Books · Journalism · Information
|The Prey Series|
In the Beginning...
They were in a service alley, tucked between two dumpsters. Carl Reed, a beer can in his hand, kept watch. Larry Clay peeled the drunk Indian girl, tossing her clothes on the floor of the backseat, wedging himself between her legs.
The Indian started to howl. "Christ, she sounds like a fuckin' coon-dog," said Reed, a Kentucky boy.
"She's tight," Clay grunted. Reed laughed and said, "Hurry up," and lobbed his empty beer can toward one of the dumpsters. It clattered off the side and fell into the alley.
Clay was in full gallop when the girl's howl pitched up, reaching toward a scream. He put one big hand over her face and said, "Shut up, bitch," but he liked it. A minute later he finished and crawled off.
Reed slipped off his gunbelt and dumped it on top of the car behind the light bar. Clay was in the alley, staring down at himself. "Look at the fuckin' blood," he said.
"God damn," Reed said, "you got yourself a virgin." He ducked into the backseat and said, "Here comes Daddy..."
The squad car's only radios were police-band, so Clay and Reed carried a transistor job that Reed had bought in a PX in Vietnam. Clay took it out, turned it on and hunted for something decent. An all-news station was babbling about Robert Kennedy's challenging Lyndon Johnson. Clay kept turning and finally found a country station playing "Ode to Billy Joe."
"You about done?" he asked, as the Bobbie Gentry song trickled out into the alley.
"Just... fuckin'... hold on..." Reed said.
The Indian girl wasn't saying anything.
When Reed finished, Clay was back in uniform. They took a few seconds to get some clothes on the girl.
"Take her, or leave her?" Reed asked.
The girl was sitting in the alley, dazed, surrounded by discarded advertising leaflets that had blown out of the dumpster.
"Fuck it," Clay said. "Leave her."
They were nothing but drunk Indian chicks. That's what everybody said. It wasn't like you were wearing it out. It's not like they had less than they started with. Hell, they liked it.
And that's why, when a call went out, squad cars responded from all over Phoenix. Drunk Indian chick. Needs a ride home. Anybody?
Say "drunk Indian," meaning a male, and you'd think every squad in town had driven off a cliff. Not a peep. But a drunk Indian chick? There was a traffic jam. A lot of them were fat, a lot of them were old. But some of them weren't.
Lawrence Duberville Clay was the last son of a rich man. The other Clay boys went into the family business: chemicals, plastics, aluminum. Larry came out of college and joined the Phoenix police force. His family, except for the old man, who made all the money, was shocked. The old man said, "Let him go. Let's see what he does."
Larry Clay started by growing his hair out, down on his shoulders, and dragging around town in a '56 Ford. In two months, he had friends all over the hippie community. Fifty long-haired flower children went down on drugs, before the word got out about the fresh-faced narc.
After that it was patrol, working the bars, the nightclubs, the after-hours joints; picking up the drunk Indian chicks. You could have a good time as a cop. Larry Clay did.
Until he got hurt.
He was beaten so badly that the first cops on the scene thought he was dead. They got him to a trauma center and the docs bailed him out. Who did it? Dope dealers, he said. Hippies. Revenge. Larry Clay was a hero, and they made him a sergeant.
When he got out of the hospital, Clay stayed on the force long enough to prove that he wasn't chicken, and then he quit. Working summers, he finished law school in two years. He spent two more years in the prosecutor's office, then went into private practice. In 1972, he ran for the state senate and won.
His career really took off when a gambler got in trouble with the IRS. In exchange for a little sympathy, the gambler gave the tax men a list of senior cops he'd paid off over the years. The stink wouldn't go away. The city fathers, getting nervous, looked around and found a boy with a head on his shoulders. A boy from a good family. A former cop, a lawyer, a politician.
Clean up the force, they told Lawrence Duberville Clay. But don't try too hard...
He did precisely what they wanted. They were properly grateful.
In 1976, Lawrence Duberville Clay became the youngest chief in the department's history. He quit five years later to take an appointment as an assistant U.S. attorney general in Washington.
A step backward, his brothers said. Just watch him, said the old man. And the old man was there to help: the right people, the right clubs. Money, when it was needed.
When the scandal hit the FBI kickbacks in an insider-trading investigation the administration knew where to go. The boy from Phoenix had a rep. He'd cleaned up the Phoenix force, and he'd clean up the FBI. But he wouldn't try too hard.
At forty-two, Lawrence Duberville Clay was named the youngest FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover. He became the administration's point man for the war on crime. He took the FBI to the people, and to the press. During a dope raid in Chicago, an AP photographer shot a portrait of a weary Lawrence Duberville Clay, his sleeves rolled above his elbows, a hollow look on his face. A huge Desert Eagle semiautomatic pistol rode in a shoulder rig under his arm. The picture made him a celebrity.
Not many people remembered his early days in Phoenix, the nights spent hunting drunk Indian chicks.
During those Phoenix nights, Larry Clay developed a taste for the young ones. Very young ones. And some of them maybe weren't so drunk. And some of them weren't so interested in backseat tag team. But who was going to believe an Indian chick, in Phoenix, in the mid-sixties? Civil rights were for blacks in the South, not for Indians or Chicanos in the Southwest. Date-rape wasn't even a concept, and feminism had barely come over the horizon.
