Storm Prey (Lucas Davenport Series #20)

Storm Prey (Lucas Davenport Series #20)

3.9 458
by John Sandford

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Very early, 4:45, on a bitterly cold Minnesota morning, three men burst through the door of a hospital pharmacy, duct-tape the hands, feet, mouth, and eyes of two pharmacy workers, and clean the place out. But then things go bad. One of the workers dies, and