Books · Journalism · Information
|The Prey Series|
Through the speakers above his head, little children sang in sweet voices, O holy night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of the dear Savior's birth...
The man who might kill Candy LaChaise stood in the cold and watched her through the glass doors. Sometimes he could see only the top of her head, and sometimes not even that, but he never lost track of her.
Candy, unaware, browsed through the lingerie, moving slowly from rack to rack.
She wasn't really interested in underwear: her attention was fixed on the back of the store, the appliance department. She stopped, pulled out a black bustier, held it up, cocked her head like women do. Put it back, turned toward the doors.
The man who might kill her stepped back, out of sight.
A minivan pulled to the curb and a chunky woman in an orange parka hopped out and pushed back the van's side door. An avalanche of dumplinglike children spilled onto the sidewalk. They were of both sexes, all blond, and of annual sizes: maybe four, five, six, seven, eight and nine years old. Thevan headed for a parking space, while the woman herded the kids toward the doors.
The man took a bottle from his pocket, stuck his tongue into the neck, tipped it up and faked a swallow or two. The woman hustled the kids past him, shielding them with her body, into the store and out of sight. That was what he wanted; he put the bottle away, and looked back through the doors.
There she was, still in lingerie. He looked around, and cursed the season: the Christmas decorations, the dirty piles of hard, frozen snow along the streets, the wind that cut through his woolen gloves. His face was thin, unshaven, the skin stretched like parchment on a tambourine. Nicotine had stained his teeth as yellow as old ivory. He lit a Camel, and when he put the cigarette to his lips, his hands trembled with the cold. When he exhaled, the wind snatched away the smoke and the steam of his breath, and made him feel even colder than he was.
An oily baritone, a man who'd never be Bing Crosby:... Let nothing you dismaaay, Remember Christ our Sa-ay-vior was born on Christmas Day...
He thought, "Christ, if I could only stop the music..."
From where he stood, he could see the golden spire atop the state capitol; under the December overcast it looked like a bad piece of brass. Fucking Minnesota. He put the bottle to his lips, and this time let a little of the wine trickle down his throat. The harsh grape-juice taste cut into his tongue, but there was no warmth in the alcohol.
What in the hell was she doing?
She'd cruised Sears Brand Central, taking her time, looking at refrigerators, buying nothing. Then she strolled through the ladies' wear department, where she'd looked at blouses. Then she walked back through Brand Central, checking the cellular telephones.
Again she walked away: he'd been inside at the time, and she'd almost trapped him in the television display. He hit the doors, went through, outside into the wind... but she'd swerved toward the lingerie. Had she spotted him? A TV salesman had. Picking up his ragged coat and rotten shoes, the salesman had posted himself near the Toshiba widescreens, and was watching him like a hawk.
There. She was on her way out.
When Candy walked out of Sears, he didn't look at her. He saw her, but he didn't move his head. He simply stood against the outside wall, rocked on his heels, mumbled into his parka and took another nip of the MD 20-20.
Candy never really saw him, not then. She half-turned in his direction as she left the store, but her eyes skipped over him, like they might skip over a trash barrel or a fire hydrant. She bopped down the parking lot, not quite in a hurry, but not dawdling, either. Her step was light, athletic, confident, the step of a cheerful woman. She was pretty, in a thirty-something high-school cheerleader way, with natural blond hair, a round Wisconsin face and a clear Wisconsin complexion.
She walked halfway down the lot before she spotted the Chevy van and started toward it.
The man who might kill her, who still stood by the doors, said, "She just walked past her car."
A Republican state legislator in a wool Brooks Brothers overcoat heard the words and hurried into the store. No time for dialogue with a street schizo: you see them everywhere, mumbling into their wine-stained parkas.
"I think she's going for that van, dude."
Candy liked country music and shirt pockets that had arrows at the corners. She liked line-dancing and drinking Grain Belt. She liked roadhouses on country blacktop, pickup trucks and cowboy boots and small blue-eyed children and guns.
When she got to the Chevy van, she took out a two-inch key ring filled with keys and began running them through the lock. She hit it on the twelfth one, and popped the door.
The van belonged to a slightly ragged Sears washing machine salesman named Larry. The last time she'd seen Larry, he was standing next to a seven-hundred-dollar Kenmore washer with Quiet Pak and Automatic Temperature Control, repinning his name tag. He was about ten minutes late-late enough that she'd started to worry, as she browsed the blouses and underwear. Had the van broken down? That would be a major problem...
But then, there he was, breathing hard, face pink from the cold, leaning against the Kenmore. Larry was a wise guy, she knew, and she didn't care for wise guys.
She knew he was a wise guy because a bumper sticker on the back of his van said, in large letters, AGAINST ABORTION? And below that, in smaller letters, Then Don't Have One. Abortion was not a topic for bumper-sticker humor.
The man who might killer her mumbled into his parka: "She's in the van, she's moving."
The voice that spoke back to him was not God: "I got her."
Great thing about parkas: nobody could see the commo gear, the microphones and earplugs. "She's gonna do it," Del said. He put the bottle of Mogen David on the ground, carefully, so it wouldn't spill. He wouldn't need it again, but somebody might.
"Franklin says LaChaise and Cale just went into that pizza joint behind the parking ramp," said the voice in his ear. "They went out the back of the ramp, through a hole in a hedge."
"Scoping it out, one last time. That's where they'll dump the van," Del said.
"Get Davenport on the road."
"Franklin called him. He's on the way. He's got Sloan and Sherrill with him."
"All right," Del said, noncommittally. Not all right, he thought. Sherrill had been shot a little more than four months earlier. The slug had nicked an artery and she'd almost bled out before they got her to the hospital. Del had pinched the artery so hard that Sherrill had later joked that she felt fine, except for the massive bruise where Del had pinched her leg.
Putting Sherrill's face into this, so soon, might be too heavy, Del thought.
Sometimes Davenport showed all the common sense of a... Del couldn't think of anything. A trout, maybe.
"There she goes," said the voice in his ear.
The salesman's van stank of cigar smoke. Candy's nose wrinkled at the smell, but she wouldn't have to tolerate it for long. She eased the van out of the parking space, and checked the gas: half a tank, more than enough. She drove slowly up the block, to Dale, down Dale and onto I-94 toward Minneapolis. Georgie and Duane would be waiting at Ham's Pizza.
She looked at the speedometer: fifty-four. Perfect. Crooks mostly drove too fast. Dick said they didn't give a shit about the traffic laws or the other small stuff, and half the time they'd hit a bank, get away clean, then get caught because they were doing sixty-five in a fifty-five. She wouldn't make that mistake.
She tried to relax, checked all the mirrors. Nothing unusual. She took the P7 out of her coat pocket, slipped the magazine, pushed on the top shell with her thumb. She could tell by the pressure that she had a full clip.
Dick always made fun of the little bitty nine-millimeter shells, but she'd stick with them. The small gun felt right in her hand and the muzzle blast was easy to manage. The P7 held thirteen rounds. She could put nine or ten of the thirteen shots into the top of a Campbell's soup can at twenty-five feet, in less than seven seconds. A couple of times, she'd put all thirteen in.
Good shooting. Of course, soup-can lids didn't move. But on the two occasions when she'd been shooting for real, she felt no more pressure than when she'd been outside Dick's double-wide, banging away at soup-can lids. You didn't really line anything up, you kept both eyes open and looked across the front sights, tracking, and just at that little corner of time when the sight crossed a shirt pocket or a button or another good aim point, you'd take up the last sixteenth of an inch and...
Pop. Pop, pop.
Candy got a little hot just thinking about it.
