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|The Prey Series|
Garvin Poole slipped out of bed and got his lighter off the fireplace mantel and walked in his underwear through the dark house to the kitchen, where he took a joint out of a sugar jar, then continued to the garden door.
He opened it as quietly as he could, but it chimed once, not an alarm so much as a notification. He stepped out onto the patio and continued along the flagstone walk to his work shed.
Poole was an inch shy of six feet, with the broad shoulders and big hands of a high school wrestler, which he'd never been, and now, a hint of a hard beer gut. He still had thick reddish-brown hair over blue eyes and used a beard trimmer for the three-day look. Women liked him: he couldn't go to Whole Foods without picking up a conversation.
The flagstones underfoot were cool but dry; not much rain this year. The moon was up high and bright over the garden wall, and he could hear, faintly, from well off in the distance, the stuttering midnight sound of Rihanna singing "Work." He opened the shed door, turned on the light, sat down in the office chair, fired up the joint, and looked at the guitar he was building.
He'd been sitting there for a half-minute or so, when Dora Box said, "Gar?" She stepped through the open door, buck naked, the way she slept. "Whatcha doin'?"
He said, "Come on, sit down." She sat in a wooden chair and didn't cross her legs and he took a long look and then said, "I'm going back to work. One time."
"Oh, boy." Now she crossed her legs. Box had a hard time getting through the day without being rubbed or squeezed, but business was business.
"It might have been a mistake, coming here," he said, waving the joint at the workshop. "I've been thinking about it a lot, for the last month or so. I like it, but we should have left the country. Gotten out completely."
"There's no other place you like, that we could go," Box said. "Costa Rica was supposed to be the best, but you thought it sucked. Snakes. Oh, God, snakes. Anyway, you don't even like most of the states, Gar. Where'd we go that we'd like?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. Someplace crookeder than here."
"You know a place crookeder than Dallas?"
"Sure. There are places in this world where you can pay the cops to kill people for you," he said. His voice squeaked as he simultaneously tried to talk and to hold the smoke in his lungs. "Where you can do anything you want."
"You wouldn't want to live in those places. What brought this on?"
Poole took a drag on the joint and said, "I put ten years of money into gold, and now, I go around trying to cash the gold out and there aren't enough places to do that, not inside a day's drive. Every time I cash a coin, the guys are giving me looks, you know? I've been back too many times. They know what I'm doing, that I'm cashing out hot money. They don't say anything, but they know."
"We could drive somewhere else," Box suggested. "Oklahoma City, Houston..."
"Basically the same problem. People looking at you, remembering you," Poole said.
Silence for a while, then, Box said, "I thought the gold was smart."
"I did, too, back at the start. The cops were tearing up everything south of Kentucky, looking for me, and gold seemed... flexible. Good anywhere. Maybe I was thinking about it too much."
They'd had variations of the talk before. Gold coins were anonymous, portable, no serial numbers. He could get small bills for gold, it kept its value over time, and it was salable almost anywhere. He hadn't seen the problem with being looked at and remembered.
"I didn't see that coming, cashing out month after month. We need ten thousand a month to keep our heads above water, that's nine or ten coins a month right now," he said. "If we were in the right country, we could cash it all out at once, set up a phony company. Pretend we earned the money, give ourselves salaries, pay taxes, and maybe someday come back to the states under different names."
"Sounds sketchy," she said, and "Gimme a hit." He passed the joint, and she took a hit, held it, breathed out, bit off another one, passed it back, uncrossed her legs and unconsciously trailed her fingers across her pussy. The soft smell of marijuana went well with the fleshy damp odor of the nighttime garden. "If you're thinking about moving us out of the country, then why are you thinking about taking a job?"
"Because I really don't want to leave here. The job's an alternative," Poole said.
"Sturgill called. He sees an opportunity."
"Can't tell from a distance, but he thinks at least Two or Three. Maybe more. Maybe a lot more." He orally capitalized the numbers; 'two' meant two million. 'Three' meant three million.
Box shook her head. "That much, it's gotta be risky."
"Sturg says it's pretty soft."
"Sturg... Sturg always knows what he's talking about," Box conceded.
"When would you do it?"
"Either one week, or a month and a week. The money's there one day a month," Poole said.
"Mmm. I like Biloxi. Like that jambalaya. Pass the joint." He passed it over and she bit off some smoke, played it through her nose. She handed the joint back and rubbed her arms: goosebumps in the cool night.
"The thing is, we'd get cash. All cash. We could spend it without anybody looking at us or looking for us," Poole said. "Stay here, figure out a way to move the gold. We get a couple mil out of Biloxi, we could take eight or ten years to liquidate the gold and when that's done, we got a lifetime."
"I don't like you going back to work, but it's better'n moving to Russia, or some weird foreign shit like that," Box said. She stood up and stretched: she had the body for it, too, long, lanky, lightly freckled, a dishwater blonde with small pink nipples and only a wispy trace of pubic hair. "I'm going back to bed; don't stay up too late."
Poole bought high quality guitar parts, assembled them, then began meticulously carving and staining the surfaces, creating comic-book-like custom scenes. He'd learned woodworking at what Tennessee called, with a straight face, a Youth Development Center. Prison for kids, was what it was.
When Box was gone, he sat looking at his latest work, a bass-fishing comic being done for a pro fisherman who was also a guitar collector. It needed another two weeks; he'd have to put it aside, for now. He reached across the shed and picked up a twenty-year-old Les Paul, touched the power switch on an amp with his big toe, pulled some quiet blues out of the guitar. He liked the music, liked the woodwork, liked the smell of the lacquer. If he'd made a business of it, he figured he'd make almost half as much as an elementary school teacher.
He went to Biloxi.
Biloxi, Mississippi, and the smell of the sea.
Sturgill Darling was sitting at a round corner table in the oyster bar, a block off the Gulf of Mexico, amid the steam and sour stinks of both raw and cooking seafood. He looked like a slow, lazy hick, and stupid, too, with his farm-work forearms, bowl-cut brown hair and worn, loose-cut jeans. He wore a floppy plaid shirt and yellow work boots, and sprawled back in the chair, knees locked and feet straight out in front of him, grinning at the passing crowd with teeth as yellow as his boots. A dumbass, for sure; an ignorant peckerwood. A mistake that any number of people had made to their lasting regret.
Poole took the chair beside him, held up a finger to a barmaid and pointed at Darling's glass and said, "Give me one of those."
When she'd gone, Darling asked, "What do you think?"
Poole was wearing sunglasses over a gray-flecked-red week-old beard, and under a long-billed fishing hat, the better to defeat surveillance cameras. He'd spent most of the day scouting the scene of the would-be job. "We can do it, if it's no more guys than you say. How in the hell did you find this?"
"I knew the blow was coming in through Galveston but I couldn't see any money going out. They're bringing in anything up to five hundred kilos at a time, that's, let's see, about eleven hundred pounds, off big game fishing boats that meet with these boats from Honduras. Anyway, I found a guy in Houston who could sell me an ounce, and then I watched. Watched him, watched the guy he got his product from, and watched the guy he got his product from, and by the time I got to the end of the line, I was watching guys who could sell you a hundred kilos if you had the cash. Then I watched them backwards: watched the wholesalers paying the money guys the money guys never touch the dope and watched the money guys move it to the pickup guys, who travel up and down the coast from Charleston around to Galveston, with Biloxi in the middle. Watched it come down here, to the bank."
Poole thought about that, admitted to himself that Darling had a talent that he, Poole, barely understood, the ability to uncover the footprints that could lead to a treasure; but Poole also understood that he had a talent that Darling didn't: the will to act. Darling could uncover all the dope banks he wished, but he'd never go into a robbery as the leader, the designated shooter. That took somebody like Poole.
"How do they move the dope?" Poole asked.
"RV. Couple of middle-aged lesbo chicks, got some prison tats on them. They look... competent. They got double-load tires on the truck, I believe there might be some armor on it. These girls got a look about them: I believe they're carrying some artillery."
"Huh." That's the way Poole would have done it; he even liked the lesbo touch. Cops were usually too sexist and too lazy to pay much attention to a couple of chicks. And some of those goddamned dykes could take your face apart with their teeth.
"But we don't want the dope, even if we could take it," Darling said. "We got no way to get rid of it. Not that much of it. And the dope handlers never see the cash, except at the lowest levels."
"Just askin'. Five hundred kilos, what's that..." He closed his eyes for a few seconds, then said, "Twelve million, more or less, if it's not stepped on too hard. What about the money?"
"They take no chances with the money. They move it in increments. There are four bankers who travel around, meet the collectors who get the cash from the top-end retailers. The bankers and everybody else move in rental cars, I doubt they ever have as much as a quarter million in any one pickup. Then it comes together, down here, once a month. The people here bundle it and send it out on the last Sunday of the month," Darling said. "Regular as a railroad. Put it on a charter boat, drop it with a Honduran boat out in the Gulf. Whole operation is run by the Arce brothers, Hector and Simon, out of Puetro Cortes."
"Yes. The brothers aren't real big, not like the Mexican cartels, but they're smart and mean. Keep their heads down and their mouths shut, nothing flashy about them. Pay off the Honduran cops and Army, everybody's cool."
Poole thought about that, in the silent, smiling, calculating way that southerners had, and finally said, "Well. Looks like you found the honey pot, all right," Poole said.
"Probably." Darling gave Poole his lazy look. "You sure you're up for this? It's been a while."
"Yup. I am."
"There'll be one outside, three inside, they all got guns," Darling said. "I've watched them for three months, always the same."
"We gunned up?" Poole asked.
"Yeah. Got your favorites, bought out of Chicago brand-new, Glock 23s suppressed, loaded up with 180s. I did the reloads myself so they'll be going out subsonic to kill some of the noise. I thought maybe... Sam Brooks if you think we need another gun."
"Don't need him and I don't like him," Poole said. "I'll need a day to work with the guns. You got a place I can do that?"
