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|The Prey Series|
Of the three unluckiest days in Barbara Allen's life, the first was the day Clara Rinker was raped behind a St. Louis nudie bar called Zanadu, which was located west of the city in a dusty checkerboard of truck terminals, warehouses and light assembly plants. Zanadu, as its chrome-yellow 1-70 billboard proclaimed, was E-Z On, E-Z Off. The same was not true of Clara Rinker, despite what Zanadu's customers thought.
Rinker was sixteen when she was raped, a small athletic girl, a dancer, an Ozarks runaway. She had bottle-blonde hair that showed darker roots, and a body that looked wonderful in v-necked, red-polka-dotted, thin-cotton dresses from Kmart. A body that drew the attention of cowboys, truckers, and other men who dreamt of Nashville.
Rinker had taken up nude dancing because she could. It was that, fuck for money, or go hungry. The rape took place at two o'clock in the morning on an otherwise delightful April night, the kind of night when Midwestern kids are allowed to stay out late and play war, when cicadas hum down from their elm-bark hideaways. Rinker had closed the bar that night; she was the last dancer up.
Four men were still drinking when she finished. Three were hound-faced longdistance truckers who had nowhere to go but the short beds in their various Kenworths, Freightliners and Peterbilts; and a Norwegian exotic-animal dealer drowning the sorrows of a recent mishap involving a box of boa constrictors and thirty-six thousand dollars" worth of illegal tropical birds.
A fifth man, a slope-shouldered gorilla named Dale-Something, had walked out of the bar halfway through Rinker's last grind. He left behind twelve dollars in crumpled ones and two small sweat rings where his forearms had been propped on the bar. Rinker had worked down the bar-top, stopping for ten seconds in front of each man, for what the girls called a crack shot. Dale-Something had gotten the first shot, and he had stood up and walked out as soon as she moved to the next guy. When she was done, Rinker hopped off the end of the bar and headed for the back to get into her street clothes.
A few minutes later, the bartender, a University of Missouri wrestler named Rick, knocked on the dressing-room door and said, "Clara? Will you close up the back?"
"I'll get it," she said, pulling a fuzzy pink tube-top over her head, shaking her ass to get it down. Rick respected the dancers" privacy, which they appreciated; it was purely a psychological thing, since he worked behind the bar, and spent half his night looking up their...
Anyway, he respected their privacy.
When she was dressed, Rinker killed the lights in the dressing room, walked down to the ladies" room, checked to make sure it was empty, which it always was, and then did the same for the men's room, which was also empty, except for the ineradicable odor of beer-flavored urine. At the back door, she snapped out the hall lights, released the bolt on the lock, and stepped outside into the soft evening air. She pulled the door shut, heard the bolt snap, rattled the door handle to make sure that it was locked, and headed for her car.
A rusted-out Dodge pickup crouched on the lot, two-thirds of the way down to her car. A battered aluminum camper slumped on the back, with curtains tangled in the windows. Every once in a while, somebody would drink too much and would wind up sleeping in his car behind the place; so the truck was not exactly unprecedented. Still, Rinker got a bad vibe from it. She almost walked back around the building to see if she could catch Rick before he went out the front.
Almost. But that was too far and she was probably being silly and Rick was probably in a hurry and the truck was dark, nothing moving.
Dale-Something was sitting on the far side of it, hunkered down in the pea gravel, his back against the driver's-side door. He'd been waiting for twenty minutes with decreasing patience, chewing breath mints, thinking about her. Somewhere, in the deep recesses of his mind, breath mints were a concession to gentility, as regarded women. He chewed them as a favor to her...
When he heard the back door closing, he levered his butt off the ground, peeked through a car window, saw her coming, alone. He waited, crouched behind the car: he was a big guy, much of his bigness in fat, but he took pride in his size anyway.
And he was quick: Rinker never had a chance.
When she stepped around the truck, keys rattling in her hand, he came out of the dark and hit her like an NFL tackle. The impact knocked her breath out; she lay beneath him, gasping, the gravel cutting her bare shoulders. He flipped her over, twisting her arms, clamping both of her skinny wrists in one hand and the back of her neck in the other.
And he said, his minty breath next to her ear, "You fuckin' scream and I'll break your fuckin' neck."
She didn't fuckin' scream because something like this had happened before, with her step-father. She had screamed and he almost had broken her fuckin' neck.
Instead of screaming, Rinker struggled violently, thrashing, spitting, kicking, swinging, twisting, trying to get loose. But Dale-Something's hand was like a vise on her neck, and he dragged her to the camper, pulled open the door, pushed her inside, ripped her pants off and did what he was going to do in the flickering yellow illumination of the dome light.
When he was done, he threw her out the back of the truck, spit on her, said, "fuckin' bitch, you tell anybody about this, and I'll fuckin' kill ya." That was most of what she remembered about it later: lying naked on the gravel, and getting spit on; that, and all the wiry hair on Dale's fat wobbling butt.
Rinker didn't call the cops, because that would have been the end of her job.
And, knowing cops, they probably would have sent her home to her step-dad. So she told Zanadu's owners about the rape. The brothers Ernie and Ron Battaglia were concerned about both Rinker and their bar license. A nudie joint didn't need sex crimes in the parking lot.
"Jeez," Ron said, when Rinker told him about the rape. "That's terrible, Clara."
"You hurt? You oughta get yourself looked at, you know?"
Ernie took a roll of bills from his pocket, peeled off two hundreds, thought about it for a couple of seconds, peeled off a third and tucked the three hundred dollars into her back-up tube top: "Get yourself looked at, kid."
She nodded and said, "You know, I don't wanna go to the cops. But this asshole should pay for what he did."
"We'll take care of it," Ernie offered.
"Let me take care of it," Rinker said.
Ron put up an eyebrow. "What do you want to do?"
"Just get him down the basement for me. He said something about being a roofer, once. He works with his hands. I'll get a goddamn baseball bat and bust one of his arms."
