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|The Prey Series|
When the first man woke up that morning, he wasn't thinking about killing anyone. He woke up with a head full of blues, a brain that was too big for his skull, and a bladder about to burst. He lay with his eyes closed, breathing across a tongue that tasted like burnt chicken feathers. The blues rolled in through the bedroom door.
Coming down hard.
He had been flying on cocaine for three days, getting everything done,everything. Then last night, coming down, he'd stopped at a liquor store for a bottle of Stolichnaya. His bleeding brain retained a picture of himself lifting the bottle off the shelf, and another picture of an argument with the counterman, who didn't want to break a hundred-dollar bill.
By hat time, the coke high had become unsustainable; and the Stoli had been a bad idea. There was no smooth landing after a three-day toot, but the vodka turned a wheels-up belly landing into a full crash-and-burn. Now he'd pay. If you peeled open his skull and dumped it, he thought, his brain would look like a coagulated lump of Campbell's bean soup.
He cracked his eyes, lifted his head, and looked at the clock. A few minutes past seven. He'd gotten four hours of sleep. Par for the course with coke, and the Stoli hadn't helped. If he'd stayed down for ten hours, or twelvehe needed about sixteen to catch uphe might have been past the worst of it. Now he was just gonna have to suck it up.
He turned to his left, where a woman, a dishwater blonde, lay facedown in her pillow. He could only see about half of her head; the rest was buried by a red fleece blanket. She lay without moving, like a dead womanbut no such luck. He closed his eyes again, and there was nothing left in the world but the blues music bumping in from the next room, from the all-blues channel, nine-hundred-and-something on the TV dial. Must've left it on last night
Gotta move, he thought. Gotta pee. Gotta take twenty aspirins and go down to Country Kitchen and get some pancakes and link sausages
The man didn't wake up thinking about murder. He woke up thinking about his head and his bladder and a stack of pancakes. Funny how things work out.
That night, when he killed two people, he was a little shocked.
Green-eyed Alie'e Maison stood in the hulk of a rust-colored Mississippi River barge. She was wrapped in a designer dress that looked like froth over a reef in the Caribbean Seaan ankle-length dress the exact faded-jade color of her eyes, low-cut and sheer, hugging her hips, flaring at her ankles. She was large-eyed, barefoot, elfin, fleeing down a pale yellow two-by-twelve-inch pine plank, which stretched like a line of fire out of the purple gloom of the barge's interior.
Behind her, a huge man in a sleeveless white T-shirt, filthy Sears, Roebuck work pants, and ten-inch work boots blew sparks off a piece of wrought iron with an acetylene torch. He was wearing a black dome-shaped welding helmet, and acrid gray smoke curled around his heavy, tense legs. The blank robotic faceplate, in combination with his hairy arms, the dirty shirt, the smoke, and the squat legs, gave him the grotesque crouching power of a gargoyle.
A fantasy at three thousand dollars an hour.
And not quite right.
"That's no fucking good. NO FUCKING GOOD!"
Amnon Plain moved through the bank of strobes, his thick black hair falling over his forehead, his narrow glasses glittering in the set lights, his voice cutting like a piece of broken glass: "Alie'e, you're freezing up at the line. I want youblowing out of the place. I want you movingfaster when you come up to the line, not slower. You're slowing down. And I want you to lookpissed. You look annoyed, you lookpetulant"
"Iam annoyedI'm freezing," Alie'e snapped. "I've got goose bumps the size of oranges."
Plain turned to an assistant: "Larry, move the heater into the back. You gotta get some heat on her."
"We'll get the fumes," Larry said, arms akimbo, a deliberately effeminate pose. Larry wasn't gay, just ironic.
"We'll deal with the fucking fumes. Huh? Okay? Well deal with the fucking fumes."
"You gotta do something. I'm really cold," Alie'e said. She clasped her arms around herself and shivered for effect. A man dressed in black walked out from behind the lights, peeling off his cashmere sport coat. He was tall, thin, his over-the-shoulder brunette hair worn loose and back. He had a thick hammered-silver loop earring in his left ear and a dark soul-patch under his lower lip. "Take this until they're ready again," he said to Alie'e. She huddled in the coat. Turning away from them, Plain rolled his eyes. "Larrymove the fuckin' heater."
Larry shrugged and began wheeling the propane heater farther into the barge. If they all died of carbon monoxide poisoning, it wouldn't be his fault.
Plain turned back to Alie'e. "Jax, take a hike, and take your coat with you"
"Hey" the man in black said, but nobody was looking at him, or paying attention.
Plain continued: "Alie'e, I want you pissed. Don't do that thing with your lips. You're sticking your lips out, like this." Plain pursed his lips. "That's a pout. I don't want a pout. Do it like this" He grimaced, and Alie'e tried to imitate him. This was one of her talents: the ability to imitate expression, the way a dancer could imitate motion.
"That's better," Plain said to Alie'e. "But make your mouth longer, turn it down, and get it set that way while you'removing. Do it again." She did it again, making the changes. "That's good, but now you need some mouth."
He turned back to the line of lights and the small crowd gathered behind theman account executive, a creative director, a makeup artist, a hairdresser, a couture rep, a second photo assistant, and Alie'es parents, Lynn and Lai. Plain did not provide chairs, and the inside of the barge was not a place you'd want to sit down, not if your hand-tailored jeans cost four hundred and fifty dollars. To the makeup artist, Plain said, "Fix her mouth." And to the second assistant: "Jimmy, where's the fucking Polaroid? You got the Polaroid?"
Jimmy was fanning a six-by-seven-centimeter Polaroid color print, which was used to check exposure. He glanced at the print and said, "It's coming up."
Behind him, the creative director whispered to the account executive, "Says 'fuck' a lot," and the account executive muttered, "They all do."
Plain peered at the Polaroid, looked up at an overhead softbox.
"Move that box. About two feet to the right, that way." Jimmy moved it, and Plain looked around. "Everybody ready? Alie'e, remember the line. Clark, are you ready?"
The welder said, "Yeah, I'm ready. Was that enough sparks?"
"Sparks were fine, sparks were good," Plain said. "You're the only fucking professional working here this morning." He looked back at Alie'e. "Now,don't fucking poutblow rightthrough the line"
Alie'e waited patiently until her mouth was fixed, staring blankly past the makeup artist's ear as a bit of color was patched into the left corner of her lower lip; Jax said into her ear, "Love you. You're doing great, you look great." Alie'e barely heard him. She wasseeing herself walking the plank, the vision of herself that came from Plain's mind.
When her mouth was done, she stepped back to her starting mark. Jax got out of the way, and when Plain said, "Go," Alie'e got her expression right, started down the plank with a lanky, hip-swinging stride, andblew past the exposure line, the green dress swirling about her hips, the orange-yellow welder's sparks flashing in the background. The stink and smoke of the burning metal curled around her as Plain, standing behind the camera, fired the bank of strobes.
"Better," Plain said, stepping toward her. "A little fuckin' better."
They'd been working for two hours in the belly of the grain barge. The barge was a gift: a pilot on the Greek-owned Mississippi towboatTreponema had driven it into a protective abutment around a bridge piling. The damaged barge had been floated to the Anshiser repair yard in St. Paul, where welders cut away the buckled hull plates and prepared to burn on new ones. Plain spotted the disemboweled hulk while scouting for photo locations. He made a deal with Archer Daniels Midland, the barge owner: Delay repairs for a week, and ADM would makeVogue. The people who ran ADM couldn't think of a good reason why the company would worry aboutVogue, but their publicity ladies were wetting their pants, so they said okay and the deal was made.
