swinging off the pinpoints of the boot heels.
Ellen looked like either a mean schoolteacher or a mean prison guard, Henry thought, when he met them at the Conoco an hour later. He thought it was her hair: short, tightly curled, her ears sticking out like semaphore signals. He was having second thoughts about going off with them, but the idea of being in a movie: a movie. He'd be somebody.
Ellen was gassing up a Subaru station wagon when Henry wandered up, and Kristen came out of the Conoco carrying two grocery bags, heavy enough that the muscles stood out in her forearms. She'd changed into jeans in the cool of the evening, but still had the black duct tape across her breasts.
They got in the Subaru, Henry in the back, with his pack and the grocery sacks, the women in the front. Ellen started the car, and then Kristen, in the passenger seat, threw her arm around Ellen's shoulder, and the two women kissed, a long, sloppy French kiss, with Kristen's eyes cutting to Henry in the back, who looked away.
After ten seconds or so, Ellen turned away, put the car in gear, and they headed out through town, past the roaming bikers, country people in trucks, out of the built-up area, and into the hills.
"Where're we going?" Henry asked, ten minutes out. There were no lights along the road they were on. Ellen said, "Got a camp out here. The movie's set out in the wilderness. The thing is, you can't have shit like road signs and telephone wires when you're shooting a cowboy movie. You gotta get way out in the countryside."
They drove along for another few minutes then Henry asked Kristen a question that had been bothering him a bit: "Aren't you a little... cold?"
"Mmm, yeah, you know. There's a shirt right behind you, in the back, toss that to me, will you?"
Henry turned in his seat, looked over the back, saw the shirt, got it, and handed it to her. She ripped the tape between her breasts and peeled it off, then turned to Ellen and said, "What do you think?"
"We get back to camp, and I'll suck them right off your body."
"You wanna help?" Kristen asked Henry.
"Uh, I don't know," he said.
"You don't know? What the fuck does that mean?"
"I think he's queer," Ellen said.
Kristen nodded. "Yeah, he looks queer."
"Not queer," Henry said, turning to look out at the night. He really wished he'd stayed with Skye.
"He's queer," Kristen said. She pulled on the shirt and buttoned it. "Maybe he could blow Raleigh."
Henry shrank away into a corner of the seat. "Why don't you guys let me out. I can walk back from here."
"Oh, fuck that. Pilate wants to talk to you about the movie. We told him you were coming, and if we don't bring you up here, he'll kick our asses."
The road had started out bad and had gotten worse, gone from gravel to rutted dirt. Ellen slowed, slowed some more, and Kristen said, "There's the rock."
An orange rock, looking like a pumpkin, sat on the edge of the road. Ellen took a right and started climbing a hill. The headlights no longer showed any road at all, although here and there, Henry could see tire tracks. They topped the hill and off to the left, and higher, he saw a sparkle of lights coming down through a stand of trees, and as they got closer, an oversized campfire.
"Here we be," Kristen said. Ellen pushed the Subaru past a circle of cars, and the group's RV, and stopped.
The two women got out, collected the grocery bags, and Henry, toting his pack, followed behind them, through some trees and between a couple of older cars, toward a campfire whose flames were reaching to head height.
He looked up and saw the entire Milky Way, right there, on top of him. He staggered a little, looking straight up as he walked. The stars looked like the lights of L.A., from up on top of the Santa Monica Mountains.
"Got him," Ellen called, as they walked into the firelight.
Henry could see fifteen or twenty people sitting on camp chairs and stools around the fire, and then Pilate stood up and called, "Everybody say, 'Yay,' for Henry the traveler."
The people around the campfire all shouted, "Yay," and Pilate came over and wrapped his arm around Henry's shoulders and said, "Glad you could come. Hey, Raleigh, come over here and say, 'Hi.' Bell, come over here..."
Three or four men came over, and wrapped up Henry, tighter, really tight, and he tried to laugh or smile and at the same time push them off, and then Pilate said, "Take him down, gentle," and the whole mass of them collapsed on the ground, and somebody said, "Give me the tape," and Henry tried to fight them then, but his arms were pinned, and he tried to bite, but there was a hand on his forehead, pushing him back, and then somebody rolled a strip of tape over his eyes and they turned him and rolled him and in the end, he was helpless, his hands taped behind him, his feet taped at the ankles, his legs at the knees, another strip around his mouth so he couldn't scream.
He could still hear.
He flopped around on the ground, hit the back of his head on a tree root, and everybody laughed and then Pilate said, "Shred him."
Somebody had a knife or a razor, and they cut his clothes off him, until he was buck naked except for the tape, and then Pilate said, "Kristen..."
"I got them," she said. She clanked something together. Steel.
Henry was dragged for a while, rough, over rocks and tree roots and spiky brush, and then somebody said, "Gonna cut the tape, hold his arms."
For a few seconds, Henry thought they were going to cut him loose, and he stopped struggling while somebody he couldn't see cut the tape around his wrists. Two or three people had hold of each arm, and he fought them, but couldn't get free, and they pushed him up against the rough bark of a pine tree and Pilate said, "Higher, get them really high."
Henry's tormentors levered his arms overhead, his back against the bark, and a woman said, "I can't reach that high," and a man said, "Give'm to me."
They nailed him to the tree. Drove big spikes through his wrists, just below the heel of his hands. Henry screamed and screamed and screamed and not much got out, because of the tape over his mouth.
Then he fainted.
He came to, what might have been a half-minute later, his hands over his head, his entire body electric with pain.
A woman said, a rough excitement riding her voice, "Look at this kid. Really. Look at this..."
He fainted again.
Lucas Davenport knew he was stinking the place up, but he couldn't help himself. He'd snarled at his wife, growled at his daughter, snapped at his son, and probably would have punted the baby had she crossed his path.
Okay, he wouldn't have kicked the baby.
He was out trying to run it off without much luck.
His problems were both strategic and tactical.
The strategic difficulty derived from a case the year before, when a madman's body dump had been found down an abandoned cistern south of the Twin Cities. The killer had kidnapped a sheriff's deputy and had been beating and raping her, and was about to kill her, when Lucas arrived. The madman had been killed in the ensuing fight. The deputy had eventually left the sheriff's department and had moved to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, where she was working as an investigator.
Catrin Mattsson was doing all right. She was still screwed up and admitted it, but drugs and shrinks were moving her around to the place where she could live with herself. She'd become friends with his wife and daughter, and would occasionally drop around for dinner and a chat.
Lucas had taken it differently. He wasn't bothered by the fact that the killer had died in the fight. He didn't worry about the secret that he and Mattsson shared, about what exactly had happened down in that basement in the final half-second of the confrontation.
He worried about the world. Everything seemed off-kilter. Everything. That was bad.
He'd once suffered through a clinical depression and had sworn he wouldn't go through that again, not without drugs, or whatever else the docs said he had to do. Even then, depression was to be feared and he could feel it sniffing around outside his door, looking for a way in.
He'd never been a particularly cheerful guy, but he'd done all right he had an interesting job, a great family, good friends, even made a bundle of money a few years before, on a computer simulation system.
Which had nothing to do with depression.
William Styron's book Darkness Visible, which he'd read while going through his own depression, had argued that depression is a terrible word for the affliction. Should be called something like mindstorm. Still, Lucas's intuition told him that mindstorms didn't just show up: they needed something to chew on.
His problem was that he'd looked a little too deeply into the souls of a lot of bad people; done what he could to track them down. He'd been largely successful, over the years, but there was apparently a never-ending line of assholes, who would continue to show up after he was long gone. He was beginning to feel helpless.
Not only helpless, but unhelped.
The bureaucrats at the BCA didn't much like him. They didn't mind his catching criminals, as long as it wasn't too much of an inconvenience; as long as it didn't shred their overtime budget. As long as nothing required them to go on TV and sweat and do tap dances.
Lucas had always simply dismissed bureaucrats. They were the guys who were supposed to fix overtime budgets and do tap dances and take the blame for the clusterfucks, because they were always sure to be there when credit was being taken.