But the girl in the alley... she was twelve and she was a little drunk, but not so drunk that she couldn't say no, or remember who put her in the car. She told her mother. Her mother stewed about it for a couple of days, then told two men she'd met at the res.
The two men caught Larry Clay outside his apartment and beat the shit out of him with a genuine Louisville Slugger. Broke one of his legs and both arms and a whole bunch of ribs. Broke his nose and some teeth.
It wasn't dope dealers who beat Larry Clay. It was a couple of Indians, on a comeback from a rape.
Lawrence Duberville Clay never knew who they were, but he never forgot what they did to him. He had a lot of shots at Indians over the years, as a prosecutor, a state senator, a police chief, an assistant U.S. attorney general.
He took them all.
And he didn't forget them when he became director of the FBI, the iron fist on every Indian reservation in the nation.
But there were Indians with long memories too.
Like the men who took him in Phoenix.
Ray Cuervo sat in his office and counted his money. He counted his money every Friday afternoon between five and six o'clock. He made no secret of it.
Cuervo owned six apartment buildings scattered around Indian Country south of the Minneapolis Loop. The cheapest apartment rented for thirty-nine dollars a week. The most expensive was seventy-five. When he collected his rent, Cuervo took neither checks nor excuses. If you didn't have the cash by two o'clock Friday, you slept on the sidewalk. Bidness, as Ray Cuervo told any number of broken-ass indigents, was bidness.
Dangerous business, sometimes. Cuervo carried a chrome-plated Charter Arms .38 Special tucked in his pants while he collected his money. The gun was old. The barrel was pitted and the butt was unfashionably small. But it worked and the shells were always fresh. You could see the shiny brass winking out at the edge of the cylinder. Not a flash gun, his renters said. It was a shooter. When Cuervo counted the week's take, he kept the pistol on the desktop near his right hand.
Cuervo's office was a cubicle at the top of three flights of stairs. The furnishings were sparse and cheap: a black dial telephone, a metal desk, a wooden file cabinet and an oak swivel chair on casters. A four-year-old Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendar hung on the left-hand wall. Cuervo never changed it past April, the month where you could see the broad's brown nipples through the wet T-shirt. Opposite the calendar was a corkboard. A dozen business cards were tacked to the corkboard along with two fading bumper stickers. One said shit happens and the other said how's my driving? dial 1-800-eat-shit. Cuervo's wife, a Kentucky sharecropper girl with a mouth like barbed wire, called the office a shithole. Ray Cuervo paid no attention. He was a slumlord, after all.
Cuervo counted the cash out in neat piles, ones, fives and tens. The odd twenty he put in his pocket. Coins he counted, noted and dumped into a Maxwell House coffee can. Cuervo was a fat man with small black eyes. When he lifted his heavy chin, three rolls of suet popped out on the back of his red neck. When he leaned forward, three more rolls popped out on his side, under his armpits. And when he farted, which was often, he unconsciously eased one obese cheek off the chair to reduce the compression. He didn't think the movement either impolite or impolitic. If a woman was in the room, he said "Oops." If the company was all male, he said nothing. Farting was something men did.
A few minutes after five o'clock on October 5, an unseasonably warm day, the door slammed at the bottom of the stairs and a man started up. Cuervo put his fingertips on the Charter Arms .38 and half stood so he could see the visitor. The man on the stairs turned his face up and Cuervo relaxed.
Leo Clark. An old customer. Like most of the Indians who rented Cuervo's apartments, Leo was always back and forth from the reservations. He was a hard man, Leo was, with a face like a cinder block, but Cuervo never had trouble with him.
Leo paused at the second landing, catching his breath, then came up the last flight. He was a Sioux, in his forties, a loner, dark from the summer sun. Long black braids trailed down his back and a piece of Navaho silver flashed from his belt. He came from the West somewhere: Rosebud, Standing Rock, someplace like that.
"Leo, how are you?" Cuervo said without looking up. He had money in both hands, counting. "Need a place?"
"Put your hands in your lap, Ray," Leo said. Cuervo looked up. Leo was pointing a pistol at him.
"Aw, man, don't do this," Cuervo groaned, straightening up. He didn't look at his pistol, but he was thinking about it. "If you need a few bucks, I'll loan it to you."
"Sure you will," Leo said. "Two for one." Cuervo did a little loansharking on the side. Bidness was bidness.
"Come on, Leo." Cuervo casually dropped the stack of bills on the desktop, freeing his gun hand. "You wanna spend your old age in the joint?"
"If you move again, I'll shoot holes in your head. I mean it, Ray," Leo said. Cuervo checked the other man's face. It was as cold and dark as a Mayan statue's. Cuervo stopped moving.
Leo edged around the desk. No more than three feet separated them, but the hole at the end of Leo's pistol pointed unwaveringly at Ray Cuervo's nose.
"Just sit still. Take it easy," Leo said. When he was behind the chair, he said, "I'm going to put a pair of handcuffs on you, Ray. I want you to put your hands behind the chair."
Cuervo followed instructions, turning his head to see what Leo was doing.
"Look straight ahead," Leo said, tapping him behind the ear with the gun barrel. Cuervo looked straight ahead. Leo stepped back, pushed the pistol into the waistband of his slacks and took an obsidian knife from his front pants pocket. The knife was seven inches of beautifully crafted black volcanic glass, taken from a cliff at Yellowstone National Park. Its edge was fluted and it was as sharp as a surgeon's scalpel.
