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|The Prey Series|
JAMES QATAR DROPPED his feet over the edge of the bed and rubbed the back of his neck, a momentary veil of depression falling upon him. He was sitting naked on the rumpled sheets, the smell of sex lingering like a rude perfume. He could hear Ellen Barstad in the kitchen. She'd turned on the radio she kept by the sink, and "Cinnamon Girl" bubbled through the small rooms. Dishes tinkled against cups, fingernail scratches through the melody of the song.
"Cinnamon Girl" wasn't right for this day, for this time, for what was about to happen. If he were to have music, he thought, maybe Shostakovich, a few measures from the Lyric Waltz in Jazz Suite Number 2. Something sweet, yet pensive, with a taste of tragedy; Qatar was an intellectual, and he knew his music.
He stood up, wobbled into the bathroom, flushed the Trojan in the toilet, washed perfunctorily, and studied himself in the mirror above the sink. Great eyes, he thought, suitably deep-set for a man of intellect. A good nose, trim, not fleshy. His pointed chin made his face into an oval, a reflection of sensitivity. He was admiring the image when his eyes drifted to the side of his nose: a whole series of small dark hairs were emerging from the line where his nose met his cheek. He hated that.
He found a set of tweezers in the medicine cabinet and carefully tweezed them away, then took a couple of hairs from the bridge of his nose, between his eyebrows. Checked his ears. His ears were okay. The tweezers were pretty good, he thought: you didn't find tweezers like this every day. He'd take them with him-she wouldn't miss them.
Now. Where was he?
Ah. Barstad. He had to stay focused. He went back to the bedroom, put the tweezers in a jacket pocket, dressed, put on his shoes, then returned to the bathroom to check his hair. Just a touch with the comb. When he was satisfied, he rolled out twenty feet of toilet paper and wiped everything he might have touched in the bedroom and bathroom. The police would be coming around sooner or later.
He hummed as he worked, nothing intricate: Bach, maybe. When he'd finished cleaning up, he threw the toilet paper into the toilet, pressed the handle with his knuckles, and watched it flush.
ELLEN BARSTAD HEARD the toilet flush a second time and wondered what was keeping him. All this toilet flushing was less than romantic; she needed some romance. Romance, she thought, and a little decent sex. James Qatar had been a severe disappointment, as had been all of the few lovers in her life. All eager to get aboard and pound away; none much concerned with her, though they said they were.
"That was really great, Ellen, you're great-pass me that beer, will ya? Ya got great tits, did I tell you that…?"
Her love life to this point-three men, six years-had been a pale reflection of the ecstasies described in her books. So far, she felt more like a sausage-making machine than the lover in the Song of Solomon: Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies. Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, I will go to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of incense. All beautiful you are, my darling, there is no flaw in you."
Where was that? Huh? Where was it? That's what she wanted. Somebody to climb her mountain of myrrh.
James Qatar might not look like much, she thought, but there was a sensual quality in his eyes, and a hovering cruelty that she found intriguing. She'd never been pushy, had never pushed anything in her life. But as she stood with her hands in the dishwater, she decided to push this. If she didn't, what was the point?
Time was passing-with her youth.
Barstad was a fabric artist who did some weaving, but mostly made quilts. She couldn't make a living at it yet, but her quilting income was increasing month by month, and in another year or two she might be able to quit her day job.
She lived illegally in a storefront in a Minneapolis warehouse district. The front of the space was an open bay, full of quilting frames and material bins. The back she'd built herself, with salvaged drywall and two-by-fours: She'd enclosed the toilet and divided the rest of the space into bedroom, sitting area, and kitchen. The kitchen amounted to a tabletop electric stove and a fifties refrigerator, with a bunch of old doors mounted on sawhorses as countertops. And it was all just fine for an artist in her twenties, with bigger things ahead…
Like great sex, she thought-if he'd ever get out of the bathroom.
THE ROPE WAS in his jacket, balled up. Qatar took it out and pulled his hand down the length of it, as though to strip away its history. Eighteen inches long, it had begun life as the starter rope on a Mercury outboard motor-one end still had the rubber pull-handle. The rope had been with him, he thought, for almost half his life. When he'd eliminated the tangles, he coiled it neatly around the fingers of his left hand, slipped the coil off his fingers, and pushed it carefully into his hip pocket. Old friend.
Barstad had been a brutal disappointment. She'd been nothing like her images had suggested she'd be. She'd been absolutely white-bread, nothing but spread-your-legs-and-close-your-eyes. He couldn't continue with a woman like that.
The postcoital depression began leaking away, to be replaced by the half-forgotten killing mood-a fitful state, combining a blue, close-focused excitement with a scratchy, unpleasant fear. He picked up his jacket and carried it into the living room, a space just big enough for a couch and coffee table, hung it neatly on the back of a wooden rocking chair, and walked to the corner of the makeshift kitchen.
The kitchen smelled a little of chicken soup, a little of seasoned salt, a little of cut celery, all pulled together by the hum of the refrigerator and the sound of the radio. Barstad was there, with both hands in dishwater. She was absently mouthing the words to a soft-rock tune that Qatar didn't recognize, and moving her body with it in that self-conscious, upper-Midwest way.
Barstad had honey-blond hair and blue eyes under pale, almost white eyebrows. She dressed down, in Minnesota fashion, in earth-colored shifts, turtlenecks, dark tights, and clunky shoes. The church-mouse clothes did not completely conceal an excellent body, created by her Scandinavian genes and toned by compulsive bicycle-riding. All wasted on her, Qatar thought. He stepped into the kitchen, and she saw him and smiled shyly. "How are you?" she asked.
"Wonderful," he said, twinkling at her, the rope pressing in his hip pocket. She'd known the sex hadn't been that good-that's why she'd fled to her dishes. He bent forward, his hands at her waist, and kissed her on the neck. She smelled like yellow Dial soap. "Absolutely the best."
"I hope it will get better," she said, blushing. She had a sponge in her hand. "I know it wasn't everything you expected…"
"You are such a pretty woman," he said. He touched the side of her neck, cooing at her. "Such a pretty woman."
He pushed his hips against her, and she moved her butt back against him. "And you are such a liar," she said. She was not good at small talk. "But keep it up."
"Mmmm." The rope was in his hand.
His fingers fit over the T of the handle; he would loop it over her chin, he thought, so that it wouldn't get hung up by the turtleneck. He would have to pull her over, he thought; get a foot wedged behind hers and jerk hard, backward and down, then hang her over the floor, so that her own weight would strangle her. Had to watch for fingernails, and to control the attitude of her body with his knees. Fingernails were like knives. He turned one foot to block her heels, so that she would trip over it when she went down.
Careful here, he thought. No mistakes now.
"I KNOW THAT wasn't too great," she said, not looking back at him. A pink flush crawled up her neck, but she continued, doggedly, "I haven't had that much experience, and the men… weren't very… good." She was struggling with the words. This was hard. "You could show me a lot about sex. I'd like to know. I really would. I'd like to know everything. If we could find a way to talk about it without being too, you know, embarrassed about it."
SHE DERAILED HIM.
He'd been one second from taking her, and her words barely penetrated the killing fog. But they got through.
