Read an Excerpt
The BCA superintendent, who didn't particularly like Lucas, but found him to be a valuable foil when it came to dealing with political issues, called him at home as Lucas was working his way through the Times and a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal, which his wife and daughter said was good for something - it was organic and saved the whales, or lowered his cholesterol, one of those things. He yearned for a simple glazed doughnut, but not if it doomed Mother Earth.
His cell phone began ringing, and simultaneously rattling like a snake, on the table next to his hand.
"Really big trouble," the superintendant said. "There's gonna be a lot of media. Shaffer and his crew are on the way. You'd better get out there, too, so you're up to speed. I'm trying to find Rose Marie to tell her about it..."
Murder, he said. An entire family slaughtered.
Lucas backed the Porsche out of his garage, and found a grey sky and a cool day going cold; rain coming, disturbing the summer, hinting at what all Minnesotans knew in their bones: winter always comes.
The death house sat down a leafy blacktopped lane, a stone, brick and white-board lakeside palace where the Great Gatsby might have lived, made for summer soirees with mimosas and mint juleps. The deep-green summer trees grew in close and dense, so thick that even nearby noises seemed muffled and distant, and a perfect lawn dropped down a gentle slope to Lake Minnetonka. A floating dock stuck into the lake like a finger; a fast fiberglass cruiser was tied to one side of the dock, an oversized pontoon boat to the other, ready to party.
The scene was dead quiet, except for the moaning wind in the trees. The incoming clouds were so grey and low, the house so touched with a cool decorator chic, a tightness, a foreboding, that a Hollywood camera corkscrewing down the lane to the front door would have automatically hinted at horrors to be found behind the well-scrubbed window glass. A crazy housewife with poison, a husband with a meat cleaver in his hand, a couple of robotic kids with a long-barreled revolver and blank grey eyes...
None of which would have done justice to the real horror behind the doors.
Lucas got to the house at a little after eleven o'clock in the morning, and walked back out on the front porch five minutes later, looking for a breath of fresh air and maybe a place to spit, to get the taste of death out of his mouth.
He was a tall, hard, very rich man with broad shoulders and a hawkish nose, wearing a two-hundred dollar white shirt and a dark blue Purple Label suit with a red Hermes necktie, the necktie twisted and pulled loose behind the knot. His face was tanned, and the thin white line of a scar dropped across one eyebrow onto his cheek; another white scar showed in the pit of his neck, where a young girl, barely into her teens, had shot him with a street pistol that he hadn't seen coming.
He rubbed his face with the fingers of his left hand, which protruded from a slightly dirty-looking cast. Del Capslock followed him out on the porch. Del looked back over his shoulder and said, "I don't think I've ever been to a crime scene this quiet."
"Whatta you gonna say?" Lucas asked. He sniffed at the cast. Nasty. He needed to wash it again.
"You know what freaked me out?" Del asked. "It wasn't the kids. It was the dogs. The dogs couldn't tell us anything. They weren't witnesses. They weren't attack dogs. Two miniature poodles and a golden retriever? They killed them anyway. Hunted them down. They were killing everything, because they liked it."
"I don't know. There's a lot going on in there," Lucas said. "Maybe they killed the dogs first, to extort information. Went around and shot them just to prove that they'd do it. Then the boy, then the wife and daughter, then the guy. They wanted something from the guy."
"We don't know they did it that way," Del said. Del was too thin - grizzled, some would say - unshaven, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and Nike cross-trainers. The T-shirt said Menard's, which was a local building supply chain. His comment reflected an ingrained skepticism about any unsupported assertion: he wanted facts.
"I feel like they did," Lucas said. He was more comfortable with assumption and speculation than Del. He looked up and down the street, past the cluster of official cars and vans. He could see pieces of two houses, one in each direction. There were more along the way, but out of sight. "The thing is, they shot the dogs, that's three shots. They shot the boy three or four times. That's a lot of gunshots. Even in a neighborhood like this, with the doors closed and the air conditioners going, and boats... that's a lot of shots. Makes me think they had silencers, makes me think they were pros, here for a reason. Then the guy, they go to work with a knife. They started out terrorizing him, ended up torturing him."