Ron looked at Ernie, who looked at Rinker and said, "That sounds about right. Next time he comes in, huh?"
They didn't do it the next time he came in, which was a week later, looking nervous and shifty-eyed, like he might not be welcomed. Rinker refused to work with Dale-Something at the bar, and when she cornered Ernie in the kitchen, he told her that, goddamnit, they were right in the middle of tax season and neither he nor Ron had the emotional energy for a major confrontation.
Rinker kept working on them, and the second time Dale-Something showed up, which was two days after Tax Day, the brothers were feeling nasty. They fed him drinks and complimentary peanuts and kept him talking until after closing. Rick the bartender hustled the second-to-the-last guy out, and left himself, not looking back; he knew something was up.
Then Ron came around the bar, and Ernie got Dale-Something looking the other way, and Ron nailed him with a wild, out-of-the-blue round-house right that knocked Dale off the barstool. Ron landed on him, rolled him, and Ernie raced around the bar and threw on a pro-wrestling death lock. Together, they dragged a barely resisting Dale-Something down the basement stairs.
The brothers had him on his feet and fully conscious by the time Rinker came down, carrying her aluminum baseball bat; or rather, t-ball bat, which had a better swing-weight for a small woman.
"I'm gonna sue you fuckers for every fuckin' dime you got," Dale-Something said, sputtering blood through his split lip. "My fuckin' lawyer is doin' the moneydance right now, you fucks..."
"Fuck you, you ain't doing shit," Ron said. "You raped this little girl."
"What do you want, Clara?" Ernie asked. He was standing behind Dale with his arms under Dale's armpits, his hands locked behind Dale's neck. "You wanna arm or a leg?"
Rinker was standing directly in front of Dale-Something, who glowered at her: "I'm gonna..." he started.
Rinker interrupted: "Fuck legs," she said. She whipped the bat up, and then straight back down on the crown of Dale-Something's head.
The impact sounded like a fat man stepping on an English walnut. Ernie, startled, lost his death grip and Dale-Something slipped to the floor like a two-hundred-pound blob of Jello.
"Holy shit," Ron said, and crossed himself.
Ernie prodded Dale-Something with the toe of his desert boot, and Dale blew a bubble of blood. "He ain't dead," Ernie said.
Rinker's bat came up, and she hit Dale again, this time in the mastoid process behind the left ear. She hit him hard; her step-dad used to make her chop wood for the furnace, and her swing had some weight and snap behind it. "That ought to do it," she said.
Ernie nodded and said "Yup." Then they all looked at each other in the light of the single bare bulb, and Ron said to Rinker, "Some heavy shit, Clara. How do you feel about this?"
Clara looked at Dale-Something's body, the little ring of black blood around his fat lips, and said, "He was a piece of garbage."
"You don't feel nothing?" Ernie asked.
"Nothing." Her lips were set in a thin, grim line.
After a minute, Ron looked up the narrow wooden stairs and said, "Gonna be a load "n a half getting his ass outa the basement."
"You got that right," Ernie said, adding, philosophically, "I coulda told him there ain't no free pussy."
Dale-Something went into the Mississippi and his truck was parked across the river in Granite City, from which spot it disappeared in two days. Nobody ever asked about Dale, and Rinker went back to dancing. A few weeks later, Ernie asked her to sit with an older guy who came in for a beer. Rinker cocked her head and Ernie said, "No, it's okay. You don't have to do nothin'."
So she got a longneck Bud and went to sit with the guy, who said he was Ernie's aunt's husband's brother.
He knew about Dale-Something. "You feeling bad about it yet?"
"Nope. I'm a little pissed that Ernie told you about it, though," Rinker said, taking a hit on the Budweiser.
The older man smiled. He had very strong, white teeth to go with his black eyes and almost-feminine long lashes. Rinker had the sudden feeling that he might show a girl a pretty good time, although he must be over forty. "You ever shoot a gun?" he asked.
That's how Rinker became a hit lady. She wasn't spectacular, like the Jackal or one of those movie killers. She just took care of business, quietly and efficiently, using a variety of silenced pistols, mostly .22s. Careful, close-range killings became a trademark.
Rinker had never thought of herself as stupid, just as someone who hadn't yet had her chance. When the money from the killings started coming in, she knew that she didn't know how to handle it. So she went to the Intercontinental College of Business in the mornings, and took courses in bookkeeping and small business. When she was twenty, getting a little old for dancing nude, she got a job with the Mafia guy, working in a liquor warehouse. And when she was twenty-four, and knew a bit about the business, she bought a bar of her own in downtown Wichita, Kansas, and renamed it The Rink.
The bar did well. Still, a few times a year, Rinker'd go out of town with a gun and come back with a bundle of money. Some she spent, but most she hid, under a variety of names, in a variety of places. One thing her step-dad had taught her well: sooner or later, however comfortable you might be at the moment, you were gonna have to run.
Carmel was long, sleek, and expensive, like a new Jaguar.
She had a small head, with a tidy nose, thin pale lips, a square chin and small pointed tongue. She was a Swede, way back, and blonde one of the whippet Swedes with small breasts, narrow hips, and a long waist in between. She had the eyes of a bird of prey, a raptor. Carmel was a defense attorney in Minneapolis, one of the top two or three. Most years, she made comfortably more than a million dollars.
Carmel lived in a fabulously cool high-rise apartment in downtown Minneapolis, all blond-wood floors and white walls with black-and-white photos by Ansel Adams and Diane Arbus and Minor White, but nobody as gauche and come-lately as Robert Mapplethorpe. Amid all the black-and-white, there were perfect touches of bloody-murder-red in the furniture and carpets and even her car, a Jaguar XK8, had a custom bloody-murder-red paint job.
On the second of the three unluckiest days in Barbara Allen's life, Carmel Loan decided that she was truly, genuinely and forever in love with Hale Allen, Barbara Allen's husband.