They were still working with the green dress when a team from TV3 showed up, and they all took a break. Alie'e goofed around, for the camera, with Jax, showing a little skin, doing a long, slow, rolling tongue-kiss, which the camera crew asked them to redo twice, once as a silhouette. The interviewer for TV3, a square-jawed ex-jock with bleached teeth and a smile he'd perfected in his bathroom mirror, said, after the cameras shut down, "It's a slow day. I think we'll lead the news with this."
Nobody asked why it was news: they all lived with cameras, and assumed that it was.
Two hours for four different shots, with and without fans, two rolls of high-saturation Fujichrome film for each of the shots. The Fuji would make the colors pop. Plain pronounced himself satisfied with the green dress, and they moved on.
The next pose involved a torn T-shirt and a pair of male-look women's briefs, complete with the vented front, Alie'e and Jax moved against the far hull and a little shadow, and Alie'e turned her back to the photo crowd and peeled off the green dress. She'd been nude beneath the dress; anything else would ruin the line.
She was aware of her nudity but not self-conscious about it, as she had been at first. Her first jobs had been as one model in a group, and they usually changed all at once; she was simply one naked woman among several. By the time she started up the ladder to stardom, to individual attention, she'd become as conditioned to public nudity as a striptease dancer.
Even more than that. She'd worked in Europe, with the Germans, and total nudity wasn't uncommon in fashion work. She remembered the first time she'd had her pubic hair brushed out, fluffed up. The brusher had been a thirty-something guy who'd squatted in front of her, smoking a cigarette while he brushed her, and then did a quick trim with a pair of barber scissors, all with the emotional neutrality of a postman sorting letters. Then the photographer came over to take a look, suggested a couple of extra snips. Her body might as well have been an apple You want privacy? You turn your back
Alie'e Maison"Ah-Lee-Ay May-Sone"had been born Sharon Olson in Burnt River, Minnesota. Until she was seventeen, she'd lived with her parents and her brother, Tom, in a robin's-egg-blue rambler just off Highway 54, fourteen miles south of the Canadian line. She was a beautiful-baby. She won a beautiful-baby prize when she was a year oldshe'd been born just before Halloween, and her costume was a pumpkin that her mother made on her Singer. A year later, Sharon toddled away with a statewide beautiful-toddler trophy. In that one, she'd been dressed as a lightning bug, in a suit of black and gold.
Dance and comportment lessons began when she was three, singing lessons when she was four. At five, she won the North Central Tap-Fairies contest for children five and younger. That was the pattern: Miss Junior North Country, International Miss Snow (International Falls and Fort Francis, Canada), Miss Border Lakes. She sang and danced through her school days. Miss Minnesota and evenher parents, Lynn and Lai, barely dared to dream itMiss America was possible. Until she was fourteen, anyway.
When the breast genes were passed out in heaven, Alie'e had been in line for an extra helping of eyes instead. That became obvious in junior high when her friends began to complain about bra straps cutting into their necks. Not Alie'e. As the Olsons' best friends, Ellen and Bud Benton, saidBud said it, anyway"Ain't no Miss Minnesota without the big bumpers, y'know."
As it happened, the breasts didn't matter. In the summer of her sixteenth year, Lynn and Lil took her to a model agency in Minneapolis, and the agent liked what she saw. Alie'e had knife-edge cheekbones and those jade-green eyes. They came straight from God in a perfect package with white-blond hair, a flawless complexion, delicate fuck-me shoulder blades, and hips so narrow she'd have trouble giving birth to a baling wire.
Between Minneapolis and New York, Sharon Olson vanished and Alie'e Maison stepped into her size-six dress. She was so famous that the second-most-famous person in Burnt River was a lawn-care service operator named Louis Friar. Friar, one night in tenth grade, nailed Alie'e in the short grass beside the first-base line of the American Legion baseball diamond on Bergholm Road, on an air mattress that he'd brought along for that express purpose.
Louis never talked about it. He never even confirmed that it happened. He held the memory of the event in a beery reverence. Alie'e, on the other hand, talked to everyone; so everyone in Burnt River knew about it, and how, at the critical moment, Louis had cried out, "Oh God oh God oh God oh God," which was why everybody in town called him Reverend. Friar himself thought the nickname was based on his last name, as if the residents of Burnt River were universally fond of puns; nobody ever told him different.
"You don't think they're getting too close to porno?" Lil now asked, under her breath to Lynn, as they watched Amnon Plain push their daughter around the set. "I don't want any goddamned porno." Lil had a thing about porno.
"You know they're not going to do any porno," Lynn said placatingly. He was wearing black-on-black, with wraparound Blades.
"They better not. That'll kill you in a minute." She refocused. "Look at Tax. I think he's so good for her."
Jaxhe had no last namewas peering around the set through the viewfinder of a Nikon F5. He thought of himself as a photographer, although he hadn't yet taken many photographs. But how hard could it be? You look through the hole, you push the button. When Alie'e said, "You got anything?" Jax let the camera drop to his side, tipped his head, and they moved together against the hull of the barge. Jax took a plastic nose-drop bottle from his pocket and passed it to her. Alie'e unscrewed the top, slipped the end into a nostril, and squeezed the bottle once, twice. "Whoa, whoa," Jax muttered. "Not too much, it'll kill the eyes." If you had eyes as green and large as Alie'e's, you didn't want them dilated.
Amnon Plain was moving lights around as his assistants refilled the camera backs with Kodachrome. Alie'e would be wearing a torn pale-blue T-shirt that was meant to show just a hint of rouged nipple within the tear, and the film had to hold the subtlety of the pink-against-blue. With the Kodachrome, the flare of the torch behind her wouldn't pop as it would on the Fuji, but that wasn't so important in this shot.
Plain was juggling the color equities in his mind when Alie'e said, past his head, "Hello, Jael."
Plain turned. His sister was standing in the gash in the barges hull, just inside the line of lights. "What do you want?" he snapped.
Jael Corbeaushe'd changed her name with her mother, after their parents split upwas light where Plain was dark, blond against Plains deep brunette. Despite their coloring differences, they had faces that were astonishingly alike, wedge-shaped, edgy, big-eyed.
Jael had once been a model herself; didn't need the money, found the life boring, and moved on. Although the two of them looked alike, there was a singular difference in their faces. Three long pale lines slashed across Jael's face: scars. She was a lovely woman to begin with, but the scars made her something else. Striking. Beautiful. Erotic. Exotic.Something.
"I came to see Alie'e," she said sullenly.
"See her someplace else," Plain said. "We're trying to work here."
"Don't give me a hard time, Plain."
"Get the fuck off my shoot," Plain said, walking toward her. All other talk stopped, and Clark, the welder, stood up, uncertainly, and pushed his mask back. Plain's voice vibrated with violence.
From behind him, Alie'e said, "There's a party at Silly's tonight, nine o'clock."
Jael had taken a step back, away from her brother. There was no fear in her, but she didn't doubt that Plain would physically throw her off the barge. He was bigger. "Silly's at nine," she said, and left.
Plain watched her go, watched until she was out of sight, turned back to Alie'e, took a breath, saw Clark hovering in the background like a sumo wrestler. He turned to the couture rep and said, "I've got your key shot."
The couture rep was a thin-faced German named Dieter Kopp. He had a stubble-cut skull, two-day beard, and gaunt, pale face; his cheeks were lightly pitted, as though he might once have suffered from smallpox. He was the only one not wearing jeans. Instead, he wore a pale gray Italian suit with an open-necked black dress shirt, and a gold tennis bracelet.
Kopp didn't want to be in St. Paul, didn't want to be in America. He wanted to be in Vienna, or Berlin, but he was condemned to this: to sell seventy-dollar male-look underpants, complete with front vent, to American women.