No more. Now it was all about keeping your head down, while figuring ways to push the budget up. About not pissing anyone off. About, Hey, people get killed from time to time, that's just the way of the world, let's not bust a budget about it....
It was getting him down, because he made his living by hunting killers, and had always thought it was a righteous thing to do. Important, intelligent people were now saying, you know, not so much.
That was the strategic part of his problem.
Tactically, a lawyer named Park Raines was running legal rings around the BCA, and if he won out, a killer named Ben Merion was going to walk. Even more annoying, Raines was actually a pretty good guy, ethically sound, and he'd take it to the hoop right in your face and not go around whining about foul this and foul that.
Still, Lucas didn't like being on the losing side in a murder case and the prospect was churning his gut.
Park Raines's client, Ben Merion, lived in the town of Sunfish Lake, probably the richest plot of land, square foot for square foot, in Minnesota. On the last day of February, he'd hit his wife, Gloria Merion, on the head, with a carefully crafted club, and had then thrown her down the stairs in their $2.3 million lakeside home, where her head had rattled off the wooden railings railings that fit the depressive fracture in her skull exactly perfectly.
The fall hadn't quite killed her, though it had knocked her out, so Merion put his hand over her mouth and pinched off her nose until she stopped breathing.
Lucas's group had run the investigation, and over a couple of months, he and his investigators determined that the Merion marriage was on the rocks; that Ben Merion had signed a prenup that said he'd get nothing in a divorce, but would inherit half if she predeceased him; that in case the house and ten million in stock wouldn't work for him, he'd taken out a five-million-dollar insurance policy on her three months before she was murdered or died, as Park Raines put it. As icing on the BCA's cake, Merion had a girlfriend named Connie Sweat, or, when working at the Blue Diamond Cutter Gentleman's Club, Honey Potts, and his wife had found out about it.
Two of Lucas's investigators, Jenkins and Shrake, had further determined that Ben met Gloria while remodeling her house he was a building contractor and as Shrake put it, "He spent more time laying pipe than laying tile, if you catch my drift."
"So what?" Lucas said.
"Well, that staircase had a custom set of balusters. Those are like the spokes in a railing..."
"I know what balusters are," Lucas said.
"The thing is, Merion turned the balusters himself on his handy little wood lathe. If he needed to make an exact copy to whack her with, it'd take him about ten minutes."
"You guys are your own kind of geniuses," Lucas said.
"We knew that."
They had the medical examiner on their side: death, he said, had come from asphyxiation, not from the blow to the head. The blow may have been intended to kill, but when that didn't work, a second blow would be unseemly for the simple reason that a good medical examiner could determine the time difference between the first and second impact, gauged by the amount of blood released by the first whack. If the second impact came, say, three minutes after the first... well, falling down the stairs didn't often take three minutes. Not unless you had a lot longer staircase than the Merions had.
Park Raines had, of course, gotten his own medical expert, who said that the fall had forced the unconscious woman's face into the carpeting on the stair tread, and that had smothered her. He found carpet threads on her tongue.
The medical examiner pointed out that Gloria Merion's mouth may well have been open during her fall down the stairs, and she could have picked up the carpet threads that way.
Could have, might have. Beyond a reasonable doubt? Maybe not.
So there'd been some legitimate doubt, even in Lucas's mind... until Beatrice Sawyer, leader of the BCA crime-scene crew, discovered three bloody hairs stuck to a baseboard... in the bathroom. And tiny droplets of blood, invisible to the naked eye, on the wallpaper and baseboard, but none on the floor, because the floor had been washed.
That added up to murder.
Unless, Raines argued, in the preliminary hearing, incompetent cops had tracked the damp blood in there they had gone into the bathroom after tramping up and down the stairs, before the crime-scene people got there.
And that insurance policy? Nothing but a legal maneuver rich people used to get around the federal estate tax, and commonly done, Park Raines said. It had been intended to benefit the children from her first marriage, not Ben Merion.
The wood-lathe business? Sure, he could have done that. Proof that he'd done it? Well, show me the proof.
And the girlfriend? Yes, Ben had once been intimate with Connie Sweat, but that ended when Ben and Gloria married. He'd visited Connie's town house a couple of times, but only to retrieve personal property that he'd left at her place, back before Ben got married.
The trial was starting in three weeks and things did not look all that good. The best trial prosecutors had begged off, worrying about their high-profile conviction stats, leaving the case to a twenty-eight-year-old hippie who'd gotten out of law school three years earlier, played saxophone in a jazz band at night, and showed more interest in the music than the law. He'd never been the lead prosecutor on a major case.
Lucas believed that he would be a good prosecutor someday, if he chose law over music, but he wasn't yet.
Running five miles, until it felt like his wheels were coming off, didn't do all that much for his physical condition, but the pain helped Lucas stop thinking about Merion.
And the combination of it all, the strategic and tactical, had the depression monster sniffing around his doorstep.
So he ran.
As he was out running, his daughter Letty was lying on the carpet in the den, nine o'clock at night, her legs, from her knees to her feet, on a couch. She was staring at the ceiling, thinking about life, or that part of life that involved a guy named Gary Bazile. Bazile was a junior in economics at Stanford who also played lacrosse; he had big white teeth and large muscles. He was calling her every night and her father had begun to notice.
Early in her freshman year, Letty, who had avoided carnal entanglements in high school "I don't want to be the girl that the jocks practice on," she'd told a friend had decided that Now Was the Time. Bazile had benefited greatly from the decision, but Letty's interest was beginning to wane.
In contemplating the ceiling, a telephone by her hand, she thought perhaps she'd cut Gary off a little too abruptly a few minutes earlier. "Gotta put my baby sister to bed," she'd lied. When her phone rang again, she picked it up, willing herself to be kind to him: but the screen said the call was coming from Unknown, in an unfamiliar area code, 605. California? She didn't get many solicitation calls, because she'd listed her number on the "do not call" registry.
She punched Answer and said, "Hello?"
"Is this Letty?" A woman's voice, rough, vaguely familiar.
"Yes, this is Letty."
"Letty, this is Skye, do you remember me? From San Francisco, me and Henry were singing on the square? You bought us dinner at McDonald's?"
"Hey, Skye," Letty said, swinging her feet down to the floor. "How are you? Where are you? In town?"
"Rapid City. Man, the devil got Henry. They cut his heart out."
"What? What? Henry?"
"They cut his heart out." Skye began to sob into the phone. "That's what Pilot's girlfriend told me, and she was laughing. She said Pilot keeps it in a Mason jar. She said they're going to get mine, next. Man, I am in some serious shit out here and they cut Henry's heart out."
"Where are you, exactly?" Letty asked.
"Rapid City... I got dropped off by this guy," Skye said.
"Are you safe? For right now?"
"For right now. I'm in the bus station. It's the only public phone I could find."
"Okay, slow down. Now, tell me," Letty said.
"The devil was in Sturgis..."
"When you say 'the devil'..."
"Pilot. Pilot. We told you about Pilot. Pilot was in Sturgis with his disciples. They were camping out there and they were pretending to be bikers and some of the women were turning tricks out of their RV. I told Henry to stay away, but he disappeared. We were supposed to meet, and he didn't show up. We had a backup meet, and he never showed there, either. All the bikers left, and the town was almost empty. I spent three days walking around, looking for him, and he's not there. Then I was in a grocery store and the blond bitch came in and when I went out, she came out at the same time, she said that they killed Henry and they ate part of him and Pilot put his heart in a Mason jar. He said Pilot made some guy roast Henry's dick over a fire and eat it."
"Oh, Jesus," Letty said.
"I'm calling because you said your old man was a cop, and because... you're the only friend I got," Skye said.
Letty was on her feet now, pacing. "Let me call and charge a bus ticket for you, to get you here, where we can figure something out. Stay in the station until you're on the bus."
"I got money for a bus, but I didn't know where to go. Then I thought about you. What about Henry? What if they killed him?"
"They're probably trying to freak you out, but I'll get you with my dad, and he can check around," Letty said. "The main thing is, to get you somewhere safe. How much money do you have?"
"Two hundred dollars. It's left over... we got lucky. Two hundred dollars."
