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|The Prey Series|
The tag end of summer, in the very heart of the night.
Annabelle Ramford sat on a soggy piece of carpet, in a patch of goldenrod on the southernmost shore of Lake Superior, a huge butter-ball moon rising to the east. A bottle of New York pinot noir was wedged securely between her thighs. She was warm, comfortable, at peace, and a little drunk, bathed in the odors of dead fish and diesel exhaust, ragweed, and the rancid sweat of her unwashed cotton shirt.
Annabelle's friends, if they were friends, called her Trey. She had shoulder-length reddish-blond hair, which hung straight and close to her skull because of the dirt in it; a deeply weathered face with feral green eyes; a knife-edged nose; and a too-slender, square-shouldered body, with the bones showing through. On her chin she carried what she thought of as her identifying mark as in "Police said the body carried an identifying mark."
The mark was a backwards-C-shaped scar, the product of a fight at the mission in Albuquerque. A bum named Buddy had bitten her, and when she'd gotten up off the floor, she was dripping blood and missing a piece of chin. Buddy, she believed, had swallowed it. She almost sympathized: when you're a bum, you get your protein where you can.
Like Buddy, Annabelle Ramford was a bum.
Or maybe a bummess.
A long and exceptionally strange trip, she thought, growing philosophical with the wine. She'd grown up well-to-do and thoroughly educated had sailed boats on Superior, which was why she returned to Duluth in the summer. After private schools in St. Paul, she'd gone to the University of Minnesota, where she'd majored in sociology, and then on to law school, where she'd majored in marijuana and gin-and-tonic. She'd graduated, though, and her father's influence had gotten her a job with the Hennepin County public defender's office, interviewing gang-bangers at the height of the crack plague.
Crack. She could close her eyes and feel it lifting her out of herself. She'd loved crack as she'd loved no human being. Crack had cost her first the job, then all her square friends, and finally her parents, who'd given her up for lost. Even at the end, even when she was fucking the crack man, it had seemed like a reasonable trade.
When she finally woke up, four years after she went on the pipe, she had no life and three STDs, though she'd somehow avoided HIV She'd been traveling ever since.
A strange trip, growing ever stranger...
Straight north of her spot on the working harbor shore, she could see the bobbing anchor-light of a sailboat, and beyond it, the street and house lights stretching along Minnesota Point, the narrow spit of land across the mouth of the harbor. Though the boat was five hundred yards away, she could hear the tinkling and clanking of hardware against the aluminum mast, and, every once in a while, a snatch of music, Sinatra or Tony Bennett, and a woman's laughter.
Overhead, a million stars. Off to her right, another million stars, closer, larger, more colorful the night lights of Duluth, sliding north along the hill.
A dying summer, and cool. The breeze off the lake had teeth. The day before, They’d scored a Czechoslovakian Army coat at the Goodwill store, and she tugged the wool collar up around her throat. Superior's water temperature didn't get much above fifty degrees, even at midsummer, and you could always feel the winter in the wind. But with the coat, she was warm, inside and out.
She took a pull of the wine, wiped her lips on the back of her free hand, savored the thick grape flavor. A month, she thought.
Another month here and she'd start moving again. Back to Santa Monica for the winter. Didn't like Santa Monica. Too many bums. But you could freeze to death in Minnesota, no joke: get a skin full of whiskey and forget what you were doing, and the next morning the cops would find you in a doorway, frozen stiff, frozen in the L shape of the doorway. She'd seen it.
Still, for the time being, she had a good spot, a cubbyhole that was safe, obscure, sheltered, and free. Women transients had a tougher life than the men. Nobody wanted to rape some broken-down thirty-five-year-old bum with no teeth and a fourteen-inch beard and scabs all over him; but women, no matter how far down they'd gone, had that secret spot that some guy always wanted to get into, even if only to prove that he was still male, somehow, someway. To further prove it, half the time they weren't happy with simple rape; they had to beat the shit out of you.
Some women got so accustomed to it that they barely cared, but Trey wasn't that far down. Scrape away the dirt and she didn't look too bad. She still worked, sometimes, waitressing, fry-cook jobs, rent-a-maid stuff. Hadn't ever quite gotten to the point of selling herself. Not technically, anyway.
Here in Duluth, she had a nice routine. The morning bus driver with the route along Garfield Avenue his name was Tony would let her ride into town for free. There were good safe public bathrooms at the downtown mall, and after cleaning up, she'd get up to the Miller Hill Mall to do a little subtle panhandling, avoiding security, picking just the right guys: Got a dollar? Got a dollar, please? She'd perfected the waif look, the thin high cheekbones and starving green eyes. Some days she cleared fifty dollars. Try doing that in Santa Monica.
She took another pull at the wine, leaned back, heard the sailboat woman laugh again. Then, a little later, something else.
Carl Walther sat silently, his back against the side of the building, his senses straining into the night, the pistol cold in his hand. He could hear the elevator inside, moving grain up to the drop-pipe, and the rush of it into the ship's hold.
He'd waited like this before, in the dark, on an early-morning deer stand, listening for footfalls, trying to pick movement out of the gloom. As also happened in a deer stand, when he'd first found his ambush spot, he'd been all ears and eyes. As the minutes passed, other thoughts intruded: he thought he could feel bugs crawling on him; a mosquito whined past his ear. He needed a new job, something that didn't involve food six months in a pizza joint was enough.
He thought about girls. Randy McAndrews, a jock-o three-letter guy, had been talking after gym class, Carl tolerated on the edge of the conversation, and he said Sally Umana had been cooling him off with blow jobs in the backroom of Cheeney's Drive-in. The account was greeted with a half dozen groans and muttered bullshits, but McAndrews swore it was the truth. Carl had groaned with the others but later that day had seen blond Sally in the hallway and had instantly grown a serious hard-on, which he had to conceal awkwardly with a notebook as he hiked through the school.
And thinking about it now, waiting in the dark, began to feel the same effect; the idea of that blond head bobbing up and down...
He heard a voice on the deck of the ship; a distant voice. He shifted position and strained into the night. Where the fuck was he? He pushed up his sleeve and looked at his watch: jeez six minutes since the last check. Seemed more like an hour. Same as on a deer stand, waiting for dawn.
He was not exactly tense; not as tense as when he'd killed his first dog. He still thought about that, sometimes, the black-and-white pooch from the pound, out in the woods.
"Why are you killing the dog?" Grandpa asked.
"Because it's necessary to condition myself against the shock," he said. The response was a learned one, like the responses for a Boy Scout rank, or a First Communion exam.
"Exactly. When you are working as a weapon, you must focus. No pity, no regrets, no questions, because those things will slow you down. All the questions must be resolved into trust: your committee instructs you to act, and you do. That's your highest calling."
"Remember what Lenin said: 'There are no morals in politics: there is only expedience.'"
"Okay." Enough Lenin.
The old man said, "Now. Kill the dog."
He could remember licking his lips, working the slide on the pistol. The dog knew something was going on, looked up at him, small black eyes searching for compassion, not that it had gotten much in the pound. Then the dog turned away, as if it knew what was coming.
Carl shot him in the back of the head.
Not hard. Not hard at all; a certain satisfaction uncurled in his soul.
That surprised him. The shock came a few minutes later, when they buried the dog. When he picked up the small body, it was still warm, but it was dead and there was no way to get it back. The dog was gone forever. He remembered looking back at the small grave and thinking, Really?
There'd been more dogs after that, and Carl's soul had hardened. He no longer dreaded the trips. He didn't enjoy it; he just didn't feel much at all.
Now he sat with his head down. Would a human be harder? He doubted it. He liked dogs better than he liked most people. And while the dog had been a test, this killing was absolutely necessary...
Then headlights played across the wasteland, amid the railroad tracks. A car bounced along a rutted track, then stopped a couple of hundred yards out. There was a light on the roof. A taxi. Carl slipped the safety on the pistol, felt the weight in his hand; kept his finger off the trigger, as he'd been trained.
Rodion Oleshev had been left in the dark.
The taxi turned away, the door locks snapped down, and it was gone, back to the hillside of light, back into town. Oleshev scowled at it: the taxi driver, a blockheaded Swede, according to his taxi license, wouldn't go any farther off-road. He might break a wheel in the dark, he'd said. He might fall in a hole. Fuckin' Swedes. The whole area was lousy with them.