Hale Allen, a property and real-estate attorney, was the definitive heart-throb. He had near-black hair that fell naturally over his forehead in little ringlets, warm brown eyes, a square chin with a dimple, wide shoulders, big hands and narrow hips. He was a perfect size forty-two, a little over six feet tall, with one slightly chipped front tooth. The knot of his tie was always askew, and women were always fixing it. Putting their hands on him. He had an easy-jock way with the women, chatting them up, playing with them.
Hale Allen liked women; and not just for sex. He liked to talk with them, shop with them, drink with them, jog with them all without losing some essential lupine manliness. He had given Carmel reason to believe that he found her not unattractive. Whenever Carmel saw him, something deep inside her got plucked.
Despite his looks and easy manner with women, Hale Allen was not the sharpest knife in the dishwasher. He was content with boiler-plate law, the arranging of routine contracts, and made nowhere near as much money as Carmel. That made little difference to a woman who'd found true love. Stupidity could be overlooked, Carmel thought, if a woman felt a genuine physical passion for a man. Besides, Hale would look very good standing next to the stone fireplace at her annual Christmas party, a scotch in hand, and perhaps a cheerful bloodymurder-red bowtie; she'd do the talking.
Unfortunately, Hale appeared to be permanently tied to his wife, Barbara.
By her money, Carmel thought. Barbara had a lot of it, through her family. And though Hale's cerebral filament might not burn as brightly as others, he knew fifty million bucks when he saw them. He knew where that sixteen-hundred-dollar black cashmere Giorgio Armani sportcoat came from...
Allen's tie to his wife or to her money, anyway left few acceptable options for a woman of Carmel's qualities.
She wouldn't hang around and yearn, or get weepy and depressed, or drunk enough to throw herself at him. She'd do something.
Like kill the wife.
Five years earlier, Carmel had gone to court and had shredded the evidentiary procedures followed by a young St. Paul cop after a routine traffic stop had turned into a major drug bust.
Her client, Rolando (Rolo) D'Aquila, had walked on the drug charge, though the cops had taken ten kilos of cocaine from under the spare tire of his coffeebrown Continental. The cops had wound up keeping the car under the forfeiture law, but Rolo didn't care about that. What he cared about was that he'd done exactly five hours in jail, which was the time it took for Carmel to organize the one-point-three-million dollars in bail money.
And later, when they walked away from the courthouse after the acquittal, Rolo told her that if she ever needed a really serious favor really serious to come see him. Because of previous conversations, they both knew what he was talking about. "I owe you," he said. She didn't say no, because she never said no.
She said, "See ya."
On a warm, rainy day in late May, Carmel drove her second car an anonymous blue-black Volvo station wagon registered in her mother's second-marriage name to a ramshackle house in St. Paul's Frogtown, eased to the curb, and looked out the passenger-side window.
The wooden-frame house was slowly settling into its overgrown lawn. Rain water seeped over the edges of its leaf-clogged gutters, and peeling green paint showed patches of the previous color, a chalky blue. None of the windows or doors were quite level with the world, square with the house, or aligned with each other. Most of the windows showed glass; a few had black screens.
Carmel got a small travel umbrella from the back seat, pushed the car door open with her feet, popped the umbrella and hurried up the sidewalk to the house. The inner door was open: she knocked twice on the screen door, which rattled in its frame, and she heard Rolo from the back: "Come on in, Carmel. I'm in the kitchen."
The interior of the house was a match for the exterior.The carpets were twenty years old, with paths worn through the thin pile. The walls were a dingy yellow, the furniture a crappy collection of plastic-veneered plywood, chipped along the edges of the tabletops and down the legs. There were no pictures on the walls, no decoration of any kind. Nailheads poked from picture-hanging spots, where previous tenants had tried a little harder. Everything smelled like nicotine and tar.
The kitchen was improbably bright. There were no shades or curtains on the two windows that flanked the kitchen table, and only two chairs, one tucked tight to the table, another pulled out. Rolo, looking smaller than he had five years ago, was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt that said, enigmatically, Jesus. He had both hands in the kitchen sink.
"Just cleaning up for the occasion," he said. He wasn't embarrassed at being caught at house-cleaning, and a thought flicked through Carmel's lawyer-head: he should be embarrassed.
"Sit down," he said, nodding at the pulled-out chair. "I got some coffee going."
"I'm sort of in a rush," she started. "You don't have time for coffee with Rolando?" He was flicking water off his hands, and he ripped a paper towel off a roll that sat on the kitchen counter, wiped his hands dry, and tossed the balled-up towel toward a waste basket in the corner. It hit the wall and ricocheted into the basket. "Two," he said.
She glanced at her watch, and reversed herself on the coffee. "Sure, I've got a few minutes."
I've come a long way down, huh?" She glanced once around the kitchen, shrugged and said, "You'll be back."
"I don't know," he said. "I got my nose pretty deep in the shit."
"So take a program."
"Yeah, a program," he said, and laughed. "Twelve steps to Jesus." Then, apologetically, "I only got caffeinated."
"Only kind I drink," she said. And then, "So you made the call." Not a question.
Rolo was pouring coffee into two yellow ceramic mugs, the kind Carmel associated with lake resorts in the north woods. "Yes. And she's still working, and she'll take the job."
"She? It's a woman?"
"Yeah. I was surprised myself. I never asked, you know, I only knew who to call. But when I asked, my friend said, 'She.'"
"She's gotta be good," Carmel said.
"She's good. She has a reputation. Never misses. Very efficient, very fast. Always from very close range, so there's no mistake." Rolo put a mug of coffee in front of her, and she turned it with her fingertips, and picked it up.
"That's what I need," she said, and took a sip. Good coffee, very hot.