"Gotta be. Gotta be, here in the Twin Cities. Too calculated for anything else. Shaffer says the guy ran a software place that peddles Spanish-language software down in Mexico. It looks custom-made as a money laundry," Lucas said. He looked back into the house, though he couldn't see anything from the porch.
Del said, "Here's something."
Lucas turned back to see a lone patrolman jogging back down the street. He was overweight, and his stomach jiggled as he ran. The patrolman cut across the lawn.
"The neighbors," he said to Lucas. He was red-faced and seemed to run out of words, tried to catch his breath.
"The neighbors, the Merriams, they're three houses down." The cop pointed down the street. "The husband, Dave, saw a van parked in the driveway yesterday afternoon. He saw it three times, coming home, going out, and coming back from town. There for a couple hours, at least. He says it was a blue van, a Chevy, and he says the first three letters of the plate were S-K-Y. He thinks it stuck with him because of sky-blue. Sky on the plate and blue on the van."
Lucas nodded. "Okay, that's good stuff." He turned and yelled back into the house. "Shaffer? Shaffer?" He said to the cop, "Go tell that to Shaffer. We need to run that right now."
The cop went inside and Del asked, "What are we going to do?"
Lucas shrugged: "Call everybody. Look for blue vans. Push the DNA on the wife and daughter... I wouldn't bet on semen. If they were professionals, they were probably wearing rubbers. We might pick up some blood or something, maybe one of them scratched or bit somebody."
Del nodded. "You look around the house, around the neighborhood, and it's screaming rich. Could have been a couple of crazy dopers thinking they kept a lot of money in the house..."
Lucas said, "Nah."
Del scratched an ear and then said, "All right."
"They were looking for something," Lucas said. "It looks like drugs. It looks like that stuff in Mexico. So harsh. So cruel."
"Maybe they'll pop right up in the DNA bank," Del said.
"Yeah." Del looked up in the sky. "It's gonna rain."
"We need it," Lucas said. "Been hot for a long time. First cool day in a while."
"Fall's coming," Del said.
They went back inside, where an agent named Bob Shaffer was talking to the patrolman. When he saw Lucas, he said, "Maybe a break."
Lucas nodded, once. "Anything more?"
"Romeo's worked out a sequence. I think it's probably right."
Romeo was a lab tech, a short man with a swarthy complexion, a fleshy nose, and a neat little soul patch that actually looked good. Lucas and Del found him in the living room, looking at the dead adult male, a notebook in his hand. He might have been taking inventory in a dime store. But the living room didn't smell like a dime store; it smelled like the back room at a meat locker.
The dead man, who was almost certainly named Patrick Brooks, 45, blond, once good-looking with big white Chiclet teeth, lay on his back, on the living room carpet, in a drying circle of blood. His arms, down to his elbows, were taped to his sides with ordinary duct tape. There were no fingers on his hands: they'd been cut off, one knuckle-length at a time, and lay around the room like so many cocktail wieners. He had no eyes - they were over by the television. His pants had been pulled down to his knees; he'd been castrated. They'd cut off his ears, but left his tongue, probably so he could talk. He had apparently died while the killers were cutting open his abdomen, because they hadn't finished the job.
"Shaffer said you have a sequence," Lucas said.
"I think so," Romeo said. He ticked his yellow pencil at the dead man. "He went last. I think they came in with guns, to keep everybody under control. Rounded them up, taped them up, put them on the floor. They started out shooting the dogs. The golden got it right here, the poodles ran into the kitchen. Shot them there. Did the wife next: Candace. Raped her, beat her, whatever, then cut her throat. Then the kid, uh, Jackson, started screaming or struggling or something, and they shot him: some of the blood splatter and brain tissue from the head shot landed on his mother's leg, which was already naked, and didn't move after the blood landed on it."