"Can you buy a ticket to Minneapolis?"
"Wait a minute."
Letty heard some talk in the background, and then said, "Yes, it's a hundred dollars."
"Then do it. I'll give you the money back, no problem," Letty said. "Call and tell me when you'll get here."
"It's the Jefferson Lines, I can get a ticket now. Wait a minute, let me ask this guy." She was gone for a minute, and Letty could hear some talk in the background. Skye came back to the phone and said, "The bus leaves here at midnight and arrives in Minneapolis at ten o'clock tomorrow morning."
"All right. All right, I'll meet you at the bus station. Stay away from Pilot and stay away from that blonde."
"I will. Oh, Jesus, what about Henry?"
"We'll work that out. I'll get my dad, and we'll work that out."
Her dad was Lucas Davenport.
Lucas was a tall man, dark-haired except for a streak of white threading across his temples and over his ears, dark-complected, heavy at the shoulders. He had blue eyes, a nose that had been broken a couple of times, and a scar that reached from his hairline down over one eye, not from some back-alley fight, but from a simple fishing accident. He had another scar high on his throat, where a young girl had once shot him with a piece-of-crap street gun. So his body was well lived-in, and he'd just turned fifty, and didn't like it. Some days, too many days lately, he felt old too much bullshit, not enough progress in saving the world.
For his birthday, his wife, Weather, a surgeon, had bought him an elliptical machine: "You've been pounding the pavement for too long. Give your knees a break."
He used it from time to time, but he really liked running on the street, especially after a rain. He liked running through the odors of the night, through the air off the Mississippi, through the neon flickering off the leftover puddles of rainwater. He needed to run when he was dealing with people like Ben Merion.
By the time he reached the last corner toward home, he'd worked through his grouchiness. He turned the corner and picked up the pace, not quite to a full-out sprint, but close enough for a fifty-year-old.
And through the sweat in his eyes, saw Letty standing under the porch light, hands in her jeans pockets: looking for him.
Letty had gotten herself laid: he and Weather agreed on that, although Weather called it "becoming sexually active." Lucas was ninety percent sure that she hadn't been sexually active in high school, aside from some squeezing and rubbing, though she'd been a popular girl. Once at Stanford, she'd apparently decided to let go.
Lucas deeply hoped that the sex had been decent and that the guy had been good for her, and kind. When he was college-aged, he hadn't always been good for the woman in his life, or kind, and he regretted it. He also knew that there was not much he could do about Letty's sex life, for either good or bad. Keep his mouth shut and pray, that was about it. Trust her good instincts.
He turned up the driveway and called out, "Whatcha doing?"
"Waiting for you. Something's come up," Letty said.
He stopped short of the porch, bent over, his hands on his knees, gulping air. When he'd caught his breath, he stood up: "Tell me."
When she'd told him, he said, "Have you thought about the possibility that she's nuts? Or that she's working you?"
"Of course. I don't think she's crazy I mean, I don't think she's delusional," Letty said. "I have to admit that she talks about a guy being the devil, which doesn't sound good, but when she does it... you almost have to hear it. She's not talking literally: not a guy with horns and a tail. She's talking about, what? A Charlie Manson type. A Manson family guy. He calls himself Pilot."
"Yeah. Pilot. She flat-out says he's a killer," Letty said. "She didn't come up with that today, she said it weeks ago, when we first met in San Francisco, when there was no money in it. As far as working me goes, she tried to work me a little in San Francisco, because they weren't making any money with their singing. Then she realized she didn't have to work me, because I was going to buy them a McDonald's anyway. She's not dumb."
Lucas sat on the porch next to her and said, "Okay. First of all, you know, she is crazy. Somehow, someway, because all street people are. Not necessarily schizophrenic, or clinically paranoid, but almost certainly sociopathic to some extent, because they can't survive otherwise. If they're too sane, their whole worldview breaks down, and they wind up in treatment or in a hospital or dead: dope or booze."
"She's not exactly street," Letty said. "She's a traveler. They're kind of street, but they're different. A lot of street people are... bums. Beggars. Travelers are different. For one thing, they travel. They're usually pretty put together they buy good outdoor gear, they stay neat, they try to stay clean. Lots of them have dogs that they take care of. They have objectives. They make plans. They know each other, they meet up."
"More like hobos," Lucas suggested.
"I don't exactly know what a hobo is. Aren't they on trains?"
"Yeah, but these travelers sound like hobos," Lucas said. "They have a certain status."
"Exactly," Letty said. "Will you come with me, when I meet her? She'll be in around noon."
"Yeah, sure. I might have to push a meeting around, nothing important," Lucas said.
"She said they had Henry's heart in a Mason jar," Letty said.
"Ah, the old heart-in-the-jar story," Lucas said.
"That Pilot made a guy eat Henry's penis... roast it and eat it."
"Ah, the old roasted penis story..."
"What if it's true?"
"It's not," Lucas said.
Lucas stood up and dusted off the seat of his running shorts. "There are certain kinds of stories that pop up around crazy people, especially street people. Apocryphal stories, urban legends. Slander: cannibals are the big crowd favorite. I've run into all kinds of stories like that the most extreme ones you can think of, people eating babies or feeding babies to dogs, and so on. Exactly none of them have been true."
Lucas held up a finger: "There are cannibals out there, but there aren't any true stories about them. Cannibals are quiet about what they do. When you hear cannibal stories, it's always about somebody trying to get somebody else in trouble. And usually about roasting and eating somebody's dick. Or somebody's breasts. Sexual fantasies, made up to get somebody else in trouble."
"All right. But come with me tomorrow."
Lucas moved his meetings around and at noon the next day, he and Letty were in Minneapolis. The Jefferson Lines shared a terminal with Greyhound off Tenth Street, a relatively cheerful place compared to most bus stations, built under a parking garage.
They could see the green-glass top of the IDS tower peeking over the surrounding buildings as Lucas parked his Mercedes SUV on the street. He and Letty walked over to the station, where they were told that the bus was running forty-five minutes late. "Hasn't even gotten to Burnsville yet. There was a big accident out on I-90. The driver's trying to make up time, though, so they won't be in Burnsville for more'n a couple minutes," said the guy behind the Jefferson Lines desk.
They decided to kill the time by walking over to the downtown shopping strip, so Letty could check out new arrivals at the Barnes & Noble and Lucas could look at suits at Harry White's.
The Harry White salesman was happy to see him, as always: "You're running late in the season this year, but I snuck a suit off the rack, put it in the back, until I could show it to you. Italian, of course. It's not quite as dark as charcoal, you couldn't call it charcoal, but it's a touch deeper than a medium gray, with a very fine almost yellow pinstripe, more beige, I'd say."
Lucas was a clotheshorse, and always had been. He spent a half hour looking at suits, had a couple of them put back for further examination on the following Saturday, spent five minutes looking at ties, another five with shoes, checked out a black leather jacket $2,450 and soft as pudding. He spent nothing, and walked across the street to Barnes & Noble, where he found Letty checking out with a Yoga tome and a book on compact concealed-carry firearms.
"You're not going to start carrying a gun," Lucas said.
"Of course not, but I want to stay informed," Letty said. "We oughta go out to the range this weekend, if it doesn't rain."
"Let's do that," Lucas said. "It's been a while."
Skye was the last person off the bus. She was wearing the same outfit as in San Francisco, but smelled like soap. She and Letty shared a perfunctory hug, Letty introduced Lucas, and they waited until Skye's bag was unloaded. Lucas said, "We got you a hotel room in St. Paul. We'll drop your stuff there and grab something to eat, and figure out what we're doing."
"That's great, but I really don't think I can afford..."
"We got it," Lucas said. "For two or three days, anyway."
"Appreciate it," Skye said. She'd learned not to decline kindnesses; they might not be offered a second time.
A half an hour later, they'd checked her into a Holiday Inn on the edge of St. Paul's downtown area, and from there went to a quiet Bruegger's Bagel bakery on Grand Avenue to talk. They all got baskets of bagels and Lucas and Letty got Diet Cokes and Skye a regular Coke the calories thing again and as they settled down at a corner table, Lucas said, "You're worried about your friend."
