Read an Excerpt
ALSO BY JOHN SANDFORD
Rules of Prey
Eyes of Prey
The Night Crew
The Fool’s Run
The Empress File
The Devil’s Code
The Hanged Man’s Song
VIRGIL FLOWERS NOVELS
Dark of the Moon
Table of Contents
That was the summer of the cast and the cell phones. Cell phones everywhere. He sometimes felt as though he were caught like a fly in an electronic spiderweb, and anytime anyone, anywhere, had an urge to waste his time, they could reach out and ring his bell.
When it began, though, at that one specific moment, he had no phone….
LUCAS DAVENPORT ran through the night, a fine mist cool on his face, the tarmac smooth and reliable under his Nike training shoes. They’d been through a rough winter. Most years, the last of the parking lot snow piles would be gone by early April. Now, as April ended, with the temperatures ballooning into the seventies, there were still mounds of ice at the edges of the larger lots, and they’d still be there on May Day.
But not on the streets—the streets were finally clear.
As he ran, he thought about everything and anything, about the life he’d led, the children, the snatches of time frozen in his mind: a moment when he’d gotten shot in an alley, and the flash of the man who’d shot him; the first sight of a newborn daughter; his mother’s face, crabby with an early morning slice of toast in her hand, her image as clear in his mind as it had been twenty-five years earlier, on the day she died….
They all came up like portraits and landscapes hanging on the wall of his memory, flashes of color in the black-and-white night. With all the trouble and struggle and violence he’d seen, the deaths of parents and friends … it’d been pretty good, he thought. Not much to regret. Not yet.
He was getting older, with almost as much gray hair as black at his temples, with the beginnings of what would someday be slashing lines beside his mouth, but right now, on this spring day, he could run five miles in a bit less than thirty minutes, even on wet city streets; and at home, there were four people who loved him.
As much as he could have hoped for.
RUNNING THROUGH the mist in a faded Bass Pro Shops sweatshirt with cut-off sleeves and gray sweat shorts, he turned up the hill off Mount Curve and eventually slowed and looked through the windows on the Ford Parkway Wells Fargo ATM. The booth was empty, which was good. He was panting and smelled like he’d just run a hard five miles, which is not necessarily what somebody else wants to see from a stranger inside an ATM booth.
He went inside. He had nothing with him but the ATM card, his driver’s license, and fifteen dollars, in a Dunhill money clip. No phone: for this rare half hour, no cell phone. He stuck the card in the ATM slot, punched in his four-digit code, hit the video square that said his most frequent withdrawal was five hundred dollars, and in the next few seconds, collected his card, his five hundred in twenties, and the receipt. He pushed the card and his ID back in the money clip and slipped the money clip back in his pocket, and was looking at the receipt, which showed he had $19,250 in his checking account, as he pushed through the door.
THE TWEEKER was right there, with a piece-of-shit chromed revolver shaking like a leaf, three feet from Lucas’s eyes. The hole of the muzzle large as the moon, and the man was saying, “Gimme the money gimme the money gimme the money…”
The gunman’s eyes were pale blue, almost as though they’d been bleached. He had spiky reddish hair, hanging raggedy over his ears, as though it had been cut with pinking shears. He was missing several teeth, his face was touched with a patchy rash, and the muscles of his gaunt forearms twitched like pencils under the skin.
Lucas thought, I could die. It’d be a weird way to go, killed in a street robbery with this clown, after chasing down dozens of heavy hitters in his life, serious killers with functioning brains.
Lucas became aware of a woman, looming two or three feet behind him. He glanced at her, quickly: she was big, rawboned, and empty-handed, with the same gaunt meth-addled eyes as the man. Across the street, another woman was walking toward the bookstore at the top of the hill, under a black umbrella, a dachshund on a leash beside her, the dog’s legs churning like a caterpillar’s as it tried to keep up. There were cars passing by, their tires hissing on the wet streets, and he could smell the fleshy stink of run-over worms, and the tweeker was almost screaming, spit rolling down his chin, “Gimme gimme gimme,” and Lucas handed over the five hundred dollars.
He’d lost track of the woman, as he concentrated on the muzzle of the gun and the man’s fingers on the butt and trigger. If they turned white, if he started to squeeze, Lucas would have to go for it.
But as soon as her partner had taken the money, the woman hit him between the shoulder blades with both hands, and simultaneously hooked his ankles with her foot. With his feet pinned, he went down hard, full-length, broke the fall with his hands but still smacked his knees and chin on the concrete sidewalk, and rolled, and saw the two of them hoofing it down the block. The woman was large with broad shoulders and wide hips, but bony for all of that; the man was thin, jagged-looking.
