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|The Prey Series|
Porter Smalls looked across the front seat at the driver. The summer foliage was dark around the Cadillac Escalade as they rolled up the dirt lane. The south branch of the Potomac River snaked along below them; the windows were down and the muddy/fishy odor of the river filled the car.
"A bit in a good way," Cecily Whitehead said.
Whitehead had taken a cold shower in the cabin's well-water shortly before they left, and dabbed on a touch of Chanel 5 as she dressed. The combined odor of the two scents was more than pleasant, it was positively erotic.
"I'll drive if you want," Smalls offered. He was a small man, like his name, thin and fit, looked like he might have spent time on a mountain bike. He had white hair that curled down over the collar of his golf shirt, flashing too-white veneered teeth, and rimless made-for-television glasses over pale blue eyes.
"No, I'm fine," Whitehead said. She buckled her seatbelt over her shimmery slip-dress, that in earlier days might have gotten her arrested if she'd worn it out of her bedroom. "You finished the wine if we got stopped for some reason..."
"Right," Smalls said.
He kicked the seat back another couple of inches, crossed his hands across his stomach and closed his eyes.
Above them, in the trees, a man had been watching with binoculars. When the silver SUV rolled down the driveway, past the mailbox, and made the left turn onto the dirt lane, he lifted a walkie-talkie to his face and said, "I'll be home for dinner."
A walkie-talkie, because if nobody within three miles was on exactly the same channel at exactly the right time, there'd be no trace of the call; nothing for even the NSA to latch onto. Nor would there be any trace of the five rapid clicks he got back, acknowledging the message.
He was on foot, with his pick-up spot a half-mile away. He'd walked in on a game trail and he walked out the same way, moving slowly, stopping every hundred feet to watch and listen. He'd never sat down while on watch, but had remained standing next to the gnarly gray bark of an aging ash: there'd be no observation post for anyone to find, no discarded cigarette butts or candy wrappers with DNA on them. He'd worn smooth-soled boots: no treads marks in the soft earth.
He was a professional.
U.S. Senator Porter Smalls owned a cabin in the hills of West Virginia, two and a half hours from Washington, D.C. close enough to be an easy drive, far enough to obscure activities that might need to be obscured.
He and Whitehead, one of his wife's best friends his wife was back in Minnesota had locked up the place and headed back to DC as the sun wedged itself below the horizon on a hot Sunday afternoon. The timing was deliberate: they would enjoy the cover of darkness when she dropped him off at his Watergate condo.
Smalls and Whitehead had spent an invigorating two days talking about political philosophy, history, horses, money, life and mutual friends, while they worked their way through Smalls' battered '80s paperback copy of The Joy of Sex.
Smalls was married, Whitehead not, but she drove the car because of a kind of Washington logic concerning sex and alcohol. A little light adultery, while not considered a necessarily positive thing in Washington, was certainly not to be compared with a DWI as a criminal offense. Banging an adult male or live woman might maybe get you a paragraph on a Washington Post blog. God help you if Mothers Against Drunk Driving jumped your elective ass.
So Whitehead drove.
A fifty-year-old political junkie and Republican Party money-woman, Whitehead was thin and tanned and freckled, with short dark hair so expertly colored you couldn't tell that it had been the occasional strands of gray gave it a sly verisimilitude. She had a square chin and looked a bit like Amelia Earhart. Like Earhart, she flew her own plane, in Whitehead's case, a twin engine Beechcraft King Air. She owned a mansion on one of Minneapolis' lakes, and a two-thousand acre farm south of the Twin Cities, on which she raised Tennessee Walkers.
Smalls' wife didn't know for sure that Whitehead was sleeping with her husband, and the topic had never come up. For the past four years Smalls' wife had been living with her Lithuanian lover in a loft in downtown Minneapolis, a topic that had come up between them any number of times.
Lithuanians were known as the sexual athletes of Northern Europe. Smalls was aware of that fact, but no longer cared what his wife did, as long as she didn't do it in the streets. Actually, he hoped she was happy, because he was still fond of the mother of his children. He made a mental note to take her to dinner the next time he was in the Twin Cities.
"Be there by ten," Whitehead said.
"I've got that dimwit Clancy at noon," Smalls said, not opening his eyes.
"Dim, but persistent," Whitehead said. "He told Perez that if Medtronic gets the VA deal, that Abbott will have to cut jobs in his district. Perez believes him. It might even be true."
"Tough shit," Smalls said. "If Abbott gets it, Medtronic might have to cut people. That ain't gonna happen. Not when Porter Smalls knows that our beloved majority leader has that backdoor job at Rio Javelena."
"If you ever mention that to him, he'll find some way to stick something sharp and nasty up your rectum."
Smalls smiled: "Why, Ceecee... you don't think I'd ever actually mention it to him, do you?"
Whitehead squeezed his knee. "I hope to hell not. No, I don't think you'd do that. How are you gonna let him know that you know?"
"Kitten will think of something," Smalls said.
Whitehead smiled into the growing darkness, their headlights ricocheting through the roadside trees. Kitten Carter, Smalls' chief of staff, would think of something. She and Whitehead talked a couple of times a week, plotting together the greater glory of the U.S.A. in general and Porter Smalls in particular.
Whitehead was a lifelong yoga enthusiast and show horse competitor. She had a strong body, strong legs and arms, and for a woman, large strong hands. She wheeled the Escalade up the track faster than most people might have, staining the evening air with dust and gravel. She'd spent much of her life on farms, shoveling horse shit with the best of them, driving trucks and tractors, and knew what she was doing, keeping the twenty-two inch wheels solidly in the twin tracks.
A half-mile down the river, the track crossed a state-maintained gravel road, and with a bare glance to her left, she hooked the truck to the right and leaned on the gas pedal.
A few minutes later, they topped a hill and in the distance, Whitehead could see a string of lights on a highway that would take them to the Interstate that would take them into Washington. The river still unwound below them, below a long slope, the last fifty feet sharpening into a bluff.
A minute later, Whitehead said, "What an asshole. This jerk is all over me."
"What?" Smalls had almost dozed off. Now he pushed himself up, aware that the truck's cabin was flooded with light. He turned in his seat. A pickup he thought it was a pickup, given the height of the headlights wasn't more than fifteen or twenty feet behind them, as they rolled along the gravel at fifty miles an hour.
He said, "I don't like this."
At the crest of the hill, the truck swung out into the left lane and accelerated and Smalls said, "Hey, hey!"
Whitehead floored the gas pedal, but too late. Too late. The truck swung into them, smashed the side of the Escalade, which went off the road, through roadside brush and trees, across a ditch and down the precipitous hillside. Instead of trying to pull the truck back up the hillside, which would have caused it to roll sideways, Whitehead turned downhill, for a second, then said, her voice sharp, "Hold on, Porter, I'm gonna try to hit a tree. Keep your arms up in case the airbag blows..."