Danny Kupicek had long black hair that his wife cut at home, and it fell over his eyes and his oversized glasses so that he looked like a confused shoe clerk.
That helped when he was working the dopers: dopers were afraid of anyone too hip. They trusted shoe clerks and insurance salesmen and guys wearing McDonald's hats. Danny looked like all of those. He pulled the city Dodge to the curb and Del climbed in and Kupicek took off, three hundred yards behind the Chevy van.
Del put his hands over the heat vent.
"I gotta come up with a new persona for the wintertime," Del said. "Somebody who's got a warm coat."
"State legislator," Kupicek said. He'd been sitting in the car off the capitol grounds, keeping an eye on Candy's car. He'd watched the politicians coming and going, and noticed how prosperous they seemed.
"Nah," Del said, shaking his head. "I wanna try somebody legit."
"Whatever, you gotta keep your head covered," said Kupicek. He wore heavy corduroy pants, a sweater over a button-down shirt, a wool watch cap and an open parka. "Fifty percent of all heat loss comes from the head."
"What do you think the hood is for?" Del asked, pointing over his shoulder.
"Too loose," Kupicek said, like he knew what he was talking about. He was nine cars behind Candy when they entered I-94, in the slow lane and two lanes to the right. "You need a stocking cap under there."
"Fuck a bunch of stocking caps. I need a desk job is what I need. Maybe I'll apply for a grant."
Kupicek looked at him, the yellow teeth and two-day stubble. "You ain't grant material," he said, frankly. "I'm grant material. Sherrill's grant material.
Even Franklin is grant material. You, you ain't grant material."
"Fuck you and your wife and all your little children," Del said. He picked up Kupicek's handset. "Lucas, you there?"
Davenport came back instantly: "We're setting up in the Swann parking lot.
Where is she?"
"Just passing Lexington," Del said.
"Stay with her. When she gets off at 280, let me know as soon as she's at the top of the ramp."
"Do that," Del said.
Kupicek was watching the van: "She's got some discipline. I don't think we touched fifty-six since we got on the road."
"She's a pro," Dell said.
"If it was me, I'd be so freaked, I'd be doing ninety. Course, maybe they're not gonna do it."
"They're gonna do it," Del said. He could feel it: they were gonna do it.
Georgie LaChaise was a dark woman with blue eyes that looked out from under too-long, too-thick eyebrows. She had a fleshy French nose, full lips with the corners downturned. She locked Duane Cale's eyes across the table and said, "Duane, you motherfucker, if you drive off, I'll find you and I'll shoot you in the fuckin' back. I promise you."
Duane leaned forward over the yellow Formica table, both hands wrapped around an oversized cup of Coke Classic. He had an unformed face, and hair that had never picked a color: one eyewitness might say he was blond, another would swear that he had brown hair. One would say apple-cheeked, another would say fox-faced. He seemed to change, even as you looked at him. He wore a camouflage army jacket over jeans and boots, with the collar turned up, and a Saints baseball hat.
"Oh, I'll do it," he said, "but it don't feel right. It just don't feel right. I mean, we did that one in Rice Lake, I was good there."
"You were perfect in Rice Lake," Georgie said. She thought, You were so scared I thought we'd have to carry you out. "This time, all you gotta do is drive."
"Okay, you see right there?" asked Duane, tapping the tabletop with the cup.
"You said it your own self: I was perfect. This don't feel perfect, today. No sir. I mean, I'll do it if you say so, but I..."
Georgie cut him off. "I say so," she said bluntly. She glanced at her watch.
"Candy'll be here in a minute. You get your asshole puckered up and get behind the wheel and everything'll go smooth. You know what to do. You only gotta drive two blocks. You'll be perfect."
"Well, okay..." His Adam's apple bobbed. Duane Calewas too scared to spit and the Coca-Cola didn't seem to make a difference.
Lucas Davenport peeled off his topcoat and the gray Icelandic sweater. Sloan handed him the vest and Lucas shrugged into it, slapping the Velcro tabs into place, everything nice and snug, except if you took a shot in the armpit it'd go right through your heart and both lungs on the way out the opposite 'pit...
Never turn sideways.
"Fuckin' cold," Sloan said. He was a narrow, sidewayslooking man who today wore a rabbit-fur hat. "We live in fuckin' Russia. The Soviet fuckin' Union."
"Is no Soviet Union," Lucas said. They were in a drugstore parking lot, Lucas and Sloan and Sherrill, and had gotten out of the slightly warm car to put on the vests. A loitering civilian watched them as his dog, wearing a blue jacket, sniffed up an ice-bound curb.
"I know," Sloan said. "It moved here."
Lucas pulled the sweater back over his head, then slipped back into his topcoat.
He was a tall man, dark-haired, darkcomplected with ice-blue eyes. A scar trailed through one brow ridge and expired on his cheek, a white line like a scratch across his face. As his head popped through the sweater's neck hole, he was grinning at Sloan, an old friend: "Who was trying to start a departmental ski team?"
"Hey, you gotta do something in the middle of the..."
The radio broke in: "Lucas?"
Lucas picked up the handset: "Yeah."
"On the 280 ramp," Del said.
"Got it... you get that, Franklin?"
Franklin came back, his voice chilled. "I got it. I can see LaChaise and Cale, they're still sitting there. They look like they're arguing."
"Keep moving," Lucas said.
"I'm moving. I'm so fuckin' cold I'm afraid to stop."
"On University..." Del said.
"We better go," Sherrill said. Her face was pink with the cold, and nicely framed by her kinky black hair. She wore a black leather jacket with tight jeans and gym shoes, and furry white mittens that she'd bought in a sale from a cop catalog. The mittens were something a high school kid might wear, but had a trigger-finger slit, like hunting gloves. "She'll be picking them up."
"Yeah." Lucas nodded, and they climbed into the city car, Sloan in the driver's seat, Sherrill next to him, Lucas sprawled in the back.
"Here she comes," said Franklin, calling on the radio.
"Check your piece," Lucas said over the seat to Sherrill. He wasn't quite sure of her, what she'd do. He wanted to see. He slipped his own.45 out of his coat pocket, punched out the magazine, racked the shell out of the chamber, then went through the ritual of reloading. In the front seat, Sherrill was spinning the wheel on her.357.
As Sloan took the car through an easy U-turn and the three blocks toward the Midland Steel Federal Credit Union, Lucas looked out the window at the street, and felt the world begin to shift.
The shift always happened before a fight, a suddenly needlesharp appreciation of image and texture, of the smell of other bodies, of cigarette tar and Juicy Fruit, gun oil, wet leather. If your mind could always work like this, he thought, if it could always operate on this level of realization, you would be a genius. Or mad. Or both.
Lucas remembered a stray thought from earlier in the day, picked up the handset and called dispatch.
"We need two squads on University," he said. "We're tracking a stolen Chevy van and we want a uniform stop as soon as possible."
He recited the tag number and license and the dispatcher confirmed it. "We've got a car on Riverside," the dispatcher said. "We'll start them that way."
Candy pulled the van to the curb outside Ham's Pizza. Georgie and Duane were waiting, and she slid over to the passenger seat, and popped the back door for Georgie as Duane got in the driver's seat.
"Everything okay?" Duane asked.
"Great, Duane," Candy said. She gave him her cheerleader smile.
Duane hungered for her, in his Duane-like way. They'd gone to school together, elementary through high school. They'd played on a jungle gym, smart Candy and notsosmart Duane. She'd let him see her tits a couple of times- once down by Meyer's Creek, skinny-dipping with Dick, when Dick hadn't seen Duane coming, but Candy had. She was Dick's woman, all right, but wasn't above building extracurricular loyalty for a time when it might be needed.
