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|The Prey Series|
Something wrong here, a cold whisper of evil.
The house was a modernist relic, glass and stone and redwood, sixty years old and gone creaky; not all haunted houses were Victorian. Sometimes at night, when she was alone, she'd feel a sudden coolness, as though somebody, or some thing, had just slipped by. This was different. She couldn't pin it down, but it was palpable.
She thought about stepping back into the garage.
"Who's there?" she called. She got nothing back but an echo.
The house was dark, except for desk lamps in the front room and in the study, which were triggered by photocells at dusk. She could hear the furnace running. Nothing else but the hair on her forearms and the back of her neck stood upright. Some atavistic sense was picking up a threat.
She looked to her right. The arming light on the security panel was steady, so the security system had been disarmed. That was decisive. The house should be empty, the security system should be armed.
She stepped back, moving quickly, around the nose of the Jaguar to the Mercedes. She yanked open the driver's side door, reached under the front seat to the storage bin, popped the lid, and lifted out the Ladysmith .38.
Stood listening again, the gun cool in her hand, and heavy. Couldn't even hear the furnace, now. The Mercedes' engine pinged, cooling down. The overhead garage lights were still on and she watched the door to the house. Something wrong, but the house felt empty.
Her nose twitched. She could smell exhaust from the car, but when she'd stepped through the door, there'd been something else. A subtle stink that shouldn't have been there. Not sweat, not body odor, not perfume, not flatulence, but something organic. Meat?
She had her purse over her shoulder, her cell phone right there. Call the police? What would she tell them? That something was not right? That something smelled a little funky? They'd think she was crazy.
She put her purse on the hood of the Jag, held the gun in front of her, like the handgun instructor had shown her. She was an athlete, and a professional athlete at that: swimming, dance, martial arts, weights, Pilates, yoga. The hard stuff: her body control was nearly perfect. She'd shot the eyes out of the gun-instructor's bad-guy target.
He'd been mildly impressed, but only mildly. A cop for most of his life, he'd told her that every shooting he'd ever seen had been a screw-up.
"The question is not whether you can hit something at seven yards. The question is whether you can sort out all the problems, when you've got a loaded gun in your hand," he'd said, a rehearsed speech that might have been written on a 3x5 card. "You have no time, but you have to figure out what's happening what's going on. To shoot or not to shoot: it all comes down to a tenth of a second, in the dark. You don't want to shoot your kid or a neighbor. You don't want to not shoot a junkie with a butcher knife coming for your throat."
There wouldn't be a neighbor in the house. The neighborhood was private, stand-offish. People drew their friends from their businesses, from their schools, not from the street. The housekeeper was long-gone.
Her daughter? Frances had the security code but she always called ahead.
She called out: "Francie?"
Again, louder. "Fran? Are you there?"
Starting to feel foolish, now. Then she remembered what the gun instructor told her. "About the time you start to feel like an idiot, that's when they'll get you. If you're scared enough to have the gun out, then the situation is serious enough that you can't be abashed."
She remembered the word. Abashed. Was she abashed?
She was back at the door. Kept the muzzle of the gun pointing straight ahead, called out, "Frances, I've got a gun, because I'm scared. Don't jump out, if this is a joke. Frances?"
She let go of the gun with her left hand, reached around the doorjamb and flicked on the lights. The entry was clear, and as far as she could see, the kitchen. She was inside now, the house still giving off the empty feel. Edged forward.
The hair on her arms was up again and she reached inside the kitchen door and hit another block of lights. They came on all at once, three circuits worth, fifteen lights in all, the kitchen as brightly lit as a stage. She glanced behind her, at the garage, then back toward the dark door beyond the kitchen.
Not right; a few lizard-brain cells were screaming at her. Not right.
"Frances? Fran? Are you there? Helen? Are you still here, Helen?" Helen was the housekeeper.
No answer. She let the gun drop to her side. Then, remembering what the cop said, brought it back up, and let the muzzle lead her through the house. Halfway through, she knew she was alone. There was no tension in the air, no vibration. She cleared the last bedroom, exhaled, smiled at her own foolishness.
This hadn't happened before. There was something... she got to the kitchen, sniffed, and looked around. Put the gun on the counter, opened the refrigerator, pulled out the bag of pre-cut celery sticks, took out two and crunched them.
Alyssa Austin leaned against the counter, a small woman, blond, fair-complected, but not delicate: she had a physical density to her face and hands that suggested the martial arts, or an extreme level of exercise. She looked at the gun on the counter, and half-smiled; it was dark and curved and weighted with presence, like a successful work of art.
She was finishing the second celery stick when she noticed the dark streaks on the wallpaper at the edge of the hall that led from the kitchen to the dining room. The streak were broom-straw-length and -breadth, splaying out from a center, dark but not black, like flower petals, or a slash from a water-color brush. Not knowing exactly why, she stepped over and touched them and felt the tackiness under her finger.
Pulled her finger back and found a spot of crimson. She new instantly and without a doubt that it was blood, and relatively fresh. Saw a small, thinner streak further down the wall. Backed away...
Scared now. Picked up the gun, backed into the kitchen, groped for the phone, punched in 9-1-1. She did it with a bloody finger, not realizing, leaving red dots on the keys.
The operator, an efficient-sounding woman, said, "Is this an emergency?"
"There's blood in my house," she said.
"Are you in danger?" the operator asked.
"No, I don't... I don't..."
"Is this Mrs. Austin?"
"Yes." She didn't know how the operator had gotten her name, didn't think about it. "I just came home."
"Go someplace safe, close by."
"I need the police."
"We are already on the way," the operator said. "Officers will be there in about a minute. Are you safe?"
"I uh... don't know." She thought, the police. I should put the gun away. "Tell them... Tell them, I'm going to the garage. I'm going to lock myself in the car. The garage door is up."
"Okay. That would be good," the operator said. "Don't hang up. Just drop the phone and go to the car. We should be there in less than a minute now."
She dropped the phone and backed toward the garage.
She could hear sirens in the distance and not another thing.
The cops went in with guns in their hands, cleared the house, looked at the blood and called for a crime scene crew.
Alyssa went looking for her housekeeper, and found her. Helen was utterly confused by the blood; it hadn't been there when she left...
Then Alyssa went looking for her daughter, and never could find her.
The crime-scene crew, from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, spent two days in the house. They found more signs of blood, on the tiles in the kitchen and hallway enough that it had apparently been mopped up. Alyssa and the cops spent the two days looking for Frances. They found her car, found her last grocery list to get oranges and never could find her. Then the blood tests came back from the lab: it was Frances' blood, all right.
According to the lab techs, there'd been a pool of blood on the floor, which had been cleaned up with a product called Scrubbing Bubbles bathroom cleaner and paper towels there were little spit-ball, or blood-ball, remnants from the towels stuck in the cracks of the Mexican tiles. The blood spatters on the wall had simply been missed by the killers, who hadn't noticed the thin sprays of blood entwined in the floral pattern of the wallpaper.
Frances was gone, and probably dead, and they all knew it.
Alyssa cried, sporadically and unpredictably, for four weeks, caught in the bureaucracy of mysterious death, a slow-motion nightmare.
No body, just the blood and the cops coming around, and the reporters, and the cameras, and then the lawyers and the accountants, trying to work through the law. What to do about Frances' car? I'm sorry to have to ask at a time like this but Frances' belongings are still in the apartment and if she's not going to be able to pay the rent next month we have a young couple who are looking...
Pushing the cops, the homicide cops skeptical, one of them flirting with her, the other a skeptical flat-eyed hayseed with yellow shoes and pants two inches too short. And finally only one cop, as the case went cold.
When her husband, Hunter, was killed, he'd managed to die with his typical neatness. Trusts in order, will in place, lists of assets and debts, a file of real estate holdings, careful records of stock-purchase dates, garnished with instructions for everybody. He'd been a control freak right to the end. He'd probably never felt a thing, his silly seaplane dropping like a rock into the Ontario woods, witnesses all around.
When he'd died, she'd been stricken, but had recovered, and knew even the day of his death that she would recover. They were married, but they'd been psychologically split for years, living separate lives in separate rooms; with a little sex now and then.
Frances, though, was different.
She hadn't had her life yet; she hadn't died if she were dead doing something voluntarily. And she was Alyssa's blood. Whatever their conflicts and they'd mostly concerned the father and husband, Hunter they would have been worked through. They only needed time, and they hadn't gotten it.
So Alyssa cried, short violent jags at unexpected moments. And she looked for her daughter, the only ways she knew: she called people, politicians, who called the cops, who whispered back that something was going on here... The politicians apologized and temporized and shuffled away. She'd become a liability.
And she looked in the stars. She did her astrological charts, using the latest software, she talked with a master on the East Coast, who wondered aloud if Frances might still be alive. His chart for the girl showed a passage of darkness, but not death. Nothing that big.
"It's a possibility that has to be examined," he said, in tones portentous even for a wizard of the Zodiac. "I see an instability, a hovering, a waiting..."