Like a good German, he would do what was necessary to carry out his orders; but at the moment, he was still vibrating with the possibility of violence against the striking blonde who'd just walked off the barge. He knew her face. She'd been a model, he knew that, but she'd been out of it for a few years. She looked better now; she was stunning, he thought "What?" he asked. He'd missed what Plain said to him.
"I've got your key shot. We move Clark around back and we put Alie'e dead centerAlie'e, come over here." Alie'e walked toward them, along the plank, as Plain continued: "We light them separately and then jam them together with the long lens. Clark will look like the fuckin' moon coming over the horizon, and Alie'e will be there in the foreground."
"We still need the nipple for the punch," said the German. "We could lose it with a long lens."
"Gotta lose it anyway for the Americans," said the creative director, a man with a red beard and a bald, freckled head.
"We can do it both ways," Plain said. "For the Europeans, we'll hold it. We'll stick a snoot over on the left and light it. Alie'e" Alie'e stepped closer, and Plain slipped his fingers into the torn slit in the T-shirt and pulled it wider, to expose her nipple. "We'll have to tape this back, we'll have to bring it out a little more. Maybe touch it with a little more makeup."
"Not too much. She's really pale, and too much would look artificial," the art director said nervously.
"Artificial would be all right," Plain said. "What could be sexier than rouged nipples?"
"In Germany, yes, I think," Kopp said. "In America"
"Sexy in America, too, but it'd be too much for the mainline magazines," Plain said. "For the American shot, we'll ice her nipple to bring it up, so you can see it through the T-shirt, put a little shading on the side to emphasize it, but we re-layer the rip so there's more coverage, and drop the snoot. But you'll still be able to feel it therethere'll be like a mental tit behind the T-shirt."
"You're gonna ice me?" Alie'e asked. "You're gonna fucking ice me? It's twelve degrees in here."
The German had closed his eyes. After a moment, he nodded. Plain had worked for eight years in Miami, where he'd developed a reputation for a decadent, sexually charged fashion art, juxtaposing outlandishly disparate characters in variations of the Beauty and the Beast theme. Anyone could do that, and many tried, but Plain had something different, something that nobody else could quite get. Something straight out of Grimm's Fairy Tales. Like this shot.
The German couldsee it in his mind's eye, now that all the characters were assembled in this ridiculous hulk, with the lights, the smell of the welder, the roaring propane heater but never could have thought of it. This was why he traveled to Minneapolis and paid Plain as much as he did.
Plain had vision.
They worked the rest of the morning: hard work, done over and over. Plain had a color card in his brain, and a drama chip. He knew what he was getting, and he pushed it. Shredded the T-shirt, exposed one breast completely. Clark watched from the background, a burning torch in his hand, his cement-block sausage lovers face fixed by the vision of the woman's body. Lynn and Lil watched from behind the lights: "You don't think that's getting toward the porno?" When they were done, and while Jax was collecting her dressing bags, one of Plains assistants walked Alie'e back to a rented Lincoln Towncar. She recovered her purse and the stash of cocaine, caught a little dust under a fingernail, and inhaled.
"What do you think of that Clark guy?" the assistant asked.
Alie'e, whose eyes had been closed, the better to experience the rush, now opened one eye, cocked her head, and thought about it: "He's not bad, for a pickup."
"What I meant was, he looked like he had a zucchini stuffed in his pants during that last sequence."
Alie'e smiled her wan, coked-up smile and said, "Then it must have been a good sequence."
Dieter Kopp had seen it; so had Plain.
"I was afraid I'd lose it." Plain laughed, brushing the hair back from his eyes. "I was over there waggling that snoot around, trying to get some light on him, hoping it wouldn't go away, hoping he wouldn't figure out what I was doing."
"Not for the American magazines, I don't think?" Kopp said. But it was a question.
"Oh, I think so," Plain said. "You couldn'tsay anything about it. You couldn't make it too obvious. But a little work on the computer, taking it up or down. We'll get it in. And peoplewill notice"
Kopp bobbed his head, flashed his thin, hard grin. At another time, he might've been driving a tank into Russia instead of selling underwear. But that was then, and this was now. He was in underwear.
They all went to the party that night, at Silly Hanson's home: Alie'e, Jax, Plain, Kopp, Corbeau, the photo assistants, Alie'e's parents, even Clark the welder. Alie'e looked spectacular. She wore the green dress from the photo shoot, and hung with Jael Corbeau and Catherine Kinsley, the heiress, the three women like the three fates in the Renaissance paintings, all tangled together.
Techno-pop rolled from small black speakers spotted around Silly Hanson's public rooms and Alie'e images flashed across movie-aspect flat-screen monitors. The crowd danced and sweated and drank martinis and Rob Roys and came and went.
Silly herself got drunk and physical with Dieter Kopp, who left thumb bruises on her breasts and ass. A gambler drifted through the crowd, and met a cop who was astonished to see him.
And the killer was there. In the corner, watching.
Lucas Davenport got up that morning at five o'clock, long before the sun had come over the treetops. He ate a bowl of oatmeal, drank a cup of coffee, filled a Thermos with the rest of the coffee, and drove into Hayward. His friend had the boat loaded. Lucas left his Tahoe on the street, and they'd drove together out to Round Lake on the years last muskie-fishing trip.
Cold weather; no wind, but cold. They had to break through a fifteen-foot line of quarter-inch ice at the landing. In another day, the ice would be an inch thick, and out fifty or eighty feet. All along the country roads, guys were pulling ice-fishing houses out of their backyards, getting ready for winter.
On this day, though, most of the water was still soft. They found a spot off a sunken bar and dropped their baited sucker hooks off the side and waited. Lucas's friend didn't talk much, just stood like a moron and bounced a lure called a Fuzzy Duzzit off the bottom, and kept one eye on the sucker rods. Lucas dozeda quiet, peaceful, unstressed sleep that always left him oddly refreshed.
They didn't catch anythingthey rarely did, although Lucas's friend was an authority on muskie fishingand by noon, stiff with the cold, they headed back to town. Lucas pulled the battery out of the boat, for winter storage in his friends basement, while his friend carried nets, oars, a cooler, a pissjug, and other gear into the garage. When it was all done, Lucas said, "See you in the spring, fat boy," and headed back to his cabin.
He could have taken a nap. He'd had only four hours of sleep the night before. But he'd been drinking coffee to keep warm, and the caffeine had him jangled; and the nap in the boat had helped. Instead of sleeping, he got tools out of the truck and started working on his new steel boat shed.
The previous shed had been wired for electricity, and the contractor who built the new shed had left the underground cable coiled next to the foundation. The day before, Lucas had bought four fluorescent shop lights, four outlets, and a wall-mounted junction box, and now started putting them up and wiring them in.
The job went slowly. He had to run into town for more wire, and he stopped for a late lunch and more coffee. By the time he was finished, the sun was dropping over the lake. He flipped on the lights, spent a few seconds admiring their pink glowhe'd gotten the natural fluorescentsand started filling the place up.
He backed in two small aluminum boats on their trailers, put a utility trailer in the far corner, a John Deere Gator sideways in front of the trailer, and finally, a Kubota tractor. The Kubota belonged to a neighbor who found he couldn't fit it in his garage. It wouldn't start right away, so Lucas had to bleed the fuel line before it would kick over.
A little after six o'clock, he walked in the dark back to the cabin. Just beyond, down at the lake, a merganser squawked. The edge of ice around the lake had disappeared during the day, but the temperature dropped quickly after sundown. Unless a wind came up to roil the water, the lake should ice over during the night.
He spent two hours picking up the cabin, vacuuming, collecting garage and old summer magazines, washing and drying sheets, cleaning out the refrigerator, wiping down the kitchen. Then a shower,' with a beer sitting on the toilet stool. Dressed again, he turned off the water heater and water pump, and pushed the thermostat down to fifty. After a last check, he dragged the trash out to the Tahoe and threw it in the back.