"Knew you'd ask," Darling said. "I got a place so far out in the woods that the fuckin' owls get lost."
The barmaid brought Poole's beer and he thanked her and they waited until she moved away, then Poole said, "Shoot the next couple days, move Sunday night?"
"Sounds good. About the cut? What do you think?"
Poole grinned and tapped the beer, swallowed, and said, "I won't argue with you."
"I'm thinking, sixty-forty, since I did all the set-up," Darling said. "Took me nine months. I started working on it way last winter."
"Hot damn," Darling said, with his yellow grin. "The Dixie Hicks are back in action. What's left of them, anyway."
Poole laughed and kicked back and said, "You remember that time with Ronnie outside of Charleston..."
The Dixie Hicks had all kinds of war stories, some funny, some sad. In most of them, even the funny ones, somebody wound up dead. Like Ronnie, three Georgia state troopers hot on his ass, riding a stolen 2009, 556-horse Cadillac CTS-V down a rocky gulch in the Georgia Piedmont, rolling over and over and over until the car looked like a shiny sausage, thirty thousand dollars in bank money exploded all over the interior, along with Ronnie's brains.
Good old Ronnie. Too bad he killed himself.
Poole and Darling drove north into the trees on the following day and Poole went to work with the guns. He'd laid off for a while, but killing is like riding a bicycle: once you got it, you got it.
Darling had gotten inside the counting house one dark night when the bankers weren't there, and said they counted at a table about thirty-two feet from the door in the outer wall he'd checked it with a tape measure. At thirty-two feet, or any shorter distance, Poole wouldn't have to worry about where to shoot: he'd hold dead-on and pull the trigger. They set up some human-shaped paper targets out in the woods, stapled to pine trees, and Poole worked at it, getting back in the rhythm. From the first shots, he was accurate enough, but he had to work on speed.
He did that, and he knew how to do it: slow at first, feeling the weapons, feeling the rounds going out, feeling the recoil. Then a little quicker and a little quicker, Darling looking at a stopwatch.
Darling was almost scholarly about it: "You're at less than half a second," he said, holding a stopwatch. "You know better than me, but it looks like you're still trying to be too fast. You over-aim, then you've got to correct."
Poole nodded: "I can feel that."
He would shoot a box of .40s, the same stuff he'd use for the real thing, and then take a break, walk around, shake out his hands. At the end of the day, he could get off four accurate, killing shots in a little more than a fifth of a second. Good enough.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina went through Biloxi like an H-bomb, a thirty-foot storm surge taking out a good part of the town. North of the main harbor was mostly bare ground that once had houses. Here and there a building remained, but not in its original state; and there weren't a lot of people around.
Grace Baptist Church once had a field-stone foundation up over head height, with a white clapboard structure above that, dating back to the 1890s. The frame structure, if it hadn't been atomized, was probably somewhere up in the Kentucky woods, having ridden away on Katrina's winds like Dorothy's house in the Wizard of Oz.
The bottom of the church, the shoulder-high fieldstone foundation, remained in place, it's original floor, now covered with tarpaper, serving as the roof. The church, foundation and floor only, had been sold to a man who collected antique cars and needed a place to store them. When the Honduras cartel was looking for a place to put their bank, they made the car collector an offer he didn't even think of refusing. Not that he was frightened: he was simply greedy and the offer was that good.
The spot had two great benefits: there were never any cops around, because there was nothing to steal, vandalize or hang out at; and you could walk down to your boat in five minutes.
Sunday night was out-going only, with four men doing the work. For most of the evening, two of the four men would be posted at opposite corners of the former church, seated between carefully placed Limelight hydrangeas. They both were carrying guns; at least two each, Darling thought, probably high-capacity semi-autos with suppressors, and were linked with radio headsets.
Late in the evening, Darling said, one would go inside with the other two, while one remained outside, seated behind a bush by a door in the old church's basement.
He thought the three were probably packing the money, after the first two had counted and bundled it. Around midnight, the outside guard would go inside, and a few minutes later, they'd all walk out of the building, carrying at least one and often two suitcases each. The walk down to the waterfront took five minutes. There, they'd get on a fishing boat. Two or three minutes later they'd be off the boat and strolling through the quiet Sunday night back to the old church building.
Three of them would wait there while the fourth man went out to a black Lincoln Navigator that they'd parked behind a building a few hundred yards away. He'd pick up the other three, and they'd drive over to the Hampton Inn, where they'd stay overnight before dispersing to wherever they lived.
The boat with the money would ease out of the marina in the early morning hours, and disappear over the southern horizon. Darling had considered the possibility of robbing the boat, but thought the money might be inside a safe, or otherwise hard to get at; taking it could get complicated and they didn't have the time or the organization for that.
At ten o'clock Sunday night, Poole and Darling slipped out of an abandoned FEMA trailer where they'd spent most of the afternoon and evening, eating Subway sandwiches and drinking Smartwater and pissing in the no-longer-connected toilet at the other end of the trailer.
They were both dressed in dark clothes, but nothing unusual or too tactical black Levis jeans and long-sleeved navy polo shirts. They were wearing ski masks, which weren't often seen in Biloxi, the town being woefully short on ski slopes, and light blue surgeons gloves.
Poole carried two pistols, Darling carried one, all suppressed, Nines for Darling, Forties for Poole. The guns, with the custom suppressors, were fourteen inches long in their hands. They were shooting wet, having sprayed water down the suppressors before screwing them back on the gun barrels, in the two minutes or so before they left the trailer. The wet suppressors would be even quieter than they were dry.
Only one guard remained outside. He was sitting behind a haggard pink rose bush adjacent to the door. They came in from the blind side of the foundation, Darling trailing behind as Poole led the way.
At the corner, twenty feet from the access door, Poole peeked. Because of the rose bush, he couldn't see the guard; but neither could the guard see him. Moving with glacial slowness, he duck-walked down along the wall. Ten feet out, he could smell the other man, a smoker, but still not see him. When he was three feet out, Poole rose carefully to his feet, back against the stone wall, looked down.
The guard never knew what hit him: Poole reached over the rose bush and shot him in the head, a golf-clap pop from the gun.
Darling came up, quiet as Poole had been. Didn't even glance at the dead man. Three more men inside. They needed instant control; couldn't abide with chaos, with some crazy gunfight. Needed to get on top of the other three immediately.
Darling took the door: he breathed, "Ready?"
The door would not be locked. They'd seen the guards go in and out without knocking or using keys. Poole got square to it, a gun in each hand.
"Now," Poole whispered.
Darling reached one gloved hand out to the door knob, turned it, pushed. It squeaked and then Poole was inside, both guns up. He could see the three men thirty feet away, sitting side-by-wide at a table. They all looked up, maybe expecting to see their outside man, but all they saw was a stranger in black who said not a single word but simply opened fire.
Darling was backup: Poole did the killing. Darling kicked the door shut as Poole shot each of the three men once, in a grand total of a half-second, two shots from his right hand, one from his left, a little slower than he'd been on the paper targets. A half-second was almost fast enough, but not quite. One of the men grabbed a Nine from the counting table and got off a single wild shot.
The bullet pinched the underside of Poole's left arm, but the man who fired it was already dead by the time Poole realized he'd been shot. He was striding toward the counting table when a young girl, maybe six years old, bolted toward the back of the building from where she'd been sitting on the floor with a golden-haired Barbie doll. She knew she wouldn't make it, though, stopped, turned and said, "You killed grandpa."
"Sorry kid," Poole said, and shot her in the head.
Darling, coming up from behind, said, the shock riding through his voice, "Fuckin' A, Gar, did you have to do that?"
"Yeah, I did. She was old enough to raise the cops," Poole said. He felt nothing for the kid, but needed to mollify Darling. "If we tied her up, she might starve to death before somebody found her. This was the best."
Darling stared at the Raggedy-Ann body of the kid, wrapped in a white dress now spattered with blood that looked like red flowers woven into the pale fabric. "Fuckin' A. We coulda called somebody..."
"Wake up, man! It's done! Get the fuckin' suitcases," Poole said. "We gotta move! Motherfucker got lucky and hit me."
"Oh, Jesus. Bad?"
"No, but I've got to look. Get the suitcases going."
Poole couldn't push the shirt sleeve up high enough to see the wound, so he pulled the polo shirt over his head. He found an inch-long groove on the underside of his arm; it was bleeding, but the bullet hadn't actually penetrated. A flesh wound, as they said on the old TV westerns.
Darling was shoveling loose cash from the tabletop into a suitcase, stopping every few seconds to peer at the dead girl, as though hoping she'd show a sign of life. He brought himself back, glanced at Poole and asked again, "How bad?"
"Not bad. Need to rip up a shirt or something. Not much more than a Band-Aid job."
"We got a bunch of shirts, laying on the flood. Rip one up," Darling said.
Poole ripped a piece off the girl's skirt, figuring that probably had the least body contact with its former owner, and was less likely to carry an infection: Poole thought of things like that, even under stress. He made a neat tie bandage out of it; it was really all he needed. He pulled his shirt back over his head and together he and Darling checked the take. Poole had nothing more to say except, "Holy shit."
"You got that right, brother," Darling said. "Way more than I thought. Heavy, though. Can you carry?"
"Hell, yes. It hurt, but it's not bad."
He was wrong about carrying the money. The suitcases must have weighed forty or fifty pounds each, about like a deep-cycle bass boat battery, and there were six of them, instead of the three or four they'd expected. He could carry one with each hand, but not run with them; the one on his shot arm dragged him down, the grazing shot now burning like fire. Darling, carrying four suitcases, one in each hand and one bundled under each armpit, hurried ahead and kept hissing back, "C'mon, c'mon."
The stolen truck was two hundred yards away. Darling loaded his suitcases and ran back to Poole, grabbed the suitcase on Poole's bad side, and together, they made it back to the truck.