Oleshev was a broad man in a black leather jacket, black denim jeans, and plain-toed military dress shoes. He hadn't shaved that morning and his two-day beard was a briar patch, chafing against his neck. He carried a black nylon briefcase. Inside were his seaman's papers, a digital camera, a pair of Razor sunglasses, and a laptop computer.
The night was pretty, with the thinnest summer haze over the cool water of the lake, and the moon coming up, and he could clearly see the lights of a building six miles down the shoreline. Ahead of him, closer, only two hundred yards away, the bulk carrier Potemkin sat in a berth beneath the TDX terminal. The deck of the ship was bathed in floodlights, as it took on durum wheat from North Dakota.
There was a lot of light around, Oleshev thought; there just wasn't any where he was. The whole area south of the grain terminals was a semi-wasteland of dirt roads, waist-high weeds, railroad tracks and industrial detritus, all smelling of burned diesel. The moonlight didn't help, casting hard shadows everywhere, making holes look like bumps, and bumps like flat spots. Oleshev felt his way toward the Potemkin, stepping carefully; saw a shiny, knifelike streak in the dirt ahead of him, reached out with his toe, felt the steel rail of the first set of tracks.
"Fuck this place," he muttered out loud.
Oleshev was an unhappy man, thinking about the satellite call he'd have to make back to Russia. Things were more complicated than anyone had expected. The Circle at the SVR had expected either agreement or rejection, had been prepared to react with either money, as a gesture of goodwill, or blackmail. What they'd gotten was... bullshit.
What'd the old man say? "It is impossible to predict the time and progress of the revolution. It's governed by its own more or less mysterious laws..."
Vladimir Ilyich fuckin' Lenin. Oleshev spat into the weeds, thinking about it. Bullshit and more bullshit. The people here swam in it. They were Communists. How crazy was that? Somehow, they'd been expecting Russians, and they'd gotten Communists.
Politics complicated everything. He tripped again, swore into the quiet of the night, and stumbled on, cursing, scowling, toward the waiting ship.
Oleshev had just stepped into the light, onto the concrete pad around the grain terminal, when another man moved out of the shadows on the side of the terminal. The man stepped out backwards, and Oleshev saw that he was fumbling at his crotch, zipping up.
Taking a leak: the idea popped into Oleshev's head and he relaxed a half inch, enough that he wasn't ready. The man turned around and Oleshev saw the pink apple-cheeks and the blond hair and the thought flashed through his mind that the blond was a crewman, a member of the night watch who he'd not often seen coming across the Atlantic.
Not a crewman, not with those round, Swedish-sounding Os. The man's hand came up. Not to shake. He was holding a gun and Oleshev saw it and another thought flew through his mind, one word from his training: Shout.
Actually, what the manual said was Try to relax but be prepared to move instantly. If you see that your captor intends to fire, shout at him, to distract him. Even if you are killed, perhaps your companions will gain from the edge you give them.
A lot of horseshit, Oleshev had thought when he first read it. Let somebody else shout. Still, at the critical moment, he thought Shout, but before he could open his mouth, the other man shot him in the heart. Oleshev fell over backwards. His chest hurt, but his mind was okay for a few seconds, and his vision actually seemed better: there was lots of light now. Enough light that when the man stood over him and pointed the gun at his eyes, he could clearly see the O of the muzzle. He wanted to shout again.
Carl, who didn't know that he'd hit Oleshev in the heart, stepped forward and fired twice more, from short range, through the Russian's forehead. Unnecessary, but he didn't know that. He had the theory, but he didn't have the training.
Trey had heard Oleshev coming, stumbling through the weeds, muttering and grumbling.
There had been two or three people walking around the terminal in the past hour. She'd stayed out of sight in her hole with her bottle, invisible in the night, enjoying the lake. She yawned. When this one had gone up the ladder into the ship, she thought, she'd head back across the wasteland to the shack where she was crashing.
She'd found two whole rolls of bubble wrap in a Dumpster at the Goodwill store, and with a little duct tape, had made the most luxurious mattress out of it. Asleep on the bubble wrap, cocooned in an olive-drab army blanket, she could almost believe that she was back home. The best nights were the nights when it was raining, when the rain on the roof and the warmth of the bed made her feel cozy and snug. The problem with it was that when she was lonely, or bored, or stressed, she tended to pop the bubbles.
Now, sitting in her hole, she heard a man speak; and then a shot. She recognized the shot for what it was, though it wasn't loud. A Bap! like the noise made by a pellet gun. She stood up, thinking herself safe in the dark, her eyes just inches higher than the weeds around her.
A tall man, with fair hair, stood over another man, who was supine on the concrete slab. The tall man's face was turned toward her, and she registered his good looks. He pointed the pistol and fired twice more into the second man's head, bap! bap! The pistol had a bulbous barrel. A silencer? She'd only seen them in movies.
The killing had been cold, she thought. She shivered, lost her balance for a moment, caught herself. Stepped on piece of broken concrete, lost her balance again, and caught herself a second time. And made just enough noise to attract the attention of the killer.
His head came up, and he saw her saw the light reflecting off her face lifted the pistol and fired two quick shots at her. She saw the small flashes, but never heard the slugs go by, because she was already moving, running through the jumble of weeds and concrete along the bank, frantic to get away from the gun.
Moving just a fraction slower than she might have, had her hands been empty: but a bum and a drunk would never drop a half-full bottle of pinot, not if there was an alternative.
Behind her, a thrashing. Trey fell, saved the bottle by rolling, clambered to her feet, looked back, was shocked to see the killer only fifty feet away and closing. She ran, scrambling, heard him fall and cry out, ran some more, fell, smashed the bottle, cried, "Motherfucker," turned and saw him, still coming, even closer, saw him go down again, ran a few more steps, the darkness now closing down like velvet, looked back, saw him coming, thirty feet away, catching her...
He stopped and fired again, and she imagined that the slug went through her hair; fired again, and now he was so close that she couldn't imagine him missing her, but he did. Running and shooting was hard, and he wasn't trained.
But he was going to catch her. She went down again, felt the rocks under her knees, and he was right there. She dug in her pocket. A helpless Mexican bum in Los Angeles, selling the last thing he owned so he could buy a little food, had given her a six-inch switchblade with a curved yellow plastic handle, for six dollars. She'd carried it for two years, more as a comfort than as a weapon, but now she dug it out, nearly dropped it, pushed the button and the blade sprang out, turned, desperate, not ready to die...
The killer was there, three feet away, and he pointed the gun at her and pulled the trigger... and nothing happened.
He said, almost conversationally, "Shit."
Trey went after him with the knife. She didn't like to fight, but she wasn't bad at it. Not for a woman her size. She knew to shout, too. She screamed, "I'm gonna cut your fuckin' face off, motherfucker..." and she was right at him, slashing at him, and he put up his gun arm to fend her off and she slashed his arm, and he screamed and backed away from her, and she went for his face.
He looked around, backed away, then said, "I'll come and get you." He turned and half ran, half walked, into the dark, back toward the lights of Garfield Avenue.
A minute passed, then another. Trey could hear her own heart beating, hear her breath, harsh, grating as she gasped for air. A car started, out in the wasteland between Garfield and the docks, and she saw the taillights, tall and vertical, with smaller lights below, a scarlet exclamation point.
She looked around: she was only a hundred feet from the dock. Her flight had gone almost nowhere, with all the falls on the rough ground. Still trying to catch her breath, her body trembling with the adrenaline, she made her way slowly back to the dock. The knife was slippery in her grasp, and she thought it must be blood: she pushed the blade back into its groove with the heel of her hand, dropped the knife in her pocket, wiped her hands on her pants.
At the edge of the dock pad, she squatted in the weeds, looking around. No sign of anybody living, just the body stretched on the concrete. After a moment, scared, but powerfully tempted, she moved out of the weeds and then stole toward the body like a hungry cat looking for something to eat.
"Are you okay?" she called out loud. Stupid. The man in the leather coat was dead. She knew he was dead. She saw him killed. He lay unmoving, like a six-foot paperweight, like a leather-jacketed anvil, spread legged on the concrete.
She squatted next to him, groped under his hip for a wallet. There was a thickness there, but no wallet. Next she went into his jacket; and found a wallet, took it, shoved it into the briefcase that lay by the man's hand. She looked around again, stepped away toward the safety of the surrounding darkness, and felt again, in her mind, the sensation of thickness at the man's waist.