"You're sure about this?" Rolo said. He leaned back against the kitchen counter, and gestured with his coffee mug. "Once I tell them 'Yes,' it'll be hard to stop. This woman, the way she moves, nobody knows where she is, or what name she's using. If you say, 'Yes,' she kills Barbara Allen."
Carmel frowned at the sound of Barbara Allen's name. She hadn't really thought of the process as murder. She had considered it more abstractly, as the solution to an otherwise intractable problem. Of course, she had known it would be murder, she just hadn't contemplated the fact. "I'm sure," she said.
"You've got the money?"
"At the house. I brought your ten."
She put the mug down, dug in her purse, pulled out a thin deck of currency and laid it on the table. Rolo picked it up, riffled it expertly with a thumb. "I'll tell you this," he said. "When they come and ask for it, pay every penny. Every penny. Don't argue, just pay. If you don't, they won't try to collect. They'll make an example out of you."
"I know how it works," Carmel said, with an edge of impatience. "They'll get it. And nobody'll be able to trace it, because I've had it stashed. It's absolutely clean."
Rolo shrugged: "Then if you say 'Yes,' I'll call them tonight. And they'll kill Barbara Allen."
This time, she didn't flinch when Rolo spoke the name. Carmel stood up: "Yes," she said. "Do it."
Rinker came to town three weeks later. She had driven her own car from Wichita, then rented two different-colored, different-make cars from Hertz and Avis, under two different names, using authentic Missouri driver's licenses and perfectly good, paid-up credit cards.
She stalked Barbara Allen for a week, and finally decided to kill her on the interior steps of a downtown parking garage. In the week that Rinker trailed her, Allen had used the garage four times, and all four times had used the stairs to get to the skyway level. Once in the skyway, she'd gone straight to an office with the name "Star of the North Charities" on the door. When Rinker knew that Allen was not at Star of the North, she'd called and asked for her.
"I'm sorry, she's not here..."
"Do you expect her?"
"She's usually here for an hour or two in the morning, just before lunch..."
"Thanks, I'll try again tomorrow."
On the last of the three unluckiest days of her life, she got out of bed, showered, and ate a light breakfast of Raisin Bran and strawberries with Hale for a husband, it paid to watch her figure. As the housekeeper cleared away the breakfast dishes, Allen turned on the television to check the Dow Jones opening numbers, sat at her desk and reviewed proposed charitable allocations from the Star of the North Charities trust, then, at nine-thirty, gathered her papers, pushed them into a tan Coach briefcase, and headed downtown.
Rinker, in a red Jeep Cherokee, followed her until she was sure that Allen was heading downtown, then passed her and hurried ahead. Allen was a slow, careful driver, but traffic and traffic lights were unpredictable, and Rinker wanted to be at least five minutes ahead of her by the time they got downtown.
Rinker had picked out another parking garage, also on the skyway system, a little less than a two-minute fast walk from the killing ground. She wheeled into the garage, parked, walked to her own car, which she'd parked in the garage earlier that morning, and climbed into the back seat. She glanced up and down the ramp, saw one man leaving, heading toward the doors. She reached down, grabbed the carpeting behind the passenger seat, and popped open a shallow steel box, which held two Remington .22 semiautomatic pistols, silencers already attached, on a bed of Styrofoam peanuts.
Rinker was wearing a loose shift, with a homemade elastic girdle beneath it. She pushed the .22s into the wide pockets of the shift, through another slit cut through the insides of the pockets, and into the girdle. The .22s were held tight against her body, but she could get them out in a half-second. With the guns tucked away, Rinker hopped out of the car and headed for the skyway.
Barbara Allen, a sturdy, German blonde with short, expensively cut hair, a dab of lipstick, a crisp white cotton blouse, a navy skirt and matching navy lowheels, went into the stairwell of the Sixth Street Parking Garage at 9:58 a.m.
Halfway down, she met a small woman coming up, a redhead. As she passed her, looking down, the other woman smiled, and Allen, who knew about such things, looked at the top of her head and thought, Wig.
That was the last thing she thought on the unluckiest day of her life.
Rinker, climbing the stairs, had mistimed it. She knew the lower ramp was clear, and wanted to take Allen low. But Allen came down the narrow steps slowly, and Rinker, now in plain sight, didn't feel she should stop and wait for her. So she continued climbing. Allen smiled and nodded at her as they passed and, as they passed, Rinker pulled the right-hand .22, pivoted, and fired it into the back of Allen's head from a range of two inches. Allen's hair puffed out, as though somebody had blown on it, and she started to fall.
The silencers were good. The loudest noise in the stairwell was the cycling of the pistol's action. Rinker got off a second shot before Allen fell too far; then stepped down to the sprawled body and fired five more shots into Allen's temple.
As she stepped away from the body, ready to head down the stairs, a cop came through the door in the stairwell above them. He was in uniform, a heavy guy carrying a manila folder.
Rinker had thought about this possibility, a surprise from a cop, though she'd never experienced anything like it. Still, she'd rehearsed it in her mind.
"Hey," the cop said. He put up a hand, and Rinker shot him.
Baily Dobbs' first day on patrol had taught him that police work was more complicated than he'd thought and more dangerous than he'd expected. Baily had seen police work as a way to achieve a certain authority, a status. He hadn't thought about fighting people bigger than he was, about drunks vomiting in the back seat of the squad, about freezing his ass off outside the Target Center when the Wolves were playing. So Baily resolved to keep his head down, to volunteer for nothing, to show up late for trouble calls, and to get off the street as fast as he could.
He was inside in less than two years.
One Halloween, responding late to a domestic, he'd walked up a dark sidewalk, stepped on the back axle of a tricycle, flipped into the air, and twisted his knee. He was never exactly disabled, but it became clear that if he couldn't run, he couldn't work the streets. His hobbling progress around a gymnasium track baffled the docs and amused his former partners. The phrase, "I'm gonna baily on that," came into the vocabulary of the Minneapolis Police Department.