"Drive," Georgie said from the back. And to Candy: "You set?"
"This should be a good one," Georgie said.
"Should be great," Candy said. Ten o'clock on a payday morning. The paychecks were issued at eleven. The first employees would be sneaking out to cash their checks by elevenohone. That'd be an hour too late.
"There's the nigger again," Duane said, distractedly.
A giant black man had come into Ham's before Candy had gotten there, ordered a slice, asked if he could pay with food stamps. When told that he couldn't, he'd reluctantly taken two crumpled dollar bills out of his pocket and pushed them across the counter.
"Food stamps," Georgia said in disgust. "He's one ofthose screwballs. Look at him talk to himself."
Franklin, shambling along the street, said, "One block, fifteen seconds."
Duane said, "There it is," and his voice may have trembled when he said it.
Georgie and Candy turned away from the black man and looked down the street at the yellow brick building with the plastic sign, and the short stoop out front.
"Remember what I said, Duane. We'll be in there for one minute," Georgie said.
She leaned forward and spoke softly into his ear, and when Duane tried to turn his head away, she caught his earlobe and tugged it back, pinched it between her nails. Duane flinched, and she said, "If you drive away, one of us will hunt you down and kill you. If you drive, Duane, you're dead. Isn't that right, Candy?"
"That's right," Candy said, looking at him. She let some ice show, then switched to her God-Duane-I'd-Love-to-Fuck-You-But-I-Gotta-Be-True-to-Dickie look. "But he won't drive. Duane's okay." She patted his thigh.
"Oh, I'll do it," Duane said. He looked like a trapped rat. "I mean, I'll do it. I did it in Rice Lake, didn't I?"
He pulled the van to the curb and Georgie gave him a look, then the two women pulled nude nylon stockings over their faces and took the pistols out of their coat pockets.
"Let's go," Georgie said. She climbed out, and Candy followed a step behind; it passed through Georgie's mind that Candy looked radiant.
"I feel like I might pop one," Candy said to Georgie, as they climbed the four steps to the Credit Union door.
Franklin was halfway down the block when they went inside and he said, "The two women are inside. Pulled the nylons over their heads. It's going down."
Five seconds later, Del and Kupicek stopped at the corner behind him, then eased forward so they could see the back of the Chevy van and Cale's head. They were forty yards away.
Sloan stopped at the next corner up, and eased forward until he could see the front of the truck. "You set?" Lucas asked. He cracked the back door.
"Yeah." Sloan nodded, looked almost sleepy and yawned. Tension.
"Let's go," Lucas said. And in the handset he said, "Go."
Georgie and Candy went in hard, very large, very loud, screaming, masks, guns, Georgie first: "On the wall," she screamed, "on the wall," and Candy behind her, vaulting to the top of the cash counter, screaming, the gun big in her hand, the hole at the muzzle looking for eyes. "On the wall..."
Four women employees and a single customer, a man in a black ski jacket and tinted eyeglasses, were inside the credit union. The woman closest to Candy looked like a carp, her mouth opening and closing, opening and closing, hands coming up, then waving, as though she could wave away a bullet. She wore a pink sweater with hand-darned blue flax blossoms in a line across the chest. Another woman curled up and turned away, looking back at them over her shoulder, and stepped against the back wall, next to a filing cabinet. She wouldn't look at Candy. A younger woman, a cashier, jumped back, yelped once, put her hands over her mouth, backed away, knocked a phone off a table, jumped again, froze. The fourth woman simply backed away, her hands at her shoulders.
Georgie said, rapid-fire, a vocal machine gun: "Easy, easy, everybody take it easy. Everybody shut up, shut up, shut up,and stand still. Stand still, everybody shut up... This is a holdup, shut up."
They'd been inside for ten seconds. Candy dropped behind the counter and pulled a pillowcase out of her waistband and started dumping cash drawers.
"Not enough," she shouted over Georgie's chant. "Not enough, there's more somewhere."
Georgie picked out the woman with the best clothes, the woman with the flax blossoms, pointed her finger at her and shouted, "Where is it, where's the rest of it?"
The woman said, "No-no-no..."
Georgie pointed her pistol at the man in the ski jacket and said, "If you don't say, in one second I'm gonna blow his fuckin' head off, his fuckin' head."
Georgie was posed in a two-handed TV-cop position, the pistol pointing at jacket-man's head, never wavering. The flax-blossom woman looked around for somebody to help her, somebody to direct her, but there wasn't anybody. She sagged and said, "There's a box in the office."
Candy grabbed her, roughed her, shoved her toward the tiny cubicle in the back.
The woman, scuttling ahead, pointed at a box on the floor in the footwell of the desk. Candy shoved her back toward the door, picked up the box, put it on the desk, and popped the top: stacks of currency, tens, twenties, fifties, hundreds.
"Got it," she shouted. She dumped it in the pillowcase.
"Let's go," Georgie shouted. "Let's go..."
Candy twisted the top of the pillowcase and threw it over her shoulder, like Santa Claus, and hustled around the cash counter toward the door. The man in the ski jacket had backed against the wall at a check-writing desk, his hands over his head, a twisted, trying-to-please smile on his face, his eyes frightened white spots behind the amber-tinted specs.
"What are you laughing at?" Candy screamed at him. "Are you laughing at us?"
The smile got broader, but he waved his fingers and said, "No, no, I'm not laughing..."
"Fuck you," she said, and she shot him in the face.
The blast in the small office was a bomb: the four women shrieked and went down.
The man simply dropped, a spray of blood on the tan wall behind his head, and Georgie spun and said, "Go."
They were out the door in seconds...
"Do it," Del said, and Kupicek floored it.
Sloan was coming in from the front. Duane saw him coming, had no time to wonder.
The car swerved and screeched to a stop three inches from the van's front bumper, wedging him to the curb. From behind, in a flash in his rearview mirror, he saw another car wedge in behind him. In the next halfsecond, the passenger door flew open and the big black pizza guy was there, and a gun pointed at the bridge of Duane's nose.
"Don't even fuckin' scratch," Franklin said, in his pleasant voice, which wasn't very pleasant. "Just sit tight." He reached across, flipped the shift lever into park, killed the engine, pulled the keys from the ignition and let them fall on the floor. "Just sit."
And then there were more guys, all on the passenger side of the car. But Duane, as interested as he was in the muzzle of Franklin's gun, turned to look at the door of the credit union.
He'd heard the shot: the sound was muffled, but there wasn't any doubt.
"Shit," said the black man. He said, loudly, "Watch it, watch it, we got a shot." • • • "GO," SCREAMED GEORGIE. SHE WAS SMILING, LIKE A South American revolutionary poster-girl, her dark hair whipping back, and she covered the inner door while Candy exploded through the outer door onto the stoop and then Georgie was through behind her and the van was right there.
And the cops.
They heard the shouting, though Candy never could isolate a word. She was aware of Georgie's gun coming up behind her and she felt her hand loosen on the bag and the bag falling off to the left, and her own gun coming up. She started squeezing the trigger before the gun was all the way up and she saw the thin slat-faced man, and his nose might have been about the size of a Campbell's soup-can lid and her pistol came up, came up...
Lucas heard the shot inside and he went sideways and saw Franklin reflexively crouch. Off to the left, Sherrill was propped over the top of Kupicek's car, her pistol leveled at the door and Lucas thought, Hope they don't look out the window...
Then the door flew open and the two LaChaise women were on the stoop and their guns were coming up and he shouted, "No, don't, no, don't," and he heard Del yelling, and Candy LaChaise started firing and he saw Sherrill's gun bucking in her hand...