Smalls lifted his arms and the car bounced and bucked across the hill, heading sharply down toward the bluff below as Whitehead pumped the brakes. He didn't actually think it, but Smalls knew in his gut that they only had a few seconds to live.
They hit a line of saplings, plowed through them, hit a tree that must have been six inches in diameter, breaking it cleanly off. The impact caused the truck to skew sideways while plowing forward and now Smalls felt Whitehead hit the accelerator and the engine screamed as the oversized tires tried to dig into the hillside and he realized that she was barking with each impact: "Ay, ay, ay, ay..."
They were still angling downhill, but less steeply now. They hit another small tree, and the vehicle snapped around and hit a bigger tree. The airbag exploded and hit Smalls in the face and he was aware that the truck was beginning to tilt downhill, toward the bluff, and the driver's side window suddenly blew in. They'd almost stopped, not thirty feet from the edge of the bluff, but were not quite settled, and the car blundered another few lengths backward and smashed into a final tree, which pushed up the passenger side of the truck. The Escalade slowly, majestically, rolled over on its roof and came to a stop.
Smalls, hanging upside down in his safety belt, was half-blinded with blood rolling down into his eyes, felt no pain, not yet, and cried, "I smell gas. We gotta get out of here. Get out! Get out!"
He looked sideways at Whitehead, who was hanging upside down from her safety belt. The overhead light had come on when the door came loose. Her eyes were open, but blank, and blood was running from one ear into her hair.
He called "Ceecee, Ceecee," but got no response. Blood was still pouring down his face and into his eyes as he freed his safety belt and dropped onto the inside of the roof. He unlocked the door and pushed it open a few inches, where it stuck on a sapling. He kicked the door a half dozen times until it opened far enough that he could squeeze out.
As soon as he was free, he wiped the blood from his eyes, realized that it had been coming from his nose, as he was hanging upside down. As he cleared his eyes, he stumbled around to the back of the truck, popped the lid, found his canvas overnight bag and took out the chrome .357 magnum he kept there. He tucked the gun in his belt and looked uphill: no sign of anyone. No headlights, no brake lights, nothing but the gathering dusk, the knee-high weeds and the broken trees, the natural silence pierced by the numerous warning and alarm beeps and buzzes from the Cadillac.
He hurried to the driver's side of the truck, wedged the door open as far as he could, unhooked Whitehead's safety belt and let her drop into his arms. He had to struggle to get her out of the truck, but the odor of gas gave him the strength of desperation. When she was out, he picked her up and carried her fifty feet across the hillside, then lowered her into the weeds, knelt beside her and listened for a moment. The scent of her, the Chanel 5 and well water, now mixed with the coppery/meaty odor of fresh blood.
He heard and saw nothing: nobody on the hillside. The truck that hit them had vanished.
He whispered, "Ceecee. Ceecee, can you hear me?"
One headlight was still glowing from the SUV and he dug out his cellphone and called the local sheriff's department he had them on his contact list. He identified himself, told the dispatcher what had happened and that the incident might well have been a deliberate attack.
The dispatcher said deputies would be there in five minutes. "Be sure the emergency flashers are on," Smalls told the dispatcher. "I'm not coming out of the weeds until I'm sure I'm talking to the right guys. We'll need an ambulance; my friend's hurt bad."
When he got off the phone, he cradled Whitehead on his lap. The ambulance, he thought, wouldn't be in time: it was, in fact, already too late for Cecily Whitehead.
The cops came and an ambulance, and when Smalls was sure of who he was dealing with, he called to them from the hiding place in the weeds. They told him what he already knew: Whitehead was dead, had sustained a killing blow to the left side of her head, probably when a tree branch came through the driver's side window.
Smalls retrieved his government paper from the Cadillac as the cops and the EMTs took Whitehead up the hill in a black plastic body bag. Whitehead was put in the ambulance, but Smalls said he didn't need one: "A bloody nose, nothing worse. Give me something to wash my face."
The lead deputy asked who'd been driving and Smalls said, "Ceecee was."
"We need to give you a quick Breathalyzer anyway," the deputy said.
"Yes, fine," Smalls said. "I had a glass of wine before we left my cabin, Ceecee didn't have anything at all."
The test took two minutes. Smalls blew a 0.02, well below the drunk-driving limit of 0.08, although Smalls was an older man and older men were hit harder by alcohol than younger men.
"Be sure that's all recorded," Smalls told the cop. "I want this nailed down."
"Don't need to worry," the deputy said. "We'll get it right for you, senator. Now... did you see the truck?"
Smalls shook his head: "He had his high beams on and they were burning right through the back window of my Caddy. It was like getting caught in a searchlight. I couldn't see anything... and then he hit us."
The deputy looked down the hill: "She did a heck of a piece of driving. Another twenty, thirty feet and you'd have gone over the edge and hit that gravel bar liked you'd jumped out of a five-story building. Makes me kind of nervous even standing here."
The ambulance left for the Winchester Medical Center, Smalls following in a state police car. Whitehead's death was confirmed and Smalls was treated for the impact on his nose. It had continued to bleed, but a doc used what he called a "chemical cautery" on it, which stopped the bleeding immediately, and gave him some pain pills. Smalls said, "I don't need the pills."
"Not yet," the doc said. "You will."
When he was released, the deputies took him aside for an extended statement, and told him that the Cadillac would be left where it had landed until a state accident investigator could get to the scene.
When he was done with the interview, Smalls called Kitten Carter, his chief of staff, and arranged to have her drive to the hospital and pick him up. She said she would notify Whitehead's mother and father of her death.
And when there was nothing left to do, Smalls asked to be taken to the hospital's chapel. The police left him there, and Smalls, a lifelong Episcopalian, knelt and prayed for Cecily Whitehead's soul. Less charitably, he had a word with the Lord about finding the people who'd murdered her. Then he cried for a while, and finally pulled himself together and began thinking seriously about the accident.
That had been no accident.
It had been an assassination attempt and he thought he knew who was behind it. Justice, if not a court judgment, would come.
He said it aloud, to Whitehead: "I swear Ceecee, I will get them. I'll get every one of the motherfuckers."
Whitehead hadn't been particularly delicate, nor particularly forgiving: if she were already experiencing the afterlife, he had no doubt that she would be looking forward to any revenge, and the colder, the better.
Kitten Carter arrived at the hospital. She'd been on her cell phone for three hours by the time she got there. The first news of the accident would be leaked to reporters who owed her favors and who would put the most sympathetic interpretation to the night's events.