Baily went inside and stayed there. He still wore a uniform, carried a gun and got paid for being a cop, but he was a clerk and happy with it. Which is why he didn't respond as quickly as he might have, when he saw Rinker execute Barbara Allen. His cop reflexes were gone.
Baily's lunch started at eleven o'clock, but on this day he'd taken some undertime. He snuck out through the basement of City Hall, into the country government building, carrying a manila folder that contained a few sheets of paper addressed to a court bailiff his cover-your-ass file, if he was spotted by his supervisor.
Once in the government building, he took a quick look around, then dodged into the skyway that went over to the Sixth Street parking garage. From there, he planned to take the stairs to the street level, cross over to the Hennepin Country Medical Center, which had a nice discreet cafeteria rarely visited by cops. He'd eat a cheeseburger and fries, enjoy a few cups of coffee, read the newspapers, then amble back to City Hall, just in time for lunch.
That perfectly good plan fell apart when he stepped into the stairwell.
Two women were in the stairwell below him, and one of them, a redhead, appeared to be sticking something in the ear of the other, who was lying on the stairs.
"Hey," he said.
The redhead looked up at him, and in the next quarter-second, Baily realized that what she had in her hand was a pistol. The pistol came up and Baily put a hand out, and the redhead shot him. There wasn't much noise, but he felt something hit his chest, and he fell down backwards.
He fell in the doorway, which saved his life: Rinker, standing below him on the stairs, looking over the sights of her pistol, couldn't see anything but the bottoms of his feet. Baily groaned as he fell, and he dimly heard a man's voice call, "Are you all right?"
Rinker had taken two quick steps toward him, to finish him, when she heard the new voice. Complications were increasing. Quick as a blink, she decided: down was safe. She went down, not running, but moving fast.
Baily struggled to sit upright, to crawl away from the stairwell; and heard a door bang closed in the stairwell below. His chest hurt, and so did his hand. He looked at his hand, and it was all scuffed up, apparently from the fall. Then he discovered the growing blood stain on the pocket of his white uniform shirt.
"Oh, man," he said.
The other voice called again, "Hey, you okay?"
"Oh, Jesus, oh, God, Jesus God," said Baily, who was not a religious man. He tried to push himself up again, noticed his hand was slippery with blood, and started to cry. "Oh, Jesus..." He looked up the ramp, where a man carrying a briefcase was looking down at him. A woman was beyond him, also coming toward them; he could sense her reluctance.
"Help me..." Baily cried. "Help me, I've been shot..."
Sloan banged into Lucas Davenport's office and said, "Baily Dobbs's been shot." He looked at his watch. "Twelve minutes ago."
Lucas was peering glumly into a six-hundred-page report with a blue cover and white label, which said, "Mayor's Select Commission on Cultural Diversity, Alternative Lifestyles and Other-Abledness in the Minneapolis Police Department: A Preliminary Approach to Divergent Modalities [Executive Summary]," which he'd been marking with a fluorescent-yellow high-lighter. He was on page seven.
He put down the report and said, incredulously, "Our Baily Dobbs?"
"How many Baily Dobbs are there?" Sloan asked.
Lucas stood up and reached for a navy-blue silk jacket which hung from a government-issue coat tree. "Is he dead?"
"An accident? He shoot himself?"
Sloan shook his head. Sloan was a thin man, hatchet-faced, dressed in shades of brown and tan. A homicide investigator, the best interrogator on the force, an old friend. "Looks like he walked in on a shooting, over in the Sixth Street parking garage," he told Lucas. "The shooter killed a woman, and then shot Baily. I figured since Rose Marie and Lester are out of town, and nobody can find Thorn, you better haul your ass over to the hospital."
Lucas grunted and he pulled on the jacket. Rose Marie Roux was the chief of police; Lester, Thorn and Lucas were deputy chiefs. "Anything on the shooter?"
"No. Well, Baily said something about it being a woman. The shooter was. The woman she shot is dead, and Baily took two rounds in the right tit."
"Last goddamn guy in the world," Lucas said.
Lucas was tall, lean but not thin, broad-shouldered and dark-complected. A scar sliced across one eyebrow onto his cheek, and showed as a pale line through his summer tan, like a vagrant strand of white thread. Another scar showed on the front of his neck, over his windpipe, just above the V of his royal-blue golf shirt. He took a .45 in a clip-rig out of his desk drawer, and clipped it inside his pants, under the jacket. He did it unconsciously, as another man might put a wallet in his back pocket. "How bad is he?"
"He's going into surgery," Sloan said. "Swanson's over there, but that's all I know."
"Let's go," Lucas said. "Does anybody know what Dobbs was doing in the stairwell?"
"The other people in the office say he was probably sneaking over to Hennepin Medical for a cheeseburger. He'd pretend he was going to the government center, then he'd sneak over to the hospital and drink coffee and read the papers."
"That's the Baily we know and love," Lucas said.
The emergency room was a warm four-minute fast walk from City Hall. A cop was shot, hurt bad, but life went on. The sidewalks were crowded with shoppers, the streets clogged with cars, and Sloan, intent on making it to the hospital, nearly got hit in an intersection Lucas had to hook his arm and pull him back.
"You're too ugly to be a hood ornament," Lucas grunted.
The emergency room was oddly quiet, Lucas thought. Usually, after a cop-shooting, thirty people would be milling around, no matter who the cop was.
Here, there were three other cops, a couple of nurses and a doc, all standing around in the alcohol-scented reception area. Nobody seemed to be doing much.
"Place is empty," Sloan said, picking up the thought.
"Word hasn't got out yet," Lucas said. One of the three other cops was talking on the phone, while a second, a uniform sergeant, talked into his ear. Swanson, a bland-faced, overweight homicide detective in a grey suit, was leaning on a fluids-proof counter-top talking to a nurse, a notebook open on the counter. He saw Lucas, with Sloan a step behind, and lifted a hand.