"One of Pilot's disciples one of the women he sleeps with told me they cut out Henry's heart and put it in a Mason jar and they take it out at night and worship it."
Lucas stared at her for a moment, then asked, "Do you believe that?"
She held up her hands, palms toward Lucas, like a "stop" sign. "I know what you're thinking. It's all road bullshit. But I'm telling you, Mr. Davenport, this is not like that. We go back a way with Pilot, all the way back to Los Angeles, and there are stories about him. That he kills people, that they all join in, killing people. Not like some black Masses or something, that weird shit. They do it because they like it, and because it makes them feel important. I call him the devil because that's what he wants people to think about him. He loves that. He loves that whole idea of being evil to people, and have people talking about him."
Lucas leaned back and smiled, and offered, "He does sound pretty unlikable. You know his real name?"
"No. Everybody calls him Pilot. He has this tie-dyed sleeveless T-shirt that he wears all the time, it's yellow with a big red P on it. The P is made to look like blood, and he tells people it is blood."
"You think it is?" Letty asked.
"Looks like regular tie-dye to me, kind of faded out." She turned back to Lucas: "Mr. Davenport, Pilot is full of shit. He's a liar and he's lazy and he's crazy and he sells dope, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't do some of the stuff he says he does. I know for sure that they have all these food-stamp cards, and they sell them for money at these crooked stores in L.A. They've been running that scam for a couple of years. He talks about how the Fall is coming, and how the only way to survive will be to join up with the outlaws... and you gotta be willing to kill in cold blood. They've got guns, and everything."
"Yeah, you know, when everything blows up and all the survivors wear camo and drive around in Jeeps."
Lucas and Letty threw questions at her for fifteen minutes, and when they were done, they had character sketches of Pilot and four of his disciples, named Kristen, Linda, Bell, and Raleigh, no last names. "Raleigh plays a guitar and Pilot calls him Sledge, like a combination of Slash and Edge, and Kristen used a steel file to sharpen her teeth into points, and she's like inked from head to toe," Skye said, but she had few hard facts.
She knew that Pilot's group traveled in a caravan of old cars, including at least one RV, and she thought they'd been hassled by the South Dakota highway patrol at some point, because Henry, before he disappeared, but after he spotted Pilot at the rally, said they never stopped talking about it. "They had all kind of drugs in their cars, and they almost got busted by a South Dakota highway patrolman, but they didn't because the cop was on his way home for dinner."
"That sounds real enough," Letty said, glancing at Lucas.
In the end, Lucas said, "All right. You've got me interested. Let me take a look at the guy. I need to know Henry's full name, and it would be good if we could get the license plate numbers on Pilot's vehicles."
"It's Henry Mark Fuller and he's from Johnson City, Texas. He went to Lyndon B. Johnson High School, but I think he dropped out in eleventh grade. I don't know any license plate numbers."
Lucas wrote Henry's name in his notebook, and then said, "If you ever see any of Pilot's people, take down the license plate numbers, if you have a chance. That can get us a lot of information. If you run into friends you trust, ask them to keep an eye out."
"If Pilot was ever in serious trouble, where would I most likely find a police report?" Lucas asked.
Skye considered that for a moment, then said, "I heard that he was originally from Louisiana, somewhere, but he claimed that he was an actor in Los Angeles for a long time. I think Los Angeles. I don't know where in Louisiana."
Letty asked, "Will you see any more travelers here?"
"I think so. The St. Paul cops are mellower than the Minneapolis cops, so people come here and hang out in Swede Hollow. I've been there a couple times."
"You can walk there from the hotel," Lucas said. He said, "Check around, but don't be too obvious about it. Don't ask about Pilot, ask about Henry. Mostly just listen."
"I can do that," Skye said. "I've been asking about Henry everywhere."
Letty didn't want to end the interview there, so they all drove back to the house, where Letty borrowed the SUV to take Skye to a laundromat.
"I'll drop her at the Holiday Inn after we finish with her clothes," Letty told Lucas. "Meet you back here."
Lucas went on downtown in his Porsche, made calls to friends in Los Angeles, and talked to one of his agents, Virgil Flowers, who had good connections in South Dakota, and then ran a database search on "Pilot" as a known alias.
Oddly enough, nothing came up. Lucas had been under the impression that almost any noun in the dictionary had been, at one time or another, given to the cops as a fake name.
Flowers called back with the name of a South Dakota highway patrol officer working out of Pierre, and when Lucas called him, he said he'd put out a statewide request for information based on Lucas's description of the caravan. Lucas especially wanted license plate numbers. "Won't take long," the cop said, "unless whoever saw them is off-duty and off-line. I'll call you, one way or another."
Lucas also asked him to put out a stop-and-hold on a Henry Mark Fuller of Johnson City, Texas.
Late in the day, he got a call from a lieutenant in the L.A. Special Operations Bureau, who said he should call an intelligence cop named Lewis Hall in Santa Monica. Lucas did, and Hall said, "You're looking for a guy named Pilot?"
"We're interested in him. Don't know where to look. He apparently travels with a band of followers in a bunch of beat-up old cars and an RV. Some of the women with him may be turning tricks."
"Yeah, I know about that guy. I've seen him a couple of times," Hall said. "Never talked to him. Somebody would come in and say that he'd heard that Pilot had a satanic ritual somewhere. I'm not real big on tracking down satanic rituals, since they usually involve people who know the governor."
"I hear you," Lucas said. "Any indication of violence? I mean, specific reports?"
"Nothing specific. Rumors," Hall said. "I know they used to hang out in Venice for a while. I know some people down there I could ask."
"If you get the time, I'd appreciate it," Lucas said. "He supposedly says he's an actor."
"What'd he do?"
"I kinda hate to tell you, because it sounds like more bullshit. We have a traveler here who says she was told that Pilot cut out her boyfriend's heart, and keeps it in a Mason jar."
Hall laughed and said, "You must have some extra time on your hands."
"You know what? If I were in your shoes, I'd have said the same thing. But this girl we have here, this traveler, she's sort of... convincing."
"Uh-oh. Okay, I'll see who I can round up in Venice and get back to you. Lord knows, we've got enough really weird assholes around here."
"Thanks, I know you're busy. If we hear anything at all, either up or down, I'll call you," Lucas said.
"Wait you've got nothing more to go on? Nothing that would point me in any particular direction?"
"No. I've been doing database searches and I can't find a single person with a Pilot alias. I'm wondering if I should start checking airports."
Another couple seconds of silence from the other end, then Hall said, "Uh, the guy I'm talking about, it's not Pilot, like airplane pilot. It's Pilate, like Pontius Pilate. You know, the guy who did whatever he did, to Jesus."
"Yeah. P-i-l-a-t-e, not Pilot."
"Ah... poop. Back to the databases," Lucas said.
Hall laughed again. "Good luck with that."
Lucas went back to the databases and Pilate popped up immediately, and twice: once in Arkansas and once in Arizona.
The Arkansas hit was tied to a man whose real name was Rezin Carter, who had a long rap sheet that started in 1962, when Carter was twelve. Too old for Pilate, who Skye had said was probably in his early thirties.
The second was a traffic stop on I-10 in Quartzsite, Arizona, six years earlier. The driver had no license, or any other ID. He said he'd bought his car for five hundred dollars in Phoenix, and was trying to get to Los Angeles, where he had the promise of an acting job. He gave his name as Porter Pilate. The cop who'd stopped him had given him a ticket, and had the car towed to a local commercial impoundment lot that had several dozen cars inside.
At one o'clock the next morning, the night man at the impoundment lot had a pistol stuck in his face by a man wearing a cowboy bandanna as a mask. The night man was tied up and left on the floor of his hut. Keys to the impounded cars weren't available, because they were in a drop safe, and the night man didn't have the key. Nevertheless, the gunman drove away a few minutes later.