She wanted what? To learn about sex, a lot about sex? The idea was an erotic slap in the face, like something from a bad pornographic film, where the housewife asks the plumber to show her how to…
He stood frozen for a moment, then she half-turned and gave him the shy, sexy smile that had attracted him in the first place. Qatar pushed against her again and fumbled the rope back into his hip pocket.
"I think we could work something out," he said, his voice thick. And he thought, silently amused: Talk dirty-save your life.
JAMES QATAR WAS an art history professor and a writer, a womanizer and genial pervert and pipe smoker, a thief and a laughing man and a killer. He thought of himself as sensitive and engaged, and tried to live up to that image. He kissed Barstad once more on the back of the neck, cupped one of her breasts for a moment, then said, "I've got to go. Maybe we could get together Wednesday."
"Do you, uh…" She was blushing again. "Do you have any sexy movies?"
"Movies?" He heard her, but he was astonished.
"You know, sexy movies," she said, turning into him. "Maybe if we had a sexy movie, we could, you know… talk about what works and what doesn't."
"You could be really good at this," he said.
"I'll try," she said. She was flaming pink, but she was determined.
QATAR LEFT THE apartment with a vague feeling of regret. Barstad had mentioned that she had to go to the bank later in the day. She'd gotten enrollment fees for a quilting class, and had two hundred dollars in checks she'd wanted to deposit-and she had almost four hundred dollars in cash, which she would not deposit, to avoid the taxes.
The money could have been his; and she had some nice jewelry, gifts from her parents, worth maybe another thousand. There was some miscellaneous stuff, as well: cameras, some of her drawing equipment, an IBM laptop, and a Palm III that, together, could have pulled in a couple of hundred more.
He could have used the cash. The new light topcoats for the coming season were hip-length, and he'd seen the perfect example at Neiman Marcus: six hundred fifty dollars, on sale, with a wool lining. A pair of cashmere sweaters, two pairs of slacks, and the right shoes would cost another two thousand. He'd been only seconds away from it…
Was sex better than cashmere? He wasn't sure. It was quite possible, he mused, that no matter what Barstad was willing to do in bed, she would never be as good as Armani.
JAMES QATAR WAS five feet, eleven ten inches tall, slender and balding, with a thin blond beard that he kept closely cropped. He liked the three-days-without-shaving look, the open-collar, striped-shirt, busy-intellectual image. He was fair-skinned, with smile lines at the corners of his mouth, and just a hint of crow's-feet at the corners of his eyes. He had delicate hands with long fingers. He worked out daily on a rowing machine, and in the summer on blades; he would not ever have thought of himself as a brave man, but he did have a style of courage built on willpower. He never failed to do what he wanted to do, or needed to.
The smile lines on his face came from laughing: he wasn't jolly, exactly, but he'd perfected a long, rolling laugh. He laughed at jokes, at wit, at cynicism, at travail, at cruelty, at life, at death. Years before he'd cornered a coed in his office once, thinking that she might come across, thinking that he might kill her if she did, but she hadn't. She'd said, instead, "All that laughing doesn't fool me, Jimbo. You've got mean little eyes like a pig. I can see the meanness."
On her way out, she'd turned-posing her coed tits perfectly in profile-and said, "I won't be coming back to class, but I better get an A for the semester. If you read my meaning." He'd let out his rolling laugh, a little regretfully, peered at her with his mean eyes, and said, "I didn't like you until now. Now I like you."
He'd delivered the A, and considered it earned.
QATAR WAS AN art historian and associate professor at St. Patrick's University, author of Not a Pipe: The Surfaces of Midwestern Painting 1966…1990, which had been favorably reviewed in Chicken Little, the authorative quarterly of late-postmodern arts; and also Planes on Plains: Native Cubists of the Red River Valley 1915…1930, which the reviewer for the Fargo Forum had called "seminal." He'd begun college as a studio artist, but switched to art history after a cold-eyed appraisal of his talents-good, but not great-and an equally cold appraisal of an average artist's earning potential.
He'd done well with his true interests: blond women, art history, wine, murder, and his home, which he'd decorated with Arts and Crafts furniture. Even, since the arrival of digital photography, with art itself.
Art of a sort.
The school provided computers, Internet connections, video projectors, slide scanners, all the tools required by an art historian. He found that he could scan a photo into his computer and process it through Photoshop, eliminating much of the confusing complexity. He could then project it onto a piece of drawing paper and draw over the photo.
This was not considered entirely proper in the art community, so he kept his experiments secret. He imagined himself someday popping an entire oeuvre of sensational drawings on a stunned New York art world.
It had been just that innocent in the beginning. A dream. His historian's eye told him that the first drawings were mediocre; but as he became more expert with the various tools in Photoshop, and with the pen itself, the drawings became cleaner and sharper. They actually became good. Still not good enough to provide a living, but good enough to engage his other enthusiasms…
He could download a nude from one of the endless Internet porno sites, process it, print it, project it, and produce a fantasy that appealed both to his sense of aesthetics and to his need to possess.
The next step was inevitable. After a few weeks of working with appropriated photos, he found that he could lift the face from one photo and fit it to another. He acquired an inconspicuous Fuji digital camera and began taking surreptitious pictures of women around campus.
Women he wanted. He would scan the woman's face into the computer, use Photoshop to match it, and graft it to an appropriate body from a porno site. The drawing was necessary to eliminate the inevitable and incongruous background effects and the differences of photo resolutions; the drawings produced a whole.
Produced an object of desire.
Qatar desired women. Blond women, of a particular shape and size. He would fix on a woman and build imaginary stories around her. Some of the woman he knew well, others not at all. He'd once had an intensely sexual relationship with a woman he'd seen only once, for a few seconds, getting into a car in the parking lot of a bagel shop, a flash of long legs and nylons, the hint of a garter belt. He'd dreamed of her for weeks.
The new computer-drawing process was even better, and allowed him to indulge in anything. Anything. He could have any woman he wanted, and any way. The discovery excited him almost as much as killing. Then, almost as a by-product, he'd discovered the power of his Art as a weapon.
His first use of it had been almost thoughtless, a sociology professor from the University of Minnesota who had, years before, rejected his interest. He'd snapped her one day as she walked across the pedestrian bridge toward the student union, unaware of his presence. Theirs had not been a planned encounter, but purely accidental.
After processing the photo, and a dozen trial sketches, he'd produced a brilliant likeness of her face, attached to a grossly gynecological shot from the Internet. The drawing had the weird, sprawling foreshortening that he'd never gotten right in his studio classes.
He mailed the drawing to her.
As he prepared to do it, it occurred to him that he might be-probably was-committing a crime of some kind. Qatar was not unfamiliar with crime, and the care that comes with the dedicated commission of capital offenses. He redid the drawing and used a new unhandled envelope, to eliminate any fingerprints.
After mailing it, he did nothing more. His imagination supplied multiple versions of her reaction, and that was enough.
Well. Not quite enough. In the past three years, he'd repeated the drawing attacks seventeen times. The thrill was not the same as the killing-lacked the specificity and intensity-but it was deeply pleasurable. He would sit in his old-fashioned wooden rocker, eyes closed, thinking of his women as they opened the letters… And thinking of those others as they fought the rope.