"... good friends and political allies who'd gone to the cabin to plot strategy for the summer clashes over the health-care proposals..."
The local deputies turned the crash investigation over to the West Virginia State Police. The second day after the accident, an investigator interviewed Smalls, in his senate office, with Carter sitting in. Smalls, with two black eyes and a broad white bandage over his nose, and dressed in a blue-striped seersucker suit with a navy blue knit tie, immediately understood that something was wrong.
The investigator's name was Carl Armstrong and when he'd finished with his questions, Smalls said, "Don't bullshit me, Carl. Something's not right. You think I'm lying about something. What is it?"
The investigator had been taking notes on a white legal pad inside a leather portfolio. He sighed, closed the portfolio and said, "Our lab has been over your vehicle inch-by-inch, sir. There's no sign that it was ever hit by another truck."
Carter was sitting in a wingback chair, illegally smoking a small brown cigarillo. She looked at Smalls, then frowned at Armstrong and said, "That's wrong. The other guys took them right off the road smashed them off. What do you mean there's no sign?"
Smalls jumped in: "That's exactly right. The impact caved the door in... there's gotta be some sign of that. I mean, I was in a fairly bad accident once, years ago, and both vehicles had extensive damage. This one was worse. The hit was worse. What do you mean, no sign?"
"No metal scrapes, no paint, no glancing blow. The only thing we've found are signs that you hit several trees on both sides of the truck and the front grill and hood," Armstrong said.
"Then you're not looking hard enough," Smalls snapped. "That guy crashed right into us and killed Ceecee and damn near killed me."
Armstrong looked away and shrugged. "Uh, well, I wonder if he actually hit you, or maybe just caused Miz Whitehead to lose control?"
"She hadn't been drinking..."
Armstrong held up a hand: "We know that. She had zero alcohol in her blood and we know she was driving because the blood on the driver's side of the cab and on the airbag matches hers. We don't doubt anything you've told us, except the impact itself..."
Carter: "Senator Smalls has provided a written statement in which he relates the force of the impact..."
"There's a low gravel berm where they went over the side, we're wondering if Miz Whitehead might have hit that hard and the senator might be mistaking that for the impact of the truck."
Smalls was already shaking his head: "No. I heard the truck hit. I saw it hit I was looking out the driver's side window when it hit..."
"There's no paint from another car, no metal, no glass on the road... no nothing," Armstrong repeated.
Carter said to Smalls, "Senator, maybe we need to get some FBI crime-scene people up there..."
Smalls put a finger on his lips, to shut her up. He stood and said, "Carl, I'm going to ask another guy to talk to you about the evidence, if you don't mind. Kitten and I don't know about such things, but I think it'd be a good idea if we put a second pair of eyes on this whole deal."
Armstrong had dealt with politicians a number of times and Smalls seemed to him to be one of the more reasonable members of the species. No shouting, no accusations. He flushed with relief, and said, "Senator... anything we can do, we'll be happy to do. We'd like to understand exactly what happened here. Send your guy around anytime. We'll probably give him more cooperation than he'll even want."
"That's great," Smalls said, extending a hand. "I'll drop a note to your Superintendent, thanking him for your work."
"Appeciate that," Armstrong said, as they shook. "I really do, sir."
When Armstrong had gone, Carter asked, "Why were you pouring butter on him? He didn't believe you. I mean, Jesus. Somebody killed Ceecee and almost killed you. If you let this stand, the whole thing is gonna get buried..."
"No, no, no..." Smalls was on his feet. He touched his nose, picked up the tube of pain pills, shook it like a maraca, put it back down; not many left, and he'd already taken one that morning. His nose was still burning like fire from the chemical cautery. The doc had been right about the pain pills, not for the mechanical damage, but for the cauterized tissue. He wandered over to his trophy wall, filled with plaques and keys to Minnesota cities and photos of himself with presidents, governors, other senators, assorted rich people, including Whitehead, and politically conservative movie stars.
Thinking about it.
Carter kept her mouth shut and after a moment, Smalls, playing with an earlobe and gazing at his pictures, said, "I'm surprised by... what Armstrong said. No evidence. But I'm not exactly astonished. Remember when I told you the first thing I did was get my gun, because I thought the guys who hit us might be paid killers? Assassins? Professionals?"
"Yeah, but I don't..."
"I was right. They were," Smalls said. "I don't know how exactly they did this, but I'm sure that if the right investigator looked under the right rock, he could find someone who could explain it. We need to get that done, because..."
"They could be coming back for another shot at you," Carter finished.
"Yeah. Probably not right away, but sooner or later." Smalls left the trophy wall, walked to his oversized desk, pushed a button on an intercom. "Sally... get Lucas Davenport on the line. His number's on your contact list."
"That's the guy..." Carter began.
"Yeah," Smalls said. "That's the guy."
Lucas Davenport and Charlie Knight walked out of the Sedgwick County Regional Forensic Science Center into the bright Kansas sunshine and Lucas took his sunglasses from his jacket pocket and slipped them on his nose and said, "Move on. Nothing to see here."
"Could be worse," Knight said. He put on his own sunglasses. They were silvered and made him look like a Texas highway patrolman in a movie, which he probably knew. His teeth, which didn't quite match the two upper central incisors were white, the others, various shades of yellow made him look even more like a Texas cop. "The sonofabitch might've lived."
That made Lucas smile and he said, "He wasn't as bad as his boss."
"Maybe not, but it'd be a goddamn close call." They'd been to look at the bullet-riddled body of a man named Molina.
"You want to write this up?" Lucas asked, as they walked out to the rental car.
"Yeah, I'll do it tonight," Knight said. "You'll be rolled up with your old lady by the time I get finished." Lucas' plane was going out that evening, Knight's not until the next morning.
"What about Wise?" Lucas asked.
"Fuck him. Let Wichita put him away," Knight said. "I don't know for sure, but I suspect the Kansas state pen ain't a leading garden spot."
"I suspect you're right about that," Lucas said. "So: you thinking steak or cheeseburger?"
"Anything with beef in it, that's not Mexican," Knight said.
"Yeah? Mexican's one of my favorites," Lucas said.
"I'm married to a Mexican and we got gourmet Mexicano right there in the kitchen, so I ain't eating Mexican in Wichita. I'd like to get outside a big bloody T-bone."
"You can do that in Wichita," Lucas said. "Did I ever tell you about the time I danced with a professional assassin in Wichita? No? Her name was Clara Rinker..."
Lucas, working out of Minneapolis, but without a lot to do, and Knight, working out of Dallas, had hooked up to look into the murder of a Jesus Rojas Molina.