"So she was dead first," Del said.
"Right. Then, they did the daughter, Amelia. She's pretty messed up, so I'm thinking... they did a lot of stuff to her. The ME'll have to give you that. Then they cut her throat. She bled out, and you can see, there are a couple finger joints on her blood, it looks like they rolled across her blood and picked some of it up..."
"Unless it's his blood," Del said.
"No, it looks like they rolled across wet blood... I think it'll turn out to be hers."
"Like we were talking about," Lucas said to Del. "They wanted something from him; or they were sending a message."
"Did they bring the knives, or use the kitchen knives?" Del asked.
"Brought them. The knife block is full. Looks like razors, or scalpels, and for some of it, it was probably pliers, side-cutters. You get that kind of crushing-cut with side-cutters. They knew what they were going to do," Romeo said.
"Then they wrote on the wall," Lucas said. They all turned and looked at the wall, where a bloody message said, "Were coming." No apostrophe.
"Yeah... they took a couple of the finger joints and used them like markers. The joints are the ones on the couch, they've got wall paint on them, like chalk. We're hoping we might get some DNA, but I'll bet you anything that they were wearing gloves."
"Didn't gag them; had the tape, but didn't tape their mouths," Del said.
"I think they wanted them to talk back and forth. I think they wanted them to hear each other dying," Lucas said.
"That would be the gloomy interpretation," Romeo said.
"You got another one?" Lucas asked.
"No, I don't," Romeo said. "You're probably right. One thing: we've got precision, rather than frenzy. Del was talking before, about maybe some crazy guys. I don't think so. I think it was cold. It feels that way to me. Three or four guys."
Lucas looked at the bodies; at the mess. "What about DNA? Any chance?"
"Oh, yeah. We'll get some DNA," Romeo said. "We'll get sweat or skin cells off the woman's or the girl's thighs, if no place else."
Del said, "If they're professionals, they'll know that sooner or later, they'll do time, and if they pop up in a DNA bank, they'll go down for this. So, I'm thinking, they're not too worried about DNA banks."
"Because they're stupid?" Romeo suggested.
"No," Del said, surveying the shambles. "It'd be because they're not from here. They're from some place else. Mexico, Central America. Could be Russia."
"Good thought," Lucas said.
Shaffer called from the next room: "Hey, Lucas, Rose Marie's here."
"Got it," Lucas said.
Rose Marie Roux, the commissioner of public safety, once state senator, once Minneapolis chief of police, once - for a short time - a street cop, was coming up the sidewalk. She was a stocky woman in a blue dress who looked a lot like somebody's beloved silver-haired mother, except for the cigarette that dangled from her lower lip. She was a quick-study, and a long-time winner in the back-room battles at the Capitol.
She shook her head at Lucas: "I'm not going in there. I don't want to see it," she said. "I do need something to tell the media."
"They're all four dead," Lucas said. "Patrick Brooks, his wife, son and daughter. Tortured, the females raped. I wouldn't give them any detail - just, brutally murdered."
"Is there anything... promising?" Roux asked.
"No, not that I've seen," Lucas said. "It looks professional. Brutal, impersonal. Meant to send a message. We might never find them, truth to tell."
"I don't want to tell three million people that we're not going to catch them," Roux said.
"So, say that we're looking at some leads, that we have some definite areas of interest that we can't talk about, and that we'll be doing DNA analysis," Lucas said.
"Do we actually have any possibilities? Or am I tap-dancing?"
"One," Lucas said. "They wrote on the wall, 'Were coming,' no apostrophe in the were. But that suggests... suggests... that they may be looking for somebody else. The way they did this, looks like there may have been an interrogation. Like they were questioning Brooks, trying to get something out of him, and he didn't have it."
She mulled that over for a few seconds, then said, "Excuse me, but did you just tell me that they might do this again? To somebody else?"