Looked around; a nervous cat.
Stole back, knelt again, fumbled at the dead man's belt buckle, uncinched it, unzipped his pants, felt... there. Another strap, elastic. She pulled it through her hands. She couldn't see it, but she could visualize it she'd once had a belt like this of her own, given to her by her father for a postcollege trip to Italy. She found another buckle, freed it, and pulled hard. The man was heavy, but the money belt was made of slippery nylon, and she felt it coming free...
Got it. She was surprised by the weight of it. Couldn't be money, must be papers of some kind. The ship was Russian...
She moved away, carrying the belt and briefcase, slipping back into the dark. She was forty yards from the body when she heard somebody call from the top of the elevator: Hey. HEY! An American voice, not a Russian. She kept moving, faster now, deeper into the dark, choking back the panic.
Her spot was in an abandoned shed off Garfield, six hundred yards from the grain terminal, across the street from the Goodwill store. The shed's door and windows were heavily boarded. Two months earlier, she'd walked around the place, interested, but unsure of how she could get in without attracting the cops.
Then she'd seen the loose concrete blocks in the foundation on the back side of the building. She'd levered the blocks out, pulled herself beneath the shed, and found herself looking at the underside of a board floor. She'd gone back out, scouted the tracks until she found a convenient length of re-rod, and had come back and pried and pounded on the floor boards until she'd gotten inside.
Inside was perfect: empty, dry, and safe. Everything but a phone. The place smelled of creosote, like old railroad ties or phone poles, but she no longer noticed it.
Now she pulled her blocks out and crawled under the shed, up and inside. She had a pack, and inside the pack, an REI candle lantern. She lit it with a book match, then opened the wallet.
Holy shit. She fumbled the bills out, looked at them in wonder: tens, twenties, more than a dozen fifties. She counted: nine hundred and sixty dollars. She was rich.
She pried at other parts of the wallet, but it was full of cards in Russian, and a few photos, small color snaps of a dark-haired woman who looked like she came from a different time, from the fifties or sixties. But then, she thought, maybe that was what Russian women looked like.
And the money belt: papers of some kind, she thought.
She unzipped it and turned it, and thin bricks of cash began falling out. Holy shit. Holy shit. Hundreds. They were all hundreds, still in bank wrappers. She snapped the wrapper off one brick, and counted the bills in the pale yellow light of the candle. Fifty. She counted the bricks: ten. She had fifty thousand dollars in hundred-dollar bills.
She sat motionless for a moment. People would be coming. They'd want the money. But no fuckin' way. Finders keepers. Her jaw tightened: the money was hers.
Trey looked around at her snug little spot, suddenly unattractive in the flickering candlelight. She'd been happy enough here, but now she had things to do, places to go. This place was history. Somebody might have seen her, the cops might be coming...
But she could handle all that, if she had a few minutes. She was a lawyer, for Christ's sake; she'd lived with criminals, and she'd worked with cops. She knew what to do. She was cleaning frantically when, far away a siren started.
Please God: Just a few minutes... just do this one thing for me.
Friday afternoon, a workday off, thunderstorms rumbling to the southwest, the lawn already cut, the soft, pleasant odor of freshly mown grass and gasoline and clean sweat lying on his T-shirt...
Lucas Davenport sprawled on the couch, at peace, his head propped on a foam pillow, a Leinie's on the coffee table. Letty West, his twelve-year-old ward, was canoeing with a school group; his nine-month-old son slept quietly in his crib at the top of the stairs; the housekeeper was out shopping.
He was alone, and he was doing something he did only secretly, with guilty pleasure he was watching TV golf, his mind floating like a hummingbird in the dim space between sleep and the British golf-announcer's hushed voice. This was the kind of quiet, private place where one might feel comfortable giving one's nuts a thorough scratch.
He was doing that when his wife drove through the garage door: WHANG!
The impact jammed the house like an earthquake.
The initial WHANG was followed a half second later by the screech of tearing metal, a second, smaller impact, and a sudden, short-lived silence. Into the short-lived silence, Lucas said, aloud, the heels of his hands pressed into his eye sockets, "Jesus God, don't let it have landed on the fuckin' Porsche."
In the next half second, the kid started screaming from his crib upstairs, the phone began to ring, and all the pleasurable ambience, the golf, the odor of the grass and gasoline, vanished like a pickpocket in a subway station.
Given the sequence the whang, the impact, the ripping noise, and the second impact, Lucas knew that his wife had just driven through the garage door, when the garage door was not entirely open. A few weeks earlier, he'd told her, "You keep coming in the driveway like that, you're gonna run into the garage door."
She sniffed: "I've got the reflexes of a surgeon." That was true, because she was one.
"Combined with the driving skills of an anteater," Lucas said. "You're gonna hit the garage door and rip it off the ceiling."
"Excuse me?" she said. "Why don't you worry about something real, like weapons of mass destruction?"
As the kid continued screaming and the phone continued ringing, Lucas launched himself from the couch and ran barefoot through the kitchen, ignoring both kid and phone, down the hallway to the garage access door. He burst into the garage and found his wife's Honda Prelude beneath the overhead door, which had come off the rails and dropped straight down onto her car. The Porsche, in the next stall, appeared to be untouched.
Inside the Honda, Weather was on her hands and knees, hands on the passenger seat, knees on the driver's seat, ass impolitely up in the air. The driver's-side car door was pinned by the wreckage of the overhead garage door, and she was trying to get out the passenger side. Lucas stepped around the green John Deere riding mower and pulled open the door. "Are you okay?"
Weather rarely cried. She considered crying an insult to the feminine mystique. But her lip trembled: "The door went up too slow."
Lucas had been married only a short time, but his history with women had been intense. He knew exactly what to say. He said, "Maybe there's a brownout or something, and there wasn't enough power. I was afraid you'd decapitated yourself. That you were hurt."
This, instead of screaming, "THAT'S BECAUSE YOU DROVE INTO THE DRIVEWAY AT FIFTY MILES AN HOUR, YOU FUCKIN' MORON."
Weather crawled over the stick shift and out the passenger side. The phone stopped ringing and she turned her head toward the house, her eyes narrowing: "What's wrong with Sam?" They could hear the kid crying through the open door to the kitchen.
"The noise scared him. The whole house jumped when you hit the door," Lucas said. "He'd been sleeping fine."
A neighbor, a chubby balding man in cargo shorts and a golf shirt, came wandering up the driveway. He carried a brown paper grocery bag with a head of lettuce poking out the top, and a querulous look. "Jeez, hit the garage door, huh?"
"The door went up too slow," Weather said. "The garage-door opener didn't work right."
The neighbor nodded, and his eyes took on a duplicitous glaze:
"Sometimes the drive chain slips. You gotta watch out for it," he said. He'd been married for three decades. Then, to Lucas, "When I saw the door come down, I was afraid it'd landed on the Porsche."
"Oh, boy." Lucas looked at the deep green 911 S4 crouched in the next space. "Never crossed my mind until now."
The neighbor said to Weather, "Thank God you're okay," his eyes involuntarily drifting back to the Porsche.
"Thank God," Lucas agreed.
The collision took an hour to straighten out. One of Lucas's older friends, a narrow man named Sloan, came over to help. The Honda, they agreed, was probably totaled: every piece of sheet metal on the car had at least one ugly gash, dent, or nasty scratch. The garage-door rail guides had punched holes in the roof and hood.
The State Farm adjuster told them where to have the Prelude taken for an assessment. "Thank God it wasn't the nine-eleven," she said. The garage-door company, the original contractors, couldn't send anyone out until Monday, but promised to fix the door before Monday evening. "Happens all the time," the garage-door guy said. "Usually you're backing up, but the door doesn't get clear."
"Wasn't me, it was my wife," Lucas said.
"Always is," the garage-door guy said.
The Porsche was eased out into the driveway, clear of the wreckage. Lucas brought tools up from the basement, along with a jack. He and Sloan jacked the door up off the Honda, pushed the car out of the garage, and took the damaged door the rest of the way down.
"I hope you didn't blame Weather," Sloan said.
"I know the rules," Lucas said.
"It was just a car and a door," Sloan said. "You got insurance up to your neck."
"She missed the Porsche by a foot," Lucas said. Sloan winced: "Jesus."