"Where's Baily?" Lucas asked.
"He's about to go in," Swanson said, meaning surgery. "They already got the sedative going, so they can plug in the airway shit. He won't be talking. The surgeon's down the hall scrubbing up, if you wanna talk to him."
"Anybody tell Baily's wife?"
"We're looking for the chaplain," Swanson said. "He's at a church thing up on the north side, some kind of yard sale. Dick's on hold for him now." He nodded at the cop on the phone. "We'll get him in the next couple of minutes."
Lucas turned to Sloan: "Get the chaplain going, send a car. Lights and sirens."
Sloan nodded and headed for the cop on the phone. Lucas turned back to Swanson.
"What's going on at the scene?"
"Goddamndest thing. Woman was executed, I think."
"She took at least four or five in the head with a small-caliber pistol, short range: you can see the tattooing on her scalp," Swanson said. "Nobody heard a thing, which might mean a silencer. Everything in that stairwell echoes like crazy, off that concrete, and Baily told me he couldn't remember hearing the gun. Baily saw the shooter, but all he remembered was that it was a woman, and she was a redhead. Nothing else. No age, no weight, nothing. We figure the shooter was white, if she was a redhead, but shit, there're probably five thousand redheads downtown everyday."
"Who's working it?"
"Sherrill and Black. I heard about it, first call, and ran over, took a quick look at the dead woman and then came over here with Baily and the paramedics."
"So the dead woman's still over there."
Swanson nodded. "Yeah. She was way-dead. We didn't even think about bringing her in."
"Okay... you say the doc's scrubbing?"
"Dan Wong, right down the hall. By the way, Baily says he was only shot once, but the docs say he's got two slugs in him."
"So much for eyewitnesses," Lucas said.
"Yeah. But it means that this chick is fast and accurate. The holes are a half-inch apart. Of course, she missed his heart."
"If she was shooting for it. If it was a .22..."
"... that's what it looked like..."
"... then she might have been worried about punching through his breastbone."
Swanson shook his head. "Nobody's that good."
"I hope not," Lucas said.
Lucas brushed past a nurse who made a desultory effort to slow him down, and found Wong up to his elbows in green soap. Wong turned and said, "Uh-oh, the cops."
"How bad is it?" Lucas asked.
"Not too bad," Wong said, going to work on his fingernails. "He's gonna hurt for a while, but I've seen a hell of a lot worse. Two slugs in the pictures, they look pretty deformed, so they were probably hollow-points. They went in at his right nipple, lodged under the right scapula. Two little holes, he hardly bled at all, though his body fat makes it a little hard to tell what's going on. His blood pressure's good. Looks like some goddamn gang-banger with a piece-of-crap .22."
"So he's gonna be okay?" Lucas could feel the tension backing off.
"Unless he has a heart attack or a stroke," Wong said. "He's way too fat and he was panicking when they brought him in. The surgery, I could do with my toes."
"So what do I tell the press? Wong is doing surgery with his toes?"
Wong shrugged as he rinsed: "He's in surgery now, listed in guarded condition but he's expected to recover, barring complications."
"You gonna talk to them afterwards?"
"I got a two o'clock tee-time at Wayzata," Wong said. He flicked water off his hands and stepped away from the sink.
"You might have to skip it," Lucas said.
"Bullshit. I don't get invited all that often."
"I'll give them a few minutes," Wong said. "Now, if you'll get your germ-infested ass out of here, I'll go to work."
Randall Thorn, the newly-promoted deputy chief for patrol, showed up ten minutes later. Fifteen cops stood around the emergency area now. The crowd was beginning to gather. "I was all the way down by the goddamn airport," he told Lucas. His uniform showed sweat rings under his armpits. "How is he?"
Lucas briefed him quickly, then Sloan came over and said "The chaplain's on his way to Baily's house. He oughta notify the old lady in the next five minutes or so."
Lucas nodded and looked back at Thorn: "Can you hold the fort here? I ran over because Rose Marie is gone and I knew you and Lester were out of the house. But he's sort of your guy."
Thorn nodded: "I'll take it. You going over to the scene?"
"For a minute or two," Lucas said. "I want to get a picture in my head."
Thorn nodded and said, "You know what picture I can't get in my head? Baily Dobbs getting shot. Last goddamn..."
"Guy in the world," Lucas finished for him.
If the emergency room had seemed unnaturally calm, the Sixth Street parking ramp looked like a law-enforcement convention: a dozen homicide and uniform cops, medical examiner's personnel, a deputy mayor, the parking-garage manager and two possible witnesses were standing in the skyway-level elevator lobby and the stairwell above it.
Lucas nodded at one of the uniform cops controlling the traffic and he and Sloan poked their heads into the stairwell. Marcy Sherrill and Tom Black were going through the victim's purse. The victim herself was lying on the stairs, at their feet. Her skirt was pulled up over her ample thighs, showing nude panty hose. One hand bent awkwardly away from her face she might have broken her arm when she landed, Lucas thought and her eyes were frozen half-open. A pool of blood coagulated under her still-perfect hair-do. Her face was vaguely familiar; she looked like she might have been a nice lady.
Sherrill turned and saw Lucas and said, shyly, "Hi."
"Hey," Lucas said, nodding. He and Sherrill had ended a six-week romance: or as Sherrill put it, Forty Days and Forty Nights of Sex & Disputation. They were now in the awkward phase of no longer seeing each other while they were still working together. "Looks nasty," he added. The stairwell smelled of damp concrete overlaid with the coppery odor of blood and human intestinal gas, which was leaking out of the body.
Sherrill glanced down at the body and said, "Gonna be a strange one."
"Swanson said she was executed," Sloan said.
"She was, big-time," said Black. They all looked down at the body, arranged around their feet like a puddle. "I can see seven entry wounds, but no exits. You don't need to be no forensic scientist to see that the gun was close maybe an inch away."