He'd met Barstad because of the drawings. He'd seen her at work in a bookstore; had attracted her attention when he purchased a book on digital printing. They'd talked for a few minutes at the cash register, and again, a few nights later, as he browsed the art books. She was a fabric artist herself, she said, and used a computer to create quilt patterns. The play of light, she said, that's the thing. I want my quilts to look like they have window light on them, even in a room without windows. The art talk led to coffee, to a suggestion that she might pose for him.
Oh, no, she'd said, I wouldn't pose nude. That wouldn't be necessary, he said. He was an art professor, he just wanted some facial studies that he could print digitally. She agreed, and had, eventually, even taken off a few of her clothes: her back turned to him, sitting on a stool, her glorious back tapering down to a sheet crinkled beneath her little round butt. The studies had been all right, but it was at home, with the computer, that he'd done the real drawings.
He had drawn her, wined her, dined her, and finally, on this bleak winter afternoon, fucked her and nearly killed her because she had not lived up to her images he had created from her photographs…
THE DAY AFTER the assignation with Barstad, the low stacked-heels of Charlotte Neumann, an ordained Episcopalian priest, author of New Art Modalities: Woman/Sin, Sin/Woman, S/in/ister, which, the week before, had broken through the top-10,000 barrier of the Barnes & Noble on-line bestseller list, and who was, not incidentally, the department chairperson, echoed down the hallway and stopped at his door. A tall ever-angry woman with a prominent nose and a single, dark, four-inch-long eyebrow, Neumann walked in without knocking and said, "I need your student budget line. This afternoon."
"I thought we had until next Wednesday?" He posed with a cup of coffee held delicately in both hands, his eyebrows arched. He'd left the steel-blue Hermes silk scarf looped around his neck when he'd taken off his coat, and with the books behind him, the china cup, and the scarf framing his face, he must've been a striking portrait, he thought. But it was wasted on Neumann, he thought; she was a natural Puritan.
"I've decided that we could avoid the confusion of last year by having them in my office a week early, which will give me time to eliminate any error," she said, leaving no doubt that she used the term "error" as might a papal inquisitor: "Last year" Qatar had been two weeks late with the budget.
"Well, that's simply impossible," Qatar said. "If you'd given me any notice at all…"
"You apparently didn't read last week's departmental bulletin," she snarled. There was a light in her eye. She'd caught him out, she thought, and he'd soon get a corrective memo with a copy for his personnel file.
"Nobodyread last week's departmental bulletin, Charlotte," Qatar snarled back. He'd been widely published and was permitted a snarl. "Nobody ever reads the departmental bulletin because the departmental bulletin, is, in the words of the sainted Sartre, shit. Besides, I was on periodic retreat on Thursday and Friday, as you should have known if you'd read the memo I sent you. I never got the bulletin."
"I'm sure it was placed in your mailbox."
"Elene couldn't find her own butt, much less my mailbox. She can't even deliver my paycheck," Qatar said. Elene was the departmental secretary.
"All right," Neuman said. "Then by tomorrow. By noon." She took one step backward, into the hallway, and slammed the door.
The impact ejected Qatar from his office chair, sloshing coffee out of his cup, across his fingers, and onto the old carpet. He took a turn around the office, blinded by a red rage that left him shaking. He'd chosen the life of a teacher because it was a high calling, much higher than commerce. If he'd gone for commerce, he'd undoubtedly be rich now; but then, he'd be a merchant, with dirty hands. But sometimes, like this, the idea of possessing an executive power-the power to destroy the Charlotte Neumanns of the world-was very attractive.
He paced the office for five minutes, imaging scenarios of her destruction, muttering through them, reciting the lines. The visions were so clear that he could walk through them.
When the rage subsided, he felt cleaner. Purified. He poured another cup of coffee and picked it up with a steady hand. Took a sip, and sighed.
He would have taken pleasure in throttling the life out of Charlotte Neumann, though not because she appealed to his particular brand of insanity. He thought he might enjoy it the way anyone would whose nominal supervisor enjoyed small tyrannies as Neumann did.
So he would get angry, he would fantasize, but he would do nothing but snipe and backbite, like any other associate professor.
She did not engage him-did not light his fire.
THE NEXT DAY, passing through Saks, he found that the cashmere sweaters had gone on sale. There wasn't much cold weather left, but the cashmere would wear forever. These particular sweaters, with the slightly rolled neckline, would perfectly frame his face, and the tailored shoulders would give him a nice wedgy stature. He tried the sweater on, and it was perfect. A good pair of jeans would show off his butt-he could have the legs tailored for nine dollars a pair at a sewing place in the skyway. A champagne suede coat and cowboy boots would complete the set… but it was all too expensive.
He put the sweater back and left the store, thinking of Barstad. She did engage his insanity: He could think of Barstad and the rope and find himself instantly and almost painfully erect. Blondes looked so much more naked than darker women; so much more vulnerable.
The next day was Wednesday: Perhaps he could buy them after all.
He would take the rope.
BUT ON TUESDAY evening, still thinking about Barstad and the rope, feeling the hunger growing, he was derailed again. He arrived home early and got a carton of milk from the refrigerator and a box of Froot Loops from the cupboard, and sat at the table to eat. The Star-Tribune was still on the table from the morning; he'd barely glanced at it before he left. Now he sat down, poured milk on the Froot Loops, and folded the paper open at random. His eye fell straight down the page to a small article at the bottom: The two-deck headline said "Woman Strangled/Police Seek Help."
The body of an unidentified woman was found Sunday in the Minnesota state forest north of Cannon Falls by a local man who was scouting for wild turkey sign. A preliminary investigation suggested that the woman had been dead for a year or more, said Goodhue County medical examiner Carl Boone.
"Shit." He stood up, threw the paper at the kitchen sink. Stormed into the living room, hands clenched. "Shit, shit."
Dropped onto a chair, put his hands on his head, and wept. He wept for a full minute, drawing in long gasping breaths, the tears rolling down his cheeks. Any serious art historian, he felt, would have done the same. It was called sensitivity.
After the minute, he was finished. He washed his face in cold water, patted it dry with paper towels. Looked in the mirror and thought: Barstad. He couldn't touch her for the time being. If another blonde disappeared, the police would go crazy. He would have to wait. No sweaters. No new clothes. But maybe, he thought, the woman would come through with some actual sex. That would be different.
But he could still feel her special allure, her blondness. He could feel it in his hands, and in the vein that pulsed in his throat. He wanted her badly. And he would have her, he thought.
Sooner or later.
THE WINTER HADN'T been particularly cold, nor had there been much snow; but it seemed like months since they'd last seen the sun. The streetlights still came on at five o'clock, and with the daily cycle of thaw and freeze, the dampness rose out of the ground like a plague of ghouls.
Lucas Davenport peered through the cafe window, at the raindrops killing themselves on the vacant riverside deck, and said, "I can't stand any more rain. I could hear it all day on the windows and roof."
The woman across the table nodded, and he continued. "Yesterday, I was up in the courthouse, looking down at the sidewalk. Everybody's in raincoats and parkas. They looked like cockroaches scuttling around in the dark."
"Two more weeks 'til spring," said the woman across the table. Weather Karkinnen finished a cup of wild rice soup and dabbed at her lips with a napkin. She was a small woman with a minor case of hat hair, which she'd shaken out of a hand-knit watch cap with snowflakes on the sides. She had a crooked nose, broad shoulders, and level blue eyes. "I'll tell you what: Looking at the river makes me feel cold. It still looks like a winter river."