"Hey, Ray?" Leo said, stepping up closer to the slumlord. Cuervo farted, in either fear or exasperation, and the fetid smell filled the room. He didn't bother to say "Oops."
"Yeah?" Cuervo looked straight ahead. Calculating. His legs were in the kneehole under the desk: it'd be hard to move in a hurry. Let it ride, he thought, just a couple more minutes. When Leo was putting on the cuffs, maybe the right move... The gun glittered on the desk a foot and a half from his eyes.
"I lied about the handcuffs, Ray," Leo said. He grabbed Cuervo by the hair above his forehead and jerked his head back. With a single powerful slash, Leo cut Ray Cuervo's throat from ear to ear.
Cuervo half stood and twisted free and groped helplessly at his neck with one hand while the other crawled frantically across his desk toward the Charter Arms .38. He knew even as he tried that he wouldn't make it. Blood spurted from his severed carotid artery as though from a garden hose, spraying the leaves of green dollars on the desk, the Sports Illustrated broad with the tits, the brown linoleum floor.
Ray Cuervo twisted and turned and fell, batting the Maxwell House coffee can off the desk. Coins pitched and clattered and rolled around the office and a few bounced down the stairs. Cuervo lay faceup on the floor, his vision narrowing to a dim and closing hole that finally settled around Leo Clark, whose face remained impassively centered in the growing darkness. And then Ray Cuervo was dead.
Leo turned away as Cuervo's bladder and sphincter control went. There was $2,035 on the desktop. Leo paid it no attention. He wiped the obsidian knife on his pants, put it back in his pocket and pulled his shirt out to cover the gun. Then he walked down the stairs and six blocks back to his apartment. He was splattered with Cuervo's blood, but nobody seemed to notice. The cops got only a very slender description. An Indian male with braids. There were five thousand Indian males with braids in Minneapolis.
A large number of them were delighted to hear the news about Ray Cuervo.
John Lee Benton hated them. They were worse than the niggers. You tell a nigger to show up, and if he didn't, he had an excuse. A reason. Even if it was bullshit.
Indians were different. You tell a guy to come in at two o'clock and he doesn't show. Then he comes in at two the next day and thinks that's good enough. He doesn't pretend to think so. He really thinks so.
The shrinks at the joint called it a cultural anomaly. John Lee Benton called it a pain in the ass. The shrinks said the only answer was education. John Lee Benton had developed another approach, all on his own.
Benton had seven Indians on his case load. If they didn't report on schedule, he'd spend the time normally used for an interview to write the papers that would start them back to Stillwater. In two years, he'd sent back nine men. Now he had a reputation. The fuckin' Indians walked wide around him. If you're going out on parole, they told each other, you didn't want to be on John Lee Benton's case load. That was a sure ride back inside.
Benton enjoyed the rep.
John Lee Benton was a small man with a strong nose and mousy hair combed forward over watery blue eyes. He wore a straw-colored mustache, cut square. When he looked at himself in the bathroom mirror in the morning, he thought he looked like somebody, but he couldn't think who. Somebody famous. He'd think of it sooner or later.
John Lee Benton hated blacks, Indians, Mexicans, Jews and Asians, more or less in that order. His hate for blacks and Jews was a family heritage, passed down from his daddy as Benton grew up in a sprawling blue-collar slum in St. Louis. He'd developed his animus for Indians, Mexicans and Asians on his own.
Every Monday afternoon Benton sat in a stifling office in the back of the Indian Center off Franklin Avenue and talked to his assholes. He was supposed to call them clients, but fuck that. They were criminals and assholes, every single one.
Benton looked up. Betty Sails stood in the doorway. A tentative, gray-faced Indian woman with a beehive hairdo, she was the office's shared receptionist.
"Is he here?" John Lee spoke sharply, impatiently. He was a man who sweated hate.
"No, he's not," Betty Sails said. "But there's another man to see you. Another Indian man."
Benton frowned. "I didn't have any more appointments today."
"He said it was about Mr. Cloud."
Glory be, an actual excuse. "All right. Give me a couple of minutes, then send him in," Benton said. Betty Sails went away and Benton looked through Cloud's file again. He didn't need to review it but liked the idea of keeping the Indian waiting. Two minutes later, Tony Bluebird appeared at the door. Benton had never seen him before.
"Mr. Benton?" Bluebird was a stocky man with close-set eyes and short-cropped hair. He wore a gingham shirt over a rawhide thong. A black obsidian knife dangled from the thong and Bluebird could feel it ticking against the skin below his breast bone.
"Yes?" Benton let his anger leak into his tone.
Bluebird showed him a gun. "Put your hands on your lap, Mr. Benton."
Three people saw Bluebird. Betty Sails saw him both coming and going. A kid coming out of the gym dropped a basketball, and Bluebird stopped it with a foot, picked it up and tossed it back, just as Betty Sails started screaming. On the street, Dick Yellow Hand, who was seventeen years old and desperately seeking a taste of crack, saw him walk out the door and called, "Hey, Bluebird."
Bluebird stopped. Yellow Hand sidled over, scratching his thin beard. "You look bad, man," Bluebird said.
Yellow Hand nodded. He was wearing a dirty T-shirt with a fading picture of Mick Jagger on the front. His jeans, three sizes too large, were cinched at the waist with a length of clothesline. His elbow joints and arms looked like cornstalks. He was missing two front teeth. "I feel bad, man. I could use a few bucks, you know?"