Candy saw the man with the yellow teeth and the black hole at the end of his pistol and the woman with the dark hair and maybe-if she had time-she thought, Too late...
She felt the bullets go through, several of them, was aware of the noise, of the flash, of the faces like wanted posters, all straining toward her, but no pain, just a jostling feel, like rays of light pushing through her chest... then her vision went,and she felt Georgie falling beside her. She was upside down, her feet on the stoop, her head on the sidewalk, and she waited for the light.
The light would come, and behind it...
She was gone.
Lucas was shouting, "Hold it, hold it," and five seconds after the two women burst from the credit union, there was no reason to fire his own weapon.
In the sudden silence, through the stink of the smokeless powder, somebody said, "Jesus H. Christ.
The Minneapolis City Hall is a rude pile of liverish stone, damp in the summer, cold in the winter, ass-deep in cops, crooks, politicians, bureaucrats, favor-seekers, reporters, TV personalities and outraged taxpayers, none of whom were allowed to smoke inside the building.
The trail of illegal cigarette smoke followed Rose Marie Roux down the darkened marble halls from the chief's office to Homicide. The chief was a large woman, getting larger, her face going hound-dog with the pressure of the job and the passing of the years. She stopped outside homicide, took a drag on the cigarette, and blew smoke.
She could see Davenport inside, standing, hands in his pockets. He was wearing a blue wool suit, a white shirt with a long soft collar and what looked like an Herme`s necktie- one of the anal numbers with eight million little horses prancing around. A political appointee, a deputy chief, his sideline software business made him worth, according to the latest rumors, maybe ten million dollars. He was talking to Sloan and Sherrill.
Sloan was thin, pasty-faced, serious, dressed all in brown and tan-he could lean against a wall and disappear. He could also make friends with anyone: he was the best interrogator on the force. Sloan hadn't taken his gun out that afternoon and was still on the job.
Sherrill, on the other hand, had fired all six shots from her revolver. She was still up, floating high on the release from the fear and ecstasy that sometimes came after a gunfight. Roux, in her few years on the street, before law school, had never drawn her pistol. She didn't like guns.
Roux watched the three of them, Lucas Davenport and his pals. Shook her head: maybe things were getting out of control. She dropped the cigarette on the floor, stepped on it and pushed through the door.
The three turned to look at her, and she looked at Lucas and tipped her head toward the hall. Lucas followed her back through the door, and shut the door against the inquiring ears of Sloan and Sherrill.
"The request for a uniform stop-when did you think of that?" Roux asked. Her words ricocheted down the marble halls, but there was nobody else to hear them.
Lucas leaned against the cool marble wall. He smiled quickly, the smile here and then gone. The smile made him look hard, even too hard: mean. He'd been working out, Roux thought. He went at it hard, from time to time, and when he'd really stripped himself down, he looked like a piece of belt leather. She could see the shape of his skull under his forehead skin.
"It seemed like a no-lose proposition," he said, his voice pitched low. They both knew what they were talking about.
She nodded. "Well, it worked. We released the voice tape from Dispatch and it's taking the heat off. You're gonna hear some firing-squad stuff from the Star Tribune, the editorial page. Questions about why they ever got inside-why youwaited that long to move. But I don't think... no real trouble."
"If we'd just taken them, it would have come to a couple of witnesses with bad records," Lucas said. "They'd be back on the street right now."
"I know, but the way it looks..." She sighed. "If the LaChaises hadn't shot this guy Farris, there'd be a lot more trouble."
"Big break for us, Farris was," Lucas said, flashing his grim smile again.
"I didn't mean it that way," Roux said, and she looked away. "Anyway, Farris is gonna make it."
"Yeah, a little synthetic cheekbone, splice up his jaw, give him a bunch of new teeth, graft on a piece of ear..."
"I'm trying to cover you," Roux said sharply.
"Sounds like you're giving us shit," Lucas snapped back. "The Rice Lake bank people looked at the movies from the credit union security cameras. There's no doubt-it was the LaChaises that did it over there. They looked the same with the panty hose, said the same things, acted the same way. And it was Candy LaChaise who killed the teller. We're waiting to hear back from Ladysmith and Cloquet, but it'll be the same."
Roux shook her head and said, "You picked a hard way to do it, though: a hard way to settle it."
"They came out, they opened up, we were all right there," Lucas said. "They fired first. That's not cop bullshit."
"I'm not criticizing," Roux said. "I'm just saying the papers are asking questions."
"Maybe you oughta tell the papers to go fuck themselves," Lucas said. The chief was a politician who had at one time thought she might be headed for the Senate. "That'd be a good political move right now, the way things are."
Roux took an old-fashioned silver cigarette case out of herpocket, popped it open. "I'm not talking politics here, Lucas. I'm a little worried about what happened." She fumbled a cigarette out of the case, snapped the case shut.
"There's a feel of... setup. Of taking the law in our own hands. We're okay, because Farris was shot and you made that call for a stop. But there were six or seven holes in Candy LaChaise. It's not like you weren't ready to do it."
"We were ready," Lucas agreed.
"... So there could be another stink when the medical examiner's report comes out."
"Tell them to take their time writing the report," Lucas said. "You know the way things are: In a week or so, nobody'll care. And we're still a couple of months from the midwinter sweeps."
"Yeah, yeah. And the ME's cooperating. Still."
"The LaChaises started it," Lucas persisted. "And they were sport killers.
Candy LaChaise shot people to see them die. Fuck 'em."
"Yeah, yeah," Roux said. She waved at him and started back toward the chief's office, shoulders slumped. "Send everybody home. We'll get the shooting board going tomorrow."
"You really pissed?" Lucas called after her.
"No. I'm just sorta... depressed. There've been too many bodies this year," she said. She stopped, flicked a lighter, touched off the fresh cigarette. The tip glowed like a firefly in the semidark. "Too many people are getting killed.
You oughta think about that."
Weather Karkinnen was doing paperwork in the study when Lucas got home. She heard him in the kitchen, and called down the hall, "In the study."
A moment later, he leaned in the door, a bottle of beer in his hand. "Hey."
"I tried to call you," she said.
Weather was a small, athletic woman with wide shoulders and close-cut blond hair. She had high cheekbones and eyes that were dark blue and slightly slanted in the Lapp-Finnish way. Her nose was a bit too large and a little crooked, as if she'd once lost a close fight. Not a pretty woman, exactly, but men tended to drift toward her at parties. "I saw a TV story on the shooting."
"What'd they say?" He unscrewed the beer cap and took a sip.
"Two women were shot and killed after a robbery. They say it's a controversial shooting." She was anxious, brushing hair out of her eyes.
Lucas shook his head. "You can't pay any attention to TV."
He was angry.
"What?" He was defensive, and didn't like it.
"You're really steamed," she said. "What happened?"
"Ah, I'm taking heat from the media. Everybody seems to worry about whether it was a fair fight. Why should the fight be fair? This isn't a game, it's law enforcement."
"Could you have taken them? Arrested them? Gone to trial, with the people at the other banks in Wisconsin?"
"No." He shook his head. "They were always masked, and always used stolen cars. There was a case down in River Falls, two years ago, where Candy LaChaise was busted for armed robbery. The guy she robbed, the car dealer, was mugged and killed two weeks later, before the trial. There weren't any witnesses and she had an alibi. The River Falls cops think her old nutcake pals helped her out."
"But it's not your job to kill them," Weather said.
"Hey," Lucas said. "I just showed up with a gun. What happened after that, that was their choice. Not mine."