The cards said the same thing. Alyssa had picked up the Tarot as a teen-ager, believed in the cards, used them at all important business junctures and she'd done so well. So well.
And though the cards and the stars agreed that Frances, or some part of her, remained in this sphere, there was never a sign of her.
The burden, the insanity of it all, was crushing. Alyssa lived on Xanax, and at night, on Ambien. Then she began to take Xanax to lay down a base for the Ambien; and then a glass of wine as a base for the Xanax, as a base for the Ambien; and still she didn't sleep.
She rolled and turned and her mind cranked twenty-four hours a day, a long circle of jangled thoughts clawing at her.
Sometimes, during the day, from the corner of her eye, she'd see Frances sitting on a couch. She'd come downstairs in the middle of the night, having heard Fran's music playing on the stereo, only to have it fade as she came closer.
She felt cool breezes where there should be no drafts, as though someone had walked past her. And she saw omens. Crows on a fence, symbols of death, staring at her unafraid, but mute. A fireball in the sky, when she happened to be thinking of Frances. Fran's face in crowds, always turning away from her, and gone when she hurried to them.
Was Frances alive? Or dead?
Or somewhere in between?
Fairy had some of the answers, or believed she did.
As Alyssa was blonde, good-hearted, New Age modern woman, Fairy was dark, obsessive, Pre-Raphaelite and where Alyssa floundered, trying to comprehend, Fairy knew in a moment what had happened to Frances, and focused on revenge.
Fairy stepped out of the shower, toweled off as she walked into the bedroom. When she was dry, she threw the towel on the bed and chose Obsession from the row of perfume bottles on the dressing table. She touched the bottle to her neck and the top of her breasts, judging herself in the dressing mirror as she did.
She didn't call herself Fairy; others did. But it fit with a pair of gossamer wings, she could have been Tinker Bell's evil twin.
Then Loren appeared. "Looking good. Really, really good. Your ass is..."'
"I've got to get dressed," Fairy said. "But you can watch me."
"I know, time to go," Loren said. "I'll watch you undress, later. That's even better.
She looked straight into his hungry dark eyes, patted her breasts with the flats of her fingers, fluffing up her nipples, then got dressed: black panty-hose, a light thermal vest for warmth, a soft black skirt, a black silk blouse threaded with scarlet, tight over the vest. Back to the mirror, she painted on the lipstick, dark as raw liver, penciled her eyebrows, touched up her lashes; smacked her lips like women do, adjusting everything. Arranged the fall of the hair: like a black waterfall around her shoulders.
"That's what you get, when you sleep with an aesthete."
Fairy walked back to the dressing closet and took out the short black leather jacket, pulled it on: the jacket gave her shoulders, and a stance. Two inch black heels gave her height. Ready now.
"The knife?" Loren asked.
"Here." She touched the breast pocket on the jacket; could feel it in there, new from Target, hard black plastic and soft grey steel, sharpened to a razor's edge.
"Then let's go." Loren smiled, teeth flashing, his face a white oval above his dark clothing, and Fairy reached out, took his hand, and they went.
Loren was the one who'd found Frances' killers; together they'd scoured her laptop, her photographs thousands of them, taken with a cell phone and point-and-shoot Nikon, some of them stored electronically, but hundreds of them printed out, stacked in baskets, stuck to the front on her refrigerator, piled in drawers: a record of her life, from which the killers emerged.
There were three: "I can actually feel her hand on their shoulders," he told her. "These are the people who did it."
The three were scattered through the stacks of photos, but they were altogether in one of them. The photo had been taken at a party of some kind, the three people peering at the camera, laughing.
"You're sure?" Fairy asked.
"Never more. Blood on their hands, missus," he said.
"I want them," she said
"Revenge," he said. He smacked his lips. "It's so sweet; revenge tastes like orange juice and champagne."
Fairy laughed at the metaphor and said, "Everything with you goes back to the senses, doesn't it. Sight, sound, touch, taste, smell..."
"That's all there is, missus..."
They bought a car to hunt from bought it at a roadside person-to-person sales spot, along Highway 36. Gave the seller an envelope full of cash, drove away in the car, a five-year-old Honda Prelude. Never registered the change, never bought insurance; kept it out of sight.
They began to scout, to make schedules, to watch. Early on, it became apparent that the bartender was at the center of the plot the fulcrum of Frances' Goth world. He took in people, places, events and plans, and passed them on. He knew what was happening, knew the history.
The Fairy talked to him three times: once on the sidewalk, when he passed her, looking her over, and she passed by and then turned and called, "Excuse me, are you Mr. Ford?"
He walked back to her and grinned, shoulders up, hands tucked in his jeans pockets. A charmer. "Yeah, have I seen you around?"
"I was over at the A1 a few weeks ago with Frances Austin," Fairy said. "Did you hear about her?"
"I did. There's been a lot of talk..."
"I can't imagine what happened," Fairy said, shaking her head. "Some people say drugs, some people say she must have had a secret lover..."
"She used to smoke a little, I know that," Ford said. "But... I'm not sure she even had her own dealer. She didn't smoke that much. I can't believe it was drugs. Must've been something else."
"The police think I don't know. Because she was one of us..." Fairy patted her black blouse. "... that maybe somebody sent her to the other side, to see... what would happen."
"Well, that's scary," Ford said. "What's your name?"
She made up the name on the spot: "Mary. Janson. Mary Janson." They shook hands. "Some of the people have tried to get in touch with her. On the other side."
Ford's eyebrows went up, and he smiled. "No luck, huh?"
"You don't believe?"
"Oh, you know.. I used to, I guess. Used to talk about it, anyway. With me, it's more of a hang-out thing," he said. He looked away. "I used to listen to the people talk about... you know. Life, death, crossing over. It's interesting, but, I don't know. Too depressing, if you do it for a long time."
Fairy shook her head again, the black hair swirling around her shoulders: "It bothers me so much. If I could find out why she's gone, what happened to her, I'd be fine. I could sleep."
Ford leaned closer to her: "If you want my opinion, it was a money deal."
"A money deal?"
"You knew her pretty well?" Ford asked.
"I did," Fairy said.
"Then you gotta know she was rich."
"I knew she was well-off."
"Rich," Ford insisted. "She told me that when her father was killed, she inherited, like, two million. She already had money from trusts her parents set up when she was small. She said they put in, like, ten thousand each, every year; during all those big stock market boom times in the nineties, she had a million of her own, before she inherited. So I know she had that much."
"A lot more than I knew," Fairy said.
"We'd joked about starting a club," Ford said. His eyes drifted away, seeing another reality. "She'd back it, I'd run it. We'd bring in some dark music; change the scene around here. It would have been a money-maker."
"Sounds wonderful," Fairy said.
A rueful smile: "Yeah: she gets killed, and my life flashes in front of my eyes." Ford looked at his watch: "Shoot. I gotta go, I'm late for work. Are you going to be around? Mary Janson?"
"I'll be around," Fairy said.
He leaned closer again. "You smell wonderful."
She twiddled her fingers at him, and went on her way. "I'll see you at the A1."
Loren had been leaning against an old elm, out of sight, listening. He caught Fairy down the sidewalk and said, "You smell wonderful."
"And you heard what he said."
"Money," she said. They seemed, now, to pick things out of each other's minds.
"She must've talked it around," Loren said. "You know how she liked to talk and so, what happened is, she got some of these people all cranked up about starting a club, a new scene, but you know how conservative she really was; so it comes to the moment when she has to produce the cash, and she backs away."
Fairy frowned: "How do you know so much about her?"
"Why, from you," Loren said. "All you do is talk about her. All day, all the time."
Back home, in bed, they made love in his cold, frantic way. Loren's fingernails were an inch long, left scratches on her rib cage and thighs. And afterwards, she said, "Ford knows."
"Yes, he does. We should see him again; and some of the others. Patricia..."
"I don't think she'd be involved," Fairy said, tentatively.
"She's involved," Loren said, sitting up, the sheets falling to his waist, showing off his rib-cage. His body was slender as a rake. "I can feel it. She was jealous of Frances. Her parents broke up, they don't care whether she lives or dies. She's over there by herself, nothing to do, no place to go. Frances had two parents who loved her, and the money. So the fat girl gets involved in this club thing, she's going to be cool, she's going to be a club owner, or operator, hang out with the bands... and Frances finally says she can't have it. Can't have any of it. Jealousy and hate."
"For sure," Loren said. "As far as I'm concerned, she's on the list." "We have more scouting," Fairy said. "We have Dick Ford, we have Roy Carter, and Patty..."
"So we take a week, and think. Then we move again. If we don't, the energy will fritter away. Just fritter away..."
She talked to Ford again, for ten minutes, at the A1, passing through. And finally, a third time, just at closing. Went to the bar, drank a beer, and he touched her hand, and touched it again, and the knife was like the Sword of Freya in her belt. When she finished the beer, as Ford was calling to the patrons to "Drink up and go home," she drifted out the back door and looked back, caught his eyes with hers.