"Sorry, man, I got no money," Bluebird said. He stuck his hands in his pockets and pulled them out empty.
"That's okay, then," Yellow Hand said, disappointed.
"I seen your mama last week," Bluebird said. "Out at the res."
"She's fine. She was fishing. Walleyes."
Sails' hysterical screams became audible as somebody opened an outside door to the Indian Center.
"That's real good about Mama," said Yellow Hand.
"Well, I guess I gotta go," Bluebird said, easing away.
"Okay, man," said Yellow Hand. "See you."
Bluebird walked, taking his time, his mind in another place. What was her name? It had been years ago. Anna? She was a pretty woman, with deep breasts and warm hazel eyes. She'd liked him, he thought, though they were both married, and nothing ever happened; nothing but a chemistry felt across backyard hedges, deep down in Minneapolis' Indian Country.
Anna's husband, a Chippewa from Nett Lake, had been put in the Hennepin County Jail. Drunk, late at night, he'd seen a Coke machine glowing red-and-white through the window of a gas station. He'd heaved a chunk of concrete through the window, crawled in after it and used the concrete to crack the machine. About a thousand quarters had run out onto the floor, somebody told Bluebird. Anna's husband had still been picking them up, laboriously, one at a time, when the cops arrived. He'd been on parole and the break-in was a violation. He'd gotten six months on top of the remaining time from the previous conviction.
Anna and her husband had never had money. He drank up most of it and she probably helped. Food was short. Nobody had clothes. But they did have a son. He was twelve, a stocky, withdrawn child who spent his evenings watching television. One Saturday afternoon, a few weeks after his daddy was taken to jail, the boy walked down to the Lake Street bridge and jumped into the Mississippi. A lot of people saw him go and the cops had him out of the river in fifteen minutes. Dead.
Bluebird had heard, and he went down to the river. Anna was there, her arms wrapped around the body of her son, and she looked up at him with those deep pain-filled eyes, and... what?
It was all part of being Indian, Bluebird thought. The dying. It was something they did better than the whites. Or more frequently, anyway.
When Bluebird walked out of the room after slashing Benton's throat, he'd looked down at the man's face and thought he seemed familiar. Like a famous person. Now, on the sidewalk, as he left Yellow Hand behind, as he thought about Anna, Benton's face floated up in his mind's eye.
Hitler, he thought. John Lee Benton looked exactly like a young Adolf Hitler.
A young dead Adolf Hitler.
Lucas Davenport lounged on a brocaded couch in the back of a used-book store, eating a roast beef sandwich. In his lap was a battered paperback copy of T. Harry Williams' biography of Huey Long.
T. Harry had gotten it right, Lucas reflected. The man in the white suit flashing among the Longites as they stood outside the governor's office. The shot. The Kingfish hit, the screaming, the running. The cops going berserk.
"Roden and Coleman fired at almost the same time, with Coleman's bullet probably reaching the man first," T. Harry wrote. "Several other guards had unholstered their guns and were blazing away. The man crumpled and fell facedownward near the wall of the corridor from which he had come. He lay there with his face resting on one arm and did not move and was obviously dead. But this did not satisfy some of the guards. Crazed with rage or grief, they stood over the body and emptied their guns into it. It was later discovered to have thirty bullet holes in the back and twenty-nine in the front (many of these were caused by the same bullet making an entry and exit) and two in the head. The face was partially shot away, and the white suit was cut to ribbons and drenched with blood."
Murder was never as neat as it was on television. No matter how brutal it was on the screen, in real life it was worse. In real life, there was always an empty husk lying there, the spirit departed, the flesh slack, the eyes like ball bearings. And it had to be dealt with. Somebody had to pick up the body, somebody had to mop up the blood. Somebody had to catch the killer.
Lucas rubbed his eyebrow where the scar crossed it. The scar was the product of a fishing accident. A wire leader had snapped back from a snag and buried itself in his face. The scar was not a disfigurement: the women he knew said it made him look friendlier. The scar was fine; it was his smile that was scary.
He rubbed his eyebrow and went back to the book. He did not look like a natural reader, sitting on the couch, squinting in the dim light. He had the air of the street about him. His hands, which were covered with a dark fuzz for three inches below his wrists, seemed too large and blocky as he handled the paperback. His nose had been broken, more than once, and a strong neck was rooted in heavy shoulders. His hair was black, just touched with gray.
He turned the page of the book with one hand and reached under his jacket and adjusted his holster with the other.
" 'Kingfish, what's the matter?'
" 'Jimmie, my boy, I've been shot,' Huey moaned..."
Lucas' handset beeped. He picked it up and thumbed the volume control. A woman's voice said, "Lieutenant Davenport?"
"Lucas, Jim Wentz needs you down at the Indian Center on that guy that got cut. He's got a witness he wants you to look at."
"All right," Lucas said. "Ten minutes."
It was a beautiful day, one of the best of a good autumn. A murder would damage it. Murders were usually the result of aggressive stupidity mixed with alcohol and anger. Not always. But almost always. Lucas, given the choice, stayed away from them.
Outside the bookstore, he stood on the sidewalk for a moment, letting his eyes adjust to the sun and finishing the last bite of the sandwich. When he was done, he threw the sandwich bag into a trash barrel and crossed the street to his car. A panhandler was working the sidewalk, saw Lucas and said, "Watched yer car for ya?" and held out his hand. The panhandler was a regular, a schizophrenic pushed out of the state hospital. He couldn't function without his meds but wouldn't take the mind-numbing drugs on his own. Lucas passed him a dollar and dropped into the Porsche.