The night man couldn't see which car was taken, but an inventory the next morning indicated that the 1998 Pontiac Sunfire driven by Porter Pilate was gone, which was the only reason a routine traffic stop showed up in Lucas's database, on a warrant for armed robbery. The Sunfire was later located after it was towed in Venice, California, a week after it disappeared in Quartzsite.
Both the Arizona and California cops listed the same license tag, which tracked back to a man named Ralph Benson, a professional bowler from Scottsdale, Arizona, who said he'd left his car in the long-term parking at Sky Harbor airport.
He'd had two keys in a magnetic holder under the rear bumper. When contacted by L.A. cops, he declined to travel to Los Angeles to retrieve the car, which he said wasn't worth the trip. The car was eventually sent to a recycling yard, and that was the end of it.
Lucas ran the full name through the database and came up with nothing except the Arizona hit.
He called the Arizona Highway Patrol and found that the cop who'd issued the ticket had retired, but they had a phone number. The cop was in his swimming pool and his wife took a phone out to him.
"I do remember that guy, because of the robbery that night," the cop said. "He was like an advertisement for an asshole, if you'll excuse the expression. You know, wife-beater T-shirt, smelled like sweat, black hair in half-ass cornrows."
"Yeah. Dark complexion, but sort of dark reddish. No accent, sounded native-born. Had some prison ink, one of those weeping Jesuses, on his shoulder, crown of thorns with blood running down. From that, you might've thought he was a Mexican gangster, but he wasn't."
"No ID at all?"
"None. Not a single piece of paper. Gave him a ticket and he signed it. After the robbery, we went back to the ticket to see if he'd left prints, but there was nothing there but mine. Of course, we didn't have the car. When they found it in California, we asked them to process it, but it wasn't a priority. When they finally got around to it, turned out it had been wiped."
That was it. Lucas thanked the cop, said it must be nice to be in a pool, and the cop said it was 108 on his patio: "It's not so much nice, as a matter of survival."
Lucas called the South Dakota highway patrolman, gave him the new name and the details, and then the L.A. cop, who said the Arizona Pilate sounded like the Pilate he'd seen.
Lucas closed up and went home.
Letty was out somewhere, and the housekeeper had taken Sam to Whole Foods, and the baby was asleep, and Weather said that her back had been feeling grimy, probably from the hot weather. Lucas took her up to the shower and washed her back, thoroughly enough that she wouldn't really need another back-washing for some time. Lucas was getting himself back together when Shrake called.
"I talked to your guy Wilfred. He said some college dropouts were making a supercomputer in a barn somewhere, but he doesn't know what for. But: they're paying fifty bucks for any computer, in any shape, as long as it has a certain kind of processor. I don't know shit about computers, but have you ever heard of something called Sandy Bridge? Or Ivy Bridge?"
"That rings a bell," Lucas said. "I think it might be some kind of Intel chip."
"Okay. Anyway, they're paying fifty bucks, cash money. As I understand it, those chips cost a few hundred bucks each. The cash-money aspect means that every asshole with legs is over at the university stealing computers. They met at a park-and-ride lot last week down in Denmark Township, and the story is, people had a thousand computers. Not all of them had the right chip, but most of them did. These guys paid out a shitload of money and left in a white Ford F-150 with no plates."
"When you say a thousand, is that a guess that means 'a lot'? Or does that mean a thousand?"
"I asked that. Wilfred actually thought it might have been more than a thousand. The buyers had a laptop with a list of every computer in the world on it, and you'd step up with your computer, and they'd tell you yes or no, and if it was yes, they'd peel a fifty off a roll and throw the computer in the back of the truck. When he said throw, that's what he meant. He said they'd just toss it in the back, didn't care what happened to the video screens."
"Will there be another meeting?"
"I'm told there will be... but it might not be around here. The rumor is, these guys are from Iowa and they've been buying all over the Midwest. Wilfred will keep an eye out. Supposedly, these guys need sixteen thousand, three hundred and eighty-four processors. That's the number Wilfred gave me, and he claims it's exact."
"Oh. He said the buyers had guns."
Letty was back at dinnertime. Lucas told her what he'd found out about Pilate, and she asked, "What do you think now?"
"Skye has me interested. There is no doubt that hundreds of people are murdered every year, and their bodies are never found," Lucas said. "I could even tell you where a lot of them are: if you took a search team out in the desert south of Las Vegas, and searched for a mile on both sides of the highway down to San Bernardino, you'd turn up a hundred bodies without looking too hard. The most likely victims are like Skye, because nobody ever really knows where they're at, or where they might have gone to. If you had a serious, insane predator out there, a crazy guy, travelers are natural targets. If this guy Pilate is really like she says he is, he could be dangerous."
Letty said, "Good. You're interested. That's all I wanted."
Weather said, "Letty, I'm begging you. Don't hang out with Skye. Let her do her own thing. You'd stick out like a sore thumb, and the word would get around that you're affluent, and you could get in pretty deep trouble even without Pilate."
"I'd be okay if I had a carry permit...." Lucas opened his mouth, maybe to scream, but she grinned and said, "Just messing with you, Dad."
After dinner, Letty called the Holiday Inn, Skye's room, but she wasn't in. She was in at eight o'clock, and said she'd had no luck talking to other travelers in St. Paul. Letty asked about the Jesus tattoo on Pilate's shoulder and Skye said that she knew Pilate had some ink, but not the specifics. Otherwise, the description of the man in Quartzsite fit the man she knew.
When Lucas told Skye that the guy's name was Pilate, not Pilot, she said, "I don't think that's right, Mr. Davenport. He didn't tell people his name was Pilate, he said, 'The Pilot,' like a title, not like a name."
"All right. I'll keep looking under both names. You keep asking around," Lucas said. "We'll either find him, or Henry. Okay?"
"I hope," she said, but Lucas heard the doubt in her voice.
For a father and daughter who had no blood relationship, Lucas and Letty not only looked alike dark hair, blue eyes, athletic but behaved alike, especially when it came to sleep. Both could stay up all night, neither liked to get up early. At ten-thirty, Lucas was up and had picked out a suit, was wearing the slacks and a T-shirt and was considering the dress shirt possibilities, when Letty knocked on the door to the bedroom suite.
"Yeah, come on in," Lucas called from the dressing room.
Letty came in holding her phone. "I didn't hear the phone go off, but Skye left a message. She said that early this morning she went out to Swede Hollow and met a guy who said that Henry is up in Duluth, with some other travelers," Letty said. "She said she was going to catch a bus and go there. I called back to the hotel, but they said she'd checked out. I called the bus station, and they said a bus to Duluth left a half hour ago. She doesn't have a cell phone."
"Do not go to Duluth," Lucas said.
"I'm not going to. I don't expect you to, either, but it was... I don't know. An anticlimax. I thought we might be getting somewhere yesterday, and now she's gone."
"She's a traveler," Lucas said. "I suspect she'll be back in touch." He slipped a shirt off a hanger, held it next to the suit jacket he'd be wearing, said, "Good," and put it on and started buttoning it up.
"In case you're not getting this, I'm a little concerned," Letty said.
"So am I but I'm not freaking out," Lucas said. "I've still got some lines out on this Pilate character and we'll see what we see. When she finds Henry, she'll call back and we'll see what she has to say then."
"All right. Well, I've got things to do today. I'm hooking up with Carey and Jeff, we're going over to the U to hang out."
"Don't worry too much," Lucas said. He held up a tie: "What do you think?"
"I would never advise you on ties, any more than Mom would," Letty said. "You're better at it than we are."
"That's true," Lucas said. He looked in his tie drawer, then settled on his original choice. "I'll call if anything comes in on Henry. Or on Pilate."
Letty left, and Lucas stood in front of the mirror to tie his necktie. As he did it, he mused on what he'd almost said to her. He'd almost said, "Take your phone with you." Of course she'd take her phone with her. She was never more than fifteen feet from it. She'd eventually have it epoxied to the palm of her hand.
Not necessarily a bad thing, he thought. Women had been on the verge of taking over the world the Western world, anyway. Then some sexist pig in Silicon Valley invented the cell phone and women took a sidetrack on which all four billion of them would soon be happily talking to each other twenty-four hours a day, getting nothing else done, and Men Would Be Back.