"Who is she?" Lucas said.
"Barbara Paine Allen. She's got a notify card in her purse, looks like her husband's a lawyer."
"I know her face from somewhere, and the name rings a bell," Lucas said. "I think she might be somebody."
Sherrill and Black both nodded and Sherrill muttered, 'Great."
Lucas squatted next to the dead woman for a moment, looking at her head. The bullet wounds were small and tidy, as though she'd been repeatedly stabbed with a pencil. There were two wounds high on the back of her head, and a cluster of five in her temple. Her heart had kept pumping for a while after she landed; a thin stream of drying blood ran down from each of the holes. The seven thin streams were neatly defined, which meant that she hadn't moved after she hit the stairs. Professional, and very tidy, Lucas thought. He stood up and asked the other two, "You got witnesses? Besides Baily?"
"Baily said the shooter was a red-headed woman, and we've got two people who say they saw a redheaded woman walking away from the scene close to the time of the shooting. No good description. She was wearing sunglasses, they said. Both of them said she was wiping her nose or sneezing into a handkerchief."
"Covering her face," Lucas said.
"I don't believe this shit," Sloan said, looking down at Barbara Allen. "People don't get hit."
"Not in Minneapolis," Sherrill said.
"Not by a pro," said Black.
Lucas scratched his chin and said, "But she did. I wonder why?"
"Are you buyin' in?" Sherrill asked. "Could be an interesting trip."
"Don't have the time," Lucas said. "I have the Otherness Commission."
"Maybe if we find the shooter, we could get her to kill the commission."
"They're not killable," Lucas said gloomily. "They come straight from hell."
"We'll keep you updated," Sherrill said.
"Do that." Lucas shook his head, and looked back down at the cooling body. And he said, aloud, again, "I wonder why?"
Barbara Allen was killed a month to the day after Carmel Loan took out the contract on her. When word of the murder swept through the firm, Carmel immediately told herself that she had nothing to do with it. She'd made the arrangement so long ago that it hardly counted.
Carmel learned of the killing as she sat reading the deposition of a late-night dog-walker who claimed that he saw Rockwell Miller her client go into the back of his failing steak house with a five-gallon can of gasoline. The prosecution would argue that it was the same gas can found by the arson squad in the shambles of the restaurant's basement. The fire had been so hot that it had melted the fire extinguishers in the kitchen.
Carmel was looking for what she called a peel. If she could get her fingernails under some aspect of a story, or some aspect of a witness, she could peel the testimony back, and damage the witnesses' credibility. She'd begun to think that she could peel the dog-walker. He was divorced, and carried two convictions for domestic assault, which hurt any witness if there were enough women on the jury.
She could get the women, all right. The problem was getting the assault conviction before the jury, since the average judge might mistakenly consider it irrelevant.
The dog-walker lived near the restaurant and knew the restaurant owner by sight.
Had the dog-walker and his ex-wife ever eaten at the restaurant? Had they ever had an argument in the restaurant, when they were breaking up? Might the dogwalker have bad feelings about the restaurant, or its owner, even if they were unconscious?
It was all bullshit, but if she could implicitly ask, "Can you believe the testimony of an admitted brutal wife-beater?" of twelve women good and true... That would be a definite peel.
She was dialing her client when her secretary stuck her head into Carmel's office, unannounced, and asked, "Did you hear about Hale Allen's wife?"
Carmel's heart jumped into her throat, and she dropped the phone back on its base. "No, what?" she asked. She was one of the top-three defense attorneys in the Twin Cities, and her face showed all the emotion of a woman who has been asked the outside temperature.
"She's been killed. Murdered." The secretary couldn't quite keep the relish out of her voice. "In a downtown parking garage. The police are saying it was a professional assassination. Like a mob hit."
Carmel hushed her voice, while letting the natural interest show through. "Barbara Allen?"
The secretary stepped in and let the door close behind her. "Jane Roberts said the cops came and got Hale, and they rushed to the hospital, but it was too late. She was already dead."
"Oh my God, the poor woman." Carmel's hand went to her throat. And she thought: I didn't do this. And she also thought: I was sitting right here, where everybody could see me.
"We're thinking we should get some money together and send some flowers," the secretary said.
"Do that. That's a good idea," Carmel said. She found her purse beside her desk, and dug inside. "I'll start it with a hundred." She rolled the cash out on the desk. "Is that enough?"
Late that afternoon, on the open-air balcony of her fabulous apartment, a ginand-tonic in her hand, Carmel worried: gnawed a thumbnail, a bad habit she'd carried with her since grade school, chewing the nail down to the quick. For the first time since the infatuation with Hale Allen had begun, she stepped outside of herself, and looked back.
She'd often told her clients, those who were more-or-less professional criminals, that they could never think of all the possible ways to screw up a crime. However many ways you cover yourself, there's always some way that you are not covered.
Carmel had considered the possibility of killing Barbara Allen herself. She'd never killed anything before, but the thought didn't particularly bother her.
She could pull the trigger, all right. But the devil was in the details, and there were too many details. How would she get a gun? If she bought one, there'd be a record of the purchase. She could use it and throw it away, but if the cops came asking for it, "The dog ate it," would be insufficient.
She could steal one, but she could get caught stealing it. And she'd have to steal it from one of two or three people she knew who had guns, and that might point a finger at her. She could try to come up with a fake ID a crime in itself but she was memorable enough that a gun-store clerk, asked later about the purchaser, might well remember her, especially if prompted by a photo.
Then there was the killing itself. She could do it. She could do anything she put her mind to. But, as she'd warned her clients, mistakes, accidents, or even random chance could ruin even the best-planned crime. With murder, in the state of Minnesota, a mistake, accident or random error meant spending thirty years in a non-fabulous room the size of a bathtub.