Downtown Minneapolis is a workbox of modernist architecture, blocks of glass and chrome and white marble. The aging red wart of City Hall hunkers in the middle of it. Lucas shook his head as he rolled past it, took a left and a right and crossed the interstate. The glitter fell behind, giving way to a ramshackle district of old clapboard houses cut into apartments, junker cars and failing businesses. Indian Country. There were a half-dozen squad cars outside the Indian Center and Lucas dumped the 911 at the curb.
"Three witnesses," the Homicide detective told him. Wentz had a flat, pallid Scandinavian face. His lower front teeth had been broken off in a fight, and he wore crowns; their silvery bases glittered when he talked. He counted the three witnesses on his fingers, as if he didn't trust Lucas' arithmetic.
"There's the receptionist," he said. "She saw him twice and says she can identify him. There's a neighborhood kid. He was playing basketball and says this guy had blood all over his pants. I believe it. The office looks like a fuckin' swimming pool."
"Can the kid identify him?" Lucas asked.
"He says he can. He says he looked the guy right in the face. He's seen him around the neighborhood."
"Who's number three?"
"Another kid. A junkie. He saw the killer outside the place, talked to him. We think they know each other, but he's not talking."
"Where is he?" Lucas asked.
"Out in a squad."
"How'd you find him?"
Wentz shrugged. "No problem. The receptionist the one who found the body called nine-one-one, then she went over to the window for some fresh air. She was feeling queasy. Anyway, she saw this kid and the killer talking on the sidewalk. When we got here, the kid was up the block. Standing there. Fucked up, maybe. We just put him in the car."
Lucas nodded, walked down the hallway and stepped inside the counseling office. Benton lay faceup on the tile floor in a pool of purplish blood. His hands extended straight out from his sides as though he had been crucified. His legs were spread wide, his blood-flecked wingtips pointing away from each other at forty-five-degree angles. His shirt and sport coat were saturated with blood. There were footprints and kneeholes in the puddle of blood, where the paramedics had tracked through, but no medical debris. Usually the packaging from the syringes, sponges, tape and compresses was all over the place. With Benton, they hadn't bothered.
Lucas sniffed at the coppery smell of the blood as the detective came in behind him.
"Looks like the same guy who did Ray Cuervo," Lucas said.
"Maybe," Wentz said.
"You better get him or the papers'll start peeing on you," Lucas said mildly.
"Could be worse than that," the Homicide cop said. "We got a rough description of the guy who did Cuervo. He had braids. Everybody says this guy had short hair."
"Could have cut it," Lucas suggested. "Got scared..."
"I hope, but it don't feel right."
"If it's two guys, that'd be big trouble..." Lucas was getting interested.
"I know, fuck, I know." Wentz took off his glasses and rubbed a heavy hand up and down the side of his face. "Christ, I'm tired. My daughter piled up the car last Saturday. Right downtown by the IDS building. Her fault, she ran a light. I'm trying to deal with the insurance and the body shop and this shit happens. Two hours later and I'd be off..."
"Yeah, yeah." He settled his glasses back on his nose. "That's the first thing I asked. I say, 'You okay?' She says, 'Yeah.' I say, 'I'm coming down and I'm gonna kill you.' "
"As long as she was okay," Lucas said. The toe of his right loafer was in the blood puddle and he stepped back a few inches. He was looking at Benton's face upside down. It occurred to him that Benton resembled someone famous, but with the face upside down, he couldn't tell who.
"... the apple of my eye," Wentz was saying. "If anything happened to her... You got a kid now, right?"
"Yeah. A daughter."
"Poor fuck. Wait a few years. She'll wreck that Porsche of yours and the insurance company will own your ass." Wentz shook his head. Goddamned daughters. It was nearly impossible to live with them and clearly impossible to live without them. "Look, you might know this kid we got in the car. He said we weren't to mess with him 'cause Davenport was his friend. We think he's one of your snitches."
"I'll go see," Lucas said.
"Any help..." The Homicide cop shrugged.
Outside, Lucas asked a patrolman about the junkie and was directed to the last car in line. Another patrolman sat behind the wheel and a small dark figure sat behind him, the two separated by a steel screen. Lucas bent over the open front window on the passenger side, nodded to the patrolman and looked into the backseat. The kid was bouncing nervously, one thin hand tangled in his dark hair. Yellow Hand.
"Hey, Dick," Lucas said. "How's things at K Mart?"
"Oh, man, Davenport, get me outta here." Yellow Hand's eyes were wide and frightened. He kept bouncing, faster now. "I didn't do nothing, man. Not a fuckin' thing."
"The people at K Mart would like to talk to you about that. They say you were runnin' for the door with a disc player..."
"Shit, man, it wasn't me..."
"Right. But I'll tell you what: You give me a name, and I'll put you on the street again," Lucas said.
"I don't know who it was, man," Yellow Hand squealed.
"Bullshit," grunted the uniform officer in the driver's seat. He shifted a toothpick and looked at Lucas. He had a wide Irish face and a peaches-and-cream complexion. "You know what he said to me, Lieutenant? He said, 'You ain't getting it out of me, dickhead.' That's what he said. He knows who it was."
"That right?" Lucas asked, turning back to Yellow Hand.