At eight o'clock, he locked the cabin and walked out to the truck, A red and silver Lund fishing boat was parked just beyond the new shed, dropped by another guy the week before. He'd be dragging it back to the Cities. He hooked it up, double-checked the safety chains, checked the trailer lights. Good: They worked, even the turn signals.
All right. Ready for winter, he thought. A merganser squawked again, and then another: some kind of duck fistfight down at the lake. Or somebody rolling over in bed. And a million stars looking down at him on a moonless night; he looked up through the treetops at the Milky Way, a billionstars like bubbles
Davenport was a tall man; he drove a Porsche day-to-day, but fit better in the big Tahoe. He had black hair shot through with vagrant strands of gray; he was as dark as a Sicilian, with a permanent outdoor tan. The tan made his eyes seem bluer and brighter, and his smile whiter. Women had told him that his eyes seemed kindly, even priestly, but his smile made them nervous. He had the smile, one of them told him, of a predator about to eat something nasty.
His face was touched with scars. A long thin line crossed his eyebrow into his cheek, like a knife cut, but it wasn't. Another that looked like an exclamation marka thin line from a knife, a round O from a bullet woundmarked the front of his neck, along his windpipe. He'd been shot, and had almost died, but a surgeon had opened his throat with a jackknife and kept him breathing long enough to get him to an operating table. A plastic surgeon had offered to revise the scars, but he kept them, absently traced them with his fingers when he was thinking; personal history, not to be forgotten.
The road out was narrow and dark, and he was in no hurry. He took Highway 77 into Hayward, dropped down to 70 in Spooner, headed west, across the border into Minnesota, out to I-35. By ten o'clock he was on the far northern rim of the Cities, pulling the boat. The owner of the Lund was a guy named Herb Clay who owned the remnants of a farm south of Forest Lake, not far off the interstate.
Lucas pulled into Clay's driveway, bounced past the house to the barnyard, and turned a tight circle. He left the engine running and climbed out of the truck as a porch light came on. A moment later, Clay stepped out on the porch, supporting himself on crutches. "That you?"
"It's me," Lucas said. He started unhitching the trailer. "How're the legs?"
"Itch like hell," Clay said.
"Got a coat hanger to scratch with?"
"Yeah, but there's always a spot that you can't reach." Clays wife came out on the porch, pulling on a quilted jacket. She hurried across the yard.
"Let me get the door," she said. She pulled open a lower-level door on the barn, which led into what at the turn of the century would have been a milking chamber, but was now a garage. She turned on lights and Lucas got in the truck and backed the boat into the barn.
"Stop," she yelled when the boat was far enough back. He stopped, and they unhitched the trailer and dropped it. The interior of the barn, years past the last bovine occupant, still smelled slightly of hay and what might have been manure; a thoroughly pleasant smell. Clay's wife closed the door and came out to stand by Lucas, and they both looked up at the sky.
"Pretty night," she said. She was a small, slender woman with dark hair and a square face. She and Lucas had always liked each other, and if things had been different, if the Clays hadn't been quite so happy with each other She smelled good, like some kind of faintly perfumed soap.
"Pretty night," he repeated.
"Thanks for helping out with the boat," she said quietly.
"Thanks for bringing it," Clay called from the porch.
"Yup." Lucas got back in the truck. "Talk to ya."
At ten minutes after eleven o'clock, he rolled up his driveway, punched the garage-door opener, and eased the Tahoe in next to the Porsche. A new car, the Porsche; about time.
Clean, mellow, starting to fade, the memory of Verna Clay's scent still on his mind, he dropped into bed. He was asleep in five minutes, a small easy smile on his face.
He got three hours and forty-five minutes of sleep. The phone rang, the unlisted line. Groggy, he pushed himself up in bed, picked it up.
Swanson, one of the old-time guys: "Goddamnit, you'rehome. You know who Alie'e Maison is, the famous model?"
"Somebody strangled her in a rich lady's house. We need some political shit over here: This is gonna be a screamer."
Saturday. The first day of the Alie'e Maison case.
The morning was cold, even for mid-November. The lake, a hundred miles north, would have frozen over for sure, Lucas thought. He stood at a gas pump, trickling fifteen gallons of premium into the tank of the Porsche. Two blocks out of his driveway, running for the Alie'e Maison scene, he remembered about the gashe didn't have any. Now, at the least convenient moment, he'd had to stop.
He yawned, and peered around. The gas station attendant sat in an armored-glass booth, punching with his thumbs at a Game Boy, like a figure in an Edward Hopper tableau. Lucas didn't register Hopper; instead, he wondered idly why gas pumps no longer dinged. They used to ding with every gallon or so, he thought, and now they just rattled off yellow electronic digits, gallons and dollars, silent as the night.
Another car, a small Lincoln, the one that shared its frame with a JaguarLucas knew about the Jaguar, but could never remember the Lincoln's namepulled into the second set of gas pumps. Lucas yawned again and watched as a woman got out.
And stopped yawning. Something familiar about her, from a long time ago. He couldn't see her face, and it wasn't her face that sparked the memoryit was the way she moved, something about the movement and the stature and the hair.
Her face was turned away from him as she opened the gas flap on the car, unscrewed the cap, and maneuvered the nozzle into the mouth of the tank. She was wearing a suit and dark low heels and a dark blouse. She turned toward him to drag her credit card through the pump's card reader, but he caught only a flash of her face. A square chin, tennis-blond hair. He thought of Weather, the woman he'd almost marriedshould have married, a woman he still thought aboutbut this wasn't Weather. Weather was smaller, and he'd know her a mile away, whether her back was turned or not.
The pump handle jumped under his hand, and clanked. Filled up. He turned off the pump and walked over to the station, got a bottle of Diet Coke out of a cooler, and pushed a twenty and a ten through the cash window. The attendant, barely able to tear himself away from the game, sullenly made change one-handed. A college algebra book sat on the counter next to him.
"You go to St. Thomas?" Lucas asked.
"Life sucks and then you die," the kid said. He didn't smile; he seemed to mean it. His eyes flicked past Lucas's shoulder and a light soprano voice asked, "Lucas? Is that you?"
He turned, but he didn't have to to know who it was. Everything came back with the voice. "Catrin," he said, and turned.
She was smiling, and the smile nearly knocked him off his feet. She was forty-four, ten pounds heavier than in college, a little rounder in the face, but with that fine Welsh skin and wild reddish-blond hair. The last time he'd seen her "Must be twenty-five years," she said. She reached out and took his hand, then looked at the attendant and said, "I paid outside."
They stepped toward the door, then outside, and Catrin said, "I've seen you on television."
Lucas was trying to recover, but recovery was difficult. The last time he'd seen her "What, uh, what're you doing? Now?"
"I live down in Lake City," she said. "You know, on Lake Pepin"
"Married with kids?"
She grinned at him. "Of course. To a doctor, a family practitioner. Two kids, one of each. James is a sophomore at St. Olaf; Maria's a senior in high school."
"I've got one, a daughter," Lucas said. "Still in elementary school. Her mother and I aren't together anymore." Never married; no need to make a point of it. A thought occurred to him, and he looked at his watch. "It's not four o'clock yet. What are you doing out here?"
"A friend died this morning," she said. Her smile had gone wistful; he thought, for a moment, that she might break down. "I knew she was going. Tonight. I sort of dressed up for it."
"It was not good. Lung cancer," she said. "She never quit smoking. I'm just so, just so"
He patted her on the back. "Yeah."
"And where are you going? I don't remember you as an early riser."
"Got a murder," he said. He felt that he was staring at her, and that she knew it and was amused. Back when, she'd know exactly what she did to him. The effect, he thought, must have been wired in, because it hadn't changed in twenty-five years.