Lucas got to his feet, his first thought to give chase, but the man turned as he ran and waggled the gun at him. Lucas had nothing on him: nothing but the money clip, two cards, and fifteen dollars in cash. No gun, no phone.
And he hurt. His back hurt from the impact, his hands and knees were skinned, his wrists sprained. He touched his lower lip, came away with a bloody finger, and realized that he’d cut his lip on his upper teeth. His teeth felt okay; nothing wiggled.
He took a few steps after the robbers, then stopped as they turned the corner. A few seconds later, a car screeched away, out of sight. Lucas looked around: nobody there on a wet Sunday night, nobody but the woman across the street, and her umbrella and her dog, rapidly headed away, up the hill, unaware that anything had happened.
He said, “Shit,” and limped toward home. Reviewed what had happened, walked through it in his mind. He had, he decided, done the right thing. The piece-of-shit revolver was probably a .38. Not the most powerful weapon, but one that could have sprayed his brains all over the street. And he thought, They’ve done it before. The woman had taken him down like a pro, smooth, efficient, practiced.
Lip hurt. Knees hurt. Hands hurt. Five hundred dollars gone.
But they’d made a large mistake.
Sooner or later, he’d see them again.
WEATHER, HIS WIFE, a surgeon who had spent part of her internship in an emergency room, tried to be the calm one, talking tough while she fluttered around him. She said his lip was nothing, he just had to suck it up like a man, instead of whining about it. His knee required a Band-Aid and some antiseptic, and he might have a couple of small pulled muscles in his back, but he hadn’t lost any function and his spine wasn’t involved.
“You’ve got muscles in your neck, which is good. Helps prevent whiplash,” she said. She was kneading his shoulder as he sat in a kitchen chair, eating an Oreo, tasting a little blood with the creme filling.
She was most worried about his left wrist.
His teenaged adoptive daughter, Letty, asked, “What are you going to do about this?”
“Put them in jail,” Lucas said. “If it’s the last thing I do.”
Letty, her arms crossed over her chest, grunted, “At least.”
HE CALLED the St. Paul cops, and a couple of uniforms rolled around and took a report and suggested he come to the station and look at the meth files. When they were done, Weather drove him over to Hennepin County Medical Center and told the doc on duty that she wanted Lucas’s wrists x-rayed. Because of her status in the place, Lucas got instant service.
The doc came back in five minutes, took them around to a computer screen, tapped on some keys. The X-rays came up on the high-def screen, and he said, “You busted your left scaphoid.”
“Ah, God,” Weather said. She peered at the digital image. “Yeah, it’s clear.” She pointed at a line on a wrist bone.
The line looked like somebody had dropped a white hair on the screen. Lucas said, “It can’t be too bad. The bone’s about the size of—”
“Never mind what it’s the size of,” Weather said. Lucas tended to compare the size of almost anything, either large or small, to his dick. “You’ll need a cast.”
“A cast?” He flexed his wrist. It hurt, but not all that bad. He looked at the doc, who nodded, and then at Weather. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
“With luck, we can take it off in three months,” the doc said. “A lot of people go six.”
“What? For that?” He couldn’t believe it. A little crack, barely visible in the X-ray.
Weather explained in big words. He didn’t know all of the words, but understood that the carpal bones, of which the scaphoid was one, and which was once called the navicular because it supposedly looked like a boat, allowed the wrist to turn and the hand to work. If the bone was cracked, and didn’t heal, it might die, and rot. Then his hand wouldn’t work right.
That didn’t sound good.
Forty-five minutes after they walked in, they walked back out of the emergency room, Lucas with a fiberglass cast from his elbow to knuckles, and a bottle of hydrocodone in his pocket.
“One good thing,” Weather said, “it’s your left hand.”
“This cast is like a fuckin’ rock,” Lucas said. “If I catch that fuckin’ tweeker, I’m gonna use it to fuckin’ beat him to death.”
“That’s your daily quota on the f-word,” Weather said. “And don’t worry about that guy. If he’s as far gone as you say, he’s a dead man anyway.”
“He’s a dead man if I catch him,” Lucas said.
When they got home, Letty said, “Whoa, that cast’s the size of—”
“Never mind,” Weather said.