She shook her head, still distressed. "I don't know," she said. "What you do frightens me, but not the way I thought it would." She crossed her arms and hugged herself, as she would if she were cold. "I'm not so worried about what somebody else might do to you, as what you might be doing to yourself."
"I told you..." Getting angrier now.
"Lucas," she interrupted. "I know how your mind works. TV said these people had been under surveillance for nine days. I can feel you manipulating them into a robbery. I don't know if you know, but I know it."
"Bullshit," he snapped, and he turned out of the doorway.
Halfway down the hall, the paperwork registered with him. She was doing wedding invitations. He turned around, went back.
"Jesus, I'm sorry, I'm not mad at you," he said. " Sometimes... I don't know, my grip is getting slippery."
She stood up and said, "Come here. Sit in the chair." He sat, and she climbed on his lap. He was always amazed with how small she was, how small all the parts were. Small head, small hands, little fingers.
"You need something to lower your blood pressure," she said.
"That's what the beer's for," he said.
"As your doctor, I'm saying the beer's not enough," she said, snuggling in his lap.
"Yeah? What exactly would you prescribe...?"
Crazy Ansel Butters waited for the rush and when it came, he said, "Here it comes."
Dexter Lamb was lying on the couch, one arm trailing on the floor: he was looking up at the spiderweb pattern of cracks on the pink plaster ceiling, and he said, "I told you, dude."
Lamb's old lady was in the kitchen, staring at the top of the plastic table, her voice low, slow, clogged, coming down: "Wish I was going... Goddamnit, Dexter, where'd you put the bag? I know you got some."
Ansel didn't hear her, didn't hear the complaints, the whining. Ansel was flying over a cocaine landscape, all the potentialities in his head-green hills, pretty women, red Mustangs, Labrador retrievers-were compressed into a ball of pleasure. His head lay on his shoulder, his long hair falling to the side, like lines of rain outside a window. Twenty minutes later, the dream was all gone, except for the crack afterburn that would arrive like a sack of Christmas coal.
But he had a few minutes yet, and he mumbled, "Dex, I got something to talk about." Lamb was working up anotherpipe, stopped, his eyes hazy from too many hits, too many days without sleep. "What chu want?"
His wife came out of the back into the kitchen, scratched her crotch through her thin cotton underpants and said, "Where'd you put the bag, Dex?"
"I need to find a guy," Ansel said, talking over her. "It's worth real money.
A month's worth of smoke. And I need a crib somewhere close. TV, couple beds, like that."
"I can get you the crib," Lamb said. He jerked a thumb at his wife. "My brother-in-law's got some houses, sorta shitty, but you can live in one of them.
You'd have to buy your own furniture, though. I know where you could get some, real cheap."
"That'd be okay, I guess."
Dex finished with the pipe and flicked his Bic, and just before hitting on the mouthpiece, asked, "Who's this guy you're lookin' for?"
"A cop. I'm looking for a cop."
Lamb's old lady, eyes big and black, cheeks sunken, a pale white scar, scratched her crotch again and asked, "What's his name?"
Butters looked at her. "That's what I need to know," he said.
Bill Martin came down from the Upper Peninsula, driving a Ford extended cab with rusted-out fenders and a fat V-8 tuned to perfection. He took the country roads across Wisconsin, stopped at a roadhouse for a beer and a couple of boiled eggs, stopped again for gasoline, talked to a gun dealer in Ashland.
The countryside was still iced in. Old snow showed the sheen of hard crust through the inky-green pines and bare gray broadleafs. Martin stopped often to get out and tramp around, to peer down from bridges, to check tracks in thesnow.
He didn't like this winter: there'd been good snow, followed by a sleet storm that covered everything with a quarter-inch of ice. The ice could kill off the grouse, just when the population was finally turning back up.
He looked for grouse sign, didn't find any. The season was too new for bear sign, but in another six weeks or eight weeks they'd be out, he thought, sleek and quick and powerful. A young male black bear could run down a horse from a standing start. Nothing quite cleared the sinuses like bumping into a big old hungry bear when you were out on snowshoes, armed with nothing but a plastic canteen and a plug of Copenhagen.
At two o'clock in the afternoon, heading south, he saw a coyote ripping at something in the foot-high yellow grass that broke through the snow beside a creek. Voles, maybe. He pulled the truck over, got out a Bausch and Lomb laser rangefinder and the AR-15. The rangefinder said 305 yards. He figured a nine-inch drop, maybe two inches of right-toleft drift. Using the front fender as a rest, he held a couple of inches over the coyote's shoulder and let go. The .223 caught the mutt a little low, and it jumped straight up into the air and then came down in a heap, unmoving.
"Gotcha," Martin muttered, baring his teeth. The shot felt good.
Martin crossed the St. Croix at Grantsburg, stopped to look at the river-the surface was beaten down with snowmobile trails-then made his way reluctantly out to I-35. The interstate highways were scars across the country, he thought: you couldn't get close enough to see anything. But they were good when you had to move. He paused a final time at an I-35 rest stop just north of the Cities, made a call and then drove the rest of the way in. • • • BUTTERS WAS WAITING OUTSIDE AN AMOCO STATION off I-94, an olive-drab duffel at his feet. Martin eased to the curb and Butters climbed in and said, "Straight ahead, back down the ramp."
Martin caught the traffic light and said, "How you been?"
"Tired," Butters said. His small eyes looked sleepy.
"You was tired last fall," said Martin. Martin had passed through Tennessee on one of his gun-selling trips, stopped and done some squirrel-hunting with Butters.
"I'm more tired now," Butters said. He looked into the back of the truck.
"What'd you bring?"
"Three cold pistols, three Chinese AK semis, two modified AR-15s, a bow, a couple dozen arrows and my knife," Martin said.
"I don't think you'll need the bow," Butters said dryly.
"It's a comfort to me," Martin said. He was a roughmuscled, knob-headed outdoorsman with a dark reddish beard over a red-pocked face. "Where's this guy we gotta see?"
"Over in Minneapolis. Just outa downtown. By the dome."
Martin grinned his thin coyote-killing smile: "You been studying up on him?"
"Yeah, I have been."
They took I-94 to Minneapolis, got off at the Fifth Street exit, got a pizza downtown, then went back to Eleventh Avenue. Butters directed Martin to a stand-alone two-story brick building with a laundromat on the ground level and apartment above. The building was old, but well-kept: probably a neighborhood mom-and-pop grocery in the forties. Lights showed in the apartment windows.
"He owns the laundromat," Butters said. "The upstairs is one big apartment.
He lives up there with his girlfriend." Butters looked up at the lights. "She must be there now, 'cause he's downtown. He runs his boys right to closingtime.
He got back here last night about two, and he brought a pizza with him."
Martin looked at his watch, a black military-style Chronosport with luminescent hands. "Got us about an hour, then." He looked back out the window at the building. There was just one door going up to the apartments. "Where's the garage you were talking about?"
" 'Round the side. There's a fire escape on the back, one of them drop-down ones, too high to get to. What he did last night was, he pulled into the garage-he's got a garage-door opener in his car-and the door come down. Then, a minute later, this light went on in the back of the apartment, so there must be an inside stairs. Then he come down through the back again, out through the garage, around the corner and into the laundromat. He was in the back, probably countin' out the machines."
Martin nodded. "Huh. Didn't use them front stairs?"
"Nope. Could be something goin' on there, so I didn't look."
"All right. We take him at the garage?"
"Yeah. And we might as well eat the pizza. We only need the box, and Harp ain't gonna want any."
They chatted easily, comfortable in the pickup smells of gasoline, straw, rust and oil. Then Martin, dabbing at his beard with a paper napkin, asked, "What do you hear from Dick?"