"Can't rule it out," Lucas said. "
"That's bad. That's really bad," she said.
"Gives us another shot at them," Lucas said, looking on the bright side.
"Ah, jeez... Who's got the detail?"
"Okay." She mulled that over for a minute, then said, "He's competent. But keep talking to him. Keep talking to him, Lucas."
"What are you doing out here?" Lucas asked. "Is there some kind of... involvement?" He meant political involvement.
"Yeah, some marginal engagement," she said. "Candace Brooks was going to run for something, sooner or later. Probably the state senate, next year, if Hoffman retires. The Brookses maxed out contributions for the major offices last few elections, and they're strong out here in the local party... but, it's not any big political thing."
"So it won't make any difference if we find out that they were running a drug-money laundry, and giving cash to the local Democrats?"
She shrugged, a political sophisticate: "It'd hurt for about four minutes. Then, not. But, you know, they were our people." She meant Democrats.
Del asked, "So what are you going to tell the media?"
She looked him up and down, raised her eyebrows, and said, "Jesus, Del, you look like you just fell out of a boxcar."
"Professional dress," Del said. "Around home, I wear Ralph Lauren chinos and Tiger Woods golf shirts."
She made a rude noise and turned to look down toward the end of the street, where the media was stacked up, out of sight. "I'll tell them the truth, just not all of it - four brutal murders, motive unknown. That we've got lots of leads and expect to make an arrest fairly quickly."
"That'd scare the shit out of me, that promise, if anybody had an attention span longer than two seconds," Lucas said.
"That's what we're working with," Roux said. "Though I have to say as the state's chief law enforcement official, I do expect you to catch them." She poked Lucas in the chest. "You."
Lucas walked halfway down the block and watched from a distance as Rose Marie spoke to the media. She gave them the basics, and nothing more. She stood in a neighbor's lush green yard, a mansion in the background, with the media in the street. She used the word brutal, and refused to enlarge upon that.
That was accurate, but, in the eyes of the reporters, inadequate.
One of them knew a cop who was working the roadblock, and Channel Eleven headlined his comments: rape, torture, murder. Finger joints, eyeballs, castration, throats cut with razors. The message on the wall. "We're coming" - the producer supplied the missing apostrophe on the phonied-up blue-screened graphic behind the anchor woman.
The Channel Eleven report set off a media firestorm, which intensified when another station "confirmed rumors from earlier today..."
The media was large in the Twin Cities. A juicy murder would go viral in seconds.
Rumors of the massacre at the Brooks' house swept through Sunnie Software minutes after the bodies were discovered. Patrick Brooks had been scheduled to meet with marketing and development and hadn't shown up. Neither he nor anyone else answered the home phone, and his cell phone rang and was never picked up.
The vice-president for sales, named Bell, had had a bad feeling about it. A lawyer friend of Bell's lived near the Brooks home, and Bell had asked the lawyer to call his wife, who ran over and found the front door cracked open.
Nobody answered her call, so she'd pushed the door open with a fingernail, and peeked inside...
As she ran back down the street, she called 911, and then her husband, who called back to Sunnie with a garbled story of blood and murder.
The cops came, and then the BCA.
Then the media, ambushing employees in the street.
"This is really fucked," said one of the account managers, a young man with hair to the middle of his back. "Who are they going to suspect, huh? The guy with the hair..."
"Rob, stop thinking about yourself," one of the women said. "They're all dead..."
"But who are they gonna think did it?" Rob cried.
Several of them told him to shut up; and guiltily gave thanks for their neatly coiffed hair.
The murder story caught Ivan Turicek and Kristina Sanderson at work in the systems security area at Hennepin National Bank. Sanderson was getting ready to go home: she worked the six-to-two shift, while Turicek came in at noon and took it until eight. They were alone, with a bank of computers. Turicek had seen a fragment of a story on a television in the Skyway, and now had one of the computers set to catch the web broadcast from Channel Eleven.