Molina, at the time of his death, was in the federal Witness Protection Program, which was run by the U.S. Marshals service. Both marshals now, Lucas and Knight had been chosen to look at the case because they both had histories in earlier lives as homicide investigators, Lucas in Minnesota, Knight in Houston.
Molina, the dead man, had ratted out his boss in a home-grown "cartel" that served the illegal drug needs of Birmingham, Alabama. After the boss was convicted and sent to prison forever, Molina was relocated to Wichita to keep him away from the bosses' relatives, who'd promised to disassemble him with a power drill and a straight razor.
He believed them, as did the Marshals Service. As a witness protection client, Molina got a crappy manufactured home on the south side of Wichita and a five-year-old Corolla, along with a greeter's job at a Walmart Supercenter.
Not good enough for a man who liked rolling high.
A year after moving to Wichita, he was peddling cocaine to the town's higher-end dope clientele, meaning those who were afraid of methamphetamine or didn't like the way meth cut into their frontal lobes. He did that until Bobby Wise, who he'd met as a fellow free-enterprise enthusiast and whose wife Molina was screwing, put five shots from his .44 magnum through Molina's screen door and into his chest and neck.
One would have done the job. Then Wise would have had the other four to use on his wife who had promptly turned him in for the murder. But he loved her, so he simply cried when the cops came to get him, and he told her he still loved her.
The Wichita cops seized the .44, matched the slugs, confronted him with the evidence and got a confession. Lucas and Knight were the Marshals Service representatives to the investigation, making sure that Wise was the one and only killer: that he hadn't been sent by the Alabama bosses' murderous wife or equally murderous children.
They'd interviewed both Wise and his wife, who'd been confused about the whole witness protection thing they had no idea that Molina had been in it. They were convincing.
Lucas and Knight were moving on: nothing to see here.
That had been the story too frequently with Lucas in his two years as a marshal. He'd had a half-dozen interesting cases, most resolved in a couple of weeks, along with a half-dozen tracking cases that were still open and two cold cases that might never be resolved. Lucas had joined the service specifically to work on difficult cases and he'd found something he hadn't expected.
The world was opening up to American criminals. The wars in the Middle East and the demand for American blue collar workers in foreign jobs meant that the brighter crooks were disappearing into the confusion of war and irregular employment.
Others were crossing into western Canada, where the raucous oil-sands industries provided income and obscure hideouts, as well as a familiar language. The disaster industry, helped by climate change, provided unregulated construction jobs and opportunities for scam artists in the Caribbean and Mexico.
In the U.S., even casual contact with the law often tripped up fugitives; when they went foreign, that didn't happen.
But there was one opening, one source of interesting investigations, which Lucas still wasn't sure would develop into a fulltime gig. He wasn't sure that he wanted it to. The jobs were coming out of Washington, D.C. From politicians in trouble.
The previous Spring, a Democratic Congressman from Illinois had gotten in touch through the former governor of Minnesota, who was a friend of both the congressman and Lucas.
The congressman, Daniel Benson, had a college-dropout daughter who'd gotten herself a flaming skull tattoo above the crack of her ass and a boyfriend with a Harley and a sleeveless jean jacket. Benson hadn't worried about it too much, until he learned that the boyfriend was an ex-con and a member of a neo-Nazi party and that his daughter had made a You Tube video with him. She was largely unclothed in the video, except for the fake German SS helmet and a red-and-black swastika armband. The congressman couldn't get in touch with her, either on her cellphone or her email.
The congressman thought she might have been kidnapped or at least was being held against her will even if she hadn't been exactly kidnapped. Lucas was asked to take a look. The Marshals Service director was consulted and he was more than happy to approve a quiet favor for a ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Lucas found the Nazi and the girl in eight days, in their Ohio hideout. He and another marshal had retrieved the girl and had gotten her enrolled in a sex-and-drug rehab center. The boyfriend had resisted arrest and one of his legs had been broken in the fight. Because resisting arrest with violence was a crime, they were able to enter the boyfriend's rented house, where they found a plastic bag containing two thousand hits of hydrocodone and four semi-automatic pistols.
Charges of possession with intent to distribute and possession of firearms by a convicted felon were added to the resisting arrest charges and the boyfriend was shipped off to a federal prison.
Lucas couldn't do much about the videos, which were out on the Internet, but the daughter was obscure enough, and the video was stupid enough, that the congressman thought he could probably let it go.
Word about the case got around and that led to another. A U.S. senator from Wyoming had a sprawling ranch and a lot of cattle. The ranch backed up to a piece of Yellowstone National Park that had wolves in it. Shot wolves began showing up on his property and then across the line in the park. The senator had no problem with dead wolves, personally, but didn't like the idea of a criminal action that would get every environmentalist in the nation on his back, along with CNN and CBS.
"I'm not shooting the wolves and my kids aren't shooting the wolves and my hands aren't shooting the wolves, because I told them all we're a hell of a lot better off with a few dead heifers than we are with a few dead wolves, and if I got even a hint that they were involved, I'd can their asses," he told Lucas. "I need this to stop. Like, now."
He said the federal wildlife people hadn't been able to get anywhere, because they basically weren't criminal investigators and because everybody knew them by sight.
Lucas went out to Wyoming, spent a few days asking around, eventually found three brothers, all cowboys, who had a sideline of rustling cattle, spoke quietly to them about who might be doing what. They called it blackmail, but not wishing to have their sideline business revealed, the cowboys were willing to speculate about the wolf shooting.
With a wildlife guy in tow, to make everything legal, Lucas ambushed the senator's southern neighbor stalking a decoy that looked a lot like a wolf... across the line in the park. The senator and the neighbor had feuded over the years, some kind of complicated water dispute that Lucas didn't try to understand.
"That sonofabitch," the senator had said, when Lucas called him. "He embarrasses the shit outa me and gets rid of wolves that he don't want, either. Two birds with one stone. I know for sure he's a fuckin' Democrat."
The neighbor didn't actually shoot anything, though, so wouldn't face much of a penalty, even if he was convicted. He claimed he'd been out for a walk and had taken his scoped semi-auto .223 with him as protection against wolves and bears and owls and chickadees and... whatever.
The senator told Lucas, "Don't worry your pretty little head about that, Lucas. That boy leases three thousand acres of BLM land to run his cattle on. I believe he's gonna find his contracts under review. That sonofabitch... Oh, hey, send me a couple of your business cards, would you?"
Those jobs left Lucas feeling slightly corrupt an ordinary citizen wouldn't get his kind of help. On the other hand, the confluence of crime, money and political power did hold his interest. In both of the cases, the Marshals Service director had called him at home to hear what he had to say, and at the end of each report had said, "Keep up the good work. If you fuck up, I never heard of you."