"Ain't heard dick from Dick," Butters said. He didn't wait for Martin to laugh, because he wouldn't, although Butters had a sense that Martin sometimes enjoyed a little joshing. He said, "Last time I talked to him direct, he sounded like he was... getting out there."
Martin chewed, swallowed and said, "Nothing wrong with being out there."
"No, there ain't," Butters agreed. He was as far out thereas anyone. "But if we're gonna be killing cops, we want the guy to have his feet on the ground."
"Why? You planning to walk away from this thing?"
Butters thought for a minute, then laughed, almost sadly, and shook his head.
"I guess not."
"I thought about goin' up to Alaska, moving out in the woods," Martin said, after a moment of silence. "You know, when I got the call. But they'll get you even in Alaska. They'll track you down anywhere. I'm tired of it. I figure, it's time to do something. So when I heard from Dick, I thought I might as well come on down."
"I don't know about that, the politics," Butters said. "But I owe Dick. And I got to pay him now, 'cause I am gettin' awful tired."
Martin looked at him for a moment, then said, "When you're that kind of tired, there ain't no point of being scared of cops. Or anything else."
They chewed for another minute and then Butters said, "True." And a moment later said, "Did I tell you my dog died?"
"That'll make a man tired," Martin said.
Like the Seven Dwarves, Daymon Harp whistled while he worked. And while he collected: unlike Snow White and her pals, Harp sold cocaine and speed at the semiwholesale level, supplying a half-dozen reliable retailers who worked the clubs, bars and bowling alleys in Minneapolis and selected suburbs.
Harp had seven thousand dollars in his coat pocket and he was whistling a minuet from the Anna Magdelena Notebook when he turned the Lincoln onto Eleventh. A pale-haired kid with a pizza box was standing on the corner outside his laundromat, looking up at the apartments. The pizza box was thething that snared him: Harp never thought to look for the delivery car.
Daymon turned the corner, pushed the button on the automatic garage door opener, saw the kid look down toward him as he pulled in, then killed the engine and got out. The kid was walking down the sidewalk with the pizza box flat on one hand and Daymon thought, If that fucking Jas has gone and ordered out for a pizza when she's up there by herself...
He was waiting for the kid, when Martin stepped up behind him and pressed a pistol to his ear: "Back in the garage."
Daymon jumped, but controlled it. He held his hands away from his sides and turned back to the garage. "Take it easy," he said. He didn't want the guy excited. He'd had a pistol in his ear before, and when caught in that condition, you definitely want to avoid excitement. He tried an implied threat: "You know who I am?"
"Daymon Harp, a jigaboo drug dealer," Martin said, and Harp thought, Uh-oh.
The kid with the pizza followed them inside, spotted the lighted button for the garage door opener, and pushed it. The door came down and Martin prodded Harp toward the stairs at the back.
"Take the position," Martin said.
Harp leaned against the wall, hands and feet spread wide. "Got no gun," he said. He looked sideways at Martin: "You're not cops."
"We'd be embarrassed if you was lying about the gun," Martin said. The younger guy patted him down, found the wad of cash and pulled it out. "Ooo," he said.
Harp kept his mouth shut.
"This is the deal," Martin said, as Butters tucked the money away. "We need some information from you. Wedon't want to hurt you. We will, if you get stupid, so it's best for you to go along."
"What do you want?" Daymon asked.
"To go upstairs," Butters said, in his soft Tennessee accent. Harp looked at him out of the corner of his eye: Butters had three dark-blue tears tattooed at the inner corner of his left eye, and Daymon Harp thought again, Uh-oh.
They climbed the stairs as a trio, and now the southern boy had a pistol barrel prodding Daymon's spine, while the other focused on his temple. They all tensed while Daymon unlocked the door. A woman called down an interior hall, "Day?
Butters left them, padding silently down the hall, while Martin stayed with Harp. The woman came around a corner just as Butters got to it and she jumped, shocked, as Butters grabbed her by a wrist and showed her the gun. "Shut up,"
She shut up.
Five minutes later, Harp and the woman were duct-taped to kitchen chairs. The woman's hands were flat on her thighs, with loops of tape around her upper arms and body. She had a sock stuffed in her mouth, held in place with two or three more wraps of tape. Her terrified dark eyes flicked between Harp and whichever of the white men was in sight.
Martin and Butters checked the apartment. The landing outside the front door, Martin found when he opened it, was blocked by a pile of brown cardboard appliance boxes. The boxes made a practical burglar alarm and buffer, should the cops come, but still provided an escape route if one were needed.
Butters checked the two bedrooms and found nothing of interest but a collection of vinyl 33-rpm jazz records.
"Clear," Butters said, coming back to the front room.
Martin sat down in a third chair and, knee-to-knee with Harp, said, "You probably know people like us. Met us in the joint. We don't much care for black folks and we'd be happy to cut your throats and be done with it. But we can't, this time, 'cause we need you to introduce us to a friend of yours."
"Who?" Daymon Harp asked.
"The cop you're working with."
Harp tried to look surprised. "There's no cop."
"We know you gotta go through your routine, but we don't have a lot of time,"
Martin said. "So to show you our... mmm... sincerity..." He chose his words carefully, softly: "We're gonna cut on your girlfriend here."
"Motherfucker," Harp said, but it wasn't directed at Martin. It was simply an exclamation and Martin took it that way. The woman's eyes bulged and she rattled around in the chair, and Martin let her. Over his shoulder, he said, "Ansel?
See if you can find a knife in the kitchen..."
There was no one standing in the street outside the laundromat, which was a good thing for Butters and Martin, because Harp wouldn't talk right away, and for one short moment, even with the gag, with the windows shut, in the middle of winter, even with that, you could hear Jasmine screaming.
The Michigan state prison sent a single escort with Dick LaChaise. LaChaise was four years into a nineyear sentence, and not considered an escape risk-with good behavior, he'd be out in a couple of years. They put him in leg irons and cuffs and LaChaise and Wayne O. Sand, the escort, flew into Eau Claire as the sun was going down, eight days after the shootings in Minneapolis.
During the flight, Wayne O. Sand read The Last Mammothby Margaret Allan, because he liked that prehistoric shit and magic and all. If he'd lived back then, he thought, he'd probably be a clan chief, or something. He'd be in shape, anyway.
LaChaise read a tattoo magazine called Skin Art. LaChaise had full sleeves: tattoos running up and down both arms, a comic-book fantasy of superwomen with football-sized tits and lionish hair tangled around his bunched-up weight-room muscles, interspersed with eagles, tigers, knives, a dragon. His arms carried four names: Candy and Georgie on the right, and Harley and Davidson on the left.
The sleeves had been done on the outside, by commercial tattoo artists. The work on his back and legs was being done on the inside. Prison work, with a sewing needle and ballpoint ink. Though the figures lacked the finish of the commercial jobs, there was a nasty raw power to them that LaChaise liked. An aesthetic judgment.
When the plane's wheels came down, LaChaise put the magazine away and looked at Sand: "How about a Mc-Donald's? A couple of Big Macs?"
"Maybe, you don't fuck me around," Sand said, still in the book. Sand was a flabby man, an authoritarian little prison bureaucrat who'd be nice enough one day, and write you up the next, for doing nothing. He enjoyed his power, but wasn't nearly the worst of them. When they landed, Sand marched LaChaise off the plane, and chained him to the seat post in the back of a rental Ford.
"How about them McDonald's?" LaChaise asked.
Sand considered for a second, then said, "Nah. I wanna get a motel 'fore it's too late. There's a game tonight."
"Shut up," Sand said, with the casual curtness of a prison guard.