They drove slowly they were professionals out of Biloxi. They left the stolen truck at a rest area on I-10, transferring the cases to Darling's long-bed Chevy. Darling had put a false floor in the camper and they emptied the cash through the concealed hatch, closed the hatch, and threw the suitcases on top of it.
Heading west again, they stripped off the surgeon's gloves and threw them out the windows as small rubber balls. The ski masks went after them, one at a time, miles apart. Twenty miles further along, Darling took an exit that curled down a side road to a bridge.
They threw the guns off the bridge into the narrow dark river and headed back to the Interstate. Further up the way, they left the five suitcases sitting side-by-side on a sidewalk in Slidell, Louisiana, with a sign on top that said, "Free."
A little more than an hour after killing the four men and the girl, they were out of Slidell, still moving west.
"What the fuck's wrong with you?" Poole asked, looking over at Darling, who was hunched over the steering wheel, his mouth in a fixed grimace.
"I raised some girls. I can't get that little girl out of my head," Darling said.
"C'mon, man. What difference does the age make? She's just another witness."
"I know, I know. Just... skizzed me out, man. I... keep seeing her. I'll be okay."
Poole peered at him for a minute, then said, "Think about it this way: it's done. Can't be undone. It's history."
They stopped at a twenty-four hour Walmart Supercenter in Baton Rouge, off to one side of the parking lot, between two other pickups, climbed into the back of the truck and dug the money out from under the false floor. Most of it was in hundreds, well-used and a little greasy, bundled into bricks of ten thousand dollars each. There was also a pile of loose money that Darling had scraped off the counting table.
They counted out a few bundles, agreed that they were ten thousand dollars each, despite varying in size depending on the value of the individual bills in each bundle. They counted the bundles. There were seven hundred and eighty of them. "Seven million, eight hundred thousand," Darling breathed. "Man, those greasers are gonna be pissed when they hear about this."
"Fuck 'em," Poole said, and he laughed aloud.
Darling sat back on the truck floor and said, "Tell you what, man. Forget the sixty-forty. I never thought we'd get this much. Let's cut it fifty-fifty and I'll keep the loose change. Can't be more than a couple hundred thousand there."
"You are a fine and honorable man," Poole said. "Let's do it."
He held up a fist and Darling bumped it and they split up the money.
Box was at a Baton Rouge Marriott. When the counting was done and the money repacked in two canvas duffle bags, Poole called her. "All done," he said.
"I been up for three hours, nervouser than a nun at a penguin shoot," she said. "Where you at?"
"Right where we're supposed to be," Poole said.
"You do good?" she asked.
"Better'n that," Poole said.
"Ten minutes," she said.
She was twelve minutes. Darling went on his way and five hours later, Poole and Box had cut I-20 west of Shreveport and rolled across the Texas border on the way back home to Dallas, listening to Paul Thorn singing "Bull Mountain Bridge" on the Sirius satellite radio.
A ton of money in the back.
Money, Poole thought, that would last his entire life.
Three locals were sitting on the wide wooden porch, on a green park bench, to the right of the bar's front door. An overhead fluorescent light buzzed like a dentist's drill, but didn't seem to bother them much, maybe they were too drunk. All three of them wore trucker hats and were drinking beer from plastic cups.
They stopped to watch attentively when Lucas Davenport rolled his black Mercedes SUV across the gravel parking lot and into a vacant slot between a new Ford F-150 and a battered yellow Cadillac sedan old enough to have fins.
Lucas got out of the truck, clicked the "lock" on the Benz's key fob, and took in the bar.
In any other place, Cooter's would have been a dive. Out here it wasn't, because it was the only bar in Aux Vases, the place where everybody went, from the janitors to the bankers. Built like an old Mississippi River delta-style house, it featured that wide front porch with an overhanging roof, warped, unpainted plank walls and neon beer signs in the windows. A million white thumbnail sized moths were beating themselves to death around the fluorescent light over the head of the three men, but they didn't seem to notice.
In a movie, you'd expect an outbreak of rednecks. Crackers. Peckerwoods with ropes and ax handles.
Located two hundred yards from one of the rare exits off I-55, with a twenty-foot-wide red-and-white sign that blinked between Cooter's and Drink, the bar also attracted anyone who might be running along the Interstate between St. Louis and Memphis, who might get shaky after two hours without alcohol.
Lucas crunched across the gravel parking lot, climbed the porch steps and nodded at the three men. He didn't have to get close to smell the spilt beer. One of the three checked out Lucas' suit, tie and black Lucchese lizard-skin cowboy boots, and said, "Evenin', sir," slurring his words enough that Lucas thought the men might not be out on the bench voluntarily.
Lucas said, "Evenin' boys."
"Nice ride you got there," the middle one said.
"Thank you. Want to buy it?"
The three all chuckled. They couldn't afford one of the fuckin' tires, much less the rest of the truck, but the offer gave them the warm glow of economic equality. Lucas nodded again, said, "Take 'er easy," went inside, chose the least sticky-looking stool toward the end of the bar and sat down.
The bartender, a thin man with a gold eyetooth and a black string tie, came over and asked, "What do you need?"
"Make me a decent margarita?" Lucas loosened his necktie.
"I can do that, though some folks think the indecent ones are even better," the bartender said. When Lucas didn't crack back, he said, "One decent margarita, coming up."
The bartender had started to step away when Lucas asked, "How do you pronounce the name of this place?"
The bartender's face took on the look that people get when they're asked a really, really stupid question. "Cooter's?"
Lucas laughed. "No, no the town. Aux Vases." He pronounced it Ox Vasies.
"Oh. Jeez, you had me goin' there for a minute," the bartender said. "It's, uh, French, and it's Oh-Va."
"Oh-Va. Always wondered, whenever I saw the sign," Lucas said.
"Yup. Oh-Va." The bartender went off to find some tequila.
Lucas looked around the place. Fifteen booths, twelve bar stools, couple of game machines in the back, plank floors that creaked when somebody walked across them, and the vagrant smell of Rum Crooks and deep-fried fish sticks. He was the only man in the place with a necktie and without a hat.
Lucas sat alone, buying four margaritas over the space of forty-five minutes, and making two trips to the men's room, or what he hoped was the men's room. There were no identifying signs on the doors, but a picture of a cat on one of them, and a rooster on the other. Lucas took a second to figure out it meant cocks and pussies, and chose the cock side, which did have a urinal and a rusty condom machine. After the third margarita, the bartender sidled over, wiping out a glass with a cotton towel, and asked, "Where y'all from, if you don't mind me asking?"
"St. Paul driving through St. Louis on the way to Memphis," Lucas said.
"Business, or pleasure?"
"Business, but I do plan to eat some barbeque when I get down there. Don't tell the IRS."
"Wisht I was going with you," the bartender said. He looked at Lucas a little more closely, and saw a big, blue-eyed guy, whose dark hair was threaded with gray at the temples.
The bartender guessed that he might be in his late forties or early fifties. His nose had been broken at one time or another and a thin white scar ran down his forehead across his eyebrow; another scar, a round one, sat just above the loosened knot of his necktie. And the suit the suit he was wearing was undoubtedly the most expensive suit to come through the door in the last ten years. "You look like you been around the block, but done all right."
"Yeah, I done all right," Lucas said. "And been around the block a couple of times, at least." The bartender figured his tongue had been loosened by the alcohol. "Had a couple good ideas back in the nineties, hired a guy to write some software, and did all right."
"I wouldn't know a software from a water hose," the bartender said. He held the glass up to the light and squinted through it, judging its cleanliness. Not very, but good enough for Cooter's. He put it with a group of other glasses on the bar top. "Though I heard enough about it."
"I'll tell you what, I know damn little about software myself," Lucas said. A baseball game was playing on the TV above the bar, but the sound was off, and a couple of moths that had made it inside, bounced off the screen. "You hire a nerd to write the software, is what you do. The main thing is, the idea. That's what people pay for. They don't pay for a bunch of garbled up computer language, they pay for the game or whatever it is."
"Yep." Lucas burped.
"What was your idea?"
"Pretty simple. So simple it still makes me laugh," Lucas said. "I was trying to clean out the gas line on a lawn mower, but there wasn't any manual with it, or I'd lost it or something. I had to spend an hour figuring out how to take the mower apart. Right around that time, I saw that everyone was buying computers and signing up for the Internet and making websites. And I thought, what if I put every single instruction manual in the world on the Internet, and charged the companies to keep them there? Not much, maybe ten dollars a year but thousands of them. The customers would get 'em free. Print them out, right at home. I worked like a dog for two years, collecting every instruction manual I could lay my hands on, everything from bulldozer operating manuals to coffee-pot manuals to camera instructions. Nerd put them on-line and next thing I knew, I was driving a big ol' Cadillac and these companies were paying me a hundred bucks a year to keep them up. Not ten bucks, a hundred. Hell, what's a hundred bucks to Ford or GM? Nothing. Car breaks down, a mechanic can get online in one minute and find out everything he needs to know. I got ten girls working for me now, scanning in manuals."
"Damn," the bartender said, "I wish I thought of that," and, "You need another one?"
"Maybe one more," Lucas said. "I need to get my shiny white ass down to Memphis in time for the barbeque."
"I hear you, brother."
Lucas was halfway through the last margarita when Shirley McDonald eased up on a stool two down. Lucas looked her over, smiled, and nodded. She was a skinny young blonde. Very young, black eyebrows, too much eye shadow, crystalline green eyes, Crayola-red lipstick not quite inside the lines. She looked fragile, easily broken; might already have been busted a couple of times. She wore a white blouse that verged on transparent, no obvious bra straps, jeans torn at the thigh and knee, and sandals. Not a debutante. She asked, "How y'all doin'?"
"I'm doing fine," Lucas said. "For a man this far from the comforts of home."
"You got a cigarette?" she asked.
"I don't smoke," Lucas said.