Channel Eleven was the one with the source: rape, torture, murder, eyeballs, castration... "We're coming" with an apostrophe.
"Oh my God, what have we done?" Sanderson blurted, staring at the screen. A thin schizophrenic with blond, frizzy hair and a fine white smile, when she used it, she was pale as a sheet of printer paper, one hand to her mouth.
Turicek shook his head: "Not us."
"Ivan, I don't want to be bullshitted," Sanderson said, as she looked down at the flat panel. "This was us and you know it."
They were alone in the security area, but cameras peered down at them from the end of the work bay. They supposedly didn't record sound, but Turicek was an immigrant from Russia, and never believed anything anybody said about limits of surveillance. In his experience, somebody was always listening.
He said, "Shh." Then, after a moment, "We need to call Jacob. Or you should go see him. He's probably still asleep, doesn't know about this."
She looked at her watch: two o'clock. Nodded. Jacob Kline normally worked an eight-to-four shift, but was out, sick, again. "Yes. I should probably go see him."
"And it wasn't us," Turicek said again. He turned to her, worried. Sanderson suffered from a range of mild psychological disorders, and he considered her fragile. She didn't use meds, and the bank put up with her occasional acting-out, because she was also obsessive-compulsive when it came to the neatness of numbers. If a number was out of place, Sanderson could sense it, and push it back where it belonged.
That made her an excellent programmer and an asset for a bank. But still, she was a head case, and, at times, delicate. "One thing I learned in Russia is, if you didn't do it, you didn't do it," Turicek said, pressing the case. "You're not responsible for what other people do. You can't be. If you are, there's no end to the chain of responsibility, so then, nobody winds up being responsible."
"I don't need a philosophical disquisition. I was a philosophy major for three semesters," Sanderson snapped.
"We need to be calm," Turicek said. "We keep working, we keep our heads down. We know nothing. We know nothing."
"What about the 'We're coming?' If they get to us? Eyeballs gouged out and cut throats? No thank you. No thank you!"
Turicek dropped his voice. "Twenty million," he said. "Twenty million dollars."
That stopped her. Her eyes narrowed, and she said, "More like twenty-two, now. We need to call Edie: it's time to get out."
"How much more is in the system?" Turicek asked.
"Two million. Not enough to risk moving. Time to finish the harvest," she said.
"I agree. You go see Jacob, I'll call Edie."
Edie Albitis freaked when she heard. She was standing on the Vegas strip, outside of Treasure Island; it was a hundred and five degrees and an obscenely fat woman was rolling down the sidewalk toward her, carrying a small dog and wearing what looked like a tutu. "I'm the one who's dangling in the wind out here," she said into her cell phone, one eye on the fat woman. She didn't want to get run down. "The banks have about a million pictures of me."
"But they don't know it," Turicek said in his most comforting tone. "In every one, you look like the Sultaness of Istanbul."
Albitis was wearing a hijab, a traditional Arabic women's robe, and, though even most conservative Arab states allowed an uncovered face, she also wore a niqab, or veil. These were somewhat culturally uncomfortable for a woman who'd danced both topless and bottomless, sometimes simultaneously, in both Moscow and New York, whose parents were Jews now living in Tel Aviv, which was where she picked up her Arabic; and who was blond, to boot. But, if you were doing major money-laundering through America's finest banks, it was best to show as little skin as possible when you were setting up the accounts.
She did speak Arabic well enough to fake her way past North African Arabs, or Iranians who got most of their Arabic from the Koran, but if she ran into a Jordanian, or a Lebanese, or an Iraqi, she could be in trouble. Of course, most Arabs working in American banks seemed to be Jordanians, Lebanese or Iraqis. That was just the way of the world, she thought: set up to fuck with you. "Who the hell did it? This killing?"
"The police don't know. They're investigating," Turicek said.