"Fuck, man, I didn't know him," Yellow Hand whined. "He was just this fuckin' guy..."
"Yeah, Indian guy, but I didn't know him..."
"Bullshit," said the uniform.
Lucas turned his head and looked at the uniform. "You hold him here, okay? If anybody wants to transport him, you tell them I said to hold him here."
"Okay. Sure. Whatever." The uniform didn't care. He was sitting in the sunshine and had a pocket full of peppermint toothpicks.
"I'll be back in twenty minutes," Lucas said.
Elwood Stone set up a hundred feet from the halfway house. It was a good spot; the inmates could get their cocaine on the way home. Some of them, the inmates, were running on tight schedules: they were clocked out of their jobs and allowed a set amount of time to get home. They didn't have the leisure to run all over the place, looking for toot.
Lucas spotted Stone at the same time Stone spotted Lucas' Porsche. The dealer started running south down the street, but it was all two- and three-story apartments and townhouses with no spaces between them to run into. Lucas cruised alongside until Stone gave up, breathing hard, and sat on the stoop of one of the apartments. As he sat down, it occurred to Stone that he should have tossed the tube of crack into the weeds. Now it was too late.
"Stone, how are you?" Lucas said amiably, as he walked around the nose of the 911. "Sounds like you're a little out of shape."
"Fuck you, Davenport. I want a lawyer." Stone knew him well.
Lucas sat on the stoop beside the dealer and leaned back, tilted his head up to the sun, taking in the rays. "You ran the four-forty in high school, didn't you?"
"Fuck you, Davenport."
"I remember that track meet against Sibley, they had that white boy, what's his name? Turner? Now that boy could motor. Christ, you don't see that many white boys..."
"Fuck you, I want a lawyer."
"So Turner's old man is rich, right?" Lucas said conversationally. "And he gives the kid a Corvette. Turner takes it up north and piles it into a bridge abutment, you know? They had to stick him together with strapping tape to have a funeral."
"Fuck you, I got a right to an attorney." Stone was beginning to sweat. Davenport was a stone killer.
Lucas shook his head with a stage sigh. "I don't know, Elwood. Can I call you Elwood?"
"Sometimes life ain't fair. You know where I'm coming from? Like the Turner kid. And take your case, Elwood. They've got all bureaucrats on the sentencing commission. You know what they did? They cranked up the guidelines on possession with intent. Guess what the guidelines are for a three-time loser going down on possession with intent?"
"I ain't no fucking lawyer..."
"Six years, my friend. Minimum. Cute guy like you, your asshole will look like the I-94 tunnel when you come out. Shit, if this had been two months ago, you'd of got off with two years."
"Fuck you, man, I want an attorney."
Lucas leaned close to him and bared his teeth. "And I need a few rocks. Now. You lay a few rocks on me, now, and I walk away."
Stone looked at him in wild surmise. "You? Need rock?"
"Yeah. I need to squeeze a guy."
The light in Stone's eyes went out. Blackmail. That made sense. Davenport actually smoking the stuff, that didn't make sense. "I walk?"
Stone thought about it for a few seconds, then nodded, stood up and fished in his shirt pocket. He pulled out a glass tube stoppered with black plastic. There were five chunks of crack stacked inside.
"How much you need?" he asked.
"All of it," Lucas said. He took the tube away from Stone. "And stay the fuck away from that halfway house. If I catch you here again, I'll bust your ass."
The medical examiner's assistants were hauling Benton's body out of the Indian Center when Lucas got back. A TV cameraman walked backward in front of the gurney as it rolled down the sidewalk carrying the sheet-shrouded body, then did a neat two-step-and-swivel to pan across the faces of a small crowd of onlookers. Lucas walked around the crowd and down the line of squad cars. Yellow Hand was waiting impatiently. Lucas got the patrolman to open the back door and climbed in beside the kid.
"Why don't you hike over to that 7-Eleven and get yourself a doughnut," Lucas suggested to the cop.
"Nah. Too many calories," the cop said. He settled back in the front seat.
"Look, take a fuckin' hike, will you?" Lucas asked in exasperation.
"Oh. Sure. Yeah. I'll go get a doughnut," the uniform said, finally picking up the hint. There were rumors about Davenport...
Lucas watched the cop walk away and then turned to Yellow Hand.
"Who was this guy?"
"Aw, Davenport, I don't know this guy..." Yellow Hand's Adam's apple bobbed earnestly.
Lucas took the glass tube out of his pocket, turned it in his fingers so the kid could see the dirty-white chunks of crack. Yellow Hand's tongue flicked across his lips as Lucas slowly worked the plastic stopper out of the tube and tipped the five rocks into his palm.
"This is good shit," Lucas said casually. "I took it off Elwood Stone up at the halfway house. You know Elwood? His mama cooks it up. They get it from the Cubans over on the West Side of St. Paul. Really good shit."
"Man. Oh, man. Don't do this."
Lucas held one of the small rocks between a thumb and index finger. "Who was it?"
"Man, I can't..." Yellow Hand was in agony, twisting his thin hands. Lucas crushed the rock, pushed the door open with his elbow, and let it trickle to the ground like sand running through an hourglass.
"Please, don't do that." Yellow Hand was appalled.
"Four more," Lucas said. "All I need is a name and you can take off."
Lucas picked up another rock and held it close to Yellow Hand's face and just started to squeeze when Yellow Hand blurted, "Wait."