THE CAST was a constant annoyance. Lucas was a touch-typist and, unable to spread his fingers, had to learn to use the keyboard using only one finger on his left hand. And he had, over the years, gotten used to carrying an old-fashioned Colt .45 ACP, which really required two functioning hands. He switched to a double-action nine-millimeter, but never really liked it. He couldn’t hang on to a steering wheel, though he hardly ever held on tight with his left hand anyway.
The biggest frustration came one day when he was fishing off the dock at his cabin and hooked into a small bluegill, only to watch the bluegill get chased down, right at the surface, by what he estimated to be a two-foot-long large-mouth bass. He got the bass back close to the dock, but he couldn’t just lift it out of the water: he wasn’t even sure it was hooked. He needed to hold the rod in one hand, and use a net with the other … and stood helplessly looking down at the fish as it ran crazily back and forth, finally did a heavy-bodied leap, and came off.
He was pretty sure, as the fish swam away, that it gave him the finger.
THE CAST was cut off, momentarily, at three months, and his wrist was x-rayed again, and the doc said it needed another month. A scum of dead skin covered his arm, and the muscles looked too thin—withered, Lucas thought. His arm reminded him of the tweeker’s too-thin forearm. The doc let him scrub the dead skin off before he put the new cast on. Under his arm hair, the new skin was as pink and soft as a baby’s butt. “Come back in a month,” the doc said. “In a month, you’re good. And lucky. Some people go six.”
“That’s what the last guy said. But he said if I was lucky, I’d get out in three.”
“That’s really lucky,” the doc said. “You’re only a little lucky.”
THE SUMMER of the cast and cell phones, though meteorologically excellent, was professionally slow. Lucas’s job at the BCA was mostly self-invented, and included politically sensitive cases, or cases that might attract a lot of media attention. That summer, the politicians stayed away from ostentatious felonies, as far as anyone knew—something could always pop up at a later date. (“I didn’t know she was fourteen. Honest to God, she said she was thirty-two.”)
So Lucas focused on a self-invented, long-term, statewide intelligence project that involved finding, working, and filing police sources in Minnesota’s criminal underworld. The project was kept secret for fear that it would encounter media ridicule. Most people didn’t believe that there actually was a Minnesota criminal underworld, and those who did—the cops—often didn’t want to give up sources.
Just as in any other state, Minnesota had plenty of crooks. Ten thousand people sat in prison, from a population a little short of six million, with a constant coming and going. Of those, quite a few were one-timers, or criminals of a kind that didn’t interest him: repeat drunk drivers, people convicted of manslaughter or negligent homicide, or white-collar crime. Those kinds of people were singletons, who generally acted alone, out of stupidity and greed, and, aside from the drunk drivers, were not given to repeated mayhem.
He was interested in the repeaters, the professionals, the people who lived and worked in a criminal culture—bikers, gang members, burglars, robbers, pederasts, drug dealers. Lucas had a theory that every county, and every town, would have a “node” that pulled in criminals of that area—a bar, a bowling alley, a roadhouse.
Furthermore, he thought that criminals in one area would know most of the nodes for the surrounding areas, no matter how urban or rural the countryside might be, and would be attracted to those nodes when away from home.
He wanted a thousand names of sources who’d talk to the cops, across that whole web of nodes; at least one or two sources for each.
They would all know him by name, and there would be certain implicit guarantees in their transactions. Like no police comebacks.
TO SET UP his system, he first had to learn about spreadsheets, and then a bit about computer secrecy: he had no interest in building a general criminal database, and needed a way to keep the work away from prying cop eyes. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to help other cops, it was just that as soon as more than one person began operating the database, it would stop functioning. Tipsters wanted a relationship: they didn’t want their names in a cop newspaper, and if they thought that was what was happening, they’d shut up or disappear.
So Lucas had spent the summer talking on the phone, taking long rides out into the countryside to meet unusual men and women at sandwich shops and parks, filling out the database.
HE REALIZED, at some point, what the computer had done for him. He’d been tempted, at one time or another, to move to a bigger police agency—one of the federal agencies, or to a really large city, like New York or Los Angeles. He’d not done that because he’d realized that the Minneapolis–St. Paul area was the largest size he could comprehend.
In Los Angeles, a cop was caught in a blizzard of shit, and there was never any way to tell where the shit was coming from. You get three murdered in Venice, and the killer was almost as likely to come from Portland or St. Louis as from LA; was likely to be unknown to the local cops. Serial killers had operated for decades in the LA area, without the cops even knowing about it. Chaos ruled.
That wouldn’t happen in the Twin Cities. There were three million people outside his St. Paul door, but he could just about understand who was out there, and where the shit was coming from.