"You know the model, Alie'e Maison?"
Her hand went to her mouth in astonishment. "She was murdered?"
"Oh, my God. Here?"
Catrin looked around the empty gas station pad. "You're not exactly rushing to thescene of the crime."
"Five minutes ain't gonna make any difference," Lucas said. "She's dead."
She seemed to step back, though she hadn't moved. She looked up and said, "You always had a harsh line in you. The cold breath of reality."
And she'd just seen a friend die, Lucas thought. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean"
"No, that's okay. That's just Lucas." She smiled again, took one of his hands in hers, and patted it. "You better go. Take care of her."
"Yeah." He stepped away, stopped. "You're absolutely gorgeous," he said. "You're one of those women who'll be gorgeous when she's ninety."
"Nice to think so, when you feel the age coming," she said. She crossed her arms, hugged herself. "When your friends are dying, andyou feel the age coming on."
He left, reluctantly, turning his head to watch her walk to her car. The Lincoln. Conservative, upper crust. Well-tended.
Jesus. The last time he'd seen her
His body ran the Porsche through the gears, out to the interstate ramp, down onto I-94 toward the lights of Minneapolis, his eyes intent on the road and the traffic, his mind stuck with Catrin.
The last time he'd seen her she'd been both angry and buck naked, just out of a hot shower, rubbing her hair with a ratty brown bath towel that he'd had stolen from his mothers linen closet. The trouble had started two weeks earlier, at a pickup hockey game on an outdoor rink. Lucas had caught a deliberate elbow in the face, and with blood pouring out of his nose, had gone after the other guyand hadn't stopped quite soon enough. The other guys friends had taken him to a local hospital for some emergency dental work.
Then he'd caught a stick in a regular game, against Duluth. Nothing serious, just a cut and a few stitches. After the match, at an off-campus party, a hassle erupted between a couple of the players and a defensive end from the football team. The hassle had cooled quickly enoughno fightbut Lucas had been ready to jump in, Catrin clutching at him, pulling him off.
She started getting on him: He liked to fight, he enjoyed fighting, he had to look at himself, at what he was doing. Did he think fighting was right? Why'd he hang around with all those silly fuckin' jocks who'd be working down at the car wash as soon as their eligibility ran out? He was smarter than they were, why couldn't he
They'd gone around a few times, and she started again as she got out of the shower. He'd finally had enough and shouted at her:Shut the fuck up. She'd flinched awayshe'd thought he might hit her. That was a shock: Henever would have hit her. He saidso. Then she got on him again.
He walked out of the apartment. Stayed out. Went down and got some ice time. When he came back, a sheet of notebook paper lay on his kitchen counter. She'd scribbled on it, "Fuck you."
When he'd tried to call, her roommate said she didn't want to hear from him. He didn't push it: He was practicing all the time, playing, trying to keep his head above water in school. Never went after her. But always remembered her. They'd dated from October through February of his sophomore year. He'd slept with a half-dozen women in his life, but she'd been the first one who seemed to match his interest in sex. Theystudied it together.
He smiled at the thoughtand noticed that the concrete walls of the interstate were a little too blurred. He looked down at the speedometer: one-oh-four. He backed off a bit.
Silly Hanson lived in a white-stuccoed house with an orange-tiled roof, across the street from Lake of the Isles, a rich neighborhood of professionally tended landscapes and architect-designed houses from the first half of the twentieth century. A half-dozen police vehicles were piled up at the curb outside Hanson's house. An early-morning blader, who looked too old and bald and fat and way too rich for his skater gear, went by on the lakeside skateway his face turned toward the cluster of cops. The word about the murder would be getting out very soon now. Lucas found a spot by a fire hydrant, parked, nodded at a cop standing by the stoop.
"Beautiful morning," he said.
"Fuckin' A," said the cop.
"If I get a ticket"
"You won't get a ticket."
Lucas went up the steps. A sloppy, overweight homicide cop, wearing an insulated nylon baseball jacket over a white shirt and necktie, was waiting on the porch. His face was tired, but he smiled in relief when he saw Lucas. "Man, I'm glad you're here."
"So what happened?" Lucas asked. Two more uniformed cops were standing just inside the door, looking out at them.
"You ain't gonna believe it." The fat cop's name was Swanson.
"Alie'e Maison got killed," Lucas said. "I believe it. Where's the body?"
"It's worse than that," Swanson said. "We tried to call you again, but you were out of touch."
Lucas stopped. "What happened?"
"When're you gonna start turning on your cell phone?" Swanson was reluctant.
"If I turn on my cell phone, people call on it," Lucas said. "So what happened?"
"We were just doing the routine, checking the house, opening doors. You know." They both knew. Lucas had been on more murder scenes than he could remember, and Swanson had been to more than Lucas had; he'd been a homicide cop when Lucas was still in uniform.
"We found another body," Swanson said. "Stuffed in a closet. Another woman."
Lucas looked at him for a long moment, then shook his head. "That's alot worse."
"Yeah. I thought so." Bad as it was, itwas something new. They'd both been to multiple murders, but never to one where the cops had already gotten the coffee hot, sent somebody out for donuts, started the routine, then opened a closet door and had another body drop out like a dislodged sock monkey.
"Why'd it take so long to find her?" Lucas asked.
"She was in a closet, the door was locked. Nobody unlocked it right away."
"Jesus, I hope the papers don't get that," Lucas said. "Or maybe we ought to give it to them. You know, our way."
"This woman who lives here, Hansonshe was there when we found the second one, and she's gonna talk about it. She lives for the media. You know what she told me when I was talking to her about it?"
Lucas shook his head.
"She said her only good black dresses were too short for this. For the murders. She sees this as a photo op and she's already figuring out her wardrobe for the cameras."
"All right." That happens.
"There's one other thing." Swanson glanced down at the uniformed cops. Lucas got the idea, and they both turned sideways, and Swanson dropped his breath. "Hanson says there was a strange guy wandering through the place. About the time Maison disappeared out of the crowd. Hanson thinks he did it. She didn't know him, but he was talking to everybody. She said he was like a street guy. Too thin, yellow teeth, and he was wearing this T-shirt that said, 'I'm with Stupid,' and had this arrow that pointed down at his dick. And he had this weird dog-shit-brown sport coat."
Lucas stared at Swanson for a moment, then said, "Huh."
"That's what I thought," Swanson said. "You want to call him?"
"Yeah, I'll call him. Let me look at the scene first."
Hanson's home was elegant but sterile. Lucas recalled another case, a couple of months before, when he'd entered an apartment and found the same high-style sterility. Like a picture on the cover ofArchitectural Digest: Pretty, but not lived-in. Eggshell walls with contemporary graphicswrenches and hammers and gestures and angstand then, around the corner, the interjected English country scene, in oil colors, with cows, spotted perfectly to connect with the graphics. Somebody else's sense of humor; a humor spoiled by the underlying scent of alcohol and smoke, the smell of a well-kept motel.
The house seemed divided into two partsan open plan public area, and a conventional series of bedroom suites at the back. Swanson led the way into the back. Two plainclothes cops were standing in a long central hallway, looking down at the thick gray hair of an assistant medical examiner, who was crouched over a body on the floor. The dead woman was facedown; she wore a reddish-brown party dress. The AME was dabbing at her mouth with an absorbent tissue.
"Name is Sandy Lansing," Swanson said as they walked back.
"She's a hostess of some kind, at Browns Hotel." Brown's was expensive, a hotel where poised young blond women in pearl-gray suits took the guests to their suites, while bellhops in red-and-black monkey suits toted the luggage and kept their mouths shut.
Lucas squatted beside the body; one knee cracked. "Know what did it?" Lucas asked the AME.