"Damnit, I'll have to smoke one of my own." She grinned at him and fished a turquoise pack of American Spirit out of her purse. One of her big front teeth wasn't quite straight, but the irregularity made her even more attractive, which she certainly knew. "The goddamned things are so expensive now, I can only afford about a pack a week."
"Buy you a drink, though," Lucas said.
"I was waitin' to hear that," she said. She lifted a finger to the bartender and said, "Eddie..."
"Yeah, I know expensive and sweet."
"You are such a sugar bear," she said. She knocked a cigarette out of the pack, tapped the end on the bar to pack in the tobacco, and asked Lucas, "What's your story, big guy?"
"I'm just a guy," Lucas said.
"A married guy," she said, as she fired up the cigarette. He was wearing a ring.
"You know how that goes..." Lucas said.
The bartender came over, put down a tall dark drink that smelled of sugar, and handed her a toothpick on which he'd speared three maraschino cherries. She sucked off two of them then she took a sip of the drink and Lucas asked, "What the heck is that?"
"Jim Beam Single Barrel," the bartender said, "And Coca-Cola. We call it an Oh-Va Libre."
Lucas winced, turned back to McDonald and asked, "What's your name?"
"Triste," she said, sucking off the third cherry. "It's French... Like Oh Va."
The whole cherry-sucking thing was both hilarious and the tiniest bit erotic, but it would have taken a mean bastard to laugh at her. Lucas didn't. The girl, he thought, was probably younger than his daughter Letty, now in her second year at Stanford.
Anyway, one thing led to another and Lucas never did make it to Memphis. At midnight, after a few more margaritas and three more trips to the rooster room, he and McDonald wound up at the Motel 6 on the other side of I-55. Lucas hadn't anymore than gotten the motel door shut when the girl popped the belt on her jeans and stripped them off, with her sandals, then pulled the blouse off. Lucas was still wearing his suit coat, though he'd stuffed his tie in his coat pocket.
"What do you think?" Triste asked, fists on her hips. She had pale cone-shaped breasts tipped with the same pink color as a Barbie Doll butt. They stood straight out, and wobbled when she spoke.
"How old are you, anyway?" Lucas asked.
"Fifteen," she said.
Then she snatched up her jeans and started screaming her head off.
Three seconds later, as she huddled in the corner with her jeans held to her breasts, the cops came through the door. With a key, Lucas noticed; no point in kicking down a perfectly good motel-room door.
The first cop through the door was a tall, rangy blonde guy with muscles in his face. He looked angry with the world and willing to do something about it, preferably with a gun. He had a flattop haircut with well-waxed front edges; and he had a big blued automatic in his right hand. He pointed it at Lucas' head and shouted, "On the wall, asshole. On the wall."
Lucas thought, 'Oh shit,' because if the guy screwed up Lucas could wind up dead. He turned, hands over his head, facing the wall and the cop yelled, "Hands on the wall, ass-wipe, push your feet back, push your feet back, weight on your hands."
Lucas said, "I didn't know..."
"Shut the fuck up!"
The second cop through the door was shorter than the first, roly-poly, with a reddish mustache and sparse red hair. He looked like a woodchuck, or maybe a beaver, Lucas thought. Both cops were wearing chest cameras. The woodchuck asked Triste, "You all right, girl?"
Triste, speaking for the cameras, said, "He said we were gonna watch a movie, he tried to force me."
"Put your clothes back on then," the short cop said.
Lucas was leaning on the wall with both hands, but turned his head toward the girl and saw her grin at the cop. The blond cop had put his gun back in his holster, patted Lucas' hips and around his beltline, and down his legs, then said, "Hands behind your back. You been trying to fuck this little high school girl, huh? Well, tonight's your unlucky night."
"I'm telling you, she was drinking and smoking in the bar..."
The cop jerked him around and popped him in the gut with a lazy right fist. Not too hard, but hard enough to bend Lucas over. "Shut up. You talk when I tell you to."
Lucas eased back up. "I'm tellin' ya..."
Boom, another shot in the gut, harder this time. "You deaf? I said, you talk when I tell you."
"Don't hit me again," Lucas said. "Don't hit me again."
The blond sneered and said, "I oughta smack the shit outa you."
The woodchuck muttered, "Mind the cameras, Todd."
"I don't think no jury's gonna give me a hard time for spanking a goddamn dirtbag who comes to town and tries to hump a tenth grader. That oughta be good for fifteen years, in my humble opinion."
"I did not..." Boom, another shot in the gut; that was getting old.
The woodchuck said to the girl, "You're gonna have to ride with me over to the sheriff's, girl. We'll need a statement from you."
"He pulled my pants off..." she wailed, with all the sincerity of a cup of lemon-flavored Jello.
Lucas rode with Todd the cop back to the Aux Vases County law enforcement center, hands cuffed behind his back. The woodchuck drove in a second car, bringing the girl with him. The law enforcement center was a low yellow-brick building with the Aux Vases city police at one front corner, the Aux Vases country sheriff's department on the other front corner, and a two-story fire department in the back.
Todd pulled Lucas out of the patrol car and hustled him into the sheriff's department. A deputy was sitting on a bench beside the door smoking a cigarette. As they came up, he asked, "What you got, Todd?"
"Scumbag tried to fuck a little girl," Todd said.
"Maybe take him out and shoot him," the smoker drawled.
"Could, but I don't think the sheriff would be happy about it," Todd said.
"Bet you could talk him into it," the smoker said. "He don't like that kind of thing."
"I won't take the bet," Todd said, glancing at Lucas. "You're probably right."
The deputy put Lucas in a holding cell, hands still pinned behind his back. "Don't go anywhere," he said, before slamming the steel door.
Lucas sat on the concrete bench and waited. The cell smelled like beer vomit and Clorox. His wife had ordered him to try yoga after he'd quit his job with Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, as a stress reliever. That hadn't worked worth a damn, but he'd been given a calming mantra by the yoga instructor, and he tried out now: "Mind like moon... Mind like moon..."
After a while, it made him laugh.
He couldn't see his watch, but he thought a half-hour had passed before he heard people outside the door: he knew the routine, they were letting him stew, and worry about consequences. He heard somebody tapping the keypad-lock, the door popped open and another tall blond looked in at him. This one was twenty-five years older than the first cop, but there was a family resemblance, including the tense facial muscles and the well-waxed flattop. The first two cops had been wearing khaki uniforms with shoulder patches that said Aux Vases County; this man was wearing a sport coat and tan slacks.
"Bring him outa there, son," the man said.
The first big blond cop, Todd, came around the door and said, "Stand up, asshole."
Lucas stood, and the cop hooked him by the arm and led him out into the hallway, then they all followed the man in the sport coat down the hall to an office, where the man in the sport coat sat down behind the desk. A nameplate on the desk said, "Sheriff Robert 'Bob' Turner." There were a dozen pictures of himself on the back wall, either receiving awards, or standing with some dignitary.
The sheriff asked, "Where's Triste?"
"Waiting room with Scott," Todd said.
"Bring her in here."
Todd went to get her, and Lucas said, "Sheriff Turner, I did not..."
"Shut the fuck up," Turner said. "In this office, you speak when you're spoken to."
Todd was back ten seconds later with the woodchuck cop and the girl. Turner looked at Triste, and asked, "What'd he do to you?"
"He said we'd get some beer and go watch HBO, and when I got in his room, he started pulling off my clothes. He almost had me naked, I was screaming, and Todd showed up just in time," she said.
The sheriff looked at Lucas and asked, "Is that right?"
Lucas shook his head. "No. It's not right."
"You're saying she's lying?" Turner asked.
"That's what I'm saying," Lucas said.
"Huh. Well, Todd, what do you have to say?"
"We were over at the Motel 6, doing a routine check, and I was walking along that walkway there and I heard Shirley... er, Triste... cry out, and the door was unlocked and I went through it and I found her naked as the day she was born and this guy here all over her."
The sheriff looked at Lucas. "That right?"
"No. She took her own clothes off and started screaming," Lucas said. "I was not all over her I was standing by the door and she was on the other side of the room."
"You're saying Todd's lying, too."
Todd reached over and slapped Lucas on the face. Lucas half spun away, trying to keep his balance, which was harder than he'd thought it might be, with his hands pinned behind him. The slap stung, but didn't do any damage. Todd was pissing him off, though.
The sheriff puffed himself up, and noisily sighed, then said, "Well, looks like we got ourselves a situation." He turned to Triste. "You pretty messed up, girl?"
"Hell, yeah," she said. "Nothing like this ever happened before. I'm pretty much a virgin."
The sheriff gazed at her for a bit, then said to Scott, "Go sit her down in the waiting room again. You stay with her. Me'n Todd will interview the subject here."
When they were gone, the sheriff asked Todd, "You check his ID?"
"Not yet. I was gonna do that when you got here."
"Well, check it. Let's see who we got."
"My name's Lucas..." Lucas began.
"Shut up," the sheriff said.
Lucas carried a bifold alligator-hide wallet in his front pants pocket, and Todd slipped it out, opened it, and said, "No cash, nothing but credit cards and a Minnesota driver's license. Lucas Davenport, Mississippi River Boulevard, St. Paul."
"Well, let's see what we got on Mr. Davenport," the sheriff said. He turned to a computer, tapped a key, which brought up a browser, went to Google, and typed in Lucas' name. There were a dozen articles and a hundred mentions or so, some with photographs. The sheriff read for a while, clicking through the articles, and then said to Todd, "Says here Mr. Davenport is a wealthy patron of the arts in Minneapolis and St. Paul, made his money with software. Don't say a thing about his fuckin' underage girls. Is that all true, Mr. Davenport?"
Lucas nodded. "I guess."
"You guess. Huh. You don't know for sure?" Turner asked.
Lucas said, "Yeah, that's me."
"You so rich you don't even carry cash? You just wave that black Amex card at people?"
"You know what?" Todd asked. He reached out and patted Lucas on the chest. "Here we go."