Lucas looked out at the river and the lights of Wisconsin on the opposite shore. "Doesn't smell so good, either. Like dead carp."
"And worms. Eagles are out, though. Scavenging down the river."
"We ought to get out of here," Lucas said. "Why don't we go sailing? Take a couple of weeks…"
"I can't. I'm scheduled eight weeks out," she said. "Besides, you don't like sailing. The last time we were on a big boat, you said it was like driving an RV."
"You misremember," Lucas said. He waved at a waitress and pointed at his empty martini glass. She nodded, and he turned back to Weather. "I said it was like driving an RV across North Dakota at seven miles an hour. Except less interesting."
Weather had a glass of white wine, and she twirled it between her fingers. She was a surgeon and had the muscled hands of a surgeon. "What about this woman who was strangled? Why don't you help with that?"
"It's being handled," Lucas said. "Besides, I-"
"It's been a while," Weather said, interrupting. "When did they find her? Last weekend?"
"Last Sunday," Lucas said. "Takes time."
"A week, and what've they got? Anything? And she'd already been dead for eighteen months when they found her."
"I dunno. I don't know what they got. You know I knew her folks?"
"No, I didn't."
"They came to see me when she disappeared, asked for help. I called around, talked to some people. Half of them thought she'd split for the Coast, the other half figured she was dead. Nobody had any idea who did it. All they knew was that she was gone, and it didn't look like she'd planned to go… Other than that, we had zip. Nothing."
"So why not get in it? It's the kind of case you enjoy. You get to figure something out. It's not some jerk sitting in the kitchen with a can of Schlitz in his lap, waiting for the cops to bust him."
"I don't want to fuck with somebody trying to do a job," Lucas said. He scrubbed furiously at an old scar that ran down his forehead and across an eyebrow onto a cheek. He was a large man, heavy-shouldered, dark-complected-almost Indian-dark-but with sky-blue eyes. He moved uneasily in his chair, as though it might break under his weight. "Besides, knowing her folks makes it tougher. Knocks me off center. Makes me feel bad."
"Oh, bullshit," Weather said. "You're moping around looking for sympathy. Maybe you oughta call what's-her-name. She'd probably give you some sympathy."
Lucas deliberately misunderstood the reference to "what's-her-name." "Or a pot. If she didn't give me sympathy, she could give me a pot."
Weather's voice went dangerously quiet. "I didn't mean that one."
Of course she hadn't, but Lucas could play the game too. "Oh," he said, and tried his charming smile. But his charming smile hardly ever came off: His eyes could be charming, but his smile just made him look hard.
Romantic relationships were like gears in an old pocket watch, Lucas thought, looking across the table at Weather. They were always turning, some of the gears small and fast, others bigger and slower. The biggest of his life, his relationship with Weather, was lazily clicking around to something serious.
They'd once been headed for marriage, but that had come undone when Weather had been taken as a hostage by a crazy biker because of a case Lucas had worked on. There'd been an ambush, and the biker had been killed. Weather had… gone away; had left her wedding dress hanging in Lucas's bedroom closet. They'd been apart for a couple of years, and now they were seeing each other again. They'd been in bed for two months, but nothing had been said. No final commitments yet, no ultimatums or we-gotta-talk's. But if something went wrong again, that would be the end. There could be no renegotiation now, not if there were another breakdown…
Lucas liked women. Most of them, with a reasonable number of exceptions, liked him back. Enough had liked him well enough to keep a couple of gears spinning at a time. The summer before, he'd had a quick, enjoyable fling with a potter. About the same time, an old college girlfriend had been going through the breakup of her long-term marriage, and he'd started talking to her again. That hadn't ended. There'd been no dating, no sex, nothing but talk: But Catrin was the gear wheel that most concerned Weather.
Lucas kept telling her that there was no need to worry. He and Catrin were friends, going way back. Old friends. "Old friends worry me more than new potters," Weather had said. "Besides, the potter's a child. You couldn't date a child for long."
The potter was eight years younger than Weather, whose baby alarm was now booming like Big Ben.
The waitress came with the martini-three olives-and Lucas turned back to the river. "Oh, man, look at that."
Weather looked: A seventeen- or eighteen-foot Lund open fishing boat was chugging by, the two occupants bent against the rain. "They're going out," Weather said.
"Walleye fishermen," Lucas said. "They're all crazier than a shit-house mouse. Or would it be mice?"
"Mice, I think." She smiled a crooked smile under her crooked nose, but her eyes had gone serious, and she said, "So why don't we get pregnant?"
Lucas nearly choked on an olive. "What?"
"I'm gonna be thirty-nine," she said. "It's not too late yet, but we're pushing it."
"Well, I just…"
"Think about it," she said. "No emotional commitment is necessary, as long as I'm inseminated."
Lucas's mouth worked spasmodically, no words forming, until he realized that she was teasing. He popped the second olive and chewed. "You're the only person who can do that, pull my chain that way."
"Lucas, every woman you know pulls your chain," Weather said. "Titsy pulls it about once every three minutes."
Titsy was Marcy Sherrill, a homicide cop. A woman with a fine figure, Lucas thought, who deserved a nickname more dignified than Titsy. "But I always see her coming," he said. "I know when she's doing it."
"Besides, I was only pulling your chain on the last part," Weather said. "If you're not going to do anything with the Photo Queen, I think we should start working on some kids."
The Photo Queen was Catrin. "Catrin and I are… friends," Lucas said. "Honest to God. You'd like her, if you'd give her a chance."
"I don't want her to have a chance. She's had her chance."
"So look," he said, flopping his arms. "I've got no problem with the kid thing. If you want to get…"
"If you say 'a bun in the oven,' or something like that, I swear to God, I'll pour a glass of wine in your lap."
Lucas swerved: "… if you want to get pregnant, we can work something out."
"So it's settled."
"What's this whatever shit? What's this…"
Lucas scrubbed at the scar. Christ, a minute ago he'd been idly musing about commitment.
THE RAIN DWINDLED to a mist as they drove back west toward the Cities. They made it to St. Paul just before nine o'clock and found a strange car in Lucas's driveway-an aging hatchback, dark, a Volkswagen maybe. Lucas didn't have any friends who drove Volkswagens. There'd been some bad experiences with people waiting at Lucas's door. He popped open the Tahoe's center console; his.45 was snuggled inside. At the same time, Weather said, "Somebody on the porch."
Two people, in fact. The taller, heavier one was pushing the doorbell. Lucas slowed, turned into the drive. The two people on the porch turned, and the big one walked quickly into the Tahoe's headlights.
"Swanson," Lucas said, and relaxed.
Swanson was an old-time homicide dick, a voluntary night-shift guy, a little too old for the job, a little too heavy. Not brilliant, but competent. The woman beside him was a short tomboyish detective from the sex unit: Carolyn Rie, all freckles and braids and teeth. An interesting woman, Lucas thought, and well worth treating with a poker face when Weather was around. She was wearing a leather-and-wool letter jacket, too large, without gloves.
"Swanson… Hey, Carolyn," Lucas said out the window.
"Got something you might want to look at," Swanson said. He waved a roll of paper.