When they were done clearing the wreckage, they went inside for beer, and a subdued Weather, the baby on her shoulder, told Lucas, "There was a message on the phone. Rose Marie wants you to call back right away."
"Hmm." Rose Marie Roux was the commissioner of Public Safety, and Lucas's boss. The baby peered at him, and sucked at his thumb knuckle. He had Lucas's blue eyes, and lived in a cloud of odor, equal parts milk-burp, leaky diaper, and Johnson's baby powder. "Maybe it's something."
Weather said, "Something about a dead Russian in Duluth."
"That happened a couple of weeks ago," Lucas said. "The guy shot in the grain elevator?"
"Better than in the heart," Weather said. She considered herself a syntactical enforcer.
"Probably a spy," Sloan said, tipping his bottle toward Lucas. "You're probably going into espionage."
Lucas called Rose Marie. Behind him, he heard Weather say, "I don't know what happened. I hit the garage door opener, but it just didn't open fast enough."
"The chain slips sometimes," Sloan said. "Or maybe you had a temporary brownout."
"That's what Gene said, from next door. The chain thing. I thought he was patronizing me."
"No way," Sloan said. "That shit happens all the time. People call nine-one-one..."
Rose Marie answered her private cell phone: "Lucas? You know that dead Russian in Duluth?"
"Yeah," Lucas said. "He's a spy."
A moment of silence. Then, "How'd you know?"
Lucas Davenport was a tall, tough, rangy man, dark complected, blue eyed, and tanned with the summer. A few white scars were distributed around the tan an old bullet wound in the throat, and trailing through an eyebrow and down one cheek, what looked like a romantic knife slash from the docks of Marseilles, but was actually a cut from a fishing-leader snap-back. And there were others, the hide punctures of a rambunctious life.
Lucas ran the Office of Regional Research at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, after years of working intelligence and homicide in Minneapolis. His brief was to look at interesting and, usually, but not always, violent crimes, and to "fix shit" for the governor. He'd done well at it, in the six months he'd been in the job.
The horizon was not without clouds. He was forty-six and worried that he was too old to have an infant son, with a wife who was probably plotting another pregnancy; too inexperienced and not hard-nosed enough to handle his ward, Letty, who was fast becoming a teenager; that he was too rigid to relax into what was a late first marriage. As a cop, he still loved the hunt, but suspected that twenty-five years of contact with violent death and brutal criminals was beginning to corrode something essential inside him; the cynicism was rising like water in the basement. He'd seen it in other cops, always laughing at the wrong time, always skeptical about good deeds, suspicious of generosity. And as a longtime athlete, he could feel the years wearing on him: he'd lost a step.
Maybe, he thought, he should do something else. The trouble was, he couldn't figure out what that might be. Weather suggested that he go back to school, but he couldn't think what he might study, nor, from what he'd seen of educational bureaucracy, was he sure that he could put up with the bullshit.
He didn't have to work. At the height of the Internet boom, in the late nineties, he'd sold a small simulations software company for more money than he would ever need. He'd sold out because he wasn't a businessman, and the idea of beginning another business didn't interest him.
On the other hand, he couldn't sit on his ass. He wasn't made that way, and neither was Weather. If ever they had marital problems, he thought, it wouldn't be over the usual problems of sex or money, it'd be over work. They both worked all the time. He wasn't sure that either of them could stop.
So: he was hung up and they were talking about it.
At least he had a spy to think about.
Lucas and Weather and Letty and Sam, with Ellen Jansen, the housekeeper, lived on Mississippi River Boulevard in St. Paul, more or less halfway between the downtown areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul. From the master bedroom, on the second floor, Lucas could see the steel-colored surface of the Mississippi in the gorge that separated the house from Minneapolis.
The house was new. Lucas had worked out the design with an architect, had torn down his old house, and put up the new one. They all called it the Big New House.
After his brief chat with Rose Marie, Lucas went up to the bedroom, changed out of his T-shirt and athletic shorts into jeans, a golf shirt and loafers, and a light wool-knit sportcoat to cover the.45 clipped to his belt. From his house to downtown St. Paul was fifteen minutes; the Department of Public Safety was located in a converted department store. A half hour after he spoke to Rose Marie on the telephone, he was walking down the hall to her office, trying to scrub a spot of garage-door guide-rail grease from his thumb.
Her receptionist said, "I hear Weather ran through the garage door."
"Yeah. Door fell on her car."
"You gonna sue?"
The receptionist shrugged: "Gotta be somebody." She touched an intercom button. "Lucas is here."
Rose Marie Roux was an old friend and boss; she and Lucas went back twenty years, in a couple of different jobs. She'd been the Minneapolis chief of police when a shift in administration impelled her into the state job. She'd convinced Lucas to move with her.
Rose Marie smoked too much and was known to take a drink and use coarse language; she despised exercise and guns. She was working with an assistant on a PowerPoint presentation for a legislative committee when Lucas stuck his head in.
"Come on in," she said. To her assistant: "I've got to talk to Lucas. Why don't you redo the pies on the rif and the restruck and I'll call you. Fifteen minutes."
Lucas dropped into a visitor's chair as the assistant gathered up his papers and left. "What the hell is a pie and a restruck?" Everybody in the department knew what a rif was a reduction in force. Five percent across the board, the result of one of the occasional budget crises that struck between tax increases.
"Pie chart and restructure," Rose Marie said, moving around behind her desk. She had just turned sixty. Her hair was flyaway, and she was wearing a loose gray skirt and white blouse. A gray jacket hung in a niche in the corner. "These days, you don't know PowerPoint, you ain't shit. What're you up to?"
Lucas shrugged. "Got that thing down in Worthington. It's ninety-nine percent that the Carter kid did it, but his family covered him with an attorney. We can't even talk to him. Unless we come up with a witness, we're not going anywhere."
A wrinkle appeared in her forehead. "But he did it?"
"Yup. Michelle told a girlfriend that she thought she was pregnant, and that she'd told him so. He didn't want to deal with it, so he strangled her and threw her body off the bridge. But he was smart about it. He wasn't supposed to see her that night. He snuck out of the ball game and picked her up. All kinds of people saw him at the game, in the stands, under the stands, before, during, and after. Nobody can pin down any time that he was gone, and nobody saw him pick her up. She probably slipped out to meet him. So..."
"Unless he has a conscience or somebody in his family does," Lucas said. "To tell you the truth, I think he's a little psychopath. Maybe even the family is fooled."
Rose Marie sighed. "Shoot. I would have liked to have gotten that one."
"If she really had been pregnant, we could have done a DNA on the fetus, and that would have given us some kind of motive, but..." He spread his hands, a gesture of frustration. "We can't even prove the pregnancy angle."
"What're you gonna do?" Rose Marie lit up an illegal act and blew smoke toward the ceiling, relaxing with the nicotine. "Maybe something will happen."
Lucas nodded. Sometimes, something did. A witness wanders in, the killer blurts out a confession to a friend, who goes to the cops.
"What else?" Rose Marie asked. She had a can of pencils on her desk, chose an unsharpened yellow one, and gave it an experimental twiddle.
Lucas continued: "Del is working the McDonald's thing. He hates it, he's running a forklift all day. We still don't know what the fuck is going on. The Bruins' auditors claim another thousand bucks went out the door last week, right under Del's nose, and he says it didn't, and they put him on the night shift, but there are only a few guys on the night shift and they'd all have to be in on it..."
"That could be," Rose Marie said.
"I don't know," Lucas said. "Anyway, we're working it. And Dannie's trawling for that pimp in the Brainerd festival killing."
"How's Del's leg?" Del Capslock, one of Lucas's investigators, had been shot in the leg a few months earlier, and a bone had been broken.
"Still hurts, still goes to rehab," Lucas said.
"Maybe he came back too soon," Rose Marie suggested.
"Nah, he's okay. He was going nuts, sitting on the couch."
Rose Marie twiddled the pencil for a few more seconds, then tried a tentative drumbeat with the eraser end. "I don't care about Brainerd so much," she said finally. "Well get the guy, it's just a matter of time. But the Bruin family and their employees put thirty thousand dollars into the governor's campaign last cycle. If Del can break that..."
"He will, sooner or later. If there's anything really going on. I gotta wonder, what are the chances it's some kind of tax scam by the Bruins?"