He fished a second leather wallet out of Lucas' breast pocket, opened it and said, "Whoa, daddy. He is rich." He pulled out a wad of hundreds, spread it like a hand of cards. "There must be... five grand here."
"That's evidence," the sheriff said. "Give it over here."
Todd handed him the money and the sheriff put it in his jacket pocket, peered at Lucas for a few more seconds, then said to Todd, "Take those cuffs off him." When the cuffs were off, the sheriff said, "Sit down, Mr. Davenport. I need to explain to you some realities of the world."
The realities, the sheriff said, were that both the deputies had been wearing body cameras, which he called Obama-cams, and they clearly caught Lucas and Triste in the motel room. Triste, he said, had probably been ruined by the night's sexual experience, or if not ruined, at least psychologically damaged. Long-term psychiatric care would be needed to fix that and long-term psychiatric care wasn't cheap.
"I got enough to send you off to the state prison for, oh, five to ten years, but that's not gonna do Triste any good, is it? She's still ruint," the sheriff said. "I'm saying, between you and me, it might be better to cut our own little deal. I understand how you could have been misled, and everybody likes a little young puss now and then. But that's neither here nor there she's still fifteen. You pay for her care if those newspaper stories are right, you won't even miss the money and we forget the whole thing. Or, you can do the five to ten."
Lucas didn't say anything for ten seconds, fifteen seconds, then he blurted, "You motherfuckers. You used that girl to set me up. That's what's going on here. She doesn't need that money. I bet you got her doing this three times a week..."
The sheriff said, "Todd? A little help?"
Todd swung harder this time, caught Lucas across the cheek with an open hand, knocked him off the chair. Lucas crawled in a circle on his hands and knees, could taste blood this time, and said, "C'mon, don't hit me, don't hit me again."
"Couldn't help myself," the sheriff said. "Accusing me of some kind of public corruption. I don't take those kind of insults. Now get back up on that chair."
Lucas got back up on the chair, feeling the blood surging through his cheeks where he'd been hit he'd have a hand-sized bruise in the morning and the sheriff asked, "What's it gonna be? You want to pay or you want to go to court? I gotta tell you the truth, we don't much care for Yankees down here."
Lucas dragged his hand across his mouth, tasting the salty/metallic dash of blood. "What're we talking about? How much?"
The sheriff considered for a moment, and then said, "Given what the crime is, and given the fact that you're a rich man... twenty-five thousand. That sound about right?"
"Jesus, I don't have that much around. I don't have my check book with me..."
"What we do is this. You give me that American Express card, and we'll fill out, right here, a bond statement, bailing you outa jail. We bail you out for two thousand dollars. Then you go back home and you send us a check. If you don't send us a check, we'll schedule you for trial, and get in touch with the St. Paul police about extraditing your ass. If the check comes in, well, then it was a bad night in Oh Va, but you won't be hearing from us again."
"I send you a check for twenty thousand? You already got five in cash."
"And the watch," Todd said. "That's a Rolex, I always wanted one of them. Give it over here."
"Not the watch. My wife gave it to me, it's engraved on the back."
"The watch," Todd insisted. The sheriff leaned back, amused. "Give it over here," Todd said, "Or I swear to God, I'll slap the shit out of you."
"You gotta take the price of the watch off the rest, I'll get a new one..." Lucas said. He unfastened the watch, and handed it to Todd, who admired it for a few seconds, then put it in his pocket.
"No, no. The full price is thirty-two thousand, plus the watch," the sheriff said, leaning back into the conversation. "You put two thousand on that Amex, and send us twenty-five, and we'll keep all of it."
"How much does Triste get? I hope she gets something from you sonsofbitches."
The sheriff smiled. "Triste does all right. Better than working at McDonalds, getting all that smoke and grease up in your hair." He leaned forward across his desk, fingers knitted together. "You look like a sophisticated man, Mr. Davenport. If you ever talk about this whole thing, the big headline's gonna say, 'Mr. Davenport fucks fifteen-year-old' and the little headline is gonna say, 'Claims public corruption.' Which headline do you think people will give a shit about? Which headline do you think your wife will give a shit about, when Triste gets up on the witness stand, and everybody gets a look at those titties?"
Lucas said, "All right. You've got the five grand in your pocket, I'll charge two more on the Amex, but I only send you twenty more. That's all."
"You trying to bargain with me?" the sheriff asked, with the same shark-toothed smile. "Because you're not in much of a position..."
The office door opened and the deputy who'd led Triste away stepped back inside the room. His face was shiny with sweat and maybe regret and the sheriff broke off to say, "What...?"
The deputy looked back over his shoulder and then a dark gray semi-automatic pistol extended past his ear, pointed at Todd's head and the deputy lurched further into the office and a man in a blue suit with a wide gray mustache pushed inside, and said, "Todd, I don't want to have to tell you twice, but if you move a hand toward your gun, I'll blow your brains all over daddy's office."
The sheriff pushed back from his desk, a stricken look on his face. He'd already figured it out, but he asked anyway: "Who're you? Who the fuck are you?"
"Deputy U.S. Marshal James Duffy, Eastern District of Missouri. You are both under arrest. Got a looong list of charges, we'll read them to you when we get up to St. Louis. Harry? You want to get in here, put some handcuffs on these gentlemen?"
Another man in a suit edged past the gun, which was still pointed at Todd's head. The second man, Harry, spoke directly to Lucas, "Turner really wasn't dumb enough to put the money in his pocket, was he?"
"Yes, he was, and Todd put the watch in his pocket," Lucas said. "I'd like to get the goddamn wire off me. My back is itching like fire."
"You all right, other than that?" Duffy asked.
"Yeah. Todd smacked me a few times but never touched the wire pack. I was mostly worried that somebody would see me flushing those margarita sponges down the toilet in the rooster room."
The second marshal cuffed Todd's hands behind his back, and said to the sheriff, "On your feet, Mr. Turner."
"That's Sheriff Turner..."
"Not anymore," the marshal said.
Todd began to cry, his wide shoulders shaking under the deputy's uniform, then he looked at Lucas and said, "You asshole."
"That'd be Marshal Asshole, to you, Todd," Lucas said.
The St. Louis marshals arrested six people the sheriff, four deputies and Shirley MacDonald. They'd be back, later, to get a state judge.
After they put the cuffs on her, Shirley had started talking about being extorted by the Turners, and still hadn't stopped when they pushed her into a federal car and sent her north. "Them fuckin' Turners made me do it. Todd and Scott made me suck them off, too. Ask them about that. I'm only fifteen..."
It all made an interesting recording, and since the marshals read her rights to her a half-dozen times, and she talked anyway, it would all hold up in court.
Before he got in the car, Lucas took a breath test, which showed a 0.01 BAC about what a man would get if he rinsed his mouth with whiskey a half-hour before he took the test. Which Lucas had done. That level implied no impairment whatever, in case a defense attorney should ask.
The sting at Cooter's began when a widower federal judge had run into the same trap. Turner and his son decided he might be more useful in his capacity as a judge, than in his potential to pay his way out, and made a deal: the judge agreed to give them three verdicts, any three that could conceivably be seen as reasonable, and nobody would talk about young girls in motels. Three verdicts in the right corporate cases could be worth a million dollars...
But they'd mis-judged the judge. As soon as he got back to St. Louis, he'd contacted the U.S. attorney and made a statement about the entrapment and blackmail. He'd admitted to having been alone in a room with a girl whose age he didn't know. He thought she might be nineteen or twenty, he said, but he made no other excuses.
Two days later, the St. Louis marshal's office was checking around for a rich-looking marshal with a decent back-story. They found Lucas. An FBI computer specialist did some editing of Lucas' history on the Internet and the sting was moving.
The five arrested men rode north in a federal van, with two deputy marshals to drive and watch over them. Duffy, the chief deputy for the Eastern District of Missouri rode with Lucas, in the comfort of the big Benz.
"One day ought to do it on the paperwork, but we'll need you back for depositions and so on," Duffy said. "We appreciate you coming down. Our own people are too well known, couldn't take the chance that Turner might recognize them. Anyway, don't none of us got that slick veneer you actual rich guys got."
"It's only a veneer," Lucas said. "Underneath, I'm just another really, really good-looking yet humble working cop."
Duffy snorted and asked, "How's your case load?"
"I'm still looking." Duffy knew about Lucas' circumstances: a freelance deputy marshal, slipped into the Marshals Service through nothing but pure, unalloyed political influence, wielded by the Michaela Bowden, Democratic nominee for President of the United States. Lucas had kept Bowden from being blown up at the Iowa State Fair the year before.
He'd been a marshal for three months, and had gone through brief training at Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac from Washington, D.C., most of which hadn't applied to him because of his special status. On the other hand, he really did have to know about the paperwork, which was ample.
"There's some interesting stuff out there, but not really to my taste," Lucas told Duffy. "I'm looking for something hard. Something unusual. Something I can work at and would do some serious good."
Duffy said, "Huh." He looked out the window at the countryside, damp, green, shrouded in darkness. A moment later he asked, "You ever hear of a guy named Garvin Poole?"
"Don't think so," Lucas said.
"No? Then let me tell you about him."
"Garvin. Gar's a good ol' Tennessee boy... maybe killed ten or fifteen innocent people, including at least one six-year-old girl, just last week, and a Mississippi cop, some time back, and God only knows how many guilty people," Duffy said. "He's smart, he's likeable, he's good lookin.' He once played in a pretty fair country band, and he's got no conscience. None at all. He's got friends who'd kill you the price of a moon pie. Some people think he's dead, but he's not. He's out there hiding and laughing at us. Yes he is."
Margaret Trane nearly ran over Lucas as she trotted out of the Federal Building, a solidly built cop in a hurry. She grabbed his jacket lapels and said, "Jesus, Davenport," at the same instant Lucas grabbed her shoulders and kept her upright and said, "Easy Maggie."
They backed away from each other and she said, "Hey: Been a while. Was that girl down in Missouri as young as they say?"