INSIDE, WEATHER WENT to make coffee while the cops pulled off their coats. "Tell me," Lucas said.
Rie took the roll of paper from Swanson and spread it across the dining table. "Oh, my," Lucas said. It was a drawing, detailed, and nearly full-length, of a nude woman whose body was projecting toward the viewer, legs slightly spread, one hand pressed into her vulva. She was fellating a man who was mostly, but not entirely, out of the picture.
Weather picked up on the tone and came over to look. "Gross," she said. She looked closely at Rie. "Where'd you get it?"
"Back in November, a woman named Emily Patton was walking across the Washington Avenue Bridge, the covered part, going over to the university library on the West Bank. This was about six in the morning, still really dark, not many people around. She sees this drawing on one of the walls-you know what I'm talking about? Those inside walls where the students paint all their signs and put up posters and stuff?"
"Yeah, go ahead," Lucas said.
"Anyway, she sees this poster, and there are a couple more like it. The thing is, Patton recognized this woman." Rie tapped the face of the woman in the drawing. "She figured the woman would not approve, so she takes them down. There are three of them, and I personally think they must have been put up within a few minutes of Patton coming by, because I think somebody would have stolen them pretty quick. They were only Scotch-taped up."
"Any prints on the tape?" Lucas asked.
"No, but I'll come back to that," Rie said. "Anyway, Patton was embarrassed about it, and she didn't know what to ask the other woman-they were once in a class together, and she didn't know her all that well."
"What's her name?" Weather asked. "The woman in the picture?"
"Beverly Wood," Rie said. "So Patton eventually looks up Wood, this is a couple days later, and says, 'Hey, did you know that somebody posted some pictures of you?' Wood didn't know, so Patton showed her, and Wood freaked. She came to see us, with Patton. The thing is, she says, she never posed for any pictures like that. In fact, she'd only had, like, two sexual relationships in her life, and neither had lasted very long. The sex, she says, was all very conventional. No photographs, no drawings, no messing around naked."
"Sounds kinda boring," Lucas said.
"That's the point," Rie said. "She's not the kind of person who winds up in this kind of picture."
"Did you check the guys? The ex-boyfriends?"
"Yeah, we did," Rie said. "Both of them deny anything, both of them seem to be fairly nice guys-even Wood said so. Neither one of them has any background in art… and whoever did this, I mean, he seems to be pretty good. I mean, a pretty good artist."
They all looked again: He was pretty good, whoever he was. "No question that this is Wood? It could be pretty generic."
"Nope. That little bump on the nose… She's got that beauty mark by her eye. I mean, you've got to see her and talk to her. This is her."
"Okay," Lucas said. He stepped back from the table and looked at Swanson. "What else? You say this happened back in November?"
"Okay. We checked it for prints and it came up absolutely clean, except for Patton's prints and a few that Wood put on them. So the guy who drew this knows that somebody might be looking for his prints. He's careful."
"Did you check Patton? And Wood?" Weather asked. "It could be a form of exhibitionism."
Rie batted the question away. "We were doing that… but you have to understand, we were not even sure that a crime had been committed. Anyway, we checked them. Or we were in the process of checking on them, but in the meantime, Patton and Wood had both talked about the situation, and the Daily Minnesotan got onto it. They sent this kid reporter over and… with Wood's permission, we gave them a little story. We thought the most likely guy to do something like this would be somebody in the art department, and maybe somebody would recognize the style. We got these."
Rie unrolled two more sheets of paper, both smaller than the first, and both creased, as though they'd once fit inside an envelope. One was a drawing of a woman masturbating with a vibrator. Another was a low-angle drawing of a nude woman leaning against a door, her hips thrust toward the viewer.
"These were mailed to two university students, one back in June, last year, the other one in late August or early September. Neither woman reported the drawings. One of them thought it was just a silly trick by one of her art friends, and actually thought the drawing was kind of neat."
"That would be the door drawing," Weather said, carrying cups of microwave coffee.
"Yeah. Not many woman would think the vibrator drawing was all that cool," Rie said. "Anyway, this woman"-she touched the masturbation drawing-"not only claims that she never posed for anybody, but nobody has ever seen her nude, not since she was in high school gym class. Nobody, male or female. She's still a virgin."
"Huh," Lucas said. He looked at the three drawings. There was no question that they'd been done by the same artist. "So we got a weirdo." Again he looked at Swanson. "And?"
"That strangled chick that got dug up last Sunday? Aronson? This was in her file; we'd found it in a desk drawer. To tell you the truth, I think most everybody had forgotten about it, except Del." Swanson rolled out another drawing. A woman was sitting astride a chair, her legs open to the world, her breasts cupped in her hands. The pose was marginally less pornographic than the first two, but there was no doubt that it'd had been done by the same hand as the other drawings.
"Uh-oh," Lucas said.
"We didn't know about the other drawings, because Sex was handling them," Swanson said. "Del saw them when he stopped to talk to Carolyn, and he remembered the drawing in the Aronson file. We pulled them just this afternoon, and put them together."
"A psycho," Rie said.
"Looks like it," Lucas said. "So what do you want? More people?"
"We thought maybe you'd like to come in, take a look."
"I'm a little tied up."
"Oh, horseshit," Weather said. She looked at Swanson and Rie. "He's so bored, he's talking about renting a sailboat."
And to Lucas: "It would certainly give you something to do until the sun comes out."
DEPUTY CHIEF/ INVESTIGATIONS Frank Lester supervised all the nonuniformed investigative units except Lucas's group. He had the spread-ass look of a longtime bureaucrat, but still carried the skeptical thin smile of a street cop. When Lucas walked into his office the next morning, Lester gestured with a cup of coffee and said, "You got a hickey on your neck."
"You must be a trained investigator," Lucas said, but he self-consciously touched the hickey, which he'd noticed while he was shaving. "Did you talk to Swanson?"
"He called me at home last night, before he talked to you," Lester said. "I was hoping you'd come in." He was leaning back in his chair, his feet up on his metal desk. A dirty-gray morning light filtered through the venetian blinds behind him; a senile tomato plant wilted on the windowsill. "Are you gonna tell me about the hickey?"
Instead of answering the question, Lucas said, "You told me once that when you sit with your feet up on your desk, you pinch a nerve."
"Goddamnit." Lester jerked his feet off the desk, sat up straight, and rubbed the back of his neck. "Every time I get a cup of coffee, I put my feet up. If I do it too long, I'm crippled for a week."
"Oughta see a doctor."
"I did. He told me to sit up straight. Fuckin' HMOs." He'd forgotten about the hickey. "Anyway, you and your crew are welcome to come in. I'll have Swanson brief you on the crime scene, get you the files and photos, all the stuff they picked up from Aronson's apartment. Rie's gonna bring in the woman in the other drawings. Isn't that weird, the drawings?"
"It's weird," Lucas agreed.
They both thought about it for a minute, the weirdness, then Lester said, "I'll talk to Homicide, and send Swanson and Black to you guys, and you can take the whole thing. We've got three current homicide cases and the Brown business. Without Lynette Brown's body, it's all circumstantial and the prosecutor's scared shitless. We still can't find the goddamn dentist who put that bridge in her mouth."
"I heard Brown hired Jim Langhorn." Langhorn was an attorney.