He whistled a few bars from Lyle Lovett's "Don't Touch My Hat," and checked himself in the mirror. He looked terrific. Not that any women would notice: they'd be too busy talking to each other on their fucking cell phones.
When Lucas got to the office, a few minutes after eleven o'clock, he had a voice mail from the South Dakota cop: they'd been through a full shift cycle with the patrol, all officers had been queried about Pilate's caravan, and there'd been no responses. "If I hear anything, I'll call you."
He also had an e-mail note from the L.A. cop, Lewis Hall: "Call me."
The e-mail had come in at ten, eight o'clock L.A. time, so Hall had been up early. Lucas called him back.
"Listen, I talked to some of the rough trade down in Venice last night, and your boy Pilate could be a problem," Hall said. "I may even owe you. I talked to a guy who's been around the beach for twenty years, runs a massage place. He says there was a rumor that Pilate knows about the Kitty Place murder. I don't know if you heard about that..."
"I heard something, I don't know the details," Lucas said.
"Kitty was an entertainer... I don't know what you'd say, not a hooker, or anything, she'd get small parts in movies, she had lines, now and then, she had a SAG card and she was doing some stand-up work. She had an apartment down on Main Street in Santa Monica."
"What's a SAG card?"
"She was in the Screen Actors Guild. Sort of a big deal out here, getting a card. Means you're recognized as a human being. Anyway, she was putting that kind of life together. Then one day about a year ago, she turned up dead. Found her floating in the water off Marina Del Rey. She'd been slashed to pieces: tortured with a knife, raped. Pretty goddamned awful, even for L.A."
"No. She'd been in the water for a while, so we never got good DNA, and we never got a whiff of who might've done it. No current boyfriend. Her former boyfriend seemed like a decent guy and he had a solid alibi, he was playing trumpet up in Vegas all through that period. I was talking to my boy Ruben last night and he mentioned that some time, some fairly long time, after the body came up, he heard that some people thought she might've been tied up with this Pilate. I talked to the homicide guys this morning, and nobody had ever mentioned Pilate to them."
"Does Ruben know where Pilate used to hang? Or who he'd hang with?" Lucas asked. "If I could get car tags, we could probably run him down. He was supposedly in Sturgis, South Dakota, at the biker rally last week, probably heading east. The trouble is, we don't have any solid ID, no solid photo, no real history, nothing we can use to get our hands on him. He claims he's been in the movies. You think he'd have a SAG card?"
"I could check. I got the impression from Ruben... and I'm not sure how much Ruben really knows, he tends to talk bigger than he is... but I got the impression that Pilate's a street guy. Moves around a lot, lives here and there, and sometimes out of his car, sells a little weed. Ruben thinks he had a girlfriend named K like the letter K and she might still be around. I'll try to run her down today."
"I'd appreciate anything you could get me," Lucas said.
"Not just for you, anymore. Kitty Place was a very pretty blonde, the vulnerable-looking kind, and a really nice girl. When she got all slashed up, the shit hit the media fan around here. The homicide guys want me to push it they'd give their left nuts for a break. A good break wouldn't do me any harm, either."
"All right. Call me if you hear anything, and if I get anything, I'll call you."
"Talk to ya," Hall said.
Del Capslock limped in the door, carrying his cane. Lucas said, "Good thing you got that cane to hold you up."
"It's become a... shit, I was about to say 'crutch.'" He sat down and said, "I talked to Honey Potts. She's interested. I talked to Daisy Jones. She's interested, too. I told Honey that we'd fix up a letter saying that we wouldn't prosecute if she changed her story, and remembered something different, as long as she didn't perjure herself."
"Again," Lucas said.
"Yeah, again. Jenkins was doing his cynical-guy act, told her that if she really thought Merion was going to share the take with her, she was crazy. She'd only get a cut if he was acquitted, and once he was acquitted, he couldn't be tried again. Then he'd have no reason to pay her off. Jenkins asked her, does she really want to hang out with a guy who murdered his wife by beating her to death? He suggested that kind of thing tends to become a habit."
"She bought it?"
"I'm not sure, but Daisy is going to talk to her tonight, see if she'll do an interview." Daisy Jones was a longtime reporter for WCCO television, known for her confessional talks with Twin Cities celebrities who'd managed to step on their dicks.
Lucas said, "Worth a shot."
"Hey, if she says she was banging Merion after he married Gloria... I think we're better than fifty-fifty."
"Maybe, but it'd be nice to get one more thing," Lucas said. "Anything on Cory?"
"As a matter of fact, there is." Del stood and put two hands against the wall and stretched his bad leg, bouncing on it. He'd been shot up by elderly gunrunners the year before, and had gone through four operations, trying to get things straight. He now had so much metal in his pelvis that he carried a TSA Notification Card just to get on an airplane. Despite the lingering disability, he'd gone back to full-time in April. He sat back down again.
"I found Brett Givens working as a sign man for a real estate dealership over in Edina," he said. "He drives a pickup, goes around putting up signs, or taking them down."
Lucas knew Givens: "Better than working at the chop shop."
"Yeah. Anyway, he says Cory is definitely back, because he saw him up in Cambridge last week, at Kenyon's. He said Cory didn't see him, because he ducked out I think he was afraid that Cory might try to talk him into something. He likes the sign job."
"Givens didn't know where Cory's living?"
"No. But he said there were random people in the bar who seemed to know Cory, like he might be a regular. He said Cory doesn't look especially prosperous, so he might still have the safe. I thought I'd go up this afternoon, have a few beers."
"All right. Take care. Jenkins and Shrake are out of pocket. If you need backup, call me, and I'll either come up or get Jon to send somebody."
Dale Cory was believed to be in possession of a safe that contained two million dollars in diamond jewelry, at wholesale prices, taken from a jewelry store in St. Paul on the night of New Year's Day.
The store's owner had been confident in the safety of his jewelry, because the safe he kept it in was made of hardened steel, weighed as much as a Hummer, and was kept in a room made of concrete block. He hadn't counted on somebody backing a wrecker through the front wall of the store and the concrete block wall, throwing a cinch-chain around the safe, lifting it straight up, and then hauling butt.
He hadn't counted on it because the idea seemed so goddamned stupid.
The wrecker had been stolen and was found behind a supermarket eight blocks from the jewelry store, where the cops also found in the fresh snow the tread marks from an eighteen-wheeler. Where it went, they didn't know, but by the end of the week, there were rumors that tied Cory to the job. A couple of weeks later, there were also rumors that Cory couldn't get the safe open, which made him something of a laughingstock among Twin Cities lowlifes.
The jeweler was not laughing. His safe had been so good that his insurance loss-ceiling was lower than it should have been. Much lower. He got a third of the wholesale price back from Chubb, and that was it.
He called Lucas once a week to ask about his safe.
Del took off, and Lucas started working through the rest of the case load. A lot of it was more a matter of coordination than investigation, keeping the various suburban police departments up to date on who was doing what, and who was looking for whom. Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Bloomington could generally take care of themselves, and had their own liaisons.
Lucas's current priorities included two armed robbers, one who specialized in credit union branches, and another who scouted out, and then hit, businessmen who were taking money home on Sunday nights, after business hours, when they couldn't run it out to a bank during the day.
The credit union guy was careful, and while he claimed to be armed, he never showed a gun. Lucas thought they'd probably get him, if he didn't move out of town, and wasn't overly worried that he'd shoot someone: he seemed too careful.
The other guy, he thought, would eventually kill someone. He was almost certainly an ex-con, and didn't carry a gun. Instead, he carried a pipe. He was a big guy, dealing with businessmen who so far had all been elderly. He used the pipe for intimidation. One of the old guys had fought him, and had gotten an arm broken for his trouble. Sooner or later, Lucas thought, the thief would smack somebody in the head, and then they'd be looking for a killer... if the cops didn't get him first.
All of that was important; and it bored him.
So did the U.S. Secret Service. Somebody in town was passing exceptional copies of fifty- and hundred-dollar bills and there was some evidence that the currency was coming in from Lebanon. The Secret Service had three agents poking around, and they generally considered the BCA to be their assistants in the matter. Sort of like secretaries, or maybe receptionists. Or maybe golden retrievers.