"She was young, she says fifteen," Lucas said. "Sort of horrifying, if you know what I mean."
"I do," Trane said. She smiled up at him they'd always had good chemistry, even when Lucas was Minneapolis' top violent-crimes investigator and she was stuck in precinct investigations. They'd both moved on, Trane to Minneapolis homicide, Lucas to Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and then to the U.S. Marshals Service. "I hear things have been a little tense up in the marshal's office."
"Ah, you know. It'll work out, eventually," Lucas said.
"You got Bowden behind you and she's gonna be President. That oughta help."
"I try not to lean on that too hard," Lucas said. "But... yeah."
"If you want to talk to some real cops, stop by homicide. Happy to have you."
They chatted for another minute, spouses and kids, then Trane said she had to run, she had a conference call on a guy who was being bad both in Minneapolis and Denver. She jogged away and Lucas went on into the federal building.
Talking to Trane had cheered him up. Because of the way he'd been appointed to the Marshals Service, he wasn't the most popular guy in the place. He'd been dropped in from the top, a Deputy U.S. Marshal who sat in the Minneapolis office, but worked independently and took no orders from anyone in Minneapolis, although he occasionally took recommendations and requests for help. His most direct contact was with a service bureaucrat in Washington named Russell Forte. He and Forte had met only briefly, and had gone to lunch, and Lucas had gotten the impression that Forte was the best kind of apparatchik: efficient, connected, more interested in results than in methods or style.
So far, they'd gotten along.
Lucas had an office on the fourth floor of the sorta-modern-looking Minneapolis federal building, down the hall from the U.S. Marshal for the District of Minnesota and the other deputy marshals. The arrangement was complicated and one source of bad feelings on the part of a few deputies.
The Marshals Service had a politically appointed U.S. Marshal at the top of each of the ninety-four federal judicial districts. They were appointed much as federal judges were nominated by the President, usually at the recommendation of a U.S. Senator, and confirmed by the Senate. Below them were the civil service deputies, including a chief deputy, and below him, supervisory deputies, and below that, the regular deputy marshals.
Lucas stood outside that normal bureaucratic pecking order; and some in the Minneapolis office thought he might be a spy. For who, he had no idea, but that was the rumor.
In addition, there was Lucas' private office, which had been, until recently, a windowless storage room. Still, it was private. The resentment was further exacerbated by the fact that he didn't have to put up with the bureaucratic rigors of the other deputies, the bad hours, crappy assignments. He didn't serve warrants, he didn't transfer prisoners.
On top of it all, he was personally rich and arrived at work in either a Mercedes Benz SUV or a Porsche 911. A federal judge with whom he was friendly had suggested a modest American car would be more discreet, until he was better known inside the service.
Lucas said, "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."
The judge had said, "It ain't them who's getting fucked, m'boy."
The uneasiness wasn't confined to the other deputies: Lucas had wanted a good badge after leaving the BCA and had grabbed the first one offered. He really didn't mind the temporary isolation he thought that would break down in time but he'd surprised himself with the feeling that he was seriously adrift.
From his first day as a Minneapolis cop, he'd worked to understand his environment. He'd eventually understood Minneapolis-St. Paul and its population of bad people. If someone told him that an Unknown X had murdered a known Y, he'd usually know a Z that he could talk to, to begin figuring out what had happened.
That wasn't always true, but it was true often enough to give him a clearance rate that nobody in the department could touch.
When he'd moved to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, a statewide organization, he'd struggled toward the same kind of comprehensive understanding, but this time, of the entire state of Minnesota. He'd never gotten as comfortable with the state as he had with the Metro Area, but he'd worked at it. As part of that, he'd developed a database of shady individuals with whom he'd pounded out private understandings. He'd call, they'd talk; if they got in trouble themselves, Lucas would have a chat with a judge, as long as the trouble was minor.
With the help of other agents, he eventually had put together a roster of snitches with at least a couple of names in every single Minnesota county, and for larger cities, like Duluth or Rochester, he had an entire roll-call. Included in the data base were several dozen cops who formed a web of personal relationships tight enough that Lucas could get help anywhere in the state, at any time.
Even in his new job as a deputy marshal, he was taking calls from BCA agents who wanted into his database: "Who do you have in Alexandria who might know about the chicle coming across from Canada?"
Didn't work that way with the Marshals Service. His jurisdiction was the United States of America, including the various territories. There was no possibility of comprehending it, in any real way: he'd fallen into a morass. He could call for help from the FBI, the DEA, the Border Patrol, all the alphabet agencies enforcing the nation's laws, but he didn't know the individuals. He couldn't count on them they were just voices on the far end of a cell phone call, and would get around to helping him as their own schedules permitted. He didn't know the bad guys at all, or who were the baddest.
He was, as his wife Weather had said, out there on his lonesome.
And he didn't understand the "out there."
Hal Oder, the marshal for the district, resented Lucas' independent status. Lucas took no orders or assignments from Oder, and, to Oder, had looked like a job threat. That hadn't eased, even though Lucas made it clear that he had no interest at all in Oder's job.
"I hate the shit you have to put up with," Lucas told the other man. "I wouldn't do it. I'd quit first. All I want to do is hunt. The bureaucratic bullshit is the reason I quit the BCA."
"If you screw up, it'll makes this office look bad," Oder had said.
"I might screw up, but if I do, I'll make it clear that it has nothing to do with you or your office, that my people are in Washington, not in Minnesota," Lucas had said.
"Who's your contact in Washington?"
"Russell Forte," Lucas said.
"Don't know him," Oder said. "Are you sure he'll be happy to take the responsibility if you mess up?"
"Well, he is a bureaucrat. You'd know more than me about the likelihood of his taking the blame."
Oder had been tapping on a legal pad with a mechanical pencil. He thought about Lucas' comment, then said, "Look, Lucas, I know what happened when you quit the BCA, and I'm up-to-date with what happened down in Iowa. You saved Mrs. Bowden's life and you got a badge because of it. The way it looks, she's going to be President and I don't want to fight with a friend of Bowden. But I feel like I'm stuck in the middle. I don't want to get blamed for things I don't do. But when you fuck up, and you will, it's inevitable with the job, I'll get blamed. I hate that."
"I won't be a problem," Lucas promised. "You'll hardly ever see me around the place."
Oder had seemed to accept that, but, in the way of bureaucrats, he let it be known that Davenport was not really one of us.
In an effort to further smooth things over, Lucas had offered to help out in unusual situations. The Minnesota marshals office was perpetually short-handed, and that was how he'd wound up as a rich-guy decoy in Missouri.
Lucas and another deputy had also run down an embezzler who skipped his date in Minneapolis federal court in favor of a new name and a new home in Idaho, and had recovered a chunk of the embezzled cash from an Idaho safe-deposit box, which had made everyone look good.
He'd helped locate, with his Minnesota database, a redneck who didn't like federal wildlife laws and decided to eliminate wolves and eagles in his personal hunting grounds. He'd been busted by the Fish and Wildlife Service, but had forfeited a $2,500 bond rather than show up for trial in federal court.
He'd told acquaintances that the feds would take him when they "pried my cold dead hands" off his black rifle, and had suggested that he was polishing up a special bullet for the U.S. attorney. Lucas and two other deputies hauled his ass out of a bar in Grand Marais, blubbering about his rights.
They were good arrests... but not what Lucas had been looking for.
Still, he'd been useful enough that he and Carl Meadows, the chief deputy, had begun taking an occasional lunch together.
The day after he returned from St. Louis, a bright and cool autumn Monday in Minneapolis, he and Meadows walked over to the food trucks on Second Avenue and bought brats and Lucas told the other man about the Missouri sting.
"That's all good," Meadows said when Lucas finished, "But have you found anything to dig into? You've been sitting on your ass for a while."
"I know, but I might be onto something now," Lucas said. "Have you ever heard of a guy named Garvin Poole?"
Meadows frowned and looked down at his brat, as though it might hold an answer. "The name rings a bell, back a while, but I can't place it. Maybe a southerner? He was on our Top Fifteen list for a while?"
"Yeah. Everything I know came out of a conversation with Jim Duffy down in St. Louis, and what I fished out of the on-line records this morning. Poole was an old-style holdup man down in the southeast Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, North Florida. Came out of Tennessee originally, but didn't operate much there, at least, not after he did four years in a Tennessee prison. He dropped out of sight five years ago. He was tentatively identified in an armored car robbery in Chattanooga, and nothing after that. Lot of his pals have been busted and questioned, but they all agree that he's gone. Nobody knows where. Lot of people thought he was dead. Then, ten days ago, a dope counting-house down in Biloxi was knocked over. The robbers killed five people, including a six-year-old girl."
"Yeah, jeez, I heard about that. That's ugly," Meadows said.
"One of the victims apparently got off a shot before he was killed," Lucas said. "The crime scene people found a few drops of blood, ran it through the DNA database and got a hit: they think it was Poole."
"Think? DNA's supposed to be for sure," Meadows said.
"Not this time," Lucas said. "The DNA match came from the armored car robbery in Chattanooga. The truck had internal cameras that the robbers couldn't get at. The video showed one of the robbers banging his forearm against a door frame when he was climbing out of the truck with a bag of cash. They got some skin off the frame, ran the DNA. They didn't get a hit, but believe it was Poole on the basis of height and body type and the robbery technique. They couldn't see his face, and he was wearing gloves, so there's no fingerprints, no definitive ID. Both drivers were shot to death with .40-caliber handguns, as were the five people killed in Biloxi. Poole favors .40-caliber Glocks."
"Same as we carry."
"Yeah. Well, you, anyway." Lucas carried his own .45, which was against regulations, but nobody had tried to argue with him about that.
"Any federal warrants on him?" Meadows asked.