The alley was paved with red bricks, covered with the grime of a century of wear; she wanted to lean on something while she waited, but everything was dirty, so instead, she wandered in little circles, rocked back and forth, hoping that nobody else would come through the door.
A thought: I could leave right now. She could leave, and nothing would happen. She could sell the car or not, who'd care? and be done with it.
She toyed with the thought, then let it drift away. Dropped her hand to the knife. She'd spent some time with it, sharpening the edge until it was like a razor. She yawned: nervous.
Then Ford came through the door. He might have worked on his smile, inside, in the restroom mirror, because it was perfect an effort to generate a bit of wry charm, in an uncertain situation with a good-looking woman. "So, what's up?"
He was wearing a leather jacket, unzipped, which was good, and beneath is, a canvas shirt. She got close and let him feel her smallness, her cuddliness, while her right hand slid along the handle of the knife. "I can't stay away from the Frances Austin thing," she said. "I thought you... could tell me about it."
"Frances Austin?" He frowned: not what he expected. "You're sort of stuck on that, huh?"
There was one light in the alley, and they were almost beneath it. She caught a corner of his jacket sleeve, and tugged him closer to the open end of the alley, toward the street, but deeper into the dark. Turned him, set him up against the wall, pressed into him, said, "You were her friend. You must have some ideas about what happened."
"No, I really don't... Not so much."
She whispered, "Don't give me that bullshit," and she jammed the knife into his gut, just about at the navel, and then, as she'd imagined it, pulled it up toward his heart, the blade cutting more easily than she'd expected, and she put all her muscle into it, up on her tiptoes, using both hands of the knife-handle. Ford swung his arms at her, but they were soft and straight, like zombie arms, uncoordinated, shock with pain, and she moved around them and pulled on the knife, pulled it up to his breast-bone, and then out.
He slumped back against the dirty wall, staring at her, made gargling sound, his hands stretching down toward the earth, and then he slumped over sideways and fell on his side, and spewed blood.
She squatted, listened to him die, then wiped the knife on his shirt and spit on him: "That's for Frances," she said.
She walked away, down the empty alley, carrying the knife. Got in the car, drove six blocks in silence, until Loren said, "He's gone. I felt him go."
"Why?" But she pulled over.
"Because I'm gonna fuck you," Loren said.
And he did, and when the orgasm washed over her, it smelled purely of fresh blood.
The day was slipping from grey into dark, the sun going down to the southwest over the Mississippi, and the rain kept coming a cold, driving torrent that pounded the windows.
Lucas Davenport sat at a desk, in a dim room, staring at laptop screen and listening to Tom Waits, the sound tumbling out of a 90's boom-box. Waits was working through "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis," and the bluesy piano fit with Lucas' mood.
Across the street, a woman tiptoed into her bedroom, stopped to look into a baby bed. Smiled silently; then unbuttoned her blouse, slipped it off her narrow shoulders, hung it on a chair, then reached back between her shoulder blades to pop her brassiere.
A pair of Canon image-stabilized binoculars sat on the desk next to Lucas' laptop. Lucas picked them up and watched as she dug through a chest-of-drawers. Must be cool in the apartment; her nipples were nicely erect. She was a brown-haired girl, of the brown-eyed tribe, with a long supple back that showed every vertebra down to the notch of her butt. She'd kept herself in shape.
She came up with a t-shirt and then a heavy blue sweatshirt and pulled them over her head. Her pregnancy was progressing well, Lucas observed. She must be about four months along now, and was faithful about her bi-weekly visits to the obstetrician.
Bummer. If she was putting on a sweatshirt, no bra, she wasn't going out. Heather was intensely fashion-conscious, a woman who wore high-heels to Starbucks. Neither was she tarting herself up, so Siggy was not on his way over.
Sigitas Toms, Siggy to his pals and the cops, had been the Twin Cities largest-volume cocaine dealer, pushing the stuff through his contacts in the real-estate, stock-broking and used-car businesses. He'd been netting two million a year, tax free, at the end, with money stashed all over the U.S. and Europe.
When he was busted by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and St. Paul police, he'd told the arresting officers that he wouldn't be going to prison. They all had a good laugh at that, Siggy included. He was the affable sort, right up to the time he pulled your dick off with a pair of wire-cutters.
Two hours after he bailed out of jail, he vanished.
He'd been under a loose two-man surveillance at the time, one BCA guy and one St. Paul detective. From the jail, he'd gone home to a warm front-porch greeting from Heather. An hour later, hair still wet from what the cops assumed was a post-coital shower, he'd emerged from the house, carrying a slip of paper a shopping list. Pampers, baby powder. He climbed into his Lexus and drove to the Woodbury Target store.
The watchers weren't too worried when they lost him in the bed & bath department, pushing his cherry red cart between the high stacks of towels and bath mats and sheets, because there's only one way out of a Target, the front, and that was covered, right?
Besides, you'd naturally lose a guy for a minute or two in a Target... but when they couldn't locate him in a minute or two, they got anxious, and began running up and down, frightening the shoppers or guests, as Target called them in the letter of complaint that they sent to the director of the BCA and the St. Paul chief of police.
Turns out, Target does have a back door, but not for customers. Siggy hadn't had permission to use it, but callously had anyway; a cold-blooded criminal, for sure.
He'd had a car waiting and nobody had ever seen him again.
Well. Somebody had seen him, just not the cops.
His wife, Heather, nee Anderson, pled ignorance of everything. She thought Siggy was a humble car salesman, she said from the steps of their highly leveraged two-point-eight-million-dollar teal-and-coffee painted McMansion. Doesn't everybody have a house like this? The house had been part of Siggy's three-million-dollar bond. When he skipped, the court found out, there was an unremarked second mortgage, and with the slump in housing prices, the two mortgages were underwater. Or, as they say in California, upside-down. If the court foreclosed, it'd mostly be foreclosing on air.
So there was Heather, twisting her hands in regret. There was the Ramsey County attorney, mumbling into his torts. And somewhere, was Siggy a tear for poor Siggy, growing a beard somewhere in Mexico or Paraguay or Belize, drinking salty margaritas and cerveza blanca and watching the tourists walk-hand-in-hand down the beach in flipflops, pining for the old homestead in Woodbury, with its driveway ring of primo hosta plants, basketball net to the side, it's legal writs.
Heather was pushed out of the house eight months after Siggy disappeared. A buyer was found, a radiologist, but the radiologist backed out at the last minute, pleading that he'd received a phone call from a man who told him that if his family moved in, his children would be taken from their grade schools, and their eyes would be put out with a red-hot poker.
So the house sat there, empty, while Heather moved to a second-floor apartment on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul. Her mother lived in the apartment next-door, rolling around on a powered chair with a tank of oxygen. Heather's mom was dying of congestive heart failure and wouldn't make it through the year. She might not even make it through the month.
When the old lady croaked, Lucas suspected, Heather and the child would be off to a warmer climate, like Zihuatanejo, or Monaco, where nobody would care about Siggy and his cocaine business in the Twin Cities.
The BCA had taken an apartment above a drugstore across the street from Heather's, and for three months, kept up a regular watch. Then priorities changed, and the watch became sporadic. Lucas and Del took it over, as a hobby. The drugstore apartment was quiet, and Lucas could work there, and the couch was soft, and Del sometimes came by for a nap.
Lucas' group had broken the Anderson case, and had made the arrests; had argued, through the prosecutor, that no bail should be allowed, that Anderson was a flight risk.
They'd lost the argument, and then Anderson had bitch-slapped the BCA and the St. Paul cops at the Target store.
Then there was Antsy.
Siggy's brother, Antanas Antsy Toms had been at loose ends since his brother vanished. The cops believed that Siggy had been the brains and the driving force behind the organization. Antsy was... his brother. What could anyone say?
Antsy had a tattoo of the Statue of Liberty on one arm, and US SEAL on the other, with a dagger with blood dripping off it, though he'd never been in the military. He probably did have a dagger, though, and it probably did have blood dripping off it, from time to time.
When God was passing out the brains, Siggy had been at the head of the line. Antsy, in the meantime, had been off getting F-U-C-K Y-O-U-! tattooed on the knuckles of his hands, upside down and backwards from his point of view, but forward and right-side up when he was sitting across a table from a cop.
Antsy had done some enforcement work for Siggy, but hadn't been arrested because he really, really didn't know anything. Anything. When Siggy split, Antsy had taken up bouncing as a career, and methamphetamine as a hobby.
Most recently, he'd drubbed the bejesus out of two St. Paul cops, one of whom was the daughter of a BCA agent stationed upstate in Bemidji. Antsy, like his brother, was still on the run, but the word was, he didn't have the cash to go far.
Antsy was still around; and he might also be calling on the beauteous Heather, looking for a little cash money another reason to keep the apartment going.
So, here Lucas was, observing the often-semi-naked or even fully naked Mrs. Toms every day or two, walking around in front of her open windows, one of the least body-conscious women Lucas had ever done surveillance on, waiting for the family to show up.
He picked up the pregnancy in the third month, the baby bump under her up-scale Pea-in-the-Pod maternity clothing.