"Yeah. The rumor is, he called Langhorn, and Langhorn came on the phone and said, 'One million,' and Brown said, 'You got a client.' "
"If it really is Langhorn…"
"It is," Lester said.
"Then you're at least semi-fucked."
"I know it."
"Maybe you'll catch a break. Maybe somebody'll find a tooth sticking out of an egg carton," Lucas said. "You could do a DNA or something."
"Everybody thinks it's fuckin' funny," Lester said. He poked a finger at Lucas. "It's not fucking funny."
"It's a little fuckin' funny," Lucas suggested. "I mean, Harold Brown?"
Harold Brown was a rich do-gooder who ran a recyling plant with his dead daddy's money, turning old newspapers into egg cartons. The last thing he was suspected of recycling was his wife, Lynette. Homicide believed he'd thrown her body into the acid-reduction vat-a gold bridge was found at the bottom of the vat when it was drained-and that Lynette was now holding together several dozen grade-A eggs.
"No. It's not fuckin' funny," Lester said. "Ever since Channel Eleven found out about the bridgework, the TV's been on us like a coat of blue paint." Then he brightened. "And that's one thing you got going for you. Nobody but Swanson, Rie, Del, and you and me know about the drawings. None of the news pukes got it yet-that we've got another weird motherfucker roaming around."
"I hate to tell you this, but we might have to put the drawings on TV," Lucas said. "If we got two people coming in with drawings because they saw a four-inch article in the Daily Minnesotan, you gotta wonder-how many more are there?"
Lester leaned back and put his feet up on his desk, unconsciously crossing his ankles as he did it. He scratched the side of his chin and said, "Well, if you gotta. Maybe it'll take some heat off the Lynette Brown thing."
"Maybe," Lucas said. "You want me to talk to Rose Marie?"
"That'd be good."
On the way out, Lucas paused in the door and said, "You got your feet up."
"Ah, fuck me."
ROSE MARIE ROUX, the chief of police, was meeting with the mayor. Lucas left a message, asking for a minute of her time, and walked down the stairs to his new office. His old office had been a closet with chairs. The new one still smelled of paint and wet concrete, but had two small offices with doors, desks, and filing cabinets, along with an open bay for the investigators' desks.
When the space opened up, there'd been a dogfight over it. Lucas had pointed out that Roux could make two groups happy by giving him a larger office, then passing his old office to somebody who didn't have an office at all. Besides, he needed it: His intelligence people were interviewing contacts in the hallway. She'd gone along, and mollified the losers with new office chairs and a Macintosh computer for their image files.
When he walked through the door-even the door was new, and he was modestly proud of it-Marcy Sherrill was sitting in his office with her feet up on his desk. She was on medical leave, and he hadn't seen her in a week. "You're gonna pinch a nerve," he said, as the outer door banged shut behind him.
"I got nerves of steel," she said. "They don't pinch."
"Tell me that when you can't stand up straight," Lucas grunted, as he moved behind the desk. She was attractive, and single, but she didn't worry Weather: Marcy and Lucas had already been down the romance road, and had called it off by mutual consent. Marcy was a tough girl and liked to fight. Or had. "How're you feeling?"
"Not too bad. Still get the headaches at night." She'd been shot in the chest with a deer rifle.
"How much longer?" Lucas asked.
She shook her head. "They're gonna take me off the analgesics next week. That'll stop the headaches, they say, but I'll get a little more chest pain. They say I should be able to handle it by then. They think."
"Keeping up with physical therapy?"
"Yeah. That hurts worse than the chest and the headaches put together." She saw him looking her over, and sat up. "Why? You got something for me?"
"We're gonna take the Aronson murder. Swanson will brief us this afternoon. Black's gonna join up temporarily. We need to get Del and Lane to come in. The short version of it is this: We got a freak."
"You gonna bring me back on line?" She tried for cool, and got eager instead.
"Limited duty, if you want," Lucas said. "We could use somebody to coordinate."
"I can do that," she said. She got up, wobbled carefully once around the office, pain shadowing her eyes. "Goddamnit, I can do that."
ROSE MARIE'S SECRETARY called while Lucas and Sherrill were planning an approach to the Aronson case. "Rose Marie would like to see you right now."
"Two minutes," Lucas said, and hung up. To Sherrill: "So maybe the feds can give us a psychological profile of the artist. Get the drawings over to one of those architectural drafting places, with the super Xerox machines, and have them make full-sized copies. Mail them overnight them to Washington. Call what's-his-name, Mallard. His name's in my Rolodex. See if he can run interference with the FBI bureaucracy."
"Okay. I'll have Del and Lane here at two o'clock, and get Swanson and Rie to move the files over and do a briefing."
"Good. I'm gonna talk to Rose Marie, then go run around town for a while, see what's happening."
"You know you got a hickey?" she asked, tapping the side of her own neck.
"Yeah, yeah. It must be about the size of a rose, the way people are talking about it," Lucas said.
Marcy nodded. "Just about… So you gonna knock her up? Weather?"
"Maybe," he said. "Maybe not."
"Jesus. You're toast." Marcy smiled, but managed to look a little sad.
"You're sure you're okay?" he asked.
"I just wish I could get done with all this shit," she said restlessly. She meant the pain; she'd been talking about it as though it were a person, and Lucas understood exactly how she felt. "I'm only one inch from being back, but I wanna be back. Fight somebody. Go on a date. Something."
"Hey. You're coming back. You look two hundred percent better than you did a month ago. Even your hair looks good. A month from now… a month from now, you'll be full speed."
ROSE MARIE ROUX was a heavyset woman, late fifties, a longtime smoker who was aging badly. Her office was decorated with black-and-white photographs of local politicians, a few cops, her husband and parents; and the usual collection of twenty-dollar wooden plaques. Her desk was neat, but a side table was piled with paper. She was sitting at the side table, playing with a string of amber worry beads, when he walked in, and she looked at him with tired hounddog eyes. "You stopped by," she said. "What's up?"
Lucas settled into her leather visitor's chair and told her about the drawings and the Aronson murder. "We're gonna take it," he said. "Lester is worried about the media and what they'll do. I'm thinking we might have to use them, and wanted to let you know."
"Feed it to Channel Three, make damn sure they know it's a big favor, and that we're gonna need a payback," she said. She nodded to herself and repeated, almost under her breath, "Need a payback."
"Sure. So what's going on?" Lucas asked uncertainly. "You sound a little stressed."
"A little stressed," she echoed. She pushed herself onto her feet, drifted to her window, and looked out at the street. "I just talked to His Honor."
"Yeah, they said he was here." Lucas tipped his head toward the outer office.
"He's not going to run this fall. He's decided." She turned away from the window to look at Lucas. "Which means I'm history. My term ends in September. He can't reappoint me, not with a new mayor coming in a month later. The council would never approve it. He thinks Figueroa is probably the leading candidate to replace him, but Carlson or Rankin could jump up and get it. None of those people would reappoint me."
"Huh," Lucas said. Then: "Why don't you run?"
She shook her head. "You make too many party enemies in this job. If I could get through the party primary, I could probably win the general election, but I'd never get through the primary. Not in Minneapolis."
"You could switch and become a Republican," Lucas said.
"Life isn't long enough." She shook her head. "I tried to get him to go for one more term, but he says he's gotta earn some money before he's too old."