"Old ones, but still good. Nine years ago, he and a guy named Charles Trevino robbed a mail truck out of St. Petersburg," Lucas said. "The truck was carrying a bunch of registered mail packages after a stamp-collectors convention. Trevino was busted a year later when he tried to unload some of the stamps. He said Poole was the other guy, and there was a third guy, who he didn't know, who did the research and the set-up. The U.S. attorney filed an indictment on Poole and a warrant was issued, but he hasn't been picked up since then."
"Sounds like a smart guy who works with other smart guys, if they spotted a particular mail truck full of old stamps," Meadows said.
"Apparently he is a smart guy, besides being a cold-blooded killer," Lucas said. "That's one of the reasons he interests me. That and the little girl."
"You've got a daughter, right?" Meadows asked.
"Three of them," Lucas said. "One's going to college, one's about to go, and I've got a five-year-old."
"Huh. Here's a change of direction," Meadows said. "You hear that Sandy Park got hit by a bicyclist?"
Sandra Park was another deputy marshal. Lucas had nodded to her in the hallway.
"What? A bicycle?"
"Yeah. Jerk on one of those fat-tire mountain bikes, rolling down a hill, blew through a stop sign. Sandy was out jogging and got t-boned. Anyway, she's not hurt bad, but one ankle and one knee are messed up. She's going to be off them for a couple of weeks. She's good with computers. If you need some backup, she knows all the law enforcement systems inside and out. I can tell her to give your questions a priority... if you need that," Meadows said.
"Thanks," Lucas said. "I'll talk to her this afternoon."
"I'll tell her you're coming around."
Lucas talked to Park, and found himself smoothing more ruffled feathers. Park was not being asked to do secretarial-type work because she was a woman, she was being asked to do it because Lucas didn't know how, she had expertise that he didn't, and she was working while injured and because blah blah blah.
Feathers smoothed, Lucas asked her to dredge up everything she could find in the federal systems on Poole. Park said she would, and would have a brick of paper and a flash drive by the next day.
That night, Lucas told Weather about Poole.
"He's an old-fashioned kind of crook. Guns and holdups, armored cars and banks or anywhere else that has cash he likes cash. He held up the box office at a country music show one time. Doesn't have a problem with killing people. Doesn't do anything high-tech."
He told her about the little girl killed in Biloxi, and she shook her head. "Brutal."
"Yeah." They both glanced toward their daughter Gabrielle, who was sitting on a corner chair going through a beginning-reader book with a fierce concentration, paying no attention to her parents.
"You could be going out of town for a while," Weather said. They were sitting on the front room couch, her head on his shoulder. Weather was a short woman, a plastic surgeon. Pretty, with cool eyes and a nose she thought over-large, but Lucas thought was striking.
"I could be no longer than I have to be, but it could be a couple of weeks. I don't think a month. I'll probably drive, instead of flying," Lucas said. He got up and wandered around the living room, looking at books, putting them down, thinking about it.
"Not your part of the country," she said. "That southern thing is different."
"You think this could really interest you?" she asked.
"If a guy is bad enough... he'll interest me. Poole is bad, and nobody's been able to lay hands on him."
"A challenge," she said.
Weather said, "I don't like the idea of you going away too often, but it's better than having you sitting around, brooding. You're getting to be a pain in the ass."
Lucas nodded: "I get that way when I'm not doing what I'm supposed to be doing."
Lucas' called Russell Forte the next morning, to tell him what he was planning to do. Forte worked at the U.S. Marshals Service headquarters in Virginia, across the Potomac from Washington D.C.
"I remember Poole," Forte said. "He was on our top fifteen list for a long time. We let him drift off, because we had nothing to work with. If you find him, that'd be a major feather in your cap. All of our caps. Do not try to take him alone. He's a killer. The first sniff you get, call me, and we'll get you a team from the Strategic Operations Group."
"I will do that," Lucas said.
Later, at the federal building, he found Park standing over a hot printer, putting what looked like a ream of paper between hard covers. "There's more," she said. "This is the good stuff, so far. I was reading through it while I dug it out, and I'll tell you, Lucas, Poole started out as a mean kid, and he stayed that way. His father worked off-and-on for the state of Tennessee, different low-level jobs, but he was also a smalltime crook. Got busted for scalping tickets, once for selling driver's licenses out of the DMV where he worked, but he was acquitted on that and got his job back. Was arrested a couple of times for selling stolen merchandise, but never convicted. His sister supposedly boosted a truck load of racing tires one time, but the charges were dropped, doesn't say why. Garvin stepped up from that, but he didn't come from the best of families."
"His folks still alive?" Lucas asked.
"Don't know, but I suppose so Poole's only forty-two, if he's not dead himself," Park said. "I could find out."
"Do that, and print it all," Lucas said. "If there's anything on the parents and any brothers and sisters, I'll want it. Files on any associates, girlfriends, everything."
Park patted the Xerox machine: "I'll do it, as long as this machine doesn't break down."
When Park finished, she handed Lucas a couple of reams of paper that must have weighed ten pounds. Lucas took it home and settled into his den to read.
First up were crime scene photos out of Biloxi. Lucas had seen thousands of crime scene photos over his career, and these were nothing like the worst. All five victims had been shot in the head, and had died instantly. One them, the little girl, looked like a plastic doll, lying spread-eagled on a concrete floor, face up, a hole in her forehead like a third eye. She was wearing a white dress with lace, full at the knees. Lucas had seen a lot of pictures of dead kids: he glanced at the photo, and then went on to the next.
He kept coming back to it. The little girl had been connected by DNA to one of the other counting-house victims, a much older man the DNA analysts said she was his granddaughter. The grandfather may have been a dope-selling asshole, but the girl wasn't. In the photo she was lying flat on her back, her eyes half-open. They still shone with the innocence of the very young, and with the surprise of how their lives had ended so early.
The dress had something to do with it, too. It reminded Lucas of the dresses worn by Catholic school mates, little girls going off to First Communion. Crime scene techs had found a smear of blood on the dress, where somebody had be one of the killers had ripped off a piece, probably to use as a bandage.
The girl on the floor began to work on him. He made a call to Biloxi, found that nobody had claimed any of the bodies. "We don't really expect anybody to show up and say, 'Yeah, I'm with all those dope guys, we want to give them a nice church funeral.'"
Now Lucas began to feel something of a personal hook: get the guy who'd killed this little girl. He hadn't had to, but he'd done it anyway. Why? Maybe simple efficiency, maybe she'd seen the killer's face and would be able to identify him, maybe because the shooter or shooters just liked killing people.
Pissed him off, in a technical cop way. At the same time, despite the growing spark of anger, Lucas thought, "Good shooting." The killer, whether it was Poole or not, was a pro, efficient, well-schooled, remorseless.
Lucas put the photos aside, all but the one of the girl. He kicked back at his desk, looked at that for a final minute or two, then flicked it onto the pile of other photos. Neither the photos or the investigation reports told him much, possibly because there wasn't much to tell, other than what he could see for himself.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation had handled much of the work, and had done it professionally enough. When Lucas had finished reading through the reports, he called the MBI agent who'd signed off on them. It took a few minutes to get through the MBI phone system, then Elroy Martin picked up the phone and said, "This is Martin."
Lucas identified himself and said, "I'm looking into this, because of his federal fugitive status. I've got all your reports, unless there's something new since yesterday."
"There isn't," Martin said.
"So what do you think?"
"If you can find Poole, the DNA will take him down. I'm positive of that. But finding him is the problem. People have been chasing him for years. Good people. Guys who knew what they were doing."
"Your notes say you don't think he did the Biloxi thing on his own."
"That's right. We don't know how many were on the job, but I don't believe it would be less than two or three. The five dead were killed with two different guns, both .40-caliber. All the slugs and brass came out of the same batch, and all were reloads. It seems possible that two shooters would share a batch of ammo, but, you know..."
"Yeah. Probably not. Whoever did this had to spot that drug counting-house that's what it was and we don't think it was Poole. We think it was probably somebody who knew about the counting house from a drug connection, maybe because he lives around there, in Biloxi," Martin said. "It's possible that it was a professional spotter, a planner. A set-up guy. We know he used a set-up guy in the stamp robbery. We don't think Poole would touch anything where he lives, because he'd know that we'd bee all over it. We think he was brought in as the shooter. We don't have any idea of who the spotter was, though."
"Maybe somebody in the cartel who decided he wanted a bigger piece of the action, and decided to take it?"
"We talked about that, but then, why bring in Poole? That Biloxi drug stuff comes through a Honduras cartel, a real professional operation," Martin said. "If you're in that cartel, you'd know plenty of guys with guns, but you wouldn't know Poole. Poole's not a drug guy, he's a Dixie Hicks guy. A holdup man. Completely different set of bad guys. They really don't intersect."
"Huh. If we could find the spotter, that'd be a big step," Lucas said.
"Yeah, it would, but we haven't come up with anything yet," Martin said. "We'd do anything we could to get our hands on Poole. We think he killed one of our guys a few years ago."
"I saw that."
They talked for a few more minutes, but Lucas got the impression that Mississippi was running out of possibilities. He thanked Martin and went back to the paper on his desk.
Poole first ran into the law when he was eleven years old, after a schoolyard fight. Unlike most schoolyard fights, this wasn't two punches with the loser swearing to get the other guy. Poole knocked the loser down, then kicked him in the face and ribs and back, until a teacher dragged him off. The loser went to the hospital in an ambulance.
There were no more fights until high school. Then, there was only one, with the same result: the loser went to the hospital. A witness told a juvenile court that Poole had "gone psycho." Poole, who'd been a running back on the junior high and then sophomore football teams, was kicked out of school.
A few weeks later, he held up a dry cleaner's with a toy pistol. The dry cleaner had a lot of cash and no protection at all: Poole hadn't gone after a place that might be ready for him, like a liquor store or convenience store.
The holdup also demonstrated his youthful inexperience. Although he'd picked on a store well north of his home in a Nashville suburb, he hadn't known about video cameras, and two cameras were mounted on a Dunkin' Donuts store in the same shopping center, and picked up Poole's face.