Yellow Hand looked out the window. It was warm now, but you could feel the chill in the night air. Winter was coming. A bad time to be an Indian on the streets.
"Bluebird," he muttered. They came from the same reservation and he'd sold the man for four pieces of crack.
"Tony Bluebird. He's got a house off Franklin."
"Shit, I don't know the number..." he whined. His eyes shifted. A traitor's eyes.
Lucas held the rock to Yellow Hand's face again. "Going, going..."
"You know that house where the old guy painted the porch pillars with polka dots?" Yellow Hand spoke in haste now, eager to get it over.
"It's two up from that. Up towards the TV store."
"Has this guy ever been in trouble? Bluebird?"
"Oh, yeah. He did a year in Stillwater. Burglary."
Yellow Hand shrugged. "He's from Fort Thompson. He goes there in the summer and works here in the winter. I don't know him real good, he was just back on the res, you know? Got a woman, I think. I don't know, man. He mostly knows my family. He's older than I am."
"Has he got a gun?"
"I don't know. It's not like he's a friend. I never heard of him getting in fights or nothing."
"All right," Lucas said. "Where are you staying?"
"In the Point. The top floor, with some other guys."
"Wasn't that one of Ray Cuervo's places? Before he got cut?"
"Yeah." Yellow Hand was staring at the crack on Lucas' palm.
"Okay." Lucas tipped the four remaining rocks back into the test tube and handed it to Yellow Hand. "Stick this in your sock and get your ass back to the Point. If I come looking, you better be there."
"I will," Yellow Hand said eagerly.
Lucas nodded. The back door of the squad had no handles and he had carefully avoided closing it. Now he pushed it open and stepped out, and Yellow Hand slid across and got out beside him. "This better be right. This Bluebird," Lucas said, jabbing a finger into Yellow Hand's thin chest.
Yellow Hand nodded. "It was him. I talked to him."
"Okay. Beat it."
Yellow Hand hurried away. Lucas watched him for a moment, then walked across the street to the Indian Center. He found Wentz in the director's office.
"So how's our witness?" the cop asked.
"On his way home."
"He'll be around," Lucas said. "He says the guy we want is named Tony Bluebird. Lives down on Franklin. I know the house, and he's got a sheet. We should be able to get a photo."
"God damn," Wentz said. He reached for a telephone. "Let me get that downtown."
Lucas had nothing more to do. Homicide was for Homicide cops. Lucas was Intelligence. He ran networks of street people, waitresses, bartenders, barbers, gamblers, hookers, pimps, bookies, dealers in cars and cocaine, mail carriers, a couple of burglars. The crooks were small-timers, but they had eyes and memories. Lucas was always ready with a dollar or a threat, whatever was needed to make a snitch feel wanted.
He had nothing to do with it, but after Yellow Hand produced the name, Lucas hung around to watch the cop machine work. Sometimes it was purely a pleasure. Like now: when the Homicide cop called downtown, several things happened at once.
A check with the identification division confirmed Yellow Hand's basic information and got a photograph of Tony Bluebird started out to the Indian Center.
At the same time, the Minneapolis Emergency Response Unit began staging in a liquor store parking lot a mile from Bluebird's suspected residence.
While the ERU got together, a further check with utility companies suggested that Bluebird lived in the house where Yellow Hand had put him. Forty minutes after Yellow Hand spoke Bluebird's name, a tall black man in an army fatigue jacket and blue jeans ambled down the street past Bluebird's to the house next door, went up on the porch, knocked, flashed his badge and asked himself inside. The residents didn't know any Bluebird, but people came and went, didn't they?
Another detective, a white guy who looked as if he'd been whipped through hell with a soot bag, stopped at the house before Bluebird's and went through the same routine.
"Yeah, Tony Bluebird, that's the guy's name, all right," said the elderly man who met him at the door. "What's he done?"
"We're not sure he did anything," said the detective. "Have you seen this guy lately? I mean, today?"
"Hell, yes. Not a half an hour ago, he came up the walk and went inside." The old man nervously gummed his lower lip. "Still in there, I guess."
The white detective called in and confirmed Bluebird's presence. Then he and the black detective did a careful scan of Bluebird's house from the windows of the adjoining homes and called their information back to the ERU leader. Normally, when they had a man pinned, they'd try to make contact, usually by phone. But Bluebird, they thought, might be some kind of maniac. Maybe a danger to hostages or himself. They decided to take him. The ERUs, riding in nondescript vans, moved up to a second stage three blocks from Bluebird's.
While all that was going on, Betty Sails picked Bluebird out of a photo spread. The basketball player confirmed the identification.
"That's a good snitch you got there, Lucas," Wentz said approvingly. "You coming along?"
"Might as well."
The ERU found a blind spot around the back door of Bluebird's house. The door had no window, and the only other window near it had the shade pulled. They could move up to the door, take it out and be inside before Bluebird had even a hint of their presence.
And it would have worked if Bluebird's landlord hadn't been so greedy. The landlord had illegally subdivided the house into a duplex. The division had been practical, rather than aesthetic: the doorway connecting the front of the house to the back had been covered with a sheet of three-quarter-inch plywood.
When the tac commander said "Go," one of the ERUs tossed a flash-bang grenade through Bluebird's side window. The terrific explosion and brilliant flash would freeze anyone inside for several seconds, long enough for the ERU team to get on top of him. When the flash-bang went off, another ERU blew the back door open with an AVON round fired from his shotgun, and the team leader went through the door, followed by three of his men.