"Ah, Jesus, don't go there," she said. "Besides, I talked to Elroy Bruin, and this is no tax scam. He was pissed."
"So what are you doing?" The pencil drumbeat picked up.
Lucas shrugged. "Spent some time down in Worthington, trying to figure out the Carter kid. Then, the feds are worried about stuff coming across the border from Manitoba; I've been talking to Lapham up in Kittson County about it. He doesn't want to spend a dime out of his budget. He wants to set up a task force, so we'd have to pay for it. I've been trying to put it off."
"Keep putting it off. We got no money for nothin'."
"Absolutely speaking, or relatively speaking?"
"Relatively. I'm not nearly stupid enough to be absolutely broke." More twiddling, and a couple of more drumbeats, then, "So I could get you free for a week or two you personally?"
"For the spy?"
"We've got a Russian coming in," she began. "The State Department called the governor..."
The dead Russian, she said, had been named Oleg Moshalov, according to his seaman's papers, but FBI counterintelligence had identified him as a Rodion Oleshev, once an agent for the Russian KGB. They'd spotted and printed him when he'd been stationed in Washington as a junior attache in the late 1980s.
"The feds don't know what he was doing in Duluth, or why he was doing it. The Russians say he was fired during the big government layoffs in the nineties and he joined the merchant marine. He was supposedly the first officer on this ship," Rose Marie said. She snubbed out her cigarette, went to the window, opened it, fanned some smoke toward the opening. "The feds say that's bullshit. They say he was on an intelligence mission and somebody murdered him. They interviewed the ship's captain and crew, and they all said he really was the first officer... Well. Read the report." She stepped back to her desk and touched a file folder, and nudged it an inch closer to Lucas.
He didn't move. "Okay. What then?"
"Nothing much, for a while," she sat down again, heavily. "The Russians denied everything, and the case was being handled by some Joe Blow at their consulate as a routine misadventure. The investigation was a dead end. Then, out of the blue, two days ago, the Russians call up the FBI and start screaming for action. Turns out that the dead guy's father is a big shot in the oil ministry it took them that long to figure out who Oleshev really was. The father talked to Putin and now their embassy is jumping up and down and the State Department's got the vapors. The Russians are sending an observer to see what the FBI and the Duluth cops have been doing. He's scheduled into Duluth on Monday afternoon."
"What's everybody been doing?"
"The usual workup, but the case isn't going anywhere," Rose Marie said. "It looks like a planned ambush. The feds, the local guys in Duluth, think it's Russian on Russian. And they don't care about the State Department. Not much, anyway."
"A cluster fuck."
"Exactly. Nobody knows who's doing what to whom. Mitford and I thought you could go up there. When this Russian arrives, take him on a tour of the crime scene and fill him in on what everybody's done."
"Mitford wants it fixed." Mitford was the governor's top aide, what the newspaper called his go-to guy.
"He wants everything made nice," Rose Marie said. "He wants people to cooperate with each other, and to shake hands and agree that this was a tragedy, and that what could be done, was done."
Rose Marie stopped talking, and for a moment, they examined each other across her desk: the years really were piling up, Lucas thought. Rose Marie had crossed the physical border that comes in the late fifties or early sixties, when people begin to look old. Not that she'd particularly worry about it. Like Lucas and Weather, she worked all the time.
"So you want me to do PR," Lucas said into the silence.
"Do me a favor," Rose Marie said. She nudged the file another inch closer to Lucas. "Go up and look around. See if you can figure something out. If you can, that's fine. If not, fuck it just make us look good. Right now, we look bad and everybody's annoyed. And we've got this budget thing on our back. The goddamned legislature..."
There was no big hurry to the job. Lucas called Duluth from Rose Marie's outer office, talked to the cop who was covering the homicide, and made arrangements to meet him on Monday morning. Then he called the Minneapolis office of the FBI, left a message for the special agent in charge, who was, he was told, "in Kenora, discussing border problems with his opposite number in the RCMP."
"In an office or out in a boat?" Lucas asked. The SAC had been in the newspaper for taking a fly-fishing record for northern pike on one-pound tippet.
"I have no information about boats, nor would I rule boats out," said the fed who'd answered the phone. "I am simply designated to answer phone calls on a weekend when the temperature is eighty-four degrees, the skies are partly cloudy, and there is little or no wind to influence the flight of a golf ball. He'll be in the office Monday."
Lucas and Weather spent a quiet Saturday at home. The missing garage door was a constant irritant. The house looked as though somebody had punched out one of its teeth.
"Big New House looks hurt," Weather said, as they went out for croissants in the morning, leaving Sam with the housekeeper. Later, they spent an hour at a pottery show given by one of Lucas's old flames Weather only cared what he was doing now, she claimed. So they looked at pots and had a nice chat with Jael, the flame, who was looking very good, and who made goo-goo noises at Sam. Sometime during the tour, it occurred to Lucas that maybe he was being shown off with a baby on his back... then he thought, nah, Weather wouldn't do that.
That afternoon, Lucas took Sam for a stroll. Actually, he took him for a five-mile run on the bike path that ran along the top of the river valley. Sam was tucked in a high-tech, big-wheeled, three-hundred-dollar tricycle stroller, designed, Weather said, expressly for yuppies. A few minutes after he got back, Letty called from canoe camp. Her school had an introductory week, involving four days of consciousness-raising in canoes, which is what you get from Episcopalian private schools, and said that her group was headed into the Boundary Waters the next morning, right after church.
Late in the afternoon, Lucas read the file that Rose Marie had given him. The file had been compiled by the FBI, and included findings both by local FBI agents and the Duluth police. There was a narrative on the discovery of the body, and the search of the area around the dock, as well as interviews with the elevator worker who'd discovered the body and with members of the ship's crew. There were photos of the victim both at the scene and at the medical examiner's office.
The dead man had been shot three times and fragments of two hollow-point slugs had been recovered from the body, enough to establish the killer's weapon as a nine millimeter. The fragments were too badly damaged to match to a particular gun. One interesting note was that three shells had been found, and the shells were old-1950s vintage. They'd been polished: there were no prints.
A man was spotted running from the dock area just as the body was discovered by a worker at the grain terminal. The man was reported as wearing a long coat. A scrawled note by the Duluth investigator, on the edge of the typed report, said, "Kid? What was coat? Check temp."
The report noted that the dead man's body apparently had been searched. The Russian's wallet and papers were missing, and maybe a money belt from around his waist the man's pants had been loosened, and the medical examiner found elastic-band marks in the skin around his waist that were not consistent with his underpants, and which might have been consistent with a money belt.
There were details: the Duluth cops had found a fresh trail through the weeds along the lakeshore, which showed signs of a number of falls, which they thought might represent a chase, which seemed odd, in what otherwise looked like an execution. There was no question that the dead man had been killed where he was found: there were bullet impressions on the concrete under his head.
Lucas mulled it all over: there was information to work with, which wasn't always the case. He began to put together a list of questions.
Saturday evening, they barbecued: Sloan and his wife came over, and Del and his wife Del worked in Lucas's office and was investigating the McDonald's thefts. Sister Mary Joseph, wearing street clothes, showed up with a post-doc student in psychology, who'd wanted to meet Weather and talk about cranial-facial surgery.
Earlier in the summer, Lucas had met a white-haired Georgia man on a flight between Chicago and Atlanta. The man was wearing a burgundy-colored baseball cap that said Big Pig Jig on the front, and it turned out that he was a barbecue judge.
In the ensuing conversation, James Lever of Tifton, Georgia, recommended that Lucas try his special competition Pig Jig spareribs. Getting the ingredients together had been a pain in the ass, cutting the membrane off the bone with a dull knife had been a pain in the ass, marinating the ribs for two hours had been in a pain in the ass, and Weather had insisted that they go the whole route and grind their own spices, which had been interesting in its own way, leaving the kitchen redolent with garlic, fennel, ginger, oregano, basil, and marjoram. And though she'd insisted on going the whole way, Weather quailed at the idea of mixing the two cans of Coca-Cola with a bottle of Chianti, but Lucas, in his turn, had insisted.
Just before getting off the plane, Lever had said that the ribs should be accompanied by Miller Genuine Draft beer, "because if you drink some fruity Mexican beer with these ribs, you'll be fart'n' up a storm."