Nobody had ever seen a boyfriend so Siggy had been back, Lucas thought, and they'd missed him.
In addition to a salesman's natural affability, and his willingness to use wire cutters on slow-pay retail dealers, Siggy had been a genuine family man, the BCA research had shown. He'd be back again.
Just not today.
Lucas looked down at the laptop, where he'd been wrestling with bureaucratic ratshit. He was late with the annual personnel evaluations and some time-serving wretch, deep in the bowels of the bureaucracy, whose life work involved collecting evaluation forms, was torturing him with e-mails and phone messages.
And what, really, could he say about Del? Or about Virgil? Or about Jenkins and Shrake?
The questionnaire asked if Del presented himself in a manner that conformed to standards of good practice as outlined in Minnesota state regulations. In fact, the last time Lucas had seen Del, he was unshaven, hung-over, three months late for a haircut, and was wearing torn jeans, worn sneaks and a sweatshirt that said, *underwear not included.
Virgil, Lucas knew, drove around the state pulling a boat and trailer and almost daily went fishing or hunting on state time, the better to focus investigative vibrations a technique that seemed to work.
Jenkins and Shrake carried leather-wrapped saps. Jenkins called his the Hillary-Whacker, in case, he said, he should ever encounter the junior senator from New York.
Should all of this go into a file?
Lucas sighed, stood up, put his hands in his pockets and looked out the window. The last of the snow was being washed out by the rain, and only a few hard lumps of ice remained behind the curbs, where the snow-plow piles had been. If the rain continued, the ice would be gone by morning. On the other hand, if the temps had been ten degrees lower, the storm would have produced twenty inches of snow, instead of two inches of rain.
He didn't need that. He was done with winter.
Until the middle of February, it seemed that the snow would keep coming forever. Not much at one time, but an inch or two, every third day, enough that he had to fire up the snow-blower and clear off the driveway before his wife drove on the snow and packed it down.
In mid-February, it got warm. Two rainy weeks in the forties and fifties, and the snow was gone. That's when the end-of-winter blues got him. March was a tough month in the Cities. Dress warm, and the day got warm and you sweated; dress cool, and the day turned cold, and you froze. Cars were rolling lumps of dirt, impossible to keep clean. Everybody was fat and slow. Crabby.
Lucas had been playing winter ball in a cops-and-bureaucrats league at the St. Paul YMCA. Some of the bureaucrats were wolverines hesitate on a shot and they'd have two fingers up your nose and one hand in your shorts. So he was in shape, the theory being that you wouldn't get the winter blues if you worked out a lot.
But that was theory, and mostly wrong. He needed the sun, and for more than a week in Cancun.
Lucas had jet-black hair salted with streaks of grey, and his face was pale with the winter. He had strong shoulders and a hawk's beak nose, blue eyes and a couple of notable scars on his face and neck. Traces of the job.
His paternal ancestors, somewhere back through the centuries, had paddled wild fur out of the North Woods, mink and beaver and otter and martin and fisher, across Superior and the lesser Great Lakes, down the St. Lawrence. A bunch of mean Frenchmen; and finally one of them said, "Screw this Canadian bullshit," and moved to the States.
When that happened was not exactly clear, but Lucas' father had suggested that when it did, the immigrant might have had a case of blended whisky on his shoulder...
His mother's side was Irish and Welsh, and a bit of German; but Lucas wasn't a genealogist and mostly didn't care who'd done what back when.
He picked up the glasses and looked through the window across the street at Heather Toms, who was in the kitchen making a smoothie, and doing a little dance step at the same time. She'd done her exercises every day, and while she'd once smoked the occasional cigarette, or maybe a doobie always on the balcony, so the first baby wouldn't get second-hand smoke she'd quit with the pregnancy.
Lucas quite approved of the way she was conducting herself, aside from the aiding and abetting of her murderous husband and drug-psycho brother-in-law.
Nothing was going to happen, he thought. Time to go home...
Lucas lived ten minutes from Heather's apartment, west across St. Paul's Highland district, in a new house on Mississippi River Boulevard, which wasn't a boulevard. He and his wife Weather had designed and built the home themselves, to fit them. They'd done well, he thought, with a rambling two-story structure and ample garage, of stone and cedar shingles, and climbing ivy stretching up the siding.
He'd been home for fifteen minutes, yawning, listening to the rain in the quiet of the house, picking through a copy of Musky Hunter, when he felt, rather than heard, the garage doors going up. Weather.
He checked his watch: she was early.
He ambled through the house and met her coming through the door carrying two grocery sacks. She looked around and asked, "Where is everybody?", meaning their toddler son and the live-in housekeeper. Their ward, Lettie, was at school.
"Same place you were, I guess went to the supermarket."
"Well, poop," Weather said. She plopped the bags down on the food-prep island. "We're gonna wind up with about thirty bananas."
Lucas snuggled up behind her and kissed her on the neck and she relaxed back against him, hair damp from the supermarket parking lot. She smelled like woman-hair and Chanel. She wiggled her butt once for his benefit, and then gave him an elbow and said, "We've got to talk."
"I saw Alyssa today," Weather said, turning around. She was a Finn, through-and-through. A surgeon, a small woman with pale watchful eyes who saw herself as Management, and Lucas as Labor; or possibly saw herself as a Carpenter, and Lucas as Raw Lumber. "Actually, I didn't so much see her, as she came to see me when I was working out. About you."
"Ah..." He shook his head. "Nothing new on her kid?"
"Nothing new but it's not that. Did you see the story about the murder in Minneapolis, night before last?"
There'd been two murders in Minnesota that day. Since one of the victims had been young, blond and female, with large, firm, breasts, the bartender had gotten short shrift from television, even though his had been the more interesting crime, in Lucas' opinion, and the blonde had been inconveniently placed in Lake Superior.
"He was a Goth," Weather said. "He ran with the same group as Frances. Alyssa says the Minneapolis cops don't have a clue, but came to talk to her because of the similarity of the killings. She said there was so much blood with Frances..."
"We're not sure about that," Lucas said. He looked in the sack of groceries, saw the white pastry bag, peeked inside. Cinnamon rolls. The small, tasty, pie-crust kind. He took one out and popped it in his mouth. "Could have been a little bit of blood, but widely smeared."
"But no viscera or skin," Weather said. "Just blood."
"Wouldn't have much if she were stabbed in the heart through her blouse: the blouse works like a strainer," he mumbled through the crumbs.
"Not the case with bartender," Weather said. A surgeon, she was familiar with the ways of blood. "After Alyssa left, I walked over and talked to Feeney. He says the guy was really ripped. Big, heavy knife with a long blade could have been a hunting knife, but more likely was a butcher knife. Extremely sharp. Went in at the navel, was pulled up and out, and sliced right through the aortal artery. Also dumped out some of the contents of the stomach. The person who did it was strong, and close. To get that kind of a pull, even with a sharp knife, you'd need to be right up against the victim, so you could get the biceps into it. Be like lifting a dumbbell. So Feeney says."
Feeney was a Hennepin County assistant medical examiner and worked just down the street from the Hennepin County Medical Center, where Weather did most of her work.
"So what are we talking about?" Lucas asked.
"Alyssa would like you to take a look," Weather said. "So would I."
"I took a look," Lucas said.
"You read some reports," Weather said. "I'm talking about a serious look. She didn't come straight to you, because she knows what you think."
"She's a fuckin' whack job," Lucas said.
"Lucas: she believes in you," Weather said, taking one of his hands, looking into his eyes, manipulating like crazy. "That you can find her daughter."
He pulled away, held his hands up: helpless, hopeless. "Weather: Alyssa believes her daughter was killed because her Pluto was in her House of Donald Duck. Because of the stars and the moon. That we can find her if we hire the appropriate psychic. I can't talk to the woman. Twenty minutes and I want to strangle her."
"Then give her fifteen minutes," Weather said.
"She looks dreadful," Weather said, pressing. "She loses her husband, she loses her daughter. All she wants is a little help, and all she gets is a bunch of flatfeet."
"Minneapolis guys are pretty good," Lucas said. He popped another cinnamon roll. "They only look like a bunch of flatfeet."
"But Minneapolis isn't working her case," Weather said. "They only came to see her because of this dead bartender's connection to Frances some other Goth told them about the connection."
"But she says they think it's a waste of time," Weather said. "She could tell by the way they asked the questions. And then..."
"She says your investigator thinks she may be involved. With whatever happened to Frances. She says that's all they can think of. They don't have any real suspects, so they suspect her, and they stopped looking for the real killer."
"Another reason you shouldn't go around casting horoscopes," Lucas said. "People tend to think you're nuts."
"You think she could have done it?" Weather asked.
"No." He thought about it for a moment, then said into the silence, "Hell, I don't know."
Weather took a cinnamon roll, popped it in her mouth, chewed twice, put her hands on her hips and said, "Mmm. Mega-fat calories. So: Will you see her, or will I have to nag you into it?"
"Aw, for Christ sakes," Lucas said.