"So what are you going to do?" Lucas asked.
"What are you going to do?"
"I…" Lucas shrugged.
Rose Marie sighed. "You're a political appointee, Lucas, and I'll tell you what: The only likely internal candidate is Randy Thorn, and he won't reappoint you. He's a control freak, and he doesn't like the way we let you operate."
"You think he'll get it?" Lucas asked.
"He could. He's a damn good uniform chief. All that rah-rah shit and community contacts and brother-cop backslapping. He put on some combat gear last week and went on a raid with the Emergency Response Team. There're a couple of macho assholes on the council who like that stuff."
"Yeah. I'm not sure he's smart enough."
"I'm not, either. It's more likely that the new mayor'll bring somebody in from the outside. Somebody with no other local loyalties. Somebody who's big with the New York no-tolerance style. I doubt that any outsider would reappoint the current deputy chiefs. He'd want to put his own people in. Lester and Thorn are still civil service, and captains. If they don't keep their deputy-chief spots, they'll still have a top slot somewhere. But you're not civil service."
"So we're both history," Lucas said. He leaned back, interlaced his fingers behind his head, and exhaled.
"Maybe. I'm gonna start working on something," Rose Marie said.
She waved him off. "I can't even start talking about it yet. I'm gonna have to stab a couple of people in the back. Maybe give a couple blow jobs."
"Not at the same time. You could pull a muscle."
She smiled. "You're taking this pretty well. Which is good, because I'm not. Goddamnit. I wanted one more term… Anyway, I wanted you to know that we're probably on the way out."
"I was starting to have fun again," Lucas said.
"What about you and Weather?" Rose Marie asked. "Is she pregnant yet?"
"I don't know, but it could happen."
Rose Marie laughed, a genuine, head-back, chest-shaking laugh, and then said, "Excellent. That's really perfect."
"And if she is…" Lucas squinted at the ceiling, calculating. "You and I oughta be getting fired just about the time the baby arrives."
"Like you need the job. You got more money than Jesus Christ."
"I do need the job. I need some job," Lucas said.
"Then hang on. It's gonna be a ride."
AFTER LEAVING ROUX'S office, Lucas went back to Homicide, got an exact reading on where Aronson's body had been found, marked it on a map and Xeroxed the map, then walked over to the Fourth Street parking ramp and got into his Tahoe. On the way south, out of town, he passed within a block of Aronson's apartment, and remembered talking with her parents when she disappeared: trying to reassure them, when he felt in his cop heart that their daughter was already dead. They'd all been together at her apartment, her parents waiting for a phone call, from her, from anybody, and he remembered wandering around inside…
Aronson's apartment had been in a six-story brown-brick prewar building south of the loop, and her mother had been waiting at the door when Lucas turned the corner on the stairs.
"Glad you could come," she'd said. He remembered that the apartment building hallways had smelled of paint, disinfectant, and insect spray but that Aronson's apartment had the odor of a Christmas sachet.
The place felt like murder. A crime scene crew had been through it, leaving behind a kind of random untidiness-a disheveled feel, if apartments can be disheveled. All the cupboard doors were open; all the chests and closets and boxes and files and suitcases, all cracked open and left. The general air of bleakness, of disturbance, of violation, was exacerbated by the light that flooded the rooms: The crew had pinned back the drapes to let in as much light as possible, and on the day of Lucas's visit, that light had been chilling.
Four rooms: living room, separate small kitchen, bedroom, and bath. Lucas had walked through, his hands in his pockets, peering at the debris of a short independent life: stuffed animals on the bed; an Animal Planet TV poster on one green plaster wall, showing a jaguar in a jungle somewhere; a plastic inflatable statue of The Scream; knickknacks on the shelves, with photos. Mostly people who looked like parents, or sisters…
"Knickknack," he said aloud at the traffic out the window of the Tahoe. He'd taken from the apartment a feeling of loneliness, or shyness. A woman who arranged fuzzy things around herself so that she might feel some affection. He remembered looking in her medicine cabinet for birth control pills, and finding none.
THE GRAVE SITE was on a hillside south of Hastings, according to his map; all the roads were clearly marked. He still got lost, missing a turn, trying to recover by cutting cross-country, stymied by a closed road. Eventually, he turned into a DNR parking lot that had been built to provide public access to a trout stream. Above the parking lot, the Homicide cops had said, halfway up the hill, and a hundred and fifty feet farther south. A triangle of old fallen trees was just below the grave site; the cops had used the trees as benches.
The woods were still wet from all the rain, and the hillside, covered with oak leaves, was slippery. He picked his way through the bare saplings, saw the triangle of downed trees, spotted the hole in the hillside and the scuffle marks where cops had worked around the hole. The rain was smoothing the dirt fill in the hole, and leaves were beginning to cover it. In two more weeks, he couldn't have found the spot.
He walked farther down the hillside, then up to the crest; there were houses not far away, but he couldn't see any. Whoever had put the body here had known what he was doing. The grave had simply been a bit too shallow, and a dog had found it, or coyotes. And then the hunter had come by, scouting for bird sign.
And that was all, except the sound of the wind in the trees.
On the way back to town, he called Marcy to tell her that he'd be running around town for a couple of hours, talking to his people, picking up bits and pieces.
"Afraid to leave them on their own?"
"I need time to think," he said. "I'm a little worried about giving those drawings to the movie people, but I can't see any other seams in the thing."
"That's probably our best bet," Marcy agreed.
LUCAS SPENT THE rest of the morning and early afternoon roaming the metropolitan area, working his personal network, thinking about the Aronson murder and about the possibility of losing his job and maybe having a baby or two. He touched the hickey on his neck.
Susan Kelly was a pretty woman, but she wasn't at Hot Feet Jazz Dance. Her dog was having a breast cancer operation and she wanted to be there when it woke up, her assistant said. Lori, the assistant, was also a pretty woman, if a little over the edge with the dancing. She grabbed one of the brass rails that lined one wall of the polished-maple practice floor, dropped her head to the floor, and told Lucas from the upside-down position that a creep named Morris Ware was back in action, looking for little girls to pose for his camera.
"Wonderful. Glad to hear it," Lucas said.
"You ought to chain-whip him," Lori said.
Ben Lincoln at Ben's Darts & Cues told him that two Harley clubs, the Asia Vets and the Leather Fags, were planning a paint-ball war on a farm south of Shakopee, and it could get rough; some of the Leather Fags were reportedly replacing the paint balls with ball bearings. Larry Hammett at Trax Freight said that somebody had dumped a ton of speed on local over-the-road drivers: "Half the guys on the road are flying; I won't let my daughter take the car out of the fuckin' driveway."
Lannie Harrison at Tulip's Hose Couplings and Fittings told him a joke: "Guy walks into a bar and orders a scotch-and-soda. The bartender brings it over, puts it on the bar, and walks away. Just as the guy is reaching for the drink, this little teeny monkey runs out from under the bar, lifts up his dick, dips his balls into the scotch-and-soda, then runs back under the bar. The guy is astounded. He calls the bartender over and says, 'Hey. This little monkey just ran out from under the bar…' And the bartender says, 'Yeah, yeah. Sorry about that. Let me get you another drink.' So he brings over a fresh scotch-and-soda and walks away with the old one. Just as the guy is reaching for the fresh drink, this little monkey runs out from under the bar…"
"Lifts up his dick and dunks his balls in the scotch-and-soda," Lucas said.