Lucas had been the latest designated BCA liaison, and he'd eventually handled the Secret Service information requests, which always arrived by e-mail, by referring them to his shared secretary, who was told to do the best she could. Her best sometimes involved the wastebasket.
Jenkins called: "Shrake and I hooked up for a beer, and we got to thinking."
"Uh-oh, that's not recommended."
"I know, we try to avoid it when we can. But, we'd like to stop by later and talk."
"Come ahead, I'm mostly sitting on my thumb."
Letty called him late in the day. She was back home, and hadn't heard from Skye. Lucas hadn't heard from Hall, in L.A., and had gotten busy with a flurry of phone calls when another credit union went down turned out not to be the guy he was looking for and never called Hall back.
Letty was unhappy with the lack of movement, but Lucas asked, "What should we do? We're not getting anything. I suspect that Skye and Henry have hooked up, and moved on."
"She should have called," Letty said.
Lucas shrugged, though there was nobody around to see it: "She's a traveler. Like you said, she doesn't have a cell."
Shrake and Jenkins came in. Jenkins did the talking. "One of the problems with the Merion case is that we could never produce the club."
"Probably burned it," Lucas said.
"Probably not. Takes too long, and he was on a tight schedule. We know he didn't burn it in the home fireplace, because crime scene checked it, did samples, and said the last fire was a long time ago. And Merion had to drive like hell to get up to his cabin before Gloria's daughter came home and found the body. The fireplace at the cabin was gas, not wood, so he didn't burn it there."
"What we're thinking is, he whacked Gloria in the bathroom, threw her down the stairs, pinched off her nose and mouth, wiped up the bathroom floor with that Foaming Bubbles stuff, jumped in his car and took off."
"Nobody saw him," Lucas said.
"Because Sunfish Lake is darker than the black hole of Calcutta, and he's up on that ridge. He looks out the window, to make sure nobody is coming down that little road, then he jumps in the car and takes off," Jenkins said. "Once he's out of the house, who's going to see him, or know who's in the car? Anyway, he goes up to the cabin, the club is in his trunk. Carefully wrapped in something, because he's no dummy. He gets up there, knowing that the daughter could, at that point, get home anytime and find the body. When that happens, he's going to have to drive back to Sunfish Lake right now, like a grieving husband should. So he gets to the cabin, still got the club, has to get rid of it. Can't burn it, because it would take too long. It's dark, he goes out into the woods with a shovel... some obscure spot, buries it. We're thinking, probably in that vacant side lot. Not the front lawn, not between the cabin and the road, but in that empty lot, or maybe in the woods across the road. Doesn't need a deep pit, the club's only two inches in diameter. Carefully rakes some leaves over it... and it's gone."
"Or maybe he just threw it in a ditch on the way up," Lucas said.
"He's more careful than that. Throw it in a ditch, it could be found," Jenkins said. "It's pretty distinctive and it'd have some blood on it."
"So, what you want to do is... ?"
"We don't think he would have gone way deep in the woods, because he'd want to hear the phone ring. Remember, the daughter called him on the cabin phone, and then the cops called him on his cell, and they both put him up there.... So we're thinking, we should go up there and mark out the likely spots, and walk it inch by inch."
Lucas thought about it and said, "Say, aren't there a lot of golf courses around Cross Lake?"
"Lucas, for Christ sakes, we're trying to help out here," Jenkins said.
"What about the computer chips?" Lucas asked Shrake.
"Those guys are long gone. We got the word out, so people are watching for them... but we don't think they'll pop up here again. Not for a while, anyway, and the Merion trial is coming up."
"If you motherfuckers play more than one round a day..."
Skye didn't call the next day, either, or the next.
On the morning of the fourth day, the South Dakota highway patrol guy called and asked, "I threw away the note you gave me, but you were looking for a Henry Mark Fuller, correct?"
"That's my guy. You got him?"
"A body came up in Sheridan County. The DCI's got him, you need to talk to a guy named Bob Clemmens. The word I get is that the body has been identified as Fuller."
Lucas took a few seconds to digest that, and then asked, "How long has he been dead?"
"I guess he looks like he's been down for a week or so. They'll be doing an autopsy today or tomorrow, crime scene is out there now. I heard that it was really rough, what they did to him."
Lucas got a number for Clemmens, called him, got him on his cell phone. Clemmens was in rural Butte County, north of Sturgis, up in some piney hills, looking at the crime scene. Lucas explained who he was and why he'd been looking for Fuller.
"We need to talk to that Skye, if you can find her," Clemmens said. "Doesn't look like a domestic, though, no way. This wasn't one guy cutting him up. This took at least two or three, that's why we're looking at the bikers, or a group of people. And if you can track down this Pilate..."
Clemmens said Fuller's body had been found by a couple of Indian kids who'd been out with .22s, shooting around the countryside. Whoever had buried Fuller had only gone down a couple of feet before they hit rock, and the body had been partly uncovered by coyotes.
"What they did was, or what it looks like, is that they nailed him to a tree, and then took their time cutting him up. We got the tree, signs of blood on the bark, no weapon, we got a few tracks, but we got nothing definitive, what might be a pair of Nike athletic shoes, and a boot mark. There was a campfire right there, and fresh, we think it's related, but no way to tell for sure. There was some partly burned trash in the fire, food wrappers, we're processing those for fingerprints, but like I said, we're not sure it's related."
"When you say he was cut up, do you mean, dismembered?"
"No. Slashed. Long cuts running all down his body. Looks like he was castrated, but we're not sure about that, because that part of the body and the stomach area was worked over pretty good by the coyotes. His hands and arms were in good enough shape to take prints... that's how we got the quick ID. He was arrested in Johnson City, Texas, for burglary, three years ago, fingerprinted. We got a hit in the first ten minutes. We can still see the spike holes in his wrists, below the heels of his hands."
"Pretty crude," Lucas said. "Listen, there was a woman killed out in L.A...."
He told Clemmens about the Kitty Place murder. "I'm worried because both you and the L.A. guy used the word 'slashed.' I'd like to see the autopsy photos of the wounds, and have the L.A. homicide guys take a look."
"We'll get them to you," Clemmens said. "You're the guy involved in that Black Hole case last year, right? The guy who got that female cop back?"
"Yeah, that was me," Lucas said.
"Hell of a thing," Clemmens said.
Lucas called Hall in L.A., told him about the find in South Dakota. "I'm going to hook you up with the homicide guys," Hall said. "This is something."
An L.A. homicide detective named Rick Robinson called Lucas back a few minutes later and Lucas gave him the story. "They're doing the autopsy later today. We should be able to get the raw digital photos right away the South Dakota guy said he'd make it a priority. If you want to call him, I've got a number, he could send them directly to you."
"Need to see 'em," Robinson said. "Sounds like the same thing somebody did to Kitty Place long slashes across her body. She wasn't crucified or anything, though."
After he got off the line with Robinson, Lucas called Letty to tell her what had happened His daughter not a typical teenager: she'd seen violent death, up close and personal; she could handle the news about Henry.
Letty: "Why did somebody say they'd seen Henry up in Duluth? It sounds to me like they were setting her up. They're afraid that she'll talk about Henry. Dad, we've gotta get up there."
"I can go up there," Lucas said. "You can stay here."
"Dad, I'm not going to mess with you but you sort of need me," Letty said. "I've met some of these people and I can talk to them when you'd just scare them. They don't like people like you."
Lucas said, "If I put you on a bus home, you stay on the bus. I don't want you running around the countryside..."
"I'll come home. I will. I'll come home when you say so."
They drove up to Duluth that afternoon, in Lucas's truck. Lucas called ahead, to a friend on the Duluth police force, and was told that they should check out Leif Erikson Park on the lake.
Lucas got directions, and they rolled into town a few minutes before three o'clock, on a day that had been hot in the Cities. In Duluth, an east wind off Lake Superior had kept things cool. They found a meter on East Superior Street, cut through a parking lot, and took a footbridge into the park.