"I'm pretty tied up. Maybe..."
"Lucas. You haven't done a thing for a month, except sit around and watch Heather Toms take her clothes off," Weather said. "You always have this slump at the end of the winter. The only way out is work. So find the time."
"If I go along, could you provide me with a few sexual favors?" He wasn't really doing much. And he was bummed. Sexual favors would help, and asking felt agreeably sleazy; and might drain the excess testosterone he'd worked up watching the lovely Mrs. Toms dress and undress.
"Maybe," she said.
"So I'll talk to her," Lucas said.
"Excellent. I'll call her and confirm it," Weather said. "Get away from the cinnamon rolls."
"At her house," Lucas said. "I'll see her at her house."
Weather went to make the call and Lucas popped a third roll. They were about as wide as a fifty-cent piece and three-quarters of an inch thick, a snail of pie dough layered with butter and cinnamon, and baked until they were chewy.
He was modestly pleased with himself. Sexual favors and cinnamon rolls. Like hitting three bells on the Indian slots.
Because, realistically, once Weather had decided that he was going to talk to Austin, there was no way out. If she put her mind to it, she could nag the paint off a garage. But, if he went to Austin's house, he could always leave. No kicking, no screaming, no weeping, no people down the hall wondering what the hell was going on in Davenport's office. He could simply leave.
He thought about a fourth cinnamon roll.
He was in good shape; he'd been working out. He couldn't even pinch a half-an-inch. How many calories could a cinnamon roll have, anyway?
The rain continued through the night the better for the sexual favors, which were hottest in a flickering candlelight, with freshets of water pouring through the gutters and down-spouts but was beginning to ease by the time he'd finished breakfast. He drove into the office, made a series of morning calls, checking on his agents, then made the ten o'clock meeting at the planning center, where the BCA director, Rose Marie Roux, chaired the security committee for the Republican National Convention.
Lucas had reported to Roux for years, first when she was the Minneapolis chief of police, later when she was named the director of the BCA, and he'd followed her over. She'd always been political a street cop for a couple of years, then an office cop while she went to law school, then a state representative, a state senator, Minneapolis chief and over to the BCA.
She was smitten by the convention job. Lucas thought she was behaving like a star-struck teenager, hanging out with the guys in black suits and ear bugs, who spoke into their cufflinks and cut their hair ranger-style.
Smitten was bad.
The security for the convention was going to be inadequate, because the Twin Cities area didn't have the police resources, and the feds weren't coming through with enough extra. None of the big shots would get hurt, of course, because they'd be blanketed by gun-toting Secret Service thugs, but the town, in Lucas' opinion, was toast. Whoever'd had the bright idea of inviting the convention to St. Paul, should have had his head x-rayed until it smoked, he thought.
He slipped out before the meeting was done and before he might be tempted to take out his gun and shoot someone. He went downstairs and called the governor's chief weasel, up on Capitol hill, and got three minutes alone with the great man.
The governor was at his desk, with a stack of outstate weekly newspapers by his left hand. The sun was shining through a crack in the clouds, in through the window behind the governor's head, and bathed him in holy nimbus. Then the cloud-cut closed, and the nimbus went away.
"What?" the governor asked, when Lucas shut the door.
"Got a favor to ask."
The governor was a thin man, sleek, his hair lacquered in place, with delicate cheekbones and an aristocratic lip. He'd been reading the real estate ads in one of the weeklies, his stocking feet up on a mahogany file cabinet. The governor was the scion of one of Minnesota's bigger fortunes, originally considered to be the runt of the litter, and now pretty much running the state and the family. Some said he thought they were the same thing...
His socks, Lucas observed, were a pale lavender with the thinnest of scarlet clocks. The governor cocked an eye at him and asked, "Is this gonna cause me trouble? Whatever it is?"
"Probably the least amount of trouble of anything you've done today," Lucas said, as he dropped into a leather armchair. "If you get assassinated this week, can I have those socks?"
"No. We pass these down through the generations, to the oldest sons."
"C'mon. Where'd you get them?"
"Ferragamo." The governor folded the paper, dropped it in a wastebasket, and said, "The shit is about to hit the fan. The question is, will it hit before the next election?"
"What shit?" Lucas asked. For one crazy moment, he thought the governor might be concerned about convention security.
"The ethanol market is gonna drop dead," the governor said. "Capacity is outrunning demand, and the big energy companies are moving up to the trough. A whole bunch of farmers who mortgaged the farm to build all these small plants, they're gonna lose their shirts. Then they're gonna want to know what I'm going to do about it."
Lucas shrugged. "That's your problem. And the farmers'. Though it's not your biggest problem."
"What's my biggest problem?" the governor's eyebrows went up.
"The convention," Lucas said. "The protesters are gonna trash the place, right down the hill from your office. If we quadrupled the security we're planning, it wouldn't be a quarter of what we need."
The governor frowned: "I don't know. This is a pretty lefty state..."
"The people causing the trouble aren't lefties," Lucas said, rapping his knuckles on the rosewood desk. "They're vandals. They're thugs. Petty criminals. Jerkoffs. They wouldn't care if the Blessed Virgin Mary showed up, holding hands with Karl Marx. This is their Super Bowl, and it's 60-40 that they're gonna tear us a new asshole."
The governor looked mildly impatient. "Is that what you came to tell me?"
"No, no. Nobody listens anyway," Lucas said. "The planners believe we can count on the good will of the people; like the vandals are just another caucus. Fuckin' morons..."
"The people? Or the planners?"
"Anyway..." The governor didn't pay any more attention than anyone else, and his eyes strayed back to the stack of newspapers.
"Anyway," Lucas said, leaning forward, "This is something different. Do you know Alyssa Austin, Hunter Austin's wife? Or widow, I guess?"
"Yes." The governor straightened around, picked a pair of black loafers off the floor, and slipped his feet into them, wiggling his toes. "I read about her kid. That's awful. She's dead, right?"
"Ninety-nine percent," Lucas said. "We cover Sunfish Lake on homicides, and we've got a new guy looking into it. He isn't getting much. I'd like to be able to tell people that the governor asked me to poke around, as a personal favor, and that I had no choice but to say ‘yes.'"
"So you won't piss off the new guy. Or Rose Marie," the governor said. The runt of the litter, but no dummy.
"That's right," Lucas said.
"Go ahead; I'll cover for you," the governor said. "I'll be raising money there this summer, in Sunfish. Probably know half the people in town. So if you could settle it before then, that'd be good."
"Not a problem," Lucas said.
"Let them know that you're out there at my suggestion," the governor added. "Especially if you catch the killers."
Lucas nodded. "Ferragamo," he said, and stood up. The audience was over.
"Yup. You want a fashion tip?" The governor picked another paper and checked at the front page before turning back to the classifieds.
"I always listen to fashion tips," Lucas said. That was true; he did. He didn't always follow them, but the governor had excellent taste.
"You always want your socks and your pajamas to be slightly gay," the governor said. "Not too gay, but slightly."
Lucas thought about it for a second, and said, "You're right. I knew that, but I never explicitly formulated it."
"Of course I'm right." The governor glanced at his solid-gold Patek Philippe. "Get out of here."
Back at his office, Lucas left a message with Rose Marie's secretary about the governor's request, make it clear that the message wasn't too important, then found Jim Benson sitting in his cubicle, fingers knitted behind his head, looking at a whiteboard with a lot of names and arrows. Lucas knocked on the doorframe and Benson swiveled, said, "Hey, Lucas: what's up?"
"The governor called me in this morning, man. He raises a lot of money over in Sunfish Lake, and he's asked me to take a personal look at the Austin case..."
Benson sat up: "I thought I had the bases pretty well-covered..."
Lucas said, "You probably do, but old lady Austin and the governor are pals, and she's one of his big backers... Nothing personal, man..."
"I hate that kind of goddamn politics," Benson said. "Favoritism for the rich, that what it is..."
"Shhh," Lucas said, "For Christ's sakes, you don't know who can hear you..."
Getting the files out of Benson was like pulling a tooth; nasty. But Lucas got them, for a couple of hours, anyway. Told Benson he'd just skim the paper, talk to a few people, kick over a couple of rocks so when the governor asked...
He'd already read the preliminary reports; now he spent an hour looking at the paper, then gave the file to his secretary and told her to Xerox it, and return it to Benson, as quickly as possible. "It'd be nice if he thought I just glanced at it. Don't mention that you made a copy."
"Ah, screwin' the new guy, huh?" Carol said.
By early afternoon, the storm had cleared. Splashing through the left-over puddles, Lucas took the Porsche off Robert Street south of St. Paul, and poked into the bare winter forest that was Sunfish Lake.
The Twin Cities have no really exclusive suburbs, except those that are exclusively rich or poor. No social barriers: if you had the cash or could get the mortgage, you could live there, whatever your race, color, creed or national origin. Sunfish Lake was one of those.
The first fifty feet of the Austin driveway were gravel, as if to say, we may be rich, but we're really country. The last three hundred feet were blacktop, which said, we may be country, but we're not stupid.