After the routine Wichita job, Lucas was sitting in the gate at Dwight Eisenhower National, reading an Outside magazine, when Porter Smalls called.
"I need you to come talk to me," Smalls said. "Soon as you can. Sooner."
"I saw a story in the Pioneer Press about the accident; sounded awful," Lucas said. "You okay?"
"Got a bloody nose from the airbag hitting me in the face, but I'm not dead like Ceecee," Smalls said. "I called around and was told that you're not in town. When are you coming back?"
"I'm sitting in the Wichita airport right now. I'll be back home around eight o'clock tonight."
"Good. I'm getting on a plane at National in five minutes. We're supposed to get in at eight-twenty. Could you wait for me at the airport? A restaurant or whatever? I haven't had time to eat."
"You know that Stone Arch place? We could get a beer and if it's too crowded to talk, we could find an empty gate."
"See you there."
Lucas was a tall, tough-looking man, tan with the summer, a white knife-edge scar cutting across his eyebrow and onto his cheek, the product of a fishing misadventure. He had mild blue eyes, dark hair now touched with gray, and a smile that could turn mean. He liked to fight, not too often, but occasionally. The winter before, when he could no longer hold menus far enough away to see the fine print, he'd gotten the first glasses of his life, a pair of hard-edged, gold-rimmed spectacles that he hated, but put up with.
"I look like Yoda or something," he grumbled to his wife, Weather.
"Yoda didn't wear glasses as far as I know," Weather said.
"I don't mean the literal Yoda. I mean that guy from Tibet, you know, the religious guy."
"The Dalai Lama?"
"Yeah, that guy."
Weather looked at him for a moment, then said, "Yeah, you do kinda look like him..." Which he didn't, but Weather refused to encourage whining. "Now, like the Dalai Lama, you can read a menu."
Although Lucas wasn't afraid of the occasional brawl, he feared flying. His rational mind forced his body onto airplanes, but his emotional, French-Canadian side told him that whole metal-tubes-flying-through-the-air was a vicious scam that would end badly.
He tried to distract himself with the Outside, but one of the cabin attendants was really, really, good-looking, which meant that every time she passed, he had to take off the reading glasses. The last time he did it, she patted him on the shoulder. She'd noticed, and was familiar with male insecurities.
The flight ran late, as usual. As soon as the plane touched down, Lucas called Smalls, who answered on the first ring and said, "I saw you were coming in late. I got here five minutes ago, I'm heading over to the Stone Arch."
Lucas had no checked baggage. He grabbed his pack and an overnight bag, and was out on the jetway ten minutes after the wheels touched down.
The bar was a typical airport restaurant, tables too close together, meant for singles or couples on their way to somewhere else, rather than settling in for the evening. Smalls managed to find a table that was three down from the next closest drinker, who paid him no attention. Lucas spotted him, went over, dropped his bag, shook hands, said, "Nice to see you, senator," and sat down. "What's up?"
"Get a sandwich or something," Smalls said. "I've got a burger and beer on the way."
When the waitress had come and gone, Smalls leaned across the table and said, "This is going to sound insane, but that automobile accident? That wasn't an accident. It was an assassination attempt. They were trying to kill me and they wound up murdering Ceecee. I know who must've been behind it. You do, too."
Lucas said nothing for a moment, but when he did, it was, "Oh, Jesus Christ, Porter. Are you sure?"
"Let me tell you about it," Smalls said.
He did, pausing only for the arrival of Lucas' Diet Coke and chicken sandwich, and when he finished his story, he asked, "See what I mean?"
"No sign of paint or metal from the other truck? None at all?"
"That's what the West Virginia accident investigator says and he seemed competent. So, there's a mystery. People keep hinting that the mystery might be in my head. They ask if maybe the trauma of the event made me think we were hit, when what actually happened was that Ceecee swerved to miss the truck, and we hit this little ankle-high roadside berm so hard that I thought the truck hit us. But that's not it: we were hit. Hard."
"You think the West Virginia cops are in on it?" Lucas asked.
"Oh, hell no. Well: not hell no, but it seems unlikely. That would make the whole conspiracy too big and unmanageable. You know, I never believed in hit men outside of movies, until Grant wiped me out two years ago. Sure enough, she had hit men. This is the same goddamn thing. She came after me again because I've been giving her a hard time."
"What do you want me to do?" Lucas asked.
"I want to know what happened, the best you can give it to me. Review the accident investigation. See if you can find the truck that hit us. West Virginia won't even be looking for it," Smalls said, his voice growing quieter. He glanced around the restaurant. "I want you to be very discreet. If it is Grant behind this, she'll probably try again. I oughta be dead right now. Ceecee did a hell of a job getting us into the trees that stopped us; I couldn't have done it."
Lucas nodded and asked, "Is Grant going to run for President?"
"Yeah, probably. That's another problem, but I'm not asking you to solve that one. My first priority is staying alive." They sat and thought in silence for minute, then Smalls asked, "What do you think?"
"I believe you're telling the truth, but I'm not sure the truth is going to lead directly to Taryn Grant. I'll talk to the West Virginia cops, poke around, see what develops. Probably stay away from Grant, at least for the time being," Lucas said.
"I can have my staff line up anyone you want to talk to," Smalls said. "My chief of staff is named Kitten Carter. She's absolutely trustworthy and reliable. I'll have Kitten liaise with you, since she already knows about it."
"Good. I have to talk to my wife, but I can be in D.C. on Monday," Lucas said. He sat back and looked at Smalls, then leaned forward and said, his voice as soft as Smalls', "One more thing, though. If it's Taryn Grant, how did she get hooked up with another bunch of professional killers? She's only been in Washington for what, two years?"
"I've got an answer for that," Smalls said. "She's on the Senate Intelligence Committee and she talks to spooks all the time. Then there's the fact that she could run for the presidency. She's great-looking, young, richer than God, and willing to spend money. It looks like we'll have a seriously unpopular President in two more years, who might either take a chance and run again and risk getting blown out, or leave it to some other guy who'll still be carrying that unpopularity on his back. So, she's a real possibility. When the people in Washington sniff out a real possibility... well, they can't climb on the bandwagon fast enough. Everybody's got to have a bandwagon, going into a presidential election."
"The intelligence community," Smalls said, sitting back and simultaneously turning to look down the concourse, as though he might spot a spy. "Listen, Lucas, there are literally hundreds of trained killers out of the military and working as contractors with the private intelligence organizations. Most of them are fine people. Patriots who have risked their lives for the country. But some of these guys aren't so fine, and I've had a few of them testifying before committees. They don't have any real limits, moral or otherwise. They live on risk. They love it. You show them Grant's kind of money and the possibility that she might wind up in the White House... and they'd be available. That's my feeling."