A few dozen people were scattered around the grassy lakefront, throwing Frisbees, looking at the lake, or doing nothing at all. They didn't see anybody who looked like a traveler, but they did see a uniformed cop, and they went that way, and Lucas pulled out his ID.
"I never heard them called travelers, but we got some," the cop said. He waved off to the north. "They got a spot up there, I don't know, maybe ten minutes up the Lakewalk. There's a little beach up there. They sit around under the trees talking, mostly. Might smoke a little dope."
Lucas thanked him and they went that way. Lucas had dressed down for the trip, in jeans and a golf shirt and a light nylon jacket to cover the gun, but still, Letty said, he looked like a cop.
"And you look like a snotty college kid," Lucas said.
"Where'd those jeans come from? Neiman Marcus? I think I saw some Neiman Marcus on your Amex."
"Neiman fuckin' Marcus. La-de-fuckin'-da."
A half a dozen travelers were sitting in a lakeside copse. Two benches looked out over the lake toward the Wisconsin shore, where a green-and-rust-colored freighter was maneuvering in toward the docks. A couple of the travelers were smoking cigarettes Lucas couldn't smell any weed and two of them had tough-looking, medium-sized dogs that showed pit bull in the eyes.
They really didn't look like street people, Lucas thought, although they obviously lived outdoors. They had big functional packs, wide-brimmed hats, wore heavy hiking boots, and a couple of them had six-foot-long walking sticks. Their ages ranged from the late teens to the mid-forties. Two were women, four were men. What they really looked like, he thought, were dusty long-distance walkers.
Which they were.
They all stirred restlessly when Lucas and Letty cut toward them, like leaves rippling in a light wind. Town people tended to stay away, unless they were cops, and the big guy looked like a cop.
When they came up, Lucas said, "We need to talk to you guys. I'm a state police officer and this is my daughter. We're looking for a friend of ours, a traveler, who might be in serious trouble."
One of the men, probably in his thirties, sounded skeptical: "Well, what's up, doc?"
Lucas looked at Letty, and she took it: "We have a friend named Skye. I talked to her four days ago down in St. Paul we met in San Francisco in June, when she was going through. She was traveling with a guy named Henry Mark Fuller, from Texas. They were out in Sturgis at the motorcycle rally, and Henry disappeared. Somebody she said another traveler told her that he'd seen Henry here in Duluth, and she came up here to find him. But Henry was murdered near Sturgis. They just dug up his body. We're worried that the people who killed Henry might try to hurt Skye. They know her, she doesn't like them, and they might try to shut her up about Henry."
Another stir rippled through the group; a man said, "Shit, somebody killed Henry?" and one of the women said, "We know Skye. We knew Henry. I haven't seen them since we were in Eugene, but we were going to meet up in Hayward, Wisconsin, next weekend. There's a Juggalo Gathering. We're all going to that."
Lucas said, "You're Juggalos?"
One of the men said, "I am, these guys are just freeloaders..."
"Hey!" said the woman. "This isn't funny."
Lucas: "You didn't see her here?"
They all shook their heads: "We just got here yesterday. We were going to hang around until we left for Hayward."
One of the men said, "You know, she could have gone up to Two Harbors. I ran into Ranger yesterday when I was coming in. He said a bunch of guys were going up there. There's a county fair going on, it's supposed to be pretty good, you can get a job."
"Bet she went there with them," Karen said. "She knows Ranger, for sure, and he's a safe guy."
They had no other ideas, but one of the men asked, "Who do you think killed Henry?"
Lucas said, "We don't know anything for sure, but there's this guy who travels in a caravan...." He told them what he knew about Pilate and his group none of them knew the name then ripped a page from his notebook, wrote his cell phone number on it, and said, "Could I give my number to somebody? If you see her? Or if you see Pilate?"
A couple of the men shrugged, and Lucas asked, "How about if I wrap it in a fifty?"
"Shouldn't take money for trying to help Skye," the woman said. "Give me the number. If I see her or hear from her, or about her, I'll call you."
"You can get phones at bus stations..." Letty began.
The woman said, "My mom gave me a cell phone. I don't call anybody but her, but I got it, and I keep it charged up."
"Good," Lucas said. "Listen, the people who killed Henry... they are bad people. They might be killing people for the fun of it. Travelers are natural targets. Nobody knows where you're at, and if you don't show up, nobody worries, because they figure you're out traveling. Take care, until we figure out what's going on here."
They all nodded and one of the men said, "We'll tell other people we know. If we get enough of us, we ought to be able to spot this guy."
"Call us, but don't mess with him," Lucas said. "You could be dealing with the worst kind of crazy."
Lucas looked at his watch as they walked away, and said, "Two Harbors is only a half hour from here. Maybe we can catch her there."
On the way north, Letty asked, "Have you run into any Juggalos?"
"I prefer Aerosmith."
"So you know who they are?"
"Sure. Followers of the Insane Clown Posse," Lucas said. "Most of the Juggalos are okay unusual, even strange, but okay. They have meetings around the country that they call Gatherings. The feds say some Juggalos have formed themselves into a criminal gang. I don't know about those."
"I didn't know the gang part. I'll look them up," she said, taking out her iPad.
At Two Harbors, they found three travelers, including the one called Ranger, working with a county fair clean-up crew. Ranger said, "Yeah, I seen her down in Duluth yesterday. She asked me about Henry. Nobody had seen him and she was talking about going back to the Black Hills. She thinks he might be sitting on a bench at their backup spot."
Lucas told them about Henry. They were visibly shocked, but when he told them about Pilate, Ranger said, "Hey, that guy was in Duluth. I seen that guy. They were peddlin' puss..." His eyes clicked over to Letty: "No offense..."
She shook her head.
"... out of that RV, up on the hill by the big mall. Tony and me..."
"Who's Tony?" Lucas asked.
"Just... Tony. He's one of us guys. We were walking through there, and this guy seen us, and said we could get some puss for seventy-five dollars. They were workin' it out of an RV. We didn't have seventy-five dollars, and if we did, I wouldn't have spent it on that skanky chick he had. I said no, and we kept on walking. But it was like he knew who we were. I mean, travelers."
"Where's Tony now?"
Ranger shrugged. "He was planning to go over to Hayward for the Juggalo Gathering. If he got some money, he could've gone back to the mall. He's kind of a puss hound."
"You think these women could have baited Henry in?" Lucas asked.
Ranger shook his head. "No, Henry was a nice guy, but he was kinda gay."
"Yeah. He didn't really do nothin' about it, but we all knew," Ranger said. "You know, he was like from Texas, cowboy boots and jeans, but sooner or later, he was going to find out..."
Letty looked at Lucas and said, "Skye kind of hinted at it when I was talking to them in San Francisco. I didn't pick up on it, though."
Lucas asked Ranger, "You think they might've run into Skye?"
"I can't tell you that," he said. "She was dragging around town, looking in all the places that we hang out. We do go up to that mall, sometimes, and she probably would have gone up there, sooner or later."
"This is not good," Letty said to Lucas.
"If you guys run into Skye, or Tony, or see Pilate, you call me." He gave them his number, written on a page, and this time, he did wrap a fifty around it. "Please, don't let it go."
On the way back to Duluth, Lucas took a call from Robinson, the L.A. homicide cop. He asked, "Did you see the autopsy photos?"
"No, I've been on the road," Lucas said.
"Okay. Well, we've got them, and we got a nine-alarm fire here. The cuts are the same. Same pattern on this kid, as they were with Kitty Place. Big knife, slashes start up around the shoulder, and then go all the way down the body in one long slash. Right across the face, too. It might not stand up if they got a good defense attorney, but I personally think it's about ninety-nine percent that it's the same killer. You got a walking nightmare on your hands, my friend."
"Did they say if the kid was raped?"
"That, I don't know," Robinson said. "All I got were the pictures. They don't have an autopsy report yet."
"I'll call them, get reports for both of us."
"You chasing this guy?" Robinson asked.
"Looking for him."
"Send him to South Dakota if you get him. They got the death penalty. Unlike us, they use it."