The AME was older, like Swanson, with the same tired hound-dog eyes. He had a pack of Marlboros in his shirt pocket, and a black medical bag, which was open on the rug behind him. "I think her skull is cracked," he said. "That's the only trauma I can find, but that was probably enough. There's a cleft, looks like a V-shaped cleft. She could have been hit by something with a narrow edge on it, a board, maybe the end of a canea walking stick. Not a pipe, nothing round."
"A cane? Did somebody have a cane?" Lucas asked, looking up at Swanson. Swanson shrugged.
"But could have been a doorjamb, or something like that," the AME continued. "Here" He picked up the woman's head, gently, as though he might have had a daughter of his own, and turned it. A small indentation marked the back of the woman's head, near the top; there was a smear of blood, enough to show the line of the injury.
"We think she might have walked in on the murder, by accident, and the killer went after her. Hit her with anything he had," Swanson said. "Maybe banged her head against the wall."
"Why would he stuff her in the closet?" Lucas objected, but the AME interrupted: "Look at this."
He was peering closely at the woman's scalp, then reached back, felt in his bag, and took out a hand lens. "I think, uh, it looks like a little flake of paint in her hair" He looked up at Swanson. "Don't let anybody touch the doorjambs or any of the wooden trim. Anywhere she could whack her head. You might find an impact mark and maybe a hair or two." That could make the difference between murder and manslaughter, or even an accident.
"All right," Swanson said. He looked up and down the hall at all the doorjambs; there seemed to be dozens.
Lucas went back to his first thought. "Why couldn't this one have been killed first, and then"
" 'Cause Maison was strangled and she wasn't wearing any underpants, and the condition of her vulva and her pubic hair would suggest that she'd very recently been engaged in sex," Swanson said. "If somebody had killed Lansing first, we thought it was pretty unlikely that he'd stop off to bang Maison and then strangle her."
"Okay." Made sense.
"She's got something written on her wrist in ballpoint, but its kinda smeared, so it probably didn't happen right at the time she was killed," the AME said. He turned a wrist, and Lucas looked at the smear of blue ink.
"Looks like Ella? Fella? Delia?"
"Probably not fella," Swanson said. "Why would anybody write 'fella' on their wrist?"
"Could be a name," the AME suggested.
"Strange name," Swanson said.
"See what you can do to bring it up," Lucas said. "Get some photos over to homicide."
Lucas stood. "Let's see the other one."
The door to the guest bedroom was another six feet down the hall, and Lucas stepped over Lansing's body, Swanson following along behind. Two crime-scene guys stepped out of the room just as Lucas came up. "Video," one of them said. "Crying goddamned shame," said the other.
Inside, a photographer lit up, and began taping the crime scene, while a second guy maneuvered a light. All Lucas could see of Alie'e Maison was one bare foot, sticking out from behind the bed; the body was lodged in the space between the bed and the wall.
He waited until the video guy was finished, then looked over the edge of the bed. Maison was lying faceup, one hand over her head, one trapped beneath her back. Her filmy green dress had been pulled up under her arms, exposing her body from the navel down. Her hips were canted toward the wall, and her ankles were crossed, but the wrong way: The one that should have been on the bottom was on the top.
"Looks like she was thrown in there," Lucas said.
One of the cops nodded. "That's what we think. Tried to hide her."
"But not too hard. You can see her feet."
"But if you just poked your head in, from the door, you probably wouldn't."
"Who found her?" Lucas asked.
"One of the people at the party." He looked at a notebook. "A woman named Rowena Cooper. Cooper knew Maison was back here, supposedly sleeping, and hadn't come out. She went back to seeif she was awake. She says she opened the door but couldn't see anything, so she turned on the lights. She was just turning around to go back out when she saw the underpants. She went over to pick them up, and she saw the feet. Started screaming."
"Where's Cooper now?"
The cop tipped his head toward the other end of the house. "The library. We called Sloan, he's coming in to talk to her."
"Good." Sloan was the best interrogator in the department. Lucas took a last look around the room. The bedspreads coordinated with the window treatments and the carpet. He asked, "The windows were locked?"
"In this room, yeah. But we got an open window down the hall," one of the cops said.
"Let me see."
"Check this first," the cop said. He leaned forward, hovering an index finger over the inside of Alie'e's left elbow.
Lucas would have known what that meant even if he couldn't see the BB-sized bruise. A needle user. He sighed, nodded at the cop, said, "Swanson," and stepped back into the hallway. Swanson was a step behind.
"Look, you know what's gonna happen, so we've got to nail everything down," Lucas said. "Everything. I want everything sampled, swept, vacuumed. I want every test there is, on both women. I want interviews with everyone at the partyask everybody for a list of names, and make sure you get every goddamn last one."
"Who takes over when you get off?"
"I think Thompson."
"Brief him. Do everything. We'll pay for every bit of science anybody can think of." He looked back at the room. "Did you look at her fingernails?"
"Yeah. They're clean. We'll get her vagina swabbed and get a rush on the semen."
"And blood, we need blood right away. I want to know what kind of shit she was shooting."
"Yeah, I know, but I wannaknow."
"You gonna call Del?"
"In a minute."
"There's a phone in the office. I was keeping it clear for incomings," Swanson said.
"Show me the unlocked window This place doesn't look like the windows should be unlocked."
"Hanson says they never are," Swanson said. "But she got them washed a couple of weeks ago, and they were all opened thenthey're some kind of tilt thing, so you can wash both sides from the inside."
"Yeah, well, the window could have been unlocked then. Hanson says she never went around and checked them. She assumed they were all locked."
The unlocked window was in another guest room, one door down the hall; this room had a different set of coordinated bedspreads, window treatments, and carpet. Lucas looked out through the window glass. Nothing but lawn and shrubs. "Any muddy footprints outside the window, with a unique brand-logo impressed in the mud?"
"No fuckin' mud. It ain't rained in two weeks."
"I was joking," Lucas said.
"I wasn't. I went out and looked," Swanson said. "The grass ain't even crinkled."
"All right. Where's that phone?"
Hansons home office was a small, purpose-built cubicle with cherry-wood shelves at one end for phone books, references, and a compact stereo. The cherry desk had four drawers, filing drawers to the left, envelope drawers to the right. A wooden Rolodex sat on the right side of the desk, a telephone on the left. A Dell laptop computer sat on a pull-out typing shelf, the wiring dropping out of sight, to appear behind a laser printer that sat on a two-drawer wooden filing cabinet beside the desk.
"Hanson still in the living room?" Lucas asked Swanson.
"Go talk to her. Keep her entertained Ask her questions, start the witness list."
"You got it." Swanson glanced at the laptop, nodded, and headed toward the living room.
When he was gone, Lucas shut the office door and turned on the computer. Windows 98 came up, and he clicked ProgramsAccessoriesAddress Book. The address book was empty. He jumped back to the opening page and clicked on Microsoft Outlook. When it came up, he checked the Inbox and Sent folders and found that Hanson had a small e-mail correspondence.
He picked up the phone and dialed Del's number from memory, and as the phone began ringing, clicked on the Inbox folder again, clicked again on Find, and typed in "Alie'e."
He was still typing when Del's wife answered the phone. The answer was more like a groan than a word: "Hello?"
"Cheryl, this is Lucas. Is Del there?"
"He's asleep, Lucas. He was trying to get you all night, but he couldn't find you." She was crabby. "What time is it, anyway?"
"Sorry. Wake him up, we gotta talk."
"Just a minute"
After a few seconds of background mumbling, Del came on the line. "You heard?"
"Yeah, just now. What were you doing here?"
After a moment's silence, Del said, "What?" He sounded only semiconscious. Then, "Where'shere?"
"Sallance Hanson's. You were at the party last night, right?" Lucas asked.
"Yeah, but what're you doing there?"