The driveway ran slightly uphill, then over a crest and down the house. The house had three sections that he could see a center/main section, of stone and redwood, with barren flower beds under the white-painted window trim; and a cedar-shingled wing on each end, bending away from him, toward the lake. The four-car garage was in the right wing.
The house was buried in oaks and spruce, a rambling modernist affair, snuggled into the slope, surrounded by a patch of grass that faded into the forest. From the crest of the hill, Lucas could see a broad flagstone path meandering down to the lake. A wheeled dock had been pulled out of the water, next to the path, and a finger of snow hunkered beneath it. More snow hid out in the woods, where it had been protected from the rain.
Lucas parked the Porsche, and got out into the smell of wet old leaves, late-winter woods, and the faintest stink of rotting fish. He walked up to the door, rang the doorbell, and grinned at his reflection in the glass panel beside the door.
He was wearing jeans, a white shirt, Mephisto black-leather athletic shoes, a black leather jacket and Aviator sunglasses. He was packing heat, he thought, and also carried a gun.
Austin glanced at him through the glass, pulled the door open, and said, "I've already got a vacuum cleaner."
"Well, shoot, another wasted trip," Lucas said.
She smiled then, but a sad smile, the kind of smile he might have a month after one of his kids was killed. She said, "Lucas you look like a rich cop."
He smiled back and took her hand, which was cool and muscular and dry. "Alyssa. How are you?"
"Not good," she said. "Or you wouldn't be here. Come in."
She was a small woman and slender. She'd a swimmer in college, and after hooking up with Hunter Austin, had started a chain of high-end athletic clubs for wealthy women. The clubs Weather belonged to one were quiet, discreet, luxurious, efficient and expensive.
Alyssa Austin dabbled with several kinds of therapies, as well astrology and tarot; on the functioning side of her brain, she had degrees in management and accounting.
Lucas could see the swimmer in her, the athlete, as he followed her through the entry, down the high-ceiling hall to the living room. Her ass was like a rock, and interesting to look at. His taste in women was catholic, but she fit into a particularly interesting small-tough-blonde slot, the same slot occupied by Weather.
"... couldn't think of what else to do, so finally, I called Weather. I know that makes you unhappy," she was saying.
"No, no, I'm happy to it," he lied. Great ass or not, she was goofy. The thought brought to mind the punchline of the old Mickey Mouse-Minnie Mouse joke "I didn't say you were crazy, I said you were fuckin' Goofy."
He smiled to himself, then hid the smile.
The living room was done as two partial-hemispheres of glass, looking out toward the lake, almost like the cups of a brassiere. A circle of over-stuffed furniture made a conversation group in one of the cups, and she took him there. "Coffee? Beer? Pepsi? I've got some great coffee."
"That'd be fine," Lucas said.
"Be right back."
She disappeared down another hall, and he could hear her speaking to someone, and a reply. A minute later she was back, trailed by a dark-haired young woman carrying a ceramic tray that held two cups of coffee, a ceramic pot, and a pile of butter cookies.
"Thanks, Helen. Are you off now?"
"Unless you need me," the woman said.
"Take off. Say hello to Ricky for me."
The housekeeper looked uncertainly at Lucas and then said, "I'd be happy to stay a while longer..." She had a Ole-and-Lena accent from Northern Minnesota, but with dark eyes and hair that seemed more middle-eastern than Nordic.
"Mr. Davenport is a policeman. We're discussing Frances," Austin said. "I'm safe his wife would kill him if he attacked me."
The housekeeper rattled around in the kitchen for another minute or two, as Lucas and Austin chatted about the view over the lake, and about a six-foot-long oil painting that snapped of the bluffs over the Mississippi, south of St. Paul's downtown, in a rainstorm.
"It's a Kidd landscape we were lucky enough to buy it while they were still affordable," Austin said. "Do you know his work?"
"Actually, I know Kidd," Lucas said. "He just got married a year or so ago he's got a new son."
"Mmm," Austin said. "Too bad. If nothing romantic came along, I was thinking of looking him up."
"You might have gotten along," Lucas said.
"Why? Is he fuckin' goofy too?
Lucas' mouth nearly dropped open: she'd snatched the words out of his head. Instead, he laughed, and said, "Actually, he's a pretty nice guy. Used to be a wrestler in college, same time I was skating."
The housekeeper ducked her head into the living room to say that there were more cookies in the jar, and that she was leaving. A moment later they heard the garage-access door close, and they were alone.
Austin sat on an oversized leather easy chair, and pulled her feet up to sit cross-legged, yoga-style. "How do you want to do this? You want me to talk?"
Lucas took a cup of coffee, leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs, looking at her over the cup. "I've read the file on your case and I checked the Minneapolis homicide guys on Dick Ford. And I looked at some of the crime scene photos on Ford. I can see a superficial similarity in the..." He paused, groping for a better phrase, couldn't find one: "... blood trail. I know about the Goth connection. That's what I know."
She nodded, and took a cup of coffee, and a sip. "Okay. So you know the basics. Now, you should also know I don't know if this kind of thing would be in their reports but your investigating agent, this James Benson, thinks I may have had something to do with whatever happened to Frances."
She paused, looking for a reaction, but Lucas just nodded: let her go on. "There are some reasons that they think that. By their lights. You know, statistics: that most murders like this involve friends or relatives. But Frances didn't have a boyfriend at the moment, and her last two, going back five years, both had alibis. She was careful; she was quite aware of who she was, and how rich she was. Also, if she were murdered here, how did the people come and go? Nobody saw a car."
Lucas held up a finger: "There must have been one, right? If she was killed, and her body isn't here, then it must have been moved." He turned his head and looked out at the lake: "Did they check the lake?"
"No. It was completely iced-up, and there was snow, and there were no footprints in the snow. There was unbroken snow around the whole house. So, you're right. There must have been a car."
"How long were you gone that day?"
"All day. Since nine o'clock," she said. "Helen was here until four, and Frances hadn't arrived by then."
"Did anybody check the housekeeper?" Lucas asked.
"Yes. No big specific alibi, but she says she left right at four, and she got gas up in South St. Paul..."
"That's right," Lucas said, remembering. "She had a couple of charge slips."
"Charge slip and a ATM withdrawal. Helen got along with Frances. I can't imagine that she'd have anything to do with it."
"Okay. And the crime scene analysis says the blood was a couple of hours old when you arrived."
"That's right. Anyway, before we get too far, I need to tell you one more thing. Frances and I... wait, to start at the beginning Hunter and I had problems. Marital problems. Whether we would have worked them out, I don't know."
Lucas uncrossed his legs and leaned toward her. "When you say problems you mean infidelity problems, political disagreements, what?"
"Oh... who knows, really?" She smiled briefly, a quick flash and gone. "He was eight years older than I am. I don't know exactly what it was, male menopause, or maybe he just got tired of my act. As he got older he was fifty-one when he died he got more and more macho. Hanging out at the airport, working on his plane. Bought a Harley and an Indian and something else. An old Vincent Black, something like that? Didn't pay much attention to me anymore. Hung out with the guys all the time. I thought of it as... boy problems."
"You know, is this all there is? He might have been boinking his assistant, but... boys will be boys. Anyway, Frances picked up on the tension, didn't understand what was going on and took her father's side. When he was killed, she was really torn up. I was, too, actually. We'd been married for twenty-three years; that wasn't nothing. So, after the memorial service, Frances and I began to have disagreements. She'd pick fights with me; go out of her way to do it. We were the co-executors of Hunter's will, and she hired her own outside attorney and accountant because she thought I might try to do something funny about the money... cut her out."
"You didn't do that?" Lucas asked.
"Of course not," Austin said. "There was way more money than either of us needed, for the rest of our lives." She lifted her hands toward the ceiling, to indicate the richness of the house, "Way more than enough."
"So, who inherited from Frances?" Lucas asked.
"She died without a will. If she's gone. She was only twenty-one," she said.
"So you inherited," Lucas said, answering his own question.
She nodded. "Yes. And you're starting to sound like Benson."
Lucas watched her for a moment, realized he'd noticed, but hadn't realized how dressed up she was. The pants and jersey together cost two thousand dollars, he'd bet; and her hair-do, done in what Lucas thought of as an ice-skater cut, probably cost five hundred. She'd dressed up for him, something he doubted that she often did, in the daytime, in the winter. She was being formal; she was pleading.
He said, "When women kill, they often do it with a knife. Not because they plan to, but because they do it close to the kitchen, and there are knives handy, and they're familiar with them. They do it in a moment of passion, the heat of an argument. You had a daughter, with whom you'd been having disagreements, a large amount of money was involved, there was a substantial blood trail but no signs of a shot or impact trauma, so if she was killed... it's very likely could have been done with a knife. And you told the police that you think a knife might be missing."
She nodded again: "To summarize the Benson position."
"And you didn't do it."