Lucas refused to drink Miller Genuine Draft on moral grounds, and so they made do with a case of Leinie's.
While Lucas was barbecuing, Weather roasted sweet corn, still in the husk, in the oven; at the end of it, the kitchen looked like Anzio Beach, but everybody agreed the food was wonderful.
Sunday was even slower than Saturday, but still a great day: blue skies, cool enough to make your face and skin feel good. On Sunday afternoon, Lucas and Weather took a long walk down to a bookstore off Ford Parkway and along the way talked about what he should do.
"I like working for Rose Marie, but the governor... the governor. After a while, it feels a little like prostitution," Lucas said. "This is the first time I've felt sleazy. Chasing people down for political reasons."
"You're putting the same old assholes into jail," Weather pointed out.
"Yeah, but not because anybody gives a shit it's because the politicians don't want the TV people talking about crime waves, or because some out-state sheriff fucked it up and we go bail them out so he'll owe us."
"If you go back to school..."
"Listen, you've got a B.A."
"Yeah. Not worth the paper it's printed on."
"Sure it is, because it means you don't have to go through a lot of other shit to study something you're interested in. I was thinking: you really liked building the Big New House. That's the happiest I've ever seen you, when you were doing that. You drove everybody a little crazy, but look at the house. What a great house."
"Not that great. If I find the guy that sold me the front door, I'll cut his nuts off. And how in the hell...?"
"Shut up for a minute. You loved doing it. Building the house. Have you ever thought about doing something in construction? Building custom houses or something?"
They walked along for a few seconds, and then Lucas said, "No, I never thought about it."
"You'd be good at it. And I think you'd be interested in it. You'd be... building something. Think about driving around town in your old age, looking at the neat houses you'd built."
They walked along a bit more and Lucas finally sighed and said, "Something to think about."
Weather said, "That's encouraging."
"Ever since you've gotten into this mood, you've pushed away everything I've suggested. This is the first time you said anything remotely positive."
"Think about it."
By Sunday evening, Lucas was ready to go. As the evening news ended, the FBI's special agent in charge called. "Got back from Kenora an hour ago, I just picked up my messages," he said. "You're heading up to Duluth?"
"Yeah. Whattaya got going up there?"
"That's what I want to talk to you about. Could you come by in an hour or so?"
"I'm leaving tonight..."
"Just need a few minutes. We've got a guy in from Washington who wants to hook up with you."
"It can't wait?"
"See you in an hour," Lucas said.
Lucas had always had an ambiguous relationship with the FBI. They were supposed to be the elite and they did do some good work and they acted that way. Even their offices reminded Lucas of their superior status. The offices were like spaceship interiors seen in the movies; sealed airlocks with only the initiated allowed inside.
The FBI's attitudes, their separateness, their secrecy, their military ethic, had filtered down to state and local cops, and eventually were taken for granted. Police stations, once relatively open, had become fortresses, places that people feared and that they hurried past.
But local cops weren't the FBI, and they didn't do what the FBI did. FBI agents worked in offices and did intricate investigations; they weren't on the street. But as cops began to develop FBI-like attitudes, and to build FBI-like fortresses, as they sealed themselves away in patrol cars, as they fended off contact with the public, they began to resemble a paramilitary force, rather than peace officers.
When Lucas was a kid, cops were part of his neighborhood, with jobs just like the mailman and the teacher. By the time Lucas had joined the Minneapolis cops, that old workaday attitude was disappearing cops were creating their own bars, holding their own cop parties, picking up privileges that weren't available to outsiders.
That all began, Lucas thought, with the spreading influence of the feds, and he didn't like it. It was bad for the country and bad for cops, he thought. And he thought it again as he checked through the airlock and was buzzed into the FBI offices in Minneapolis.
Charles Peyton was a small man, thin, blue eyed, wind-burned with chapped lips. He wore jeans and a long-sleeved outdoorsy blue shirt, with the sleeves rolled up over the elbows, the rolls held in place by a little buttoned tab on each sleeve; nobody ever called him Charley.
His feet, in expensive-looking leather ankle boots, were up on one corner of his desk. He stood up when Lucas was ushered into the office, said, "Lucas, how're you doing?" and reached across his desk to shake hands. Another man, heavier, lazy eyed, red faced, and blond, sat off to the right on a leather chair, and said, "Barney Howard," and lifted a hand.
Peyton pointed at a visitor's chair and asked, "Can I get you a coffee or a Coke?"
Lucas settled down in the chair and said, "No, thanks... What's going on?"
"Have you read the file? We sent a Xerox over to Rose Marie."
"Yeah," Lucas said. "Mostly forensics."
"We did what we could, on the technical end, but there wasn't much," Peyton said. "Nothing moving."
"How many investigators are working it?"
Peyton leaned back, as if chewing over what he was going to say, then leaned forward again. "Look, you're a smart guy. That's not moonshine, that's the fact of the matter, and you've worked with some of our big guys..."
"Louis Mallard," Howard chipped in. "He says you're a friend."
Lucas tipped his head: Maybe. Then again, maybe not.
"We've got some people up there. Some counterintelligence people," Peyton said. "They're working the case, but not as criminal investigators. They're not homicide cops."
"They work with you?" Lucas asked Howard.
"Yeah." Howard nodded, smiled, and showed large square teeth. "They're doing a lot of analysis, looking at people coming and going through the port, that sort of thing. Computer stuff. Looking at people we know who are close to the Russians. We've been keeping up with the Duluth police through the office here, in Minneapolis but when we heard that you were going up there, we thought we'd talk to you directly."
"About what you find, if anything. What you think. What you suppose. We're interested in speculation," he said. "We won't interfere with your investigation and if you catch the killer, that's fine. But if you find anything else that might suggest a Russian intelligence operation if you find anything at all we'd like to hear about it before the newspapers. For your protection and the protection of our people up there."
"Have your guys picked up anything on the murder?"
"We poke around and hear all this stuff," Peyton said. "We hear that the dead guy was an intelligence agent. We hear that he really was a sailor. We hear that he may have had a connection with the Russian Mafia, or that he was operating for his old man in the oil business. We hear all this stuff, and I'd give you even money that he picked up the wrong woman in some beer joint and got himself shot. But we just don't know."
"The shells that Duluth picked up were older than I am," Lucas said. "That does sound like a beer-joint job."
"But it was one in the heart and two in the head, dead-on, and that sounds like a pro," Howard replied. "There was no heat-of-passion. He was ambushed. He was hit."
"But if it was an assassination, why'd they roll him?" Peyton asked Howard. "Computer disks? What?"
"I don't know," Howard said. "Could be anything. But if they were planning to roll him, why'd they take him in the middle of the biggest lit-up area out there? The cab driver says he dropped him off in the dark, where that track ended. If they'd hit him there, they might not have found him yet. They could have rolled him in peace."
Then Peyton said, "Americans didn't like nine-millimeter pistols in the fifties, back when the shells were made. I mean, there were war souvenirs around, Lugers and P-38s and so on, but not many Americans were buying nine millimeters as new guns."
"What does that mean?" Lucas asked.
"It means that if an American did it, it was an odd gun to have around. But the Russians had a lot of nines, especially after the war. Maybe one was stashed on the ship, but never used. The ship was almost as old as the shells. That makes some kind of sense to me," Peyton said.
"But the shells were American," Howard said.
"But the guy on the ship didn't hear any shots, which suggests the weapon was silenced, which suggests it was a pro job," Peyton said.
Lucas was amused. "You guys are arguing both sides of this," he said.
"We're confused," Howard said. "We keep going around in circles. This killing was weird. That's why it'd be nice if you'd stay in touch. We'd really like to know what's going on."
Lucas nodded. "Sure."
Another long pause.
"You don't sound enthusiastic," Howard said.
Lucas stood up, took a turn around his chair, jingling change in his pockets. "I gotta ask," he said. "What are the chances that your guys did it? You know, that the guy had the plans to the moon rocket taped to his dick and somebody in the CIA killed him, and pulled his pants down to get the plans. What I'm asking is... what if we did it?"
Howard shook his head. "We didn't."
"Boy Scout's honor?" Lucas asked skeptically.
"You'll have to take my word for it but I checked," Howard said. "Our people don't really kill other people. And if we did, you're about the last guy we'd want investigating it."
Flattery, Lucas thought; makes you feel warm and fuzzy, unless it makes you feel manipulated and used.