Sand dropped LaChaise at the Eau Claire County Jail for the night. The next morning, he put LaChaise back in the carand drove him through the frozen landscape to the Logan Funeral Home in Colfax. LaChaise's mother was waiting on the porch of the funeral home, along with Sandy Darling, Candy's sister. A sheriff's car was parked in the street, engine running. A deputy sat inside the car, reading a newspaper.
Amy LaChaise was a round, oily-faced country woman with suspicious black eyes, close-cropped black hair and a pencil-thin mustache. She wore a black dress with a white collar under a blue nylon parka. A small hat from the 1930s sat nervously atop her head, with a crow's wing of black lace pulled down over her forehead.
Sandy Darling was her opposite: a small woman, slender, with a square chin and a thin, windburned face. Crow's-feet showed at the corners of her eyes, though she was only twenty-nine, four years younger than her sister, Candy. Like Candy, she was blond, but her hair was cut short, and she wore simple seed-pearl earrings.
And while Candy had that pure Wisconsin milkmaid complexion, Sandy showed a scattering of freckles over her windburned nose and forehead. She wore a black wool coat over a long black dress, tight black leather gloves and fancy black cowboy boots with sterling silver toe guards. She carried a white cowboy hat.
When the rental car pulled up, Amy LaChaise started down the walk. Sandy Darling stayed on the porch, turning the cowboy hat in her hands. Wayne O. Sand popped the padlock on the seat-chain, got out, stood between Amy LaChaise and the car door and opened the door for LaChaise.
"That's my ma," LaChaise said to Sand, as he got out. LaChaise was a tall man, with heavy shoulders and deep-set black eyes, long hair and a beard over hollowed cheeks. He had fingers that were as thick and tough as hickory sticks.
With a robe, he might have played the Prophet Jeremiah.
"Okay," Sand said. To Amy LaChaise: "I'll have to hold your purse."
The deputy sheriff had gotten out of his car, nodded to Sand, as Amy LaChaise handed over her purse. "Everything okay?" he asked.
"Yeah, sure." Sand drifted over to chat with him; La-Chaise wasn't going anywhere.
Amy LaChaise planted a dry lizard's kiss on her son's cheek and said, "They was shot down like dogs."
"I know, Mama," LaChaise said. He looked past her to Sandy Darling on the porch, and nodded curtly. To his mother he said, "They told me about it."
"They was set up," Amy said. She made a pecking motion with her nose, as if to emphasize her words. "That goddamn Duane Cale had something to do with it, 'cause he's just fine, talking like crazy. He'll tell them anything they want. All kinds of lies."
"Yeah, I know," LaChaise said. His mother was worried because Candy had given her money from some of the robberies.
"Well, what'cha gonna do?" Amy LaChaise demanded. "It was your sister and your wife..." She clutched at his arm, her fingers sharp and grasping, like buckthorn.
"I know, Mama," LaChaise said. "But there ain't much I can do right now." He lifted his hands so she could see the heavy cuffs.
"That's a fine thing," Amy LaChaise moaned, still clutching at him. "You just let it go and lay around your fat happy cell."
"You go on into the chapel," LaChaise said, with a harsh snap in his voice.
"I want to take a look at 'em."
Amy LaChaise backed away a step. "Caskets are closed," she ventured.
"They can open them," LaChaise said, grimly.
Sandy Darling, still on the porch, watched the unhappy reunion, then turned and went inside.
Logan, the funeral director, was a small, balding man, with a mustache that would have been tidy if it hadn't appeared moth-eaten. Although he was gray-faced, he had curiously lively, pink hands, which he dry-washed as he talked. "In a case like this, Mr. LaChaise," he said, looking nervously at LaChaise's handcuffs, "we can't be responsible for the results."
"Open the boxes," LaChaise said.
Logan, worried, cracked the lids and stepped back. Way back. LaChaise stepped up, raised them.
Candy, his wife.
She'd been shot several times through the body, out of sight under her burial dress, but one shot had gone almost straight through her nose. The nose had been rebuilt with some kind of putty. Other than that, she looked as sweet as she had the day he first saw her at the Wal-Mart. He looked at her for a full minute, and thought he might have shed a tear; but he didn't.
Georgie was worse. Georgie had been hit at least three times in the face. While the funeral home had sewed and patched and made up, there was no doubt that something was massively wrong with Georgie's skull. The body in the box looked no more like the living Georgie than did a plastic baby doll.
He could remember that one good Christmas when they'd had the tree, he was nine or ten, she was three or four, and somebody had given her pajamas with feet in them. " Feetsies," she called them. "I'm gonna put on my feetsies." Must have been twenty-five years gone by, and here she was, witha head like a football. Again he felt the impulse toward tears; again, nothing happened.
Logan, the funeral director, his face drained of blood, cleared his throat and said, "Mr. LaChaise?"
LaChaise nodded. "You did okay," he said, gruffly. "Where's the preacher?"
"He should be here. Any minute." Logan's hands flittered gratefully with the compliment, like sparrows at a bird feeder.
"I want to wait back here until the funeral starts," La-Chaise said. "I don't wanna talk to my mama no more'n I have to."
"I understand," the funeral director said. He did: he'd been dealing with old lady LaChaise since the bodies had been released by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner. "We'll move Candy and Georgie into the chapel. When Reverend Pyle arrives, I'll step back and notify you."
"That's good," LaChaise said. "You got a Coke machine here somewhere?"
"Well, there is a Coke box in the staff area," Logan said.
"I could use a Coke. I'd buy it."
"No, no, that's fine..."
LaChaise looked at the escort. "How about it, Wayne? I'll buy you one."
Sand drank fifteen caffeinated Diet Cokes a day and got headaches if he went without. LaChaise knew that. "Yeah," Sand said. "A Coke would be good."
"Then I'll make the arrangements," the funeral director said. "The Coke box is back through that door."
He pointed back through the Peace Room, as the staging area was called, to a door that said, simply, "Staff."
On the other side of the staff door was a storage room full of broken-down shipping cartons for coffins, eight or ten large green awnings, folded, for funerals onrainy days, a forklift and a tool bench. The Coke box was just inside the door, an old-fashioned red top-opening cooler, with a dozen Coke Classic cans and a couple of white Diet Coke cans bathed in five inches of icy water.
"Get one of them Diets," Sand said, looking down into the water. He was watching his weight. LaChaise dipped into the cooler and got a regular Coke and a Diet, and when he turned back to the escort, Crazy Ansel Butters had stepped quietly out from behind the pile of awnings. He had a.22 pistol and he put it against Sand's head and said, "Don't fuckin' move."
Sand froze, then looked at LaChaise and said, "Don't hurt me, Dick."
"Gimme the keys," LaChaise said.
"You're making a mistake," Sand said. His eyes were rolling, and LaChaise thought he might faint.
"Give him the keys or you'll be making a mistake," Butters said. Butters had a voice like a bastard file skittering down a copper pipe.
Sand fumbled the keys out of his pocket and LaChaise stuck his hands out. When the cuffs came off, he rubbed his wrists, took the keys from Sand and opened the leg irons. "That deputy still out by his car?" he asked Butters.
"He was when I come in," Butters said. He slipped a Bulldog.44 out of his coat pocket and handed it to LaChaise. "Here's your 'dog."
"Thanks." LaChaise took the gun and stuck it in his belt. "What're you driving?"
"Bill's truck. Around the side."
"Did Mama see you?"
"Shit no. Nobody seen me."
LaChaise stepped close to the escort, and turned him a bit, and said, "All right, Wayne, I'm gonna cuff your hands. Now you keep your mouth shut, 'cause if you start hollering beforewe get out of here, we'll have to come back and do something."