"No. Not only did I not do it, I can't get the investigation I want, either," Austin said. "Let them investigate me go ahead, they're wasting their time, but go ahead. But investigate other people too. If Frances was killed, she came here with someone she knew the alarm system had been turned off. So that's the critical thing: who would she come here with? Somebody must know. Somebody must know."
"Why aren't you absolutely sure the knife is missing?" Lucas asked.
"Because I don't inventory knives. Do you? I thought not," she snapped. More quietly, "It was a small knife. The kind you use to pare apples. Wooden handle, from Chicago cutlery. We didn't keep it in the cutting block. It was at one time in the end drawer in the kitchen. Actually, it's possible that Frances took it with her when she got an apartment, and then, in one of her moves, she left it with somebody. But the police asked me to inventory the knives, and I couldn't find that one. I know I had it, at one time."
"The bartender in Minneapolis was killed with a much bigger knife, a butcher knife or a hunting knife, even," Lucas said. "Not an apple-parer."
"Still... maybe the killer learned from experience." Her finger tips went to her mouth. "Oh, God. What'd I just say?" Tears glistened at the corners of her eyes.
He sat there watching her as she went through a crying jag, pressing her knuckles into her mouth, but unable to stop for a minute or two. When she finally reined herself in, he said "I'm sorry, if I touched that off."
"Naw, it's not you. I do that every once in a while," she said. "I talked to my shrink, and he said that releasing the emotion would make me feel better. But you know what? It doesn't. It makes me feel worse."
She started again, cried for ten seconds, then cut it off, wiped her eyes with the heels of her hands.
"You're going to have to fix your makeup," Lucas said. "You've got a smear of eye-liner."
"Yeah... well, I've gotten used to that, too."
"Did you know any of her friends?" Lucas asked. "I could look up a few of them..."
"I've got a list." She jumped up, walked fifteen feet to a dining table, picked up a notebook, slipped out a sheet of paper and brought it back to him. "The ones I know best were her friends from high school. I've known them for years. One or two of them hung around with her Goth group, too. So they should be able to lead you into that."
Lucas glanced at the list eight or ten names and addresses, neatly printed on cream-colored stationery and asked, "Why would you suspect a Goth? Did any of them ever... say anything, or do anything?"
She sat down again. "I hardly knew them. When I came, they left. But I've read about them, they worship darkness, they're fascinated by death, by... you know, they're crazy."
"Frances was crazy?"
"No. She was young. She was experimental. Like I was, when I went to school," she said. "Except my experiments weren't like hers. Mine felt outrageous and my parents were outraged, but I wasn't unsafe. I've got a tattoo around my belly button, I smoked some pot, I made out with another woman. I didn't sit around in cemeteries with guys in skirts and white-face, talking about what's on the Other Side. Other Side meaning death."
Lucas tried to suppress a sigh, but sighed anyway. She heard it: "What?"
"Let me come back to this thing about your marital problems," Lucas said. "You say your husband might have been... I think you said ‘boinking' his assistant. That means he was sleeping with her?"
"Possibly," Austin said.
"Possibly? Weren't you a little upset by that?"
Her forehead wrinkled, and she thought about it, shook her head and said, "I suppose. But not too much. It wasn't like she was a threat. If we'd gotten divorced, it'd have been because our partnership wasn't working anymore. But that part the partnership was okay. We had the same interests, the same friends, we both got a lot of pleasure out of our work and our home. If he was having an affair, that was just... part of this thing he was going through. It was serious, but not critical, if you know what I mean."
"I don't," Lucas said. "If Weather had an affair..."
He trailed off, and she jumped in: "You'd what? Shoot her? Beat her up?"
"Of course not. You're civilized," Austin said. "So you'd shout at her and go storming out of the house. If you were deadly serious you'd hire some Nazi attorney and pound her in the divorce. But... what if you didn't care about sleeping with her anymore, but you still liked her, and you saw it all coming on? Then you might wind up like Hunter and I did. The sex didn't completely stop; it just wasn't central anymore."
"What was his assistant's name?"
"Smart, pretty, big boobs, hustled all the time. Available twenty-four/seven. She did a lot of his work for him, I think, toward the end. She was a junior-level exec when he took her as his assistant. MBA from St. Thomas. She knew some stuff. And he groomed her."
"I'm not all that clear on what your husband manufactured," Lucas said.
"High-tech machine parts. Essentially, a tool-and-die place that also made one-off final products. They have a lot of defense work."
"You still own it?"
"We controlled it until we had to liquidate to pay the taxes we owned about 32 percent of the stock," Austin said. "When he died, five percent went to charity, we got the rest, and when the feds and the state were finished with us, we had lots of money and no stock."
"How about Martina?" Lucas asked. "What happened to her after Austin died?"
"She kept working there, at least for a while. She was there when we cashed out, but I didn't track her," Austin said. "She wasn't too popular, by the time he died. She was telling the other top execs what Austin wanted done, and sometimes, what she wanted done. So they may have parted ways."
"Okay. So: the affair wasn't too important," Lucas said.
"Well important, but not critical."
They sat there for a moment, and he thought, "It'd be critical to me," and then he slapped his open hands on his knees and said, "I'll talk to some people."
"You'll really make an effort?" She showed her skepticism, as he'd showed the sigh.
"I can't promise unlimited time and I could get pulled for another job," Lucas said. He folded the list and slipped it into his jacket pocket. "We've got the Republican convention coming, and I'm on the security committee. But I'll talk to some people."
She smiled at him. "Fuck a bunch of Republicans. If you slack off, I'll turn you in to Weather."
"Your mean, like, with your magic wand?"
She didn't get it for a moment, and a wrinkle appeared on her forehead, "No, I meant..." Then she smiled. "I get it. A play on words. And I will turn you into Weather."
The interview, he thought as rolled back out the driveway, hadn't been as bad as he feared. No talk of planets, no cards, no chicken guts. And the problem was interesting. Rich people, infidelity, missing knives. Blood on the floor. He was whistling as he got back on the highway, and headed north and west to Minneapolis.
The Minneapolis City Hall is not a pretty building. A pile of red granite, a sullen 19th Century Romanesque lump, it squats amidst the glittering glass-and-steel towers of the loop like a wart poking gout of a diamond necklace.
Lucas had spent half of his career going in and out of the place. He'd been sworn in as a street cop there, had moved up through the ranks, and wound up as a politically appointed deputy chief; and he still walked through every few weeks, for meetings, to visit with friends, to hang out.
He found a cops-only parking spot at the curb and put the BCA tag under the windshield; but enough cops would recognize the Porsche that he hardly needed the tag. Not that recognition meant complete protection the last time he'd parked there, one of his ex-colleagues had stuck a yellow-on-blue gay-rights "equal" sticker on his back bumper.
Inside, he walked along to homicide, just like he had five thousand times before, except that nothing smelled like nicotine anymore. A guy coming out let him in: "Hey, dude."
Harold Anson was sitting at his desk, synchronizing an MP3 player with a laptop, deeply involved, unaware that Lucas was coming up behind him.
Lucas said, "I didn't know there were that many polkas."
Anson jumped, turned, clapped his hand to his heart and said, "Jesus Christ, man, don't sneak up on me."
"You look guilty," Lucas said. "You stealing that stuff?"
"Of course not," Anson said. "I could be investigated by the FBI."
They both laughed, and Lucas asked, "You're working the Ford murder?"
Anson perked up a bit, punched the computer out, swiveled his chair around. "Yeah. What's up?"
"The governor is a friend of Alyssa Austin's," Lucas said. He propped himself on an empty desk. "He's squeezing me to talk to a couple of people. I don't want to step on your toes."
"No skin off my butt," Anson said, yawning and stretching. "You oughta mention it to Whistler."
Whistler was the lieutenant in charge of homicide.
"I called him, he said it's no skin off his butt, but I should run it past you," Lucas said.
Anson shrugged: "So no butt skin. Welcome to the big time. We copied everything over to Jim Benson."
"I took a look at it," Lucas said. "He's dead in the water, on Austin. He's not even sure the kid is dead."
"She's dead," Anson said flatly. "You only think she's not dead if you think about it too much."
Lucas agreed. Frances Austin was dead. "You guys got nothing on Ford?"
"We're not over-supplied with clues," Anson agreed. "We're still talking."
"I'm going to talk behind you," Lucas said, pushing off the desk. "If I get anything, I'll give you a call."
"Do that," Anson said. "Listen, how much do you think Benson makes over there?"
"I don't know. Maybe seventy-five in an average year," Lucas said.
"Yeah? He doesn't seem like the sharpest knife in the dishwasher."
"He's okay," Lucas said.
"So what would a guy have to do...?"
They bullshitted about job openings for a while. Anson was coming up on twenty-two years with Minneapolis and was looking to double-dip on a pension. "Unfortunately, my only expertise is in street proctology."
Macy's was a ten-minute walk from homicide, through the underground tunnel to the government center, up to the Skyways, and through the maze of bridges and hallways to the heart of the shopping district. Lucas stopped and bought an ice-cream cone, stopped again to talk to a couple of uniforms who were frog-marching a shoplifter down to a squad car.