In the end, she'd decided the least risky way was to go with a pro. She had plenty of untraceable cash stashed in her bank deposit box, and she had Rolando D'Aquila, the connection. She also had a safety margin. Neither her connection nor the shooter could tell the cops about their involvement, because that would make them as guilty of first-degree murder as Carmel herself was. The shooter, even if she were eventually run down, would be eminently defensible in court: as a competent professional, she was unlikely to leave obvious clues, and would have no apparent previous connection with the victim.
So Carmel was probably safe; but after a few moments of reflection, drink in hand, she decided to stay away from Hale Allen for a while. Let him recover from the murder; let the cops talk to him they would, of course. Since she'd never demonstrated her infatuation to Hale, there was no reason to think she'd become involved from that direction.
She was working out the various possibilities, her thumbnails red with blood, and raw, when Rinker called.
The line was Carmel's unlisted home-business number, and nobody called who didn't already know her. "Yes?" she said, picking up the receiver.
"I need to get some money from you." The woman on the other end had a dry, midsouth or Texas accent, the corners of words bitten off. But there was also an undertone of good humor.
"Are you okay?" Carmel asked.
"I'm just fine."
"You make me a little nervous," Carmel said. "I'd prefer to see you in a public place."
The woman chuckled, a pleasant, homey sound rattling down the phone line, and she said, "You lawyers worry too much and you ain't gonna see me, honey."
"Maybe," Carmel said. "So how will we do it?"
"You have the money with you?"
"Yes, that's what Rolo said."
"Good. Get in your Volvo, drive down to the University of Minnesota parking lot at Huron and Fourth Street. That's a big open lot, lots of students coming and going. There's a ticket-dispensing machine at the entrance. Park as far as you can from the pay booth, but park in a spot where there are other cars around you. Don't lock the driver's side door. Leave the money in a sack one of those brown grocery sacks would be best on the floor on the driver's side. Walk over to Washington Avenue... Do you know your way around over there?"
"Yes. I went to school there." She'd spent seven years at the university.
"Good. Walk over to Washington, then walk down to the river. After you get to the River, it's up to you. Whenever you want, walk back to the car. I'll lock it when I leave it. And all the time, you'll be out in the open, in public. Safe."
"What if somebody takes the money before you get there?"
Again, the pleasant chuckle: "Nobody will take the money, Carmel." The woman said "CAR-mul," while Carmel always pronounced it "car-MEL."
"How'd you know I have a Volvo?"
"I've been watching you off-and-on for a week or so. You drove it down to that Rainbow store the day before yesterday. I wouldn't have bought that sweet corn, myself; it looked a couple of days too old."
"It was," Carmel said. "I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
Carmel did exactly as Rinker asked, taking an extra few minutes in her walk along the Mississippi. When she got back to the car, the door was locked and the money was gone. She drove straight back to her apartment, and when she walked in, the phone was ringing.
"This is me," the dry voice said.
"I hope everything went all right," Carmel said.
"Went fine. I'm leaving town, but I wanted you to know that your credit is good. Do you have a pencil?"
"If you ever need me again, call this number," the woman recited a phone number with a 212 area code that Carmel recognized as downtown Washington, D.C. "and leave a message on the voice mail that says, 'Call Patricia Case.'"
"Then I'll call you back within a day."
"I don't think I'll ever need this."
"Don't count on it; you lawyers have strange ways..."
"Okay. And thanks."
"Thank you." Click and the dry voice was gone.
The phone rang again, before she had a chance to turn away.
"Carmel?" And for the second time that day, her heart was in her throat.
"This is Hale." Then, like she might not be able to sort out her Hales, he added, "Allen."
"Hale. My God, I heard about Barbara. How terrible." She leaned into the telephone, vibrating with the urgency of the emotion. Tears started at the inner corners of her eyes. Poor Barbara. Poor Hale. A tragedy.
"Carmel... God, I don't know, I'm so screwed up," Hale Allen said. "Now the police think maybe I had something to do with it. The murder."
"That's crazy," Carmel said.
"Absolutely. They keep asking about how much money I'll inherit, and Barb's parents are saying all this crazy stuff..."
"That's terrible!" He needed help; and he was calling her.
"Look, what I'm calling to ask is, could you handle this for me? Could you deal with the police? You're the best I know..."
"Of course," she said briskly. "Where are you now?"
"I'm at home. I'm sitting here with all of Barb's stuff... I don't know what to do."
"Sit right there," Carmel said. "I'll be there in half an hour. Don't talk to any more cops. If anyone calls, tell them to talk to me."
"Won't that make them suspicious?" Not the sharpest knife.
"They already are suspicious, Hale. I know exactly where they're coming from. It's stupid, but that's the way they think. So give them my office number and this number, and do not, do not, talk to them."
"Okay." He sounded better already. "Half an hour?"
Oh, God. The thing about Hale Allen, she thought, was his hands. He had these big, competent-looking hands with clean, square nails, and fine dark fuzz on the first joints of his fingers, a hint of the underlying masculinity. He had beautiful, thick hair, and wonderful shoulders, and his brown eyes were so expressive that when he concentrated on her, Carmel felt weak.
But it was the hands that did it. And did it one afternoon in a nice lawyer bar with lots of plants in copper kettles, and antique dressers used as serving tables. There'd been three or four of them sitting around a table, different firms, no agenda, just gossip. He'd been laughing, with those great white teeth, and he'd looked deep into her a few times, all the way, she felt, to the bottom of her panty hose. But the main thing was, he'd been drinking something light and white, a California Chardonnay, maybe, and he kept turning the wine glass in those strong fingers and Carmel had begun to vibrate. They'd been together two dozen times since, but always in social situations, and never too long.
She thought, though, that he must know, somewhere in his soul. Now with this call...
She took fifteen minutes with her makeup making it invisible and after applying the lightest touch of Chanel No. 7, she went down to the parking garage and climbed into the Jaguar.
She forgot all about her resolution to stay away.
Hale Allen needed her.
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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