"Why you and why now?"
"Because I've been pissing on Grant ever since the election and some of it is beginning to stick."
"Maybe you shouldn't do that for a while," Lucas suggested.
Smalls grinned and said, "I'm hiding out in town for now and I've hired a couple of ex-cops to cover me. If you jump on this, maybe you'll be able to tell me exactly how much trouble I'm in. Be nice to know, before I get back out in the open."
"Let me ask you a couple of uncomfortable questions: how's your marriage?"
"Well, you know..."
"You've got a few bucks yourself..." Smalls' financial disclosure forms, filed at the time of the election and printed in the Twin Cities newspapers, hinted at a fortune in the neighborhood of a hundred million dollars. "... and if your wife thought you were about to, uh, move on..."
Smalls shook his head. "She knows I'm not."
"Your daughter once mentioned something about a Lithuanian lover. If you were to die, who inherits? Would the Lithuanian lover be in line for a payday? Directly or indirectly?"
"No. My wife's not stupid," Smalls said. "Besides, most of the money would go to the kids, after the government takes its cut. On balance, she's financially better off with me alive."
"Again, I would like to stay that way. Alive."
"What about your friend? Whitehead? Anybody want to get rid of her?" Luas asked.
In exasperation, Smalls jabbed his index finger into the tabletop a half dozen times, and hissed, "Lucas! Lucas! Pay attention! Keep your eye on the goddamn ball here! It was Grant! No. I can't think of anybody who'd want to kill Ceecee. She's been divorced for fifteen years, her husband is as rich as she is and he's got a whole 'nother family. Ceecee has two adult daughters, nice girls, work in LA, got all the money they need, they produce movies or some goofy shit like that. Listen. We decided to run up to the cabin at the last minute, nobody even knew we were going. Somebody was watching us."
"All right. I need to eliminate the obvious possibilities," Lucas said. "I'll take a look at it. You might want to call the Marshals Service director and have a chat. Not about Grant, though. Tell him you want me to review the situation."
"I'll do that. First thing tomorrow. As far as Grant goes... If you have to poke a stick into that wasp nest, be my guest. Be careful, though. Nobody seems to believe me, but these guys who tried to kill me, and murdered Ceecee, they're pros."
As Lucas drove home, he thought about U.S. Senator Taryn Grant. Two and a half years earlier, she'd knocked Porter Smalls out of the U.S. Senate, beating him 51% to 49% after what Smalls called the ugliest political trick in the history of the Republic.
Lucas was virtually certain that Grant was behind it, working through a Democratic political operator known to be a bagman and sometime blackmailer. The man had planted a load of child porn on Smalls' computer at his campaign office, where it was "discovered" by an intern. Lucas had proven Smalls to be innocent, but too late: Grant was elected.
All of that was complicated by the fact that the man who planted the child porn had seen an opportunity and had tried to blackmail Grant. He'd been murdered for his trouble and three more people had been killed by election day. After the election, Smalls had openly accused Grant of orchestrating the murders and planting the child porn.
The people of Minnesota had begun to believe him. Two years after losing the first election, he was voted back into the senate in the next one. That was not good when you were dealing with a psychopath like Taryn Grant, Lucas thought. If Smalls was proving to be a threat, she would kill her way in to the presidency as easily as she'd killed her way into the senate, if she could do it without being caught.
The last time out, she'd beaten Lucas. He hadn't forgotten or forgiven. If Smalls was correct about an assassination attempt, he'd have another shot at her.
And that made him happy.
When Lucas got home, he kissed his wife, Weather, and his two kids, sent the kids to bed, told Weather about Smalls and that he'd be leaving again on Monday.
The next day was a Saturday and since she wouldn't be working and didn't have to get up early she was a surgeon, who usually left the house at six-thirty Weather took Lucas to bed and did her best to wear him out. Feeling pleasantly unfocused, they'd later sat semi-naked on the second-story sun porch with lemonades and looked out into the soft summer night, and she asked, "How long will you be gone?"
"Don't know I have a couple of friends in Washington, but they can't help me with this."
"Not even Mallard?"
Mallard was a deputy director of the FBI who'd worked with Lucas on a couple of high-profile cases.
"Mallard is too political. He wouldn't want to get caught in a crossfire between Grant and Smalls. Besides, before I do anything else, I've got to make sure Smalls' story makes sense. If it does, I need to talk to somebody who's got an inside feel for the senate. Somebody who could tell me who Grant might be talking to... who could hook her up with a professional killer. I need to know if there might be somebody who'd want to get rid of Porter even more than Grant does."
"Porter is an enormous asshole," she said. "You might have a lengthy list of candidates."
"He made you laugh, when we had dinner that time," Lucas said.
"He can be charming," Weather said. "He has a sense of humor. He's got great political stories. He's also doing his best to wipe out Medicaid and ban abortion and run every Mexican kid out of the country and make sure every man, woman and child has a handgun."
"Yeah, he's a right-winger," Lucas said. "You don't get assassinated for that. At least, not yet."
"No, but if somebody did assassinate him, I probably wouldn't march on Washington to protest," Weather said.
"Shame on you," Lucas said. "I gotta tell you, not being a big political brain like some of the women I'm married to, I kinda like the guy, even if I don't care for his politics."
She let that go, and after a while said, "Great night."
"Yes, it is." Looking up at the stars.
"Try not to get killed, okay?"
When U.S. Senator Taryn Grant heard that Smalls had survived, she got Jack Parrish in her basement SCIF screamed at him for a while. "You said it was a done deal," she shouted. "You said it was a perfect setup."
"It was," Parrish said, settling onto a sofa. "I didn't tell you it was a done deal I told you it was ninety-nine percent. Even a hundred-to-one shot comes in every once in a while and that's what happened."
"Now we've got a murder on our hands," she shrieked. She was trembling with rage. "Instead of an accident, we've got a murder. You'll have the FBI on me. Smalls will tell the FBI that I was behind it and he'll be right, won't he? You silly shithead..."
She went on for a while and Parrish, still sitting on the sofa, looked at his watch. He had a meeting with the three guys who'd screwed this particular pooch and couldn't be more than fifteen minutes late. More than fifteen minutes and they'd be gone, as a routine precaution.
"Don't look at your fuckin' watch," Grant shouted, saliva flying across the room. "Don't look at your fuckin' watch..."
"Can't be late for a meeting," Parrish said. He yawned, then asked, "Are you done yet?"
"Am I done yet? No, but you might be..."