"Yeah? You heard this?"
"No, but I'm familiar with the form," Lucas said.
"Okay. So the guy calls the bartender back and said, 'The little monkey…' And the bartender says, 'Listen, pal, you gotta watch your drink. I'll give you one more fresh one.' And the guy says, 'Well, what's the story about the goddamn monkey?' The bartender says, 'I only worked here a couple of weeks. But you see that piano player over there?' He points to a guy at a piano and says, 'He's worked here for twenty years. He can probably tell you about it.' So the guy gets his new drink and goes over to the piano player and says, 'You know that little teeny monkey that runs out from under the bar and lifts up his dick and dips his balls in your scotch-and-soda?'
"The piano player says, 'No, but if you hum a couple of bars, I can probably fake it.' "
AT A SOUTHSIDE sweatshop, where illegal Latinos embroidered nylon athletic jackets with team insignias, Jan Murphy told him that a noted University of Minnesota athlete had gotten a job at a package-delivery service. Unlike the other messengers, who drove small white Fords, the athlete's company car was a Porsche C4.
"A kid's gotta have wheels, this day and age. And who knows, maybe he only handles special deliveries, really important stuff," Lucas said.
"Oh, that's right," Murphy said, pointing a pistol finger at him, "Mr. Four-Year Letterman, right? Hockey? I'd forgotten."
At The Diamond Collective, Sandy Hu told him that nothing looked better with a little black dress than a black pearl necklace and matched tear-shaped black pearl earrings, on which she could give him a special police discount, four payments of only $3,499.99 each.
"Why didn't you just make it four payments of $3,500?"
" 'Cause my way, it keeps the price under the magic $14,000 barrier."
"Ah. Well, who would I give it to?" Lucas asked.
Hu shrugged. "I don't know. But you see a hickey like the one on your neck, you try to sell the guy something expensive."
She hadn't heard anything new about anybody; she had heard the monkey balls joke.
Svege Tanner at Strength and Beauty said that over the weekend, somebody took twenty-five thousand dollars in cash from an apartment rented by an outstate legislator named Alex Truant. "The word is, Truant has a girlfriend here in the cities and they'd been dropping some big money at the casinos. With one thing or another, he was like way-deep over his head, so he got hired by the trial lawyers to carry some water for them. That's where the twenty-five came from."
"Who'd you hear this from?" Lucas asked.
"The girlfriend," Tanner said. "She works out here. Got an annual ticket."
"Think she'd talk to somebody?"
"Yeah. If somebody went to see her right away. Truant whacked her around when the cash came up missing. He thought she took it. She doesn't look so good with a big fuckin' mouse under her eye."
"Did she? Take it?"
Tanner shrugged. "I asked, she says no. She's the kind who if she stole twenty-five thousand on Monday, would come in Tuesday wearing a mink coat and driving a fire-engine-red Mustang. If you know what I mean."
"Not exactly a wizard."
"Not exactly," Tanner said.
"Got a phone number?"
ASHYLOCK NAMED Cole had retired and moved to Arizona. An old doper named Coin had been hit by a car while lying unconscious in the street, and was at Hennepin General, sober for the first time since he'd gone to an antiwar rally in the sixties; he didn't like it. An enormously fat man named Elliot, who ran a metal-fabrication shop but was mostly known for being enormously fat, had come down with prostate cancer, and was going to die from it. Half-Moon Towing was bankrupt and the bad-tempered owner, who collected guns, blamed the city council for cutting him out of the city towing contracts.
Routine, mostly. A few notes, a few melancholy thoughts about finding a new job. But who else would pay you to have this kind of fun?
LUCAS MADE IT back to the office and found Marcy waiting with Del and Lane; plus Rie from Sex, and Swanson and Tom Black from Homicide. The start of virtually every homicide investigation-other than the ordinary ones, where they knew who the killer was-began with paper, the details lifted from the murder scene, with interviews, with the reports from various laboratories. Swanson and Black had been pushing the routine.
"The problem is, Aronson didn't have a boyfriend or a roommate, and the two ex-boyfriends we can find don't look real good for having done it. One of them is married and has a kid now, working his way through college, and the other one lives in Wyoming and barely seemed to remember her," Swanson said.
"She have a phone book?" Sherrill asked.
Black shook his head. "Just a bunch of scraps of paper with numbers on them. We checked them and came up dry. Woman in the next apartment said she heard a male voice over there a couple of times in the month before she disappeared. Never any kind of disturbance or anything."
"Look at the numbers stored in her cell phone?" Lucas asked. "Anything in her computer? She got a Palm Pilot or anything like that?"
"She had a cell phone, but there weren't any numbers stored at all. The e-mail in her computer was mostly with her parents and her brother. No Palm. We got her local phone records: She had lots of calls out to ad agencies and to friends-we talked to them, they're all women, and we don't see a woman for this-and then some random calls out, pizza, stuff like that. We never tried to reconstruct the pizza-delivery guys, and now… hell, I don't know if we could. It's been too long."
"What you're saying is, you ain't got shit," Del said.
"That's the way it is," Black said. "That's one of the reasons we always thought there was a possibility that she was still alive-we came up so empty. She didn't drag around bars. Wasn't a party girl. No drugs, didn't drink much. No alcohol at all in her apartment. She worked at a restaurant called the Cheese-It down by St. Pat's. I suppose she could have run into somebody there, but it's not a meat rack or anything, it's a soup-and-sandwich place for students. She freelanced ad work, designing advertisements, and did some Web design, but we couldn't get hold of anything."
Swanson was embarrassed. "We're not looking too swift on this thing."
LUCAS PARCELED OUT assignments.
"Swanson and Lane: Take all those ad agencies and the restaurant. Find out who she was talking to. Make lists of every name you run."
He turned to Black, who had once been partnered with Marcy. "Marcy can't do a lot of running around yet, so I want you and her to work out of the office, get these three women in here, the ones who got drawings, and list every person they knew or remember having talked to before they got the drawings. No matter how slight the connection. When they can't remember a name, but remember a guy, get them to call people who would know him. I want a big-mother list."
To Rie: "I want you and Del to get copies of the drawings and start running them around to the sex freaks. This guy has a screw loose, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's shown a few of these things around. He's an artist, so maybe he's been out looking for a little appreciation. We want more names: all the possibilities that your friends can think of." He snapped his fingers. "Do you remember Morris Ware?"
"I do," Del said. He looked at Rie. "Might've been before your time. He takes pictures of children."
"He may be back in business," Lucas said. To Del: "Why don't you hang with me tomorrow. If we have time, we'll go look him up."
"I see a couple of big possibilities for an early break," Lucas said. "The first one is, somebody knows him and turns him in. The second one is, we've got to figure he's had some contact with these women. If we get big enough lists, we should get some cross-references."
"But we need those big-mother lists," Black said.
"That's right. The more names we get, the better the chances of a cross. And the more people we can find who have gotten these drawings, the bigger the lists will be."
"What're you gonna do?" Marcy asked.
"Go talk to the movie people about some publicity," Lucas said. "We're gonna put the pictures on the street."
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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