"So I see these guys on TV, CIA guys, they've got Ml6s and they're wearing these rag things on their heads..."
"We don't kill people. Not on this kind of deal," Howard insisted. "We have paramilitaries, you'd see them in Afghanistan or Iraq, everybody knows that. But we don't do murder. If somebody did, I'd know about it. You can't keep that kind of thing secret."
"Not even in the CIA?"
"Nowhere. They'd be shit-faced panicked and I'd get a feel, you know? All I got from this one was confusion. Nobody at the CIA even knew who this asshole was, until we told them. And we didn't pay any attention until the Russians called us up."
"Which makes it less likely that it's a big secret mission," Lucas said. "The Russians calling up like that."
"You'd think so," said Howard. "But Russia is so fucked up right now that their right hand doesn't know what their left hand is doing. Maybe the wrong hand is the one that's calling us up."
They thought about that for a moment, then Lucas asked Peyton, "Anything else?"
Peyton said, "We've got a young guy up there, named Andy Harmon. He's coordinating with a couple of our auditors. He's a book guy but he can get to me or Barney in a hurry. If you need phone checks, or research, like that, we'd be happy to help. Something we can do on a computer. If it gets serious, then we can put some guys in."
"You got six zillion guys..." Lucas said.
"All but three of them are reading Terrorism for Dummies books. The whole goddamn bureau..." His voice trailed away; he didn't want to say it out loud. "Anyway, we don't have a lot of time for a small-change antique Russian operation."
Lucas shrugged. "Okay. I'll stay in touch."
"Our guy will call you when you get there," said Howard. "He'll give you some contact numbers. Good luck."
A whole lot of nothin' going on, Lucas thought, as he checked out of the place. Nothing but a murder. Small change.
Back home again, Lucas finished packing, kissed Weather and the baby, and talked to the housekeeper about dealing with the garage-door contractor. She told him not to worry.
At ten o'clock, as Weather was going to bed she got up early every day that she operated, and that was almost every weekday Lucas tossed a duffel bag on the passenger seat of his Acura truck, slipped an aging Black Crowes album into the CD player, and headed up I-35 for Duluth.
Spies, he thought.
Carl Walther was hunting. In black jeans, a Mossy Oak camouflage shirt, and a ball cap, he moved almost invisibly through the night, closing in on the woman as she trudged down West Fourth Street, pushing her shopping cart with a rattle-bang-bang-bang over the cracked sidewalk.
He liked the night: liked the cool air, the silence, the odors of foliage and damp soil that rose in the darkness. Liked the taste of salt in his mouth as he completed the stalk.
He remembered the knife, remembered the slash she'd taken at him. He could feel the tightness in his arm, the wound still healing. He told himself to run cool: but the fact was, he felt almost nothing. Grandpa still worried that he might become tense, that he might panic, that he might somehow be overwhelmed by his mission. Wouldn't happen. He listened to his heart. Seventy-two beats a minute. He might be watching the evening news; he smiled at his own cool.
There were a couple of girls at school who would be surprised to see him like this, swift, dark, deadly. He could feel how impressed they would be, if they knew. He had a little fantasy of a girl being told, saying, Carl? Our Carl? There was always something about him, his eyes, like a tiger's...
He pushed the fantasy away as he moved down under the row of yellow lights like a shadow on the wall, listening to the racket of the woman's shopping cart, bang, spang, rattle and knock. He'd spotted her earlier in the day. As soon as he saw the long coat, he knew he'd found her. He remembered the wool, the strange hairy feeling of wool on a warm summer's night.
Had to be right. Duluth was too small for two female bums in long woolen coats. He'd been patrolling the city every couple of nights for two weeks; had to be her. The woman turned the corner. He'd been waiting for that if she was pushing up the hill, she was less likely to get away from him. He was in shape; she was a tramp.
He moved quickly now, took the nails out of his pocket, flicked out the wire. He was a good student, and Grandpa was a good teacher.
Two weeks earlier, the teacher had had his first real test...
Grandma and Grandpa Walther lived in a gray two-bedroom shingle-sided house in Hibbing, Minnesota, an hour's drive northwest of Duluth. The house sat squarely on a postage-stamp lawn. The lean grass was neatly mowed, but struggling for life against the bad soil and limited sunlight.
In back, a freestanding one-car garage leaned to the southeast, away from the winter's wind. Inside the garage was a six-year-old Taurus station wagon with seventeen thousand miles on it.
Grandpa, at ninety-two, still drove, eyes sharp, his mind snapping up the landscape. Grandpa had a wreath of white hair around his wide head, but was pink and bald on top, with a few brown age spots. His nose was wide and short, genes from the steppe; his shoulders had been wide, but had narrowed since his mid-eighties. He had an old-man's ass and skinny legs. Losing it, he said.
Grandma, at ninety-one, was weaker both in mind and body. She spent her days in a wheelchair, only dimly aware of life. Her hands shook and her head trembled and the skin under her eyes had collapsed into loops that hung down into her cheeks. She'd had cataracts removed from both eyes, and though she could apparently see well enough, her eyes always had a distant look, as though she were peering into the past. Her arms were mostly skin and bone, and her she had no calves at the back of her legs.
In the morning, Carl would come over before school, and they'd move her into the bathroom, and Grandpa would close the door and take care of her, put her in her diaper. Then Carl would help seat her in her chair, and Grandpa would feed her. The rest of the day she sat in front of the TV; occasionally, she'd look at Grandpa and smile, and say something. Usually, whatever she said was unintelligible, and sometimes seemed to be in Russian.
While Grandma sat in her chair, waiting for death, Grandpa was almost always on the enclosed back porch, under the best lamp in the house, reading, or working problems on his chessboard.
But not this night.
This was the night that Moshalov surely not his real name, but the only one that Grandpa had would be eliminated.
This night, Grandpa waited by the front door, mostly standing, sometimes sitting on a bar stool. Sometimes breathing hard, remembering the days when he hunted through the streets of Moscow, no older than Carl, cutting down the enemies of the state. Back in action now: the action felt so good. A little extra piece of life, in a life gone gray.
When Carl Walther arrived in his Chevy, parking in the street, Grandpa turned his head to Grandma and said, "He's here." Grandma stirred, but said nothing. On the television, David Letterman was working over the president.
When Carl came to the door, Grandpa opened it, looked once up and down the street, pulled Carl inside, and shut the door. His face was pink with excitement: "How did it go?"
"As planned," Carl said. He added, "Almost." He was seventeen, blond, good-looking; long faced, round jawed. He wore an athletic jacket without a letter.
Carl nodded, turned his face away, glancing out the front window. "I parked near the terminal, on a side road, and walked through the dark, maybe three hundred yards. Like you said: thirty yards, get down, watch and listen. Then thirty more, watch and listen," Carl said. He had ordered his thoughts: he'd been trained to report. "There were some people on the stern of the boat, one or two, but nobody coming or going. There was some light. Moshalov arrived right on time. He must have dropped the car at the airport, like he said, and come right straight back to the boat. I met him in the dark outside the terminal. I shot him once in the heart and then twice in the forehead, just as specified. Then... there was a woman."
"A woman." Grandpa tried to be calm, but his round rimless glasses glittered in the lamplight and gave him a frightening aspect, a skull-like harshness, and his old-man's hands trembled.
"She was sitting in the weeds along the bank. Drinking, I think. I never saw her or heard her before I shot Moshalov, and I'd been there for a while. Then she stood up, saw me, and started running. I went after her. I fired two shots and then the gun jammed." He was lying, now. He'd fired the gun wildly and had run out of ammunition too soon. He hurried on. "The gun misfired; I cleared it and tried to fire again, and got a misfire on the last round. She had a knife and slashed me with it; I had to decide. I left."
"I got a bad cut," Carl said. "I need to get it sewed up." There was no visible blood Carl was wearing a navy blue sweatshirt but when he pulled up the sleeve, and peeled away the newspaper pack he'd used to cover the wound, Grandpa winced.
"Well have to come up with a reason for that," Grandpa said. "For Jan."
"Mom doesn't have to know about it," Carl said. "She'd blab all over the place."
"In case she finds out," Grandpa said.
Carl nodded. "Okay. I was washing windows in your basement and I broke one and got cut. I didn't think it was so bad for a while," he said. "That's why we didn't come get it sewed up right away."