"I don't think so," Parrish said. Staying cool. He'd been screamed at before, and by senators with a lot more seniority than Grant. "We have way too many reasons to hang together, because, like the man said, if we don't, we'll hang separately. The fact is, the accident should have worked. If it had, we'd have taken a load off our backs and a major roadblock between you and the White House. Sometimes, things just don't work but you wouldn't have gotten better odds, anywhere, anytime, on this one. And there's no evidence that it was a hit. There's nothing. The West Virginia cops think Smalls is a head case."
Grant's face was purple, but she struggled to calm herself. Parrish was right: even the best plans failed sometimes. But he was wrong about the odds. She was extremely good at figuring odds and there would have been a better way to do this. Example 1: find out where Smalls was going out for dinner and then shoot him in the back and take his money. That was simple enough and nobody would be able to prove that it wasn't a robbery. Parrish's plan had too many moving parts and neither one of them had recognized that.
She said so.
Parrish shrugged: "You could be right. On the other hand, if we'd shot him, the FBI would be all over the place and they'd never let go. The senate wouldn't let them. They'd have had the director up on the Hill every goddamned week, until he came up with the perp."
"You supply the perpetrator, dumbass," Grant shouted. "You don't have to create a mountain of evidence! All you have to do is find some broken-ass Negro and put the gun in his backpack. That's all anybody wants."
"All right. I'll talk to the guys about what happened and get them thinking about some other possibilities. Smalls is a real problem. You saw what the Republicans did with Obama and that birth certificate. No evidence of anything, but they kept talking and the bullshit stuck with some people. If Smalls keeps talking about what happened during your election campaign... I don't think you'll go all the way. He's got to be shut up," Parrish said. And, "By the way, if you ever use the word Negro outside this room, you can kiss the White House good-bye."
She thought about that for a couple of seconds; couldn't argue, Parrish was right. She had a stack of magazines on her desk, and she squared them and picked up the top one, a Vanity Fair, and dropped it in a wastebasket. "All right. We went off half-cocked on this. You came up with an idea, you had the guys, and I bought it. If we try again, it's going to have to be something a little more subtle. Can't shoot him, not now. I need ideas."
"We'll work on it," Parrish said. Now that she'd calmed down, he realized that he could smell her, a smoky perfume that hung in the air like a Valentine's invitation. "Maybe... I don't know. Another scandal? I like that whole child porn thing that came up in your election run: that was cool. We'll think about it."
"Well, we can't do child porn, that's for sure. And this isn't the Middle East. We can't cut him down on some trumped-up bullshit that people will believe because they belong to a religious cult," she said. "Next time, it better work or you and I are going to have a major problem. A real, serious, major problem."
He may have sneered at her: "You know, you have to realize your limitations, senator. Exactly what are you going to do? Report me to the police? You'll go right down with me. We're welded together. You go to the White House, I go with you: get used to it."
Grant moved behind her desk and gave it a kick. Parrish thought for a second that she'd done it out of anger, or had stumbled, but she stooped and when she came up, she had a gun in her hand. Parrish knew all about guns and recognized it: a Beretta. A big one, a military-style 92. Loaded with 9mm man-killers, it'd produce internal cavitation that you could fit a football in.
She was moving toward him and he was pressing back in the couch. He heard the safety click off and if he tried to get up she might pull the trigger.
"Don't do that," he blurted, "I don't..."
"What am I gonna do? Who will I get to do it? Is that what you want to know?" She was shouting again and there was a fleck of saliva at the corner of her mouth. "What if I get me? How'd that work?"
The muzzle was three feet from his nose and he muttered, "That'd work fine, I guess. That'd be... don't do this..."
Grant's finger was white on the trigger and Parrish could plainly see that, from thirty-six inches away, and he could hear her labored breathing... and then she stepped back, dropped her voice and snarled, "Don't ever fuck with me. I know your background. I know you're a little crazy. Keep this in mind: I'm way, way crazier than you are."
He hadn't started to sweat until she backed away, but was sweating now. "I see that," he said. The gun was still pointed at his nose, her finger was still white on the trigger. She looked like she wanted to pull it and he could see it in her glittering blue eyes. "I'm okay with it. I won't make a single fucking move without talking to you about it."
"Better," Grant said. She pointed the muzzle at the ceiling. "Now, is there anything we have to do about Smalls? I mean, right now."
"Probably best to lay back in the weeds and not know anything," Parrish said, his voice trembling. He tried to smooth it out. "If we decide to take another run at him, we have time. I'll tell you what, though: He's got his oppo people digging around through your investments back in Minnesota. If you want to be President, there better not be much back there."
"There's not. Nothing illegal. Not that he could get at, anyway." She stooped and dropped the gun in a desk drawer. Parrish noted which one it was, in case he needed the information in the future. He would not be back down this basement without a gun in his belt.
Though he probably wouldn't need one. Before this confrontation, he'd thought of Grant as a Minnesota Blonde and everything that might suggest: sweetness, niceness, maybe a little dumbness or a little above-averageness. Not too much above average.
That had changed in the last two minutes.
Two minutes later, when he went out the door, still alive, he realized that he'd suddenly come to respect her, as much as a sociopath could.
She's crazier than I am...
When he was gone, Grant remained in the basement, brooding about the mistake with Smalls and the possible consequences.
Would the cops figure out what had happened? Was there any way she could interfere without being tagged as responsible? Could Smalls somehow be blamed for the "accident?" If she got rid of Parrish permanently, with a bullet would that seal her off from any investigation? One other man knew about her arrangement with Parrish and had supplied the operators who went after Smalls. If she killed Parrish, he'd still be out there.
When she'd been elected to the senate, Grant bought the mansion in Georgetown, backing up to Dumbarton Park. The house was supposedly seventy years old, but if there were more than a few molecules left from the original structure, she hadn't been able to find them. Built of red brick, with a terrific garden behind eight-foot red-brick walls, everything had been "updated" to the point where the house might as well have been built a year earlier.
She had an eye for good houses, and as stately as it was, and as well-located, the major attraction was that it had been previously occupied by the out-going secretary of defense. The basement had been reworked at taxpayer expense to be absolutely secure, known, she'd learned when she got to Washington, as a SCIF space Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. She'd had her own security firm go over it inch-by-inch and they found no faults. Down in the basement, she might as well have been sitting in a bank vault.
If she'd actually shot Parrish, her biggest problem would have been clean-up and disposal, because nobody outside the place would have seen or heard anything. And, she thought, it might still come to that.
Grant was rich.
She was also tall, blond, and physically fit. She controlled most of a billion dollars, her share of her family's agricultural commodities business, the fifth largest privately held company in the United States, now run by an older brother. In addition, she owned two small but profitable Internet companies, run by remote control through CEOs as ruthless as she was, but with less money.
As a tall, blond, physically fit woman, there were rumors about her supposedly voracious sexuality, though nobody had the photos. The fact was, she was okay with occasional sex, if performed discreetly with attractive men, but she was hardly voracious.