There were another two million in the state of Minnesota, and with the help of a computer and a spreadsheet, he was beginning to hope that he might also come to comprehend the state’s criminal base.
The rise of the cell phone added another aspect to it: with the cell phone, an office was anywhere you wanted it to be. At one time, you might drive out to a crime scene, however many minutes or even hours from the office, and then drive back to get started on the case. With cell phones, you could constantly be hooked into a developing web of contacts, sources, and records.
The downside, of course, was that you were constantly hooked into a web of contacts, sources, and records, and didn’t often have the time needed to simply think.
A SIDE BENEFIT to the construction of the intel network was that he had time to look for the robbers who’d taken his five hundred dollars and broken his wrist. He quickly found out that he’d been right about one thing: they’d done it before.
They’d done it four times on the south side of the Twin Cities and its suburbs, and a half dozen more times trailing down I-35 to the south, which made Lucas think they lived down that way.
As he pulled together his intelligence nodes south of town, he asked about them—thin shaky guy, big rough woman, up to their eyebrows in meth.
He hadn’t yet found them when, in August, the peace and quiet ended.
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 superintendent 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 gray 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 gray 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 gray eyes…
None of which would have done justice to the real horror behind the door.
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 Hermès 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 onto 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, forty-five, 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 someplace 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 longtime winner in the backroom 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 anchorwoman.
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 Brookses’ 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 Treasure Island; it was 105 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 woman’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 online, 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 LA, make some pickups, put in some more orders,” Albitis 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,” Albitis 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 Albitis. She glanced nervously up and down the street: the fat woman was receding in the distance. Albitis worried about her epithets. Being disguised as an observant Muslim woman was fine for handling bank cameras, but as a natural-born wiseass, 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.
Patrick Brooks had run Sunnie Software out of an office suite in a rehabbed brick warehouse north of Minneapolis’s downtown. Lucas decided to swing by on his way back to the BCA offices to sniff around and get a feel for the Brooks operation.
He left the car on the street and climbed the internal stairs to the third floor; the office was glass and gray carpet, with potted palms sitting around on redbrick room dividers. The place smelled like feminine underarm deodorant and carpet cleaner. A dozen employees were sitting in a low-walled cube farm, each with his or her own computer, but nobody was working. Instead, they’d pulled their chairs into groups of three and four, and were talking about the killings.
A BCA agent named Jones was keeping an eye on them. He spotted Lucas at the door, and as the employees turned to watch, came over and said, “We’re talking to them one at a time. Not seeing much yet.”
Lucas said, “Shaffer says they do Spanish-language software.”
“Yeah. We already talked to the office manager. She said some of the sales are down in the Southwest, but most of them are south of the border—Mexico and Central America. They do some down in South America, Colombia and Venezuela.”
“All drug countries,” Lucas said. “You think they’re running a money laundry?”
“Can’t tell yet,” Jones said. “If it is, it’s not that big. They only did about two million in sales last year. Brooks took out about two hundred thousand, himself. They got a million-dollar payroll on top of that, they’re paying some stiff rent, they contract for the software, there’re taxes…. There’s not really much left over.”
“Is there any way to verify the sales?” Lucas asked.
“Not really, not if somebody wanted to tinker with the books. It’s all delivered online, there aren’t any physical deliveries.” Jones nodded at the office, and added, “We’ve got all of these people sitting here, they all say they get paid, we know they pay rent on the office space … It’d be a hell of a conspiracy.”
“We’ve got a killing that looks like it’s dope-related, we’ve got people peddling untraceable software in Mexico. It’s gotta be here somewhere,” Lucas said.
Jones shrugged. “You’re welcome to look. I’ll tell you one thing. If it’s a laundry, and they were stealing money, it wasn’t worth it.” Jones had been to the murder house and had seen the damage.
“No, it wasn’t,” Lucas agreed.
“So … Dick and Andi are in the back, doing the interviews,” Jones said. “You want to sit in?”
“Maybe … but you’re done with the office manager?”
“For the time being.”
“Let me talk to her,” Lucas said.
BARBARA PHILLIPS was a heavyset blonde in her late forties or early fifties, with an elaborate hairdo, low-cut silky tan blouse, and seven-inch cleavage. She’d been crying, and had mascara running down her face, with wipe lines trailing off toward her ears. She’d been sitting in her office with two other employees when Jones stuck his head in: “We have another agent who’d like to chat with you,” he said to Phillips.
She nodded and said, “You guys be careful,” to the other employees, and they all shook their heads and trooped out of the room. When Lucas stepped in, Phillips asked, “You think the killers are looking for us?”