Grandpa nodded: "That should work. We'll break a window. I'll go with you to the emergency room."
Grandpa turned and looked at Grandma. "We're going to leave you for a while, Melodic We have to go to the hospital."
She stared at the television.
"The random factor," Grandpa continued, his eyes drifting as he thought about it. "The woman. There's almost always a random factor. Somebody once said that few plans survive contact with the enemy."
"I didn't see her..."
Grandpa wagged a finger at him. "Don't apologize. You did well. You had to make a decision, and you made it. A conservative decision, but you were there, you knew all the factors. Now: Is there any way she can identify you? Other than the cut?"
"There was some light. She saw my face. But with the bad gun, and she had that knife, I thought it'd be better to go back later, if we had to. Get some new ammo, and take her out later." Carl had been nervous about the report, about the lying. He'd panicked, he thought. Not all his fault, he'd been surprised still, better not to talk about it. He fished the pistol out of his pocket. "Should we get rid of this? I don't see how anyone could find us, but if they did..."
"We'll keep it for now," Grandpa said, taking the gun. He worked the action and a shell popped out. He fumbled it, and Carl picked it up off the floor and handed it to him. He looked at the primer cap, saw that it had been hit by a firing pin, but hadn't gone off. "We should have gotten new ammunition for it. But it worked okay in the woods... mostly."
"What about the woman?" Carl asked.
"Finish your report," Grandpa said. "Another five minutes won't make a difference with the cut."
Carl told him the story in detail and described the woman. "She smelled like wine. She smelled dirty. She called me a..." He glanced at Grandma; but this was a professional matter. "... a motherfucker. She acted crazy."
"Not like she came off the boat?" Grandpa asked.
"No. I think she was a tramp. You know, a street person, like, you remember old Mrs. Sikorsky when she'd go around all messed up and pushing that baby stroller? Like that."
"Huh," Grandpa said. "If she didn't come off the boat, was there anyplace there she might have come from? When we looked at the place, I didn't see anything."
"Neither did I," Carl said. "There's nothing out there."
They all sat for a minute, then Grandpa said, "Well. We have to think about this. Let's go over to the hospital and get that arm fixed."
"It's still bleeding a little. If we go break the window now, I could drip some blood on it," Carl said.
"Let's do it," Grandpa said. Then, "You know, if we could find this woman, it might be useful to remove her."
"That's what I thought," Carl said. "If she's dead, she couldn't ever testify about me..."
"But if we send you out again, we take another risk and how would she find you?" Grandpa asked.
"By chance. I might walk by her on the street someday. I can't stay out of Duluth. I'm probably gonna go to college at UMD."
Grandpa nodded. "Okay. If we can find her... but we wouldn't use the gun. Not the same gun. The police would match them with the slugs in Moshalov and tie them together. If she's a tramp she'd have to die a tramp's death. A fight, or something."
They went down to the basement, broke a storm window that already had a crack in it, and Carl squeezed some blood on the glass.
In the car, Carl driving, Grandpa brought up the woman again. "If we remove this woman, assuming we can locate her, it would be good training. We had to throw you at Moshalov because it was an emergency, and we had no choice. You did well, but that doesn't mean that you're trained. Your first target should have been easier. This woman... would do."
"Assuming we can locate her," Carl said. He could feel the want in Grandpa.
And a minute later, Grandpa asked, "So how do you... feel?"
Carl shrugged. "Fine."
"No, no, not so quick. How do you really feel? Think about it for a minute."
Carl thought about it and then said, "I was scared going in, and I was scared driving back. But I wasn't scared when I was doing it. Not even when the woman showed up. If the gun had worked, I would have eliminated her without a problem. I think... not having the best equipment was an amateur mistake. The gun is fine. We need new ammo."
"Yes, yes, yes, the technical details. We had no time... But that's not what I'm talking about. You don't feel... depressed, or morose, or sick? Sick in your heart?"
"No. No, I really feel fine, Grandpa. It was sorta a head rush, you know?"
"I don't know what that means," Grandpa said. "Head rush."
"It means I felt like I was doing something important, you know, like, for the people."
"That's fine but you may later feel some sorrow," Grandpa said. "If you do, remember then what Lenin said. He said that some people are like weeds in the garden. They destroy the work of others, they make progress impossible they make the harvest impossible. Therefore, like weeds, they must be destroyed themselves. We shouldn't be happy with this, with this mission, but it's a mission that must be done. You are like a fighter pilot in a war; and we are in a war."
"I know, Grandpa."
Carl was a high school senior; he'd been fighting the war since kindergarten. Grandpa had brought him along carefully, teaching him the history, using scenes from Carl's daily life as examples.
"Think about what you see around you," Grandpa had said. "Your mother works her fingers to the bone and she never gets anywhere. If you analyze what she does, you can see that she's forced herself into a servant job. They don't call them that, but that's what they are.
"Look around your city. You can be a cook, a waiter, a miner, a truck driver, a salesman, but do you really have a chance against the capitalist? Against the people who own the companies, who hire the cooks, the waiters, the miners? Open your eyes, look around."
Carl had looked, and he had seen what Grandpa saw. Later, when he was older, he got the hard stuff: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin. People he could never name in school. All of it secret.
At the hospital, Carl had been sewn up, and the wound had healed cleanly. Three days after Moshalov was removed, Carl began patrolling Duluth, one night in his own beat-up Chevy, the next in Grandpa's Taurus, concentrating on the harbor areas, making nightly passes on the downtown saloons.
He and Grandpa agreed: he couldn't become a Duluth regular, somebody seen driving by every night. He had to make his runs at odd times, when he was less likely to be seen by the same person twice, less likely to be remarked upon. Good training.
The care had paid off. He'd finally spotted the woman, tracked her, guessed where she was going. He felt the same excitement he felt during hunting season, when he saw a deer threading its way through the woods, toward his stand.
He parked on a side street, and when the woman walked by, at the bottom of the street, he fell in behind her. She never noticed, never looked, just rattled along with her shopping cart banging down curbs, occasionally talking to herself.
When she turned the corner, she triggered Carl. He stepped out, camoed and ready, the wire strung between his fingers, the big nails in his palms as handles on the garrote; the garrote had been built by Grandpa.
"Nothing special, all the parts can be thrown away, and be perfectly innocent. But it's deadly effective," Grandpa had said, snapping the wire under the bare bulb in the basement workshop. They'd had gourds growing on the fence behind the house. Grandpa got one, and Carl practiced slipping the wire over the gourd, and then snapping the noose tight. The wire slashed through the yellow gourd like a straight razor.
"Works the same way with a neck," Grandpa said. His eyes came to life as they worked with the wire. The idea of killing with the garrote was interesting it was a traditional tool used by resistance groups and revolutionaries, Grandpa said, and that was what they now were: a resistance cell, living underground.
Carl turned the corner and almost stumbled over the tramp. She saw him at the last minute, seemed to snarl, then to start away. "Run," she called, as though instructing her legs. "Runnn..."
He was moving fast and he threw the wire over her neck, put his knee in her back and pushed. He could smell her now, the same stink he'd smelled the first time they met. He bent her, felt the wire cut in, felt it tremble and sing. She didn't attack him as she had the first time. She flailed her arms, like a bird trying to fly, and they turned once or twice on the street, bumped into her shopping cart.
The cart jerked away and then began rolling slowly down the hill toward the intersection, bumping along, rattling, right through the intersection and on down the hill, picking up speed...
She was dead.
Carl felt her go and for the first time this night, felt something, a cold little thrill, unrelated to the people's cause. He lowered her to the pavement, unwrapped the wire, had to pull it out of her flesh, like pulling a piece of sticky tape off a wall. He could smell the blood in the damp night air; and in the light of the single visible streetlamp, saw a reflection from the whites of her eyes. They were unmoving.
He stood still for a moment, listening, trying to see into the dark; heard cars at the bottom of the hill, and the cart still rattling down the blacktop toward the street below. Time to move. He walked fifteen feet to the corner, turned toward his car, glanced back once at the lump on the sidewalk.
Stuffed the garrote in his pocket, felt a wetness. When he took his hands out to look, found them covered with blood. An imperfect weapon still, he wiped the blood on his pants. The woman had been a fountain...
He moved on, quickly. Had to clean up. Had to get rid of the garrote and the clothes.
Had to report."
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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