"The Maison thing," Lucas said.
Lucas looked at the phone and then said, "You don't know?"
"Yeah, I called in," Del said. "I called all over, looking for you. I even had your neighbor up north go look in your cabin, but you'd gone."
"You called in that somebody strangled Alie'e Maison?"
Longer silence. Then, "What the fuck are you talking about?"
"Somebody strangled Alie'e Maison and threw her body behind a bed in a guest bedroom," Lucas said. "Another woman was killed and stuffed in a closet. Hanson thinks a street guy did itsaid he was wearing an 'I'm with Stupid' shirt."
After a moment of silence, Del said, "You're not joking.'"
"I'm not joking."
"Jesus Christ." Del was awake now. And again, "Jesus Christ."
Behind him, Cheryl asked, "What happened?"
"That was me, all right," Del said. "I was there until one o'clock. I didn't see Maison there after midnight or so."
"What were you doing?"
"Runnin' drugs, man. That goddamn place was an ocean of shit."
"Maison's got fresh tracks on her arm."
"Yeah, they were all doing a little something," Del said. "I was trying to figure out where it was coming from."
"Figure it out?"
"You better get over here. I'm gonna have to talk to Hanson pretty quick."
"On my way."
When Del had hung up, Lucas clicked on the Find Now button. The computer thought about it for a moment, then kicked out fifteen or twenty messages. He went through them as quickly as he could: Most of them were "Did you see" or "Did you hear about" Alie'e in a magazine spread. Two of them seemed relevant: Three months earlier, according to the date stamp, Hansons correspondent, a woman named Martha Carter, had seen Alie'e at aparty and she'd been flying on ccocaine.
Lucas switched to the Sent folder, scanned it until he found Carter's name and the right date. Hanson had replied to the cocaine comment, with the observation that friends told her that Alie'e had started using heroin.
Lucas sent both letters to the printer, then went back to the Inbox, and the Find function, and typed in "Maison." He got two letters he'd already seen. He tried "Aliee," without the apostrophe between thee's, and found only one new letter, about a dress.
He quickly typed in "Sandy Lansing" and found only one letter, in which Lansing was mentioned only in passing. He tried "Sandy" alone, and "Lansing" alone, and found only the one letter. He switched back the Sent folder, and repeated himself. He found nine references to Alie'e and none to Lansing; one letter from Hanson confided to a woman named Ardisthere was no last namethat Alie'e was definitely having an affair with somebody named Jael, and that somebody else, an Amnon, was wildly jealous.
I think Amnon would kill Jael, if she said just the right thing to him Lucas sent the letter to the printer, and noted the e-mail address on it.
Sallance Hanson was sitting on her couch, wrapped in a black dress, a black hat beside her, when Lucas wandered into the room. Swanson, who'd been sitting in an easy chair, facing her, stood up and said, "Miz Hanson, this is Deputy Chief Davenport."
Hanson turned on the couch and extended her hand without getting up. She was a pretty blond woman in her forties, with a tight, willful mouth and tough blue eyes. She'd used black eye liner under her eyes, and just touched her eyelids with a gray tone; the combination gave her a played-out, dying-puppy look. "When do we go downtown?"
"I beg your pardon?" Lucas asked.
"To make my statement?"
"Oh, yeah. Detective Swanson will make the arrangements. Actually, we can probably take it right here But I want to talk to you about another matter."
"Have you found that street person? I identified him," Hanson said.
"That's what I want to talk to you about."
Her eyebrows rose. "Youfound him? Nobody notifiedme. Why didn't anybody tell me?"
Swanson said, "Um, you're more of a witness or bystander than anything else, Miz Hanson. You're not really part of the investigation."
"That's not the way I see it," she snapped.
"That's the way it is," Lucas said.
"I could talk to the mayor, and he might inform you differently," she said. "The mayor's a friend of mine."
"He's a friend of mine, too," Lucas said. "He appointed me to my job. He'd tell you the same thing we're telling you. You're not part of the investigation. You're being investigated. "
"Two murders were committed in your house, Miz Hanson. You were on the scene when the killings took place. We know nothing about you or your relationship with the dead women." He smiled at her, softening it up. "No politician, the mayor included, would go on the record defending somebody who might later be charged with murdering Alie'e Maison. I'm sure you can see that."
She said, "Oh," tipped her head from side to side, thinking about it, bounced once on the couch, brightened, and said, "That's not badbeing a suspect. But I didn't do it. Either one. That street person is he in jail, or are you bringing him here, or what?"
Lucas felt awkward looking down at her; he took a step away and settled into a leather easy chair, steepling his fingers in front of his face. "The street person's name is Del Capslock," he said. "He's an undercover police officer. One of ourbest undercover people."
"Uh-oh," she said, looking from Lucas to Swanson. "This could cause you problems." Then she frowned. "What was he doing at my party, anyway?"
"That's the other thing," Lucas said. "Del was researching drugs. Miz Maison showed signs of heroin use. She had needle marks on her arm."
"No." Hanson registered shocksomething she was good at, Lucas thought. One hand went artfully to her face. "She was usingdrugs?"
A cop stepped into the room, said, "TVs here. They all got here in a bunch."
Lucas nodded, said, "Okay, keep them back." Then, to Hanson: "Miz Hanson, everybody at your party was using drugs."
"I wasn't," she said. Her face darkened. "I think that's an outrageous thing to say."
"Miz Hanson, the officer in question is a drug specialist," Lucas said. "He said an ocean of drugs was flowing through your apartment. He knows what he's talking about. The thing is, there's no way that there could be that much junk around without your knowing about it."
"That's bullshit," she said. Now she was getting angry, and a little fearful. "I don't know anything about it. Maybe my attorney should hear this."
Lucas didn't want to mention the e-mail until they'd taken the computer with a warrant. He put his hands up, palms out. "So you call your attorney and talk it over. The point is, it won't help our investigation ifany of this is alluded to. If you allow yourself to be interviewed by the press or television, and you talk about our man being at your party we're going to have to explain why he was there."
"You're blackmailing me," she said.
Shewas quick enough, Lucas thought "No, no. You can say anything you want to anybody. Your attorney will tell you that. The First Amendment gives you that right, and all Minneapolis police officers support that right." He flicked his eyes sideways at Swanson. "Don't we?"
"Absolutely," Swanson said piously. "That's why I served in the Marine Corps."
Lucas continued. "I'm suggesting that you understand the consequences before you take a self-destructive position. If you understand what I mean."
"You want me to shut up," she said.
"About our man. He's an undercover officer. If his face were made public, he would lose his effectiveness and might even be endangered."
"What if he did it?" Hanson asked. "Cops do that sort of thing from time to time. I've read about it. Rogue cops."
"This guy doesn't," Lucas said. "Besides, we're detailing a special squad out of Internal Affairs to pull him apart, everything he did last night. When we're done, we'll know every step he took."
"Well I think I could leave him out of my statement," she said. "To the press."
"Excellent," Lucas said. "One more question. This will be covered when you make your formal statement, but I'm just curious. Alie'e Maison is pretty famous. Probably the most famous person at your party?"
Hanson rolled her eyes up and waggled her head from side to side, as if balancing all the equities of fame, or celebrity, and finally decided, "Probably. In that world. We also had some very well-known financial people here, but that's another world."
"If she was so famous, how could she disappear into a bedroom and nobody was curious about her, what had happened to her?" Lucas asked.
"Well, I mentioned this to Officer Swanson she seemed very sleepy, and just wanted to take a nap. So we accommodated her and shooed people away if they asked about her. She was on a very rigorous schedule, early-morning photo shoots and all. She was exhausted."
"So nobody went back and looked at her."
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe some of her friends did." Hansons eyes slid away from Lucas; she might not be lying, he thought, but she was skating. "Probably some of her friends did. We were just keeping the sightseers away."