He looked very young and the cops took photos around to the high schools and arrested Poole the same day as he'd done the robbery, with most of the money still in his pocket. He was sent to the Mountain View Youth Development Center, where he spent nine months working the woodshop and talking to other teenage felons about the best way to proceed with a life of crime.
Three years after his release, he was arrested again after he and two other men cut though a roof into the box office of a county music venue, and robbed it. They got away with a hundred and ten thousand dollars, but one of the men, Boyd Harper, had an angry girlfriend named Rhetta Ann Joyce, who ratted out Harper to the cops.
She did that after learning Harper had spent thirty thousand dollars, virtually his entire cut of the country music money, on cocaine and hookers, and she hadn't been invited. She had, however, contracted a fiery case of gonorrhea, passed on from one of the hookers and not, as Harper tried to tell her, from a toilet seat.
Harper, in turn, ratted out Poole and an accomplice named Dave Adelstein in return for a shorter sentence. Poole and Adelstein did four years at West Tennessee State Prison. Harper got only a year and a day, at Southeastern Tennessee Regional Correctional Facility, where he studied culinary arts. He'd served only four months when a person unknown stuck the sharpened butt of a dinner fork into his heart. Poole and Adelstein couldn't have done that themselves, but Tennessee state cops believed that they paid for the killing through a contractual arrangement between Tennessee prison gangs.
They also believed that Poole and/or Adelstein might have had something to do with the demise of Rhetta Ann Joyce, who either jumped or was thrown off the New River Railroad Bridge a month after the two men were released from prison. They believed she was thrown because of the rope around her neck.
The rope might possibly have shown some intention to commit suicide, except that suicides rarely use mountain climbing ropes a hundred and ten feet long. Joyce's neck hit the bottom of the noose so hard that her head popped off. The head wasn't found until two weeks after the body, a half-mile further down the New River Gorge, washed up on a sandbar.
Lucas, looking at the riverbank crime-scene photo of Joyce's head, muttered, "That's not nice."
Poole had never been arrested again, but was widely understood by state and federal law enforcement officials to have been a prime mover of the Dixie Hicks, a loose confederation of holdup men working the lower tier of Confederate states.
He was also believed by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation to have murdered a highway patrolman named Richard Wayne Coones, shot one night on lonely Highway 21 between Bogue Chitto and Shuqualak, Mississippi. The cops got his name from Al Jim Hudson, who said in a death-bed confession that he was in the car when Poole shot Coones. Hudson died shortly thereafter of internal injuries he had suffered while resisting arrest.
FBI intelligence agents learned from a source unnamed in Lucas' papers that Poole had eventually accumulated over a million dollars in gold maybe well over a million on on which he intended to retire to Mexico or Belize. Neither the Mexican or Belize cops ever got a sniff of him, not that they admitted to, anyway. Lucas knew nothing about Belize cops, but he'd met a high-level Mexican police-intelligence officer, and had been impressed. If the Mexicans didn't know about Poole, he probably wasn't in Mexico.
Then rumors began to circulate that Poole been murdered by a Dixie Hicks rival named Ralph (Booger) Baca. According to the source, Baca threw Poole's body into the Four Holes Swamp in South Carolina, from which it was never recovered. A few months after he allegedly murdered Poole, Baca died in a freak accident when he turned the key on his Harley-Davidson and the Fat Bob extra-capacity tanks inexplicably exploded in his face, turning Baca into a Human Torch. He lingered, but not long.
Poole had never been seen or heard of again, until the killings in Biloxi. If, in fact, that was Poole at all.
Whether or not it was, Lucas thought, people died around Poole, both his friends and enemies, including one little girl who had the bad luck to have a dope dealer as a grandfather. But if the DNA and video-camera connection was correct, Poole wasn't dead. Not yet.
In reading through Poole's history, Lucas found several notes by a retired MBI investigator named Rory Pratt. Lucas got a number from the MBI and called him.
"Tracked him all over the South," Pratt said in a deep Mississippi accent. "We didn't always know who or what we were chasing, but we weren't gonna quit after Dick Coones got shot down. That was as cold-blooded a killing as you're likely to find. We looked at everything, but it was like chasing a shadow. We'd hear rumors that he'd been involved in a robbery at such-and-such a place and we'd be there the next day. Never really got hold of anything solid. We talked to guys who were actually involved in some of these holdups and they always denied knowing Poole but being of that element, they knew what had happened to people who had talked about Poole."
"You get any feel for whether he was actually involved in any of the robberies you checked?" Lucas asked. "Lot of people think he's dead."
"He's not dead. I guarantee that. Not unless someone snuck up behind him and shot him and buried the body in the dark of the moon, and never told anyone. Another thing is, he's got a girlfriend named Pandora Box..."
"I read that, but I thought it was a joke," Lucas said.
"No joke. I mean, I guess it was a joke by her daddy, but that's where the joke ended," Pratt said. "There's a story that Poole once caught up with a guy from the Bandidos who stiffed him on a money deal. One thing led to another and Box cut the Bandido's head off with a carving knife, for no reason except that she could. No proof of that, no witnesses we know of, but that's the story. Anyway, Box disappeared at the same time as Poole, but two years ago she went to an uncle's funeral up in Tennessee. We didn't find out until a week later, people around there keep their mouths shut. If Box and Poole disappeared at the same time, and she's still alive, and even looking prosperous... you see where I'm going here."
"Did anyone check the airlines, see where she was coming in from? Or going back to?"
"They did. She didn't fly in or out. She came to the funeral in a taxi and left the same way. We think she probably drove from wherever they're hiding and then caught a cab so nobody would see her car. The uncle's funeral was four days after he died, so she could have driven from anywhere in the lower forty-eight."
"Gotcha. Listen, if you'd have time, put together an email on what you and your partner did not every little thing, but in general, and what you think," Lucas said. "Mostly what you think. Any hints or suggestions about how I might do this."
"I got one hint right now: if they get on top of you, you gotta shoot your way through, marshal. Surrendering or negotiating will get you killed," Pratt said. "Even get your head cut off. That boy is a gol-darned cottonmouth pit viper and so's his girlfriend."
Back in the paper, Lucas made up a list of known associates, and in particular, people who actually seemed to be friends of Poole. He included Poole's parents and sister. Dora Box apparently had no living relatives. When he was finished, he had twenty-two names. He emailed the list to Sandy Park, the deputy marshal who'd done the computer research, and asked for reports on those people.
That done, he called the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and talked to the head of the Criminal Investigation Division.
"I wanted to tell you that I'm coming through and let you know what I'm doing," Lucas said.
The agent, Justin Adams, knew Poole's name and some of the details from the Biloxi murders. "You think you've found him, give me us call, and we'll be there. You want somebody to go around with you?"
"Maybe later," Lucas said. "First thing up, I'm going to be talking to his parents and sister and that kind of thing I don't expect too much. If I get into something, though, I'll let you know."
Sandy Park got back late in the afternoon, with the results on the list of people who were friends or accomplices of Poole. Of the twenty-two on the list, nine were dead some because they'd simply gotten cancer or had gotten old, like Boxes' parents, while three had died violently: two shot during robberies, one in a motorcycle accident. Dora Boxes' sister had committed suicide after a long run on heroin. Of those still alive, eight were in prison, mostly serving life terms as career criminals. One was on death row in Alabama.
Of the other five, Lucas got addresses for three. Nothing was known about the location of the other two.
An email came in from Pratt, the retired MBI investigator, with a few details that hadn't been in the formal paperwork. Poole knew how to create different "looks" for himself he'd dyed his hair at one time or another, had been both clean-shaven and bearded, sometimes lounged in jeans and boots and working-men's t-shirts, and sometimes appeared in expensive suits and ties. Sometimes he had white-sidewalls, sometimes hair on his shoulders.
"One thing is always the same," Pratt said. "He always shoots first."
Lucas spent two days with his son, Sam, at his Wisconsin cabin, cleaning it up and getting ready to shut it down for winter. Sam was skipping school and loved it; they went fishing for an hour or two in the morning and Sam caught his first musky, a thirty-incher. Lucas was more excited than the kid was not only was it a musky, but the kid was being imprinted with a certain kind of life-style, the love of a quiet lake in the early morning. Lucas showed him how to support the musky in the water, take the hook out with a pair of pliers, then release the fish back into the deep.
As they were washing the fish stink off their hands in the lake water, Sam said, "That's the best thing I've ever done in my whole life."
At night, they watched a little satellite TV and Lucas continued working through the Poole file. Done at the cabin, they drove back to the Cities and Lucas told Weather he was leaving the following Sunday for Nashville he wanted a full week to begin with, with all the government law enforcement offices open for business.
"How long will you be gone?" she asked. "Best estimate?"
"I'll leave Sunday evening, make a short day of it, get to Nashville the next day. I should know in the first week or two if there's any chance of locating him. If I get a sniff of him... could be two or three weeks."
"Why do you think you can find Poole, when nobody else can?" she asked. They were in the kitchen, loading up the dishwasher. Sam was out in the garage, and they could hear him knocking a whiffle ball around with a cut-down hockey stick.
"If he's alive, he can be found," Lucas said. "There'll be people who know where he is, or at least, how to get in touch with him. If he was the shooter in Biloxi, at least one guy knows where to find him, the guy who spotted the counting house. If I can squeeze between that guy and Poole... I'll get him."
She closed the dishwasher, pushed the programming buttons, then leaned back against it and said, "Don't be too confident. It could get you killed."
"I'll be as careful as I know how. The guy's a cold-blooded killer." Lucas smiled at her, the wolverine smile. "The best kind."
"God help you, Lucas," she said.
13 August 2018
The Prey series, the Virgil Flowers series, the Kidd series, The Singular Menace, The Night Crew, Dead Watch, The Eye and the Heart: The Watercolors of John Stuart Ingle, and Plastic Surgery: The Kindest Cut are copyrighted by John Sandford. All excerpts are used with permission.
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