The shoplifter was dressed exactly like a movie shoplifter, in wrinkled grey-cotton slacks and stained parka, set off with a five-day beard and fuzzy, aging Rasta braids. Half-hanging from the arms of the cops, who were wearing yellow rubber gloves, he said, "Hey... Davenport."
"That you, Louis?" Louis didn't look so good. His weight was down fifty pounds, and maybe more, since the last time Lucas had seen him.
"It's me," Louis said.
"You look sort of fucked up," Lucas said, licking the cone.
"Got the AIDs, man." His eyes turned up to Lucas, and Lucas could see that the whites were going yellow.
"Ah, Jesus, Louis."
"Gonna get you sooner or later," Louis said. Louis wasn't exactly gay, but he was for sale.
"Don't plead out. Take the jail time," Lucas said.
Louis was insulted: "Hey, whacha think I'm doin' getting caught?"
Lucas said, "Don't pass it on, man. You get in there, you sleep on your back."
Louis' eyes turned back to the floor: "What gonna happen, gonna happen. What it is, is what it is."
"We'll talk to the sheriff's guys," one of the uniforms said.
Lucas nodded and ambled on, looking in store windows, said hello to a salesman at the Hubert White men's store, let himself get pulled inside to look at an Italian summer suit, a steal at $2,495, and then crossed Nicollett Mall on the skyway bridge to Macy's and found cosmetics. A woman in a white jacket, behind the Dior counter, was staring into space. He walked through the space and she didn't blink. "Charlene Mobry?"
Now she blinked, took him in, sighed, and turned and looked down the counter at another woman in a white jacket, who was rearranging a shelf of eau de cologne bottles. She called, "Charlene? You got a customer."
Charlene Mobry was dishwater blond, thirty pounds too heavy, puffy lips, green eyes, and small fat hands with tiny polished nails and rings on each thumb. She said, "Help you?"
Lucas took out his ID and unfolded it on the counter. "I'd like to talk to you for a few minutes, about Dick Ford."
"Ohh..." Her lower lip trembled and she looked sideways, as though she might run for it. Then she came back to him, with her eyes, and he realized how deeply sad she was. "Did you find... who did it?"
"I'm with the state," Lucas said, as he shook his head. "We're doing a parallel investigation: we really want to get this guy. Whoever it is. Don't have him yet."
Mobry nodded and called to the spaced-out woman to whom Lucas had first spoken. "Mary. This guy's a policeman. I've got to go talk to him about Dick."
"Okay," Mary said.
Mobry led the way across the store, behind a counter into a stock room, steel racks filled with shoe boxes. A couple of plastic chairs were pushed into a corner; the shelf next to the chairs held an old radio, unplugged, and an ash tray with four snubbed-out filter-cigarette butts. They sat down and Lucas took a notebook out of his breast pocket, and asked, "You were dating Mr. Ford?"
"We hung out," she said. "Like we'd go to dinner. We weren't a hundred percent a couple, but we sorta were."
"You told the Minneapolis police that you didn't have any ideas at all, about who might have done this," Lucas said.
"An asshole," she said.
"Have you heard anything at all, since you talked to Minneapolis? Any thoughts about Mr. Ford? Anything?"
"Just gossip. Everybody says the Goths must've done it, but I know quite a few of them, and most of them are pretty nice. I never met a Goth who'd have done it."
"You're not a Goth?"
"Do I look like one?" she asked.
"Well, after work..."
"No, I'm not. It used to make me laugh. It's too dramatic."
"But Mr. Ford was a Goth..."
"Sort of. Yeah, he was. But you know, it comes and goes. Like it was pretty big twenty years ago, and ten years ago, and now here it comes again... Dick was really into it ten years ago, but then not so much, and he wasn't so into it this time. He changed. He stopped smoking dope, he stopped drinking, he started saving money, he was taking a class in bookkeeping. He wanted to start his own club and I think..." Her voice went squeaky: "... I think he might have done it, if some asshole hadn't killed him."
Lucas paused, waited for her to pull back together; the smell of the old cigarette butts closed in around them. "You saw him the night he was killed. A the A1."
"Yes." Her head bobbed and she bit her lower lip, holding it together. "I went over after work. I had a beer and a cheeseburger, and we talked for a couple of minutes, but it was pretty busy, so I went home. We were gonna go to a play the next night, over at Loring Park. I never saw him again... I went out of the bar and I turned around and waved and he waved back and that was the last I saw him forever."
"That's tough," Lucas said.
"You said there was more gossip..."
She looked away, then back. "A friend of Dick's, named Karl, said there was a Goth girl around, a fairy..." As she talked about it, her voice rose in pitch, and became squeaky with grief. "... and she was talking to Dick before closing. Not that there was anything going on, but nobody knew her."
Lucas asked, "Did you tell the Minneapolis police about this?"
"No... Karl was supposed to."
Lucas hadn't seen anyone named Karl in the Minneapolis paper. "What's Karl's last name?"
"Lageson." She spelled it, and added, "Karl with a K. He lives in Uptown. I don't know where, exactly."
Lucas noted it down, and asked, "So what's a fairy look like?"
"Oh, you know. Skinny, small, big eyes, dark hair. Short skirts, long legs, ripped stockings. Everything black. Black nail polish, crimson lipstick. Black hair. I mean, not all fairies have black hair, but she did."
"I don't think Karl told anybody," Lucas said.
"Oh, shit. He should have. He's the one who saw her. Or says he did. But he's sort of..." She put a finger up at her temple and made a few circles. "He's smoked too much weed. He might have just thought it up. Or gotten it from one of his Goth comics."
"Anybody else see her?" Lucas asked.
"I don't know. If you go down to the A1, they'll be talking about it, if anybody saw her. I mean some hot fairy mysterious Goth chick, everybody would be talking. Goths gossip a lot."
"A few weeks ago, a young woman, a Goth, named Frances Austin disappeared," Lucas said.
"I know about it," she said, nodding. "The blood in the hall. She and Dick knew each other. You probably knew that."
"Did you know her?"
Her gaze fixed on him, but defocused, as she considered the question. "I'm not sure. I saw her picture in the paper, and on TV, and people at the A1 were talking about it, because she'd been there the day before she disappeared. But I don't know if I really remember her, or just remember the pictures on TV. I mean, I didn't know her, but I might have seen her."
"What was the nature of her relationship with Mr. Ford?"
"Well, he wasn't sleeping with her, if that's what you're wondering," Mobry said. "It was more like, a bartender with a regular who's an okay person, and they shared some things like the gothic. A person who doesn't start trouble and is friendly and leaves a tip."
"Did you and Mr. Ford..."
"Call him Dick. Mr. Ford sounds really... dead."
"Did you and Dick talk about her?" Lucas asked.
"Oh, sure, right after she disappeared. The police came and talked to Dick and he told them what he knew. Which was hardly anything. She came in and got fish 'n chips the day before she disappeared. She was with a couple of other Goths the police have their names, I don't remember them. But then the day she disappeared, she didn't come in. I think it was in the paper that she and a friend had lunch that day somewhere else, like a bagel place."
"That's right," Lucas said.
"So not at the A1. Anyway, she and Dick weren't intimate and I don't mean sex. I mean, they didn't share life stories. Dick was a bartender, so you know, he was a professional bullshitter. He didn't even have any good bullshit about her."
"Huh." Lucas rubbed his nose. Goddamn stale cigarettes.
"Do you think the same person who killed Dick killed Frances?" Mobry asked.
"I don't know. We don't even know if she's dead," Lucas said.
She sat with her hands in her lap: "You sound like you're stuck."
"I just started," Lucas said. "I'm trying to get something going."
"Why don't you do some of that magic DNA stuff like you see on TV?"
"We did," Lucas said. "The problem is, it's not magic. Most of the time, you wind up proving that people who already said they were there, were there."
"That doesn't help," she said.
They sat among the boxes, staring at each other for a moment, then Lucas asked, "Neither of you, you or Dick, had any bad vibrations from people, felt like somebody knew something, something was being held back?"
She shook her head. "Nothing. I've got nothing. I don't even have a body. His parents came and got him and took him back to Rochester. The funeral's Friday."
He stood up. "All right. I'm really sorry for your loss. Dick sounds like an okay guy."
"He was a good guy," Mobry said, and the tears started again. "Are you going to find the fairy Goth?"
"Yeah, I am. Any ideas?"
"If she's real, somebody at the A1 knows her. Some of the guys would have been following her around, if she looks like what she sounds like."
"Anything else? Anything?"
She shrugged, wiped tears away with her finger tips, said, "Do the Austins have a butler? Maybe the butler did it."
Then she cried, and Lucas patted her on the shoulder and asked if she'd be all right, and she said, "Yeah, I'd just like to sit here a while," and Lucas left.
She hadn't had anything to do with the murder, he thought. In Lucas' experience, women who killed their boyfriends suffered either from too much intensity or too much innocence; Mobry didn't have either quality.
Like Austin, she was overwhelmed with sadness; all the sadness was getting him down.
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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