"Let me tell you something," Lucas said, "I can't read you well enough to know if you're lying to us, but if you are, you're committing a crime."
He turned to Swanson and asked, "Have you read her her rights?"
"Do it," he said. He turned back to Hanson, "You don't have to talk to us at all, or you can have an attorney, but if youdo talk to us, it better be the truth. We can get pretty goddamn cranky about obstruction of justice in a double-murder case."
From the front hall, a man called, "Hello?"
Lucas recognized the voice. "Sloan. In here."
A moment later, Sloan appeared, cleaned up and ready for the day in a fresh brown suit, white shirt, and blue-and-gold-striped necktie. "Lucas"
"This is Miz Hanson, owner of the house," Lucas said. "We need an interview with her, and with the lady who found Miz Maison's body."
"I can take Miz Hanson's statement now," Sloan said. He held up a tape recorder and looked down at Hanson. "If we can find some place quiet and comfortable?"
She flipped a hand, to say,whatever, and turned back to Lucas. "Before you go, let me get something straight. You're not telling me that Ican't speak to the media, you're just saying"
"That you should edit what you say. Carefully. I'm perfectly happy to see you on TV, Iexpect to see you on TV. There's almost no way you could avoid itbut there are aspects of the investigation that we really don't want made public."
"Like this undercover man."
"Who?" Sloan asked, looking at Lucas.
"Del was here last night," Lucas said.
"Ah. Chasing dope?"
Hanson looked from Sloan to Lucas and back to Sloan, and shook her head. "Therewas no dope."
Swanson and Lucas quickly briefed Sloan on what they knew. While they were talking, Hanson stood up and said, "I'll be back in a sec. I gotta pee."
"Meet you in the kitchen," Sloan said.
"Who's got the list of the people at the party?" Lucas asked Swanson.
Swanson took a notebook out of his pocket. "I've got most of it."
"You got anyone on there named Amnon? Or Jael?"
Swanson said, "Yeah, somewhere. I remember the names. They're brother and sister." He flipped through his notebook, found the names. "Amnon Plain and a Jael Corbeau. Why?"
"There's a rumor that Alie'e jilted Amnon and went off with Jael, and this Amnon guy was pretty pissed about it. So let's get them downtown." He looked at Sloan. "Why don't you fix it? Call me when you get them: I want to sit in."
"Those are both Bible names," Swanson said. "Amnon and Jael."
"Yeah? What'd they do in the Bible?"
"Fuck if I know," Swanson said. "I just remember them from Sunday school."
"Let's get them downtown. We can ask them about it," Lucas said.
Lucas looked in oh Rowena Cooper, the woman who'd found Alie'e's body. Cooper was a thin, morose woman with dark hair and red-rimmed eyes; she was sitting with a chubby baby-sitter cop named Dorothy Shaw. "I just wanted to say hello," Cooper said. "The last time Alie'e came to town, we went to a movie together. I just wanted to see how she was doing."
"You didn't have a chance to talk to her earlier?" Lucas asked.
"No, no, I didn't get here until midnight. She'd already gone back to take her nap by then."
She really knew nothing else: She'd hung around the party for better than two hours, mostly because she wanted to talk to Alie'e, if only for a moment. "We shared some concerns about current fashion, and where it's going"
She seemed genuinely upset about the murder, without Hanson's undertone of excitement. Lucas tried to reassure her, without much luck, and left her with Shaw.
"Del's on the porch," Swanson said when Lucas wandered back into the living room.
Del had taken the time to dress up; he was wearing clean jeans, sneakers without holes, and a gray sweatshirt with the sleeves pulled up over the elbows. He smelled vaguely of musk-scented deodorant, and his long hair was still damp.
"We're gonna have to talk to Internal Affairs. You're gonna have to meet with them," Lucas said. "Just tokeep the record straight."
Del nodded. "No problem. I picked up on this party yesterday afternoon, and told Lane where I was going. So I'm covered."
"Good." Lane was the other man in Lucas's two-man Strategic Studies and Planning Group.
Del said, "But I never told you why I was calling you why I was looking for you. Did anybody tell you about Trick? Anybody call you from downtown?"
"Trick Bentoin. He was at the party last night. He just got back from Panama," Del said.
Lucas took a long look at him and finally showed a small smile. "You gotta be bullshitting me."
"I'm not, man," Del said, his eyes round. "I talked to him. He thought it was funnier than hell. He hardly ever laughs; he goddamn near fell down in the hallway."
"Ah, fuck." Then Lucas started to laugh, and a minute later Del joined in. A uniformed cop with a solemn murder-scene face poked his head around the corner, saw who it was, and pulled back.
"That's gonna be a little hard to explain," Lucas said finally.
Narcotics and Homicide had worked together, with the county attorney's investigators, for more than four months to build a murder case against Rashid Al-Balah. Al-Balah had killed Trick Bentoin, and had thrown his body in a bog at the Carlos Avery Wildlife Area, the traditional murdered-body-disposal area for the Twin Cities, the state claimed. The case had been a jigsaw puzzle of evidence: weed seeds in the backseat of the Cadillac, identified by a University of Minnesota botanist and unique to the bog; traces of blood in the trunk of the car, confirmed as the same blood type as Bentoin's; a history of death threats by Al-Balah against Bentoin; a lack of any alibi Al-Balah had been in prison for a little more than a month, looking at a life sentence for first-degree murder.
"What about the blood in the car?" Lucas asked.
"Trick didn't know about any blood," Del said. "He said he had a deal going in Panama, this rich guy who thought he could play gin rummy, so he took off. He never heard anything about the trial. Wasn't that big a deal in Panama."
Lucas scratched his head. "Well, shit. I'll call the county attorney. He ain't gonna be happy. He got a lot of good ink out of that trial."
"You know what's worse? That asshole Al-Balah is gonna be back on the street."
"What'd Trick think about that?"
"He said, 'Leave him in there. Youknow he's killed somebody.'"
"Got that right," Lucas said.
Down the street, TV lights came up, and Lucas peeked: Silly Hanson was being interviewed, posed in her black dress against her expansive lawn. After a second, the lights went down again, and a couple of different cameramen began scrambling around with portable lights. They'd have a roadside studio set up in a moment. "Goddamnit," Lucas said. "Gonna be a circus," Del said.
"I know it Hanson told me she didn't know about any drugs."
"What'd you expect?" Del said. "But the only guy who wasn't putting something up his nose or into his arm was too drunk to do it."
"You know any of the people at the party?"
"Only by sight. None of them knew me, of course."
Swanson stuck his head out on the porch, looking for Lucas. "Rose Marie called," he said. "You got a meeting at six-thirty, her office."
"Okay." Lucas turned back to Del.
"You gotta talk to Internal Affairs right away," he said. "When you get clear, talk to the dope guys and nail down every dealer who might have been selling to Maison or her friends. Find out where she got the shit she put in her arm last night. Did she buy it here, or did she bring it with her?"
Del nodded. "Okay."
"The real problem for us is, if the media finds out you were at the party, they're gonna want to break you out," he said. "You get your face on the nightly news, you'll have to find a new job. Giving out tickets for illegal lane changes."
"No, no, no. I ain't going on TV," Del said. "I gotta stay out of this."
"I'll do what I can, but if the word leaks, we might need a major plane crash. And you know how the goddamn department leaks."
"Plane crash wouldn't do it," Del said gloomily, looking at the lights down the street. "Not with Alie'e Maison dead. Beautiful, rich, famous, and strangled. It's a CNN wet dream. They're gonna run down everybody who had anything to do with her. Once my cat gets outa the bag shit. We got to find this guy." He nodded toward the house, meaning the killer. "We got to find him quick."
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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