Power, not sex, was the drug she mainlined. She wasn't much interested in policy, or the senate, or being on television: she wanted the hammer, the biggest one she could find. Barack Obama was her hero for one reason and one alone: he'd served a single term in the U.S. Senate before he became President.
"Madam President" had a nice, round sound to it.
If everything went just right, Grant was two years out.
Not everything was going just right, because Parrish's goons had failed on what had seemed a straight-forward mission: kill Smalls and make it look like an accident. Parrish had stood in the SCIF and laid it out like a commando mission: "That's all these guys have done, for most of their adult lives. The people they took out... not all of them were from enemy countries. Sometimes, you need to remove a particular guy in a friendly country."
She'd asked, "Like Pakistan?"
"Yeah, and like Germany."
Four days after she'd pulled the gun on Parrish, Grant had him back in the SCIF. A blinking red light on her desk told her that he was armed. She opened the desk drawer where she kept the Beretta, so it would be handy, but didn't take it out.
She was angry all over again, though better controlled.
"You know that there was some controversy around my election... that people died," she said. It wasn't a question.
"Yes, I know," Parrish said.
"Then you know the name Lucas Davenport?"
"I read all the clips. He was the cop who led the investigation," Parrish said.
"A year or so after the investigation, he was appointed to be a U.S. Marshal," Grant said. "He got the job because Smalls and the former Minnesota governor..."
"Henderson, the guy who ran for vice-president..."
"Yes. They pulled some strings in Washington, got him the new job," Grant said. "I don't know exactly what his position is, except that he was involved in a major shootout down in Texas last year. Anyway, guess what? Smalls has him on your accident case."
"He won't find anything," Parrish said. "There's nothing to find. I've read the West Virginia state police files now I had a guy get copies off their computers and they've officially determined that it was a one-car accident resulting in minor injuries to one person and death to the other. No alcohol involved, no charges pending. Routine. Case closed."
"Happy to hear it. But I need to know what Davenport's doing," Grant said. "He is intelligent and he is dangerous. When I say dangerous, I mean a killer. You think your super-spies can handle that?"
Parrish didn't like the sarcasm, but he said, "Sure. I'll need some money..."
"We have a family office in Minneapolis," Grant said. "There's a man there named Frank Reese. I will send him a message, telling him to expect you or one of your associates. He will give you whatever amount you need, in cash, but I expect it to be accounted for. I'm not cheap, but I won't tolerate being chumped."
"I understand," Parrish said. "When you say send a message..."
"Thoroughly encrypted, to a site that only Reese and I know about," Grant said.
"Good. I'm impressed," Parrish said. "Look, if this gets complicated, would it be better to ask Reese for a big chunk all at once or better to go back to him several times?"
"How much do you need?" she asked.
"I don't know. If every time we go back, it could be tied to a particular... event, that could be a problem. We may need several events over the next couple of years."
She nodded. "I'll tell Reese to give you a half," she said. "How soon can you look at Davenport?"
"Half of what?"
"Half million," she said. "Is that going to cover it?"
Impressed again, though Parrish didn't say so. "I'll fly out to Minneapolis this afternoon. I'll want to handle Reese myself. Keep the loop tight," Parrish said. "I'll have somebody on Davenport right away, figure out where he's staying."
"He probably doesn't have a hotel yet. I've been told he won't actually get here until tomorrow or the next day."
"Where are you getting this?" Parrish asked.
"I have a friend in the Smalls organization."
"Huh." Impressed again. "If Davenport's flying commercial, we can pick out his flight and spot him at the airport when he gets here.""Do that. Stay in touch." She waved him toward the door.
On the way out, Parrish paused, then turned. "You want to know everything, so I have a proposition that you might be interested in. Or, you can kill it."
"If this Davenport guy wasn't investigating the incident, who would be?"
She thought about it, then said, "I don't know. Maybe nobody. Davenport has a personal problem with me. He thinks I had something to do with the murders around my election. He wants to get me. Nobody else, that I can think of, has the same incentive, except maybe Smalls himself."
"Still, he's a small-town cop, right?"
"Jesus, Parrish, it's not a small town," Grant said. "There are three million people in the Twin Cities metro area. Davenport was an agent for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. They've got the technical abilities of the FBI."
"Still, bullshit. I know a lot about Davenport. He dropped out of law enforcement for a couple of years, invented a computer software company, and sold out for something between twenty and thirty million dollars and he's now worth maybe forty million. He built that company and sold it in two years, starting with nothing. If you underestimate him, he'll eat you alive."
"All right, I get it. If we had a guy who wasn't as smart and didn't have the incentive, that would be better for us, right? What if Davenport got mugged and hurt? Not killed, but hurt bad enough to take him out of it? Take him out long enough that the Smalls accident is old news. Antique news."
Grant leaned back in the office chair, pursed her lips. After a while, she said, "That has some appeal. For one thing, I'd like to see him get hurt. He does have a history as a shooter, though. It'd be dangerous."
"My guys could pull it off. Abort at the last second, if something doesn't smell right. They'd rob him, so it'd look exactly like a mugging."
She considered for another moment, then said, "Let's take a look at him first. See what he's up to, whether it'll go anywhere. Then we can consider taking him down."
Parrish nodded. "I'll have somebody look at his hotel room. Tell your man in Minneapolis I'm on my way."
When Parrish had gone, Grant closed down the SCIF, found the housekeeper, told her to bring a fried egg sandwich with ketchup and onions, and a glass of Chablis, into the breakfast room.
She had homework to do, constituency stuff, boring but necessary. She read through notes from her chief of staff and her issues team, but when the sandwich came, she put the paper aside and ate, peering out into the backyard garden. Three huge oaks, three smaller hard maples, a ginkgo tree surrounded by a rose garden, a Japanese maple specimen that would turn a flaming red in September.
She thought about Davenport. She'd told Parrish that she was crazy; and she'd heard that Parrish was a couple of fries short of a happy meal himself.
In her mind, there were all kinds of crazy, including a couple of kinds that could be useful, if they didn't take you too far out. A touch of OCD helped you focus obsessively, when you needed to do that. A bit of the sociopath was always helpful, in business: you took care of yourself, because nobody else would.
Grant was all of that, a little bit of OCD, a little bit of sociopathy... and she thought Davenport was as well. He was surely a sociopath, given his record of killings, she thought. How could he live with himself, if he weren't?
The problem was, he was also seriously intelligent. She wasn't sure that Parrish appreciated that. Davenport had made that big wad of software cash, but then, instead of trying to work it, he'd gone back to hunting.
He was nuts, she thought, like she was. He was coming for her.
Something had to be done.
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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