Lucas took a chair and said, “I doubt it … unless there’s some reason you think they might be.”
“Mr. Chang, Agent Chang, said they thought maybe a Mexican drug gang did it. What does that have to do with us?”
Lucas shrugged. “I don’t know. Can you think of anything at all?”
Tears started running down her face, and she sniffed and wiped the tears away, and said, “Our business is with Mexicans. We like Mexicans. Half the people working here are Mexicans, or Panamanians.”
“Liking Mexicans doesn’t mean much to these people, if they’re actually a drug gang,” Lucas said. “Most of the people they murder are Mexicans.”
“Well, I don’t know,” she said, her voice rising almost to a wail.
Lucas sat and watched her for a moment, and she gathered herself together and said, “Those poor kids. God, those poor kids. I just hope they didn’t suffer.”
LUCAS DIDN’T know how to respond to that, given the truth of the matter, so he said, “Tell me one thing that would let this business…” He paused, then continued, “What am I asking here?” He scratched his chin. “Tell me one thing that would allow a drug gang to use this business for their own purposes. I’m not asking if they did, just make something up. One possibility.”
She peered at him for a moment, confused, and then sat up, looked at a wall calendar as if it might explain something to her, then looked back and said, “There isn’t any. Not that I can think of. We don’t buy or sell any physical product, so you can’t use us to smuggle anything. There aren’t any trucks, nobody crosses any border. We don’t make that much in profit … and all of our income is recorded because it’s all done with credit cards. So, I don’t know.”
“Is there any way they could use your computer systems for communications of some kind?” Lucas asked. “Or anything like that?”
“Why would they?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I’m just trying to think of anything that might help,” Lucas said.
Phillips said, “Listen, if they want to communicate, they can buy an encryption package, for a few dollars, that the CIA couldn’t break, and just send e-mails. Why would they go through us?”
Lucas turned his palms up. “Don’t know. Maybe they didn’t. But somewhere, there’s a reason they were killed. Possibly in this company. Did Mr. Brooks speak Spanish?”
“Oh, yes. He was fluent. So was his wife,” Phillips said. “They lived in Argentina for five years, and that’s where Pat got the idea for the company. Everybody’s got computers down there, but it’s hard to get good software in Spanish. His idea was, get some of these really good, inexpensive, second-level software packages—business software, games, whatever—and translate them into Spanish. That’s what we did. We’d buy the rights, get a contractor to recode in Spanish, and put it online.”
“Then the customers would download it and that’d be the end of it,” Lucas said.
“That’s it,” she said.
“But couldn’t a drug gang be somehow using the…” He faltered, then said, “But why do it that way, when they could do it with an encrypted e-mail?”
“I can’t think of why,” she said.
“Who does the books?”
“Merit-Champlain, they’re an accounting company over in North St. Paul.”
“I know them,” Lucas said. He’d used the same outfit when he was running his computer company in the mid-nineties. As far as he knew, they were straight. “Did Brooks finance the company himself?” he asked.
“As far as I know, yes. He used to work for 3M, he made very good money,” Phillips said. “He had savings, and he borrowed money from his 401K. I think his brother chipped in. When we started, there were only three of us, full-time, Pat and me and Bob Farmer, who was the computer expert. Candy would come in after the kids were at school, and she’d stay until it was time to pick them up. Everything else, we’d farm out. Contract work.”
“Pretty much a success right from the start?”
“Not hardly,” Phillips said, shaking her head. “It was two years before Pat took his first paycheck. After that it came on pretty good, and we’re still growing. Well, we were still growing … I don’t know what’ll happen now.”
“Are Brooks’s parents still alive?” Lucas asked.
“Yes. Nice folks. They live out in Stillwater. Agent Chang—”
“Dick,” Lucas said.
“Yes, Dick said they were being contacted.”
“They’d probably inherit,” Lucas said.
“Unless it’s his brother,” Phillips said. “I really don’t know. Nobody thought … this could happen. That they’d all be gone. Never in a million years.”
LUCAS WORKED her a bit more, got the name and address of Brooks’s brother, but had the feeling he was pushing on a string. He thanked her and left her in the office. Chang was standing in the hallway with a water-machine paper cup in his hand, and Lucas nodded and asked, “Anything?”
Chang shook his head. “Lot of Mexicans here, but I’m not seeing anything. They’re all confused as hell. The confusion feels real.”
“I wish they were making more money,” Lucas said. “I’m not seeing how they could be running a laundry. Maybe the accountants will have something.”