A young Mexican woman was lying half asleep on the sofa, a baby on her stomach. An older kid, a toddler, was sitting in a dilapidated playpen. The Mexican woman had been nursing the baby and her shirt was open, her breasts exposed. She struggled to sit up, reacting to the flash-bang and the AVONs, her mouth and eyes wide with fear.
The team leader blocked a hallway, and the biggest man on the squad hit the plywood barrier, kicked it twice and gave up.
"We're blocked out, we're blocked out," he shouted.
"Is there any way to the front?" the team leader yelled at the Mexican woman. The woman, still dazed, didn't understand, and the team leader took his men out and rotated them down the side of the house.
They were ten seconds into the attack, still hoping to do it clean, when a woman screamed from the front of the house. Then there were a couple of shots, a window shattered, and the leader figured Bluebird had a hostage. He called the team off.
Sex was strange, the team leader thought.
He stood with his back against the crumbling white siding of the house, the shotgun still in his hand, sweat pouring down his face. The attack had been chaotic, the response the shooting had been the kind of thing he feared, a close-up firefight with a nut, where you might have a pistol right up your nose. With all that, the image of the Mexican woman's thin breast stayed in his mind's eye and in his throat, and he could barely concentrate on the life-and-death confrontation he was supposed to be directing...
When Lucas arrived, two marked squads were posted in front of Bluebird's house, across the street, and ERUs waited on the porches of the houses on either side of Bluebird's. A blocking team was out back. Drum music leaked from the house.
"Are we talking to him?" Lucas asked the tac commander.
"We called him on the phone, but we lost the phone," the tac commander said. "Phone company says it's out of order. We think he pulled the line."
"How many people are in there?"
The tac commander shrugged. "The neighbors say he's got a wife and a couple of kids, preschool kids. Don't know about anybody else."
A television truck rolled up to the end of the street, where a patrolman stopped it. A StarTribune reporter appeared at the other end of the block, a photographer humping along behind. One of the TV crew stopped arguing with the patrolman long enough to point at Lucas and yell. When Lucas turned, she waved, and Lucas ambled down the block. Neighbors were being herded along the sidewalk. There'd been a birthday party going on at one house and a half-dozen kids floated helium balloons over the gathering crowd. It looked like a carnival, Lucas thought.
"What's happening, Davenport?" the TV reporter yelled past the patrolman. The reporter was a Swede of the athletic variety, with high cheekbones, narrow hips and blood-red lipstick. A cameraman stood next to her, his camera focused on the Bluebird house.
"That killing down at the Indian Center today? We think we got the guy trapped inside."
"He got hostages?" the reporter asked. She didn't have a notebook.
"We don't know."
"Can we get any closer? Any way? We need a better angle..."
Lucas glanced around the blocked-off area.
"How about if we try to get you in that alley over there, between those houses? You'll be further away, but you'll have a direct shot at the front..."
"Something's going down," the cameraman said. He was looking at the Bluebird house through his camera's telephoto setting.
"Ah, shit," said the reporter. She tried to ease past the patrolman to stand next to Lucas, but the patrolman blocked her with a hip.
"Catch you later," Lucas said over his shoulder as he turned and started back.
Lucas shook his head and kept going. The ERU team leader on the porch of the left-hand house was yelling at Bluebird's. He got a response, stepped back a bit and took out a handset.
"What?" asked Lucas, when he got back to the command unit.
"He said he's sending his people out," said a cop on a radio.
"I'm backing everybody off," said the tac commander. As Lucas leaned on the roof to watch, the tac commander sent a patrolman scrambling along the row of cars, to warn the ERUs and the uniformed officers that people were coming out of the house. A moment later, a white towel waved at the door and a woman stepped out, holding a baby. She was dragging another kid, maybe three years old, by one arm.
"Come on, come on, you're okay," the detective called out. She looked back once, then walked quickly, head down, on the sidewalk through the line of cars.
Lucas and the tac commander moved over to intercept her.
"Who are you?" the tac commander asked.
"Is that your husband in there?"
"Has he got anybody with him?"
"He's all alone," the woman said. Tears streamed down her face. She was wearing a man's cowboy shirt and shorts made of stretchy black material spotted with lint fuzzies. The baby clung to her shirt, as though he knew what was going on; the other kid hung on her hand. "He said to tell you he'll be out in a minute."
"He drunk? Crack? Crank? Anything like that?"
"No. No alcohol or drugs in our house. But he's not right."
"What's that? You mean he's crazy? What..."
The question was never finished. The door of the Bluebird house burst open and Tony Bluebird hurdled onto the lawn, running hard. He was bare-chested, the long obsidian blade dangling from his neck on a rawhide thong. Two eagle feathers were pinned to his headdress and he had pistols in both hands. Ten feet off the porch, he brought them up and opened fire on the nearest squad, closing on the cops behind it. The cops shot him to pieces. The gunfire stood him up and knocked him down.
After a second of stunned silence, Lila Bluebird began to wail and the older kid, confused, clutched at her leg and began screaming. The radio man called for paramedics. Three cops moved up to Bluebird, their pistols still pointed at his body, and nudged his weapons out of reach.
The tac commander looked at Lucas, his mouth working for a moment before the words came out. "Jesus Christ," he blurted. "What the fuck was that all about?"
27 February 2020
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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