"Ah, god. It'll take me a week to clear out the accounts..."
"No, no. We're going to leave it," Turicek said. "Kristina is correct: there's not enough for the risk involved. What if we just buy what we've already got on-line, and collect what we've already paid for?"
Albitis thought about it for a moment, then said, "If I run, I can do it in three or four working days."
"Then do that. Are we still solid with the dealers?"
"Yes. They won't ask any questions as long as the wires keep coming," Albitis said. "But they won't ship the gold until they clear the transfers. That's a full day, sometimes. They know that when the gold is gone, it's gone."
"I can't leave here right now," Turicek said. "Not with these murders. We need to be really quiet. I doubt they'll even talk to us, but if they do show up, we all need to be here."
"Shit. Why'd this have to happen right now? Another week..." Albitis pulled at her lip, through the veil. "All right, listen: let me think about this. I don't know if I can widen out the number of dealers, so I'm going to have to make up some bullshit story and sell it to the ones we've got. Some reason to jack up the purchases. There are not that many goddamn Arab women running out the door with a quarter-million in gold. You know what I'm saying?"
"I know what you're saying, but what I'm saying is, we might not have a choice," Turicek said.
Getting the gold was the touchy part. There were gold dealers all over the place, and they sold a lot of gold - but they might start to wonder if the amounts got too big. They might wonder about drugs, or spies, or terrorists, or something... She didn't need to walk into a dealer's office, and find the FBI waiting for her. "Just routine, ma'am..." they'd say, and then discover a blonde with a shaky passport.
"So we're getting out," Turicek said. "Jacob will go along."
"You've got to watch Jacob," Albitis said.
"I know. We will. Kristina has him under control."
"They're both nuts."
"And I'm watching both of them."
"Okay. Do that, Ivan. I'll start right now. I was going to set up four more accounts this afternoon, but I'll quit and get out of here. Get down to L.A., make some pickups, put in some more orders," Albinis said. "Make up my story."
"Be careful," Turicek said. "If you feel anybody is looking at you, quit. Better to take what we've got now, than spend the next twenty years in prison. Or have these crazy people come down on us."
"I thought it was a hedge fund," Albinis said. "This isn't something a hedge fund would do."
"No, it's more like the fuckin' Vory," Turicek said, and he shuddered as he said it. If they'd stolen from the Russian mob, the mob would want both the money and their heads; or, if forced to choose, just their heads.
"Jesus," said Albinis. She glanced nervously up and down the street: the fat woman was receding in the distance. Albinis worried about her epithets. Being disguised as observant Muslim woman was fine for handling bank cameras, but as a natural-born wise ass, she'd never been that good at controlling her language.
Did conservative Arab women walk around blurting out, "Jesus Christ," or "Holy shit?" She suspected they did not. "All right," she said. "I'm running."
While all that was going on, three Mexican males were checking out of the Wee Blue Inn in West St. Paul, fifteen or twenty minutes apart.
The Wee Blue Inn catered to hasty romances and to men who arrived on foot, who really needed a shower and a few hours' sleep, a sink to wash their clothes in, and who had no credit card to pay with. Didn't bother the owner: cash was as good as credit, but you had to have the cash.
The Mexicans had checked in two days before, a half hour apart, small young men - two of them were still teenagers - but with muscles in their arms and faces, no bellies at all; and with hard eyes that reminded the owner of the obsidian-black marbles of his childhood, the ones called peeries.
They checked in a half hour apart, and got separate rooms, but they were together. The owner didn't ask them any questions. That didn't seem prudent. An illegal Latino was cleaning up around the place, saw them check in, and told the owner he was going to take the next day or two off.
"I didn't hire you to take no days off," the owner said.
"I take them anyway," the illegal said. "You wanna fire me, so fire me. I'm going."
It occurred to the owner that the temporary departure of his wage slave might have something to do with the small men.
Once again, it didn't seem prudent to ask.
In certain businesses, prudence is mandatory.