"I won't say a thing," Sand said, trembling.
"You scared?" LaChaise asked.
"Yeah, I am."
"That's good; keep you from doing anything foolish," LaChaise said. He snapped the cuffs over Sand's hands, then said, "Lay down."
Sand got down awkwardly, and Butters stepped up behind him and threw a half-dozen turns of packaging tape around his ankles. When he was finished, LaChaise took the roll of tape, knelt with one knee in the middle of Sand's back, and took three more turns around his mouth. When he was finished, LaChaise looked up at Butters and said, "Borrow me your knife."
Sand squirmed under LaChaise's knee as Butters passed a black lock-back knife to LaChaise.
LaChaise grabbed a handful of Sand's hair and pried his head back and said, "Shoulda bought me them Big Macs."
He bounced Sand's head off the concrete floor once, twice, then said, "You asshole." He pulled his head straight back, leaned to the side so he could see Sand's bulging eyes. "You know how they cut a pig's throat?"
"We gotta move along," Butters said. "We can't fuck around." Sand began thrashing and squealing through the tape.
LaChaise let him go for a minute, enjoying himself, then he cut Sand's throat from one ear to the other. As the purple blood poured out on the concrete, Sand thrashed, and La-Chaise rode him with the knee. The thrashing stopped and Sand's one visible eye began to go opaque.
"Gotta go," Butters said.
"Fuckhead," LaChaise said. He dropped Sand's head,wiped the blade on the back of Sand's coat, folded the knife as he stood up and handed it to Butters.
"Gonna be hell cleaning up the mess," Butters said, looking down at the body.
"I hate to get blood on concrete."
"We'll send them some Lysol," LaChaise said. "Let's roll."
"Lysol don't work," Butters said, as they headed for the doors. "Nothing works. You always got the stain, and it stinks."
They went out the service drive on the back of the funeral home, Butters with his thin peckerwood face and long sandy hair sitting in the driver's seat, while LaChaise sat on the floor in front of the passenger seat.
When they turned onto the street, LaChaise unfolded a bit and looked over the backseat, through the cab window, through the topper, and out the topper's rear window, down toward the funeral home. The deputy's car was still sitting in the street, unmoving. Nobody knew yet, but they probably didn't have more than a couple of minutes.
"Are we going up to the trailer?" LaChaise asked.
"You been there?"
"Yeah. There's electricity for heat and the pump, and a shitter out back.
You'll be okay for a day or two, until we get set in the Cities. Martin's down there today, waiting for some furniture to get there."
"You find a cop?"
"Yep. Talked to a guy last night, me and Martin did. We got us a cop the name of Andy Stadic. He's hooked up with a dope dealer named Harp. Harp took some pictures, and now we got the pictures."
"Good one." They crossed a river with a frozen waterfall, and were out of town. "How's Martin?"
"Like always. But that Elmore is a hinky sonofabitch. We told him we needed a place to stay, me 'n Bill, and I had to back him up against the wall before he said okay on the trailer."
"Fuck him," LaChaise said. "If he knew I was gonna be out there, he'd be peein' his pants."
"Gonna have to keep an eye on Sandy," Butters said.
LaChaise nodded. "Yeah. She's the dangerous one. We'll want to get out of the trailer soon as we can."
Butters looked sideways at him. "You and Sandy ever..."
"No." LaChaise grinned. "Woulda liked to."
"She's a goddamned wrangler," Butters agreed.
Butters drove them through a web of back roads, never hesitating. He'd driven the route a half-dozen times. Forty minutes after killing Sand, they made the trailer, without seeing another car.
LaChaise said: "Free."
"Loose, anyway," Butters said.
"That's close enough," LaChaise said. He unconsciously rubbed his wrists where the manacles had been.
Logan, the funeral director, ran into the chapel like a small, drunk tailback, knocked down a halfdozen metal folding chairs, staggered, nearly bowled over Amy LaChaise, struggled briefly with the door handle and was gone out the front door.
Sandy looked at Amy LaChaise across the closed caskets.
"What the hell was that?" Amy asked.
"I don't know," she said, but she felt suddenly cold.
Ten seconds later, the cop who'd been parked out front ran in the door with his pistol in a two-handed grip. He pointed the gun at Sandy, then at Amy, then swiveled around the room: "Hold it. Everybody hold it."
"What?" Amy asked. She clutched her purse to her chest. Logan peeked out from behind the deputy. "Mr. LaChaise is gone."
Amy screeched, like a crow killing an owl, a sound both pleased and intolerable.
"Praise the Lord."
"Shut up," the deputy screamed, pointing the pistol at her. "Where's the prison guy? Where's the prison guy?"
Logan poked a finger toward the back. "In there..."
"What's wrong with him?" Sandy asked.
The deputy ran through the door into the back, and Logan said, "Well, he's dead. LaChaise cut his throat."
Sandy closed her eyes: "Oh, no."
A highway patrolman arrived five minutes later. Then two more sheriff's deputies. The deputies split Amy LaChaise and Sandy, made them sit apart.
"And keep your mouths shut," one of the deputies said, a porky man with a name tag that said Graf.
LaChaise, Sandy thought, was at Elmore's daddy's trailer, out at the hill place.
Had to be. That whole story about Martin and Butters needing a place to stay-it sounded like bullshit as soon as Elmore had told her about it.
But the problem was, she was Candy's sister, LaChaise's sister-in-law. She'd been present when LaChaise had escaped and murdered a man. And now LaChaise was up at a trailer owned by her senile father-in-law.
She'd seen LaChaise railroaded by the cops for conspiracy to commit murder: they'd do the same to her, and with a lot more evidence.
Sandy Darling sat and shivered, but not with the cold; sat and tried to figure a way out.
The trailer was a broken-down Airstream, sitting on the cold frozen snow like a shot silver bullet. Buttersand LaChaise crunched through the sparse snow on fourwheel drive, then they got out of the truck into the cold and Butters unlocked the trailer. "I come by this morning and dropped off some groceries and turned on the heat... Can't nobody see you in here, but you might want to keep the light down at night," he said. "You don't have to worry about smoke.
Everything's electric and it works. I turned the pump on and filled up the water heater, so you oughta be okay that way."
"You done really good, Ansel," LaChaise said.
"I owe you," Butters said. And he turned away from the compliment: "And there's a TV and a radio, but you can only get one channel-sort of-on the TV, and only two stations on the radio, but they're both country."
"That's fine," LaChaise said, looking around. Then he came back to Butters, his deep black eye fixing the other man like a bug: "Ansel, you ain't owed me for years, if you ever did. But I gotta know something for sure."
Butters glanced at him, then looked out the window over the sink: "Yeah?"
"Are you up for this?"
Ansel glanced at him again, and away: it was hard to get Crazy Ansel Butters to look directly at you, under any conditions. "Oh yeah. I'm very tired. You know what I mean? I'm very tired."
"You can't do nothin' crazy," LaChaise said.
"I won't, 'til the time comes. But I am getting close to my dying day."
The words came out with a formal stillness.
"Well, that's probably bullshit, Ansel," LaChaise said, but he said it gravely, without insult intended or taken.
Butters said, "I come off the interstate, down home, up an exit ramp at night, with pole lights overhead. And I seen an owl's shadow going up the ramp ahead of me-wings allspread, six or eight feet across, the shadow was. I could see every feather. Tell me that ain't a sign."
"Maybe it's a sign, but I got a mission here," LaChaise said. "We all got a mission now."
"That's true," Butters said, nodding. "And I won't fuck you up."
"That's what I needed to know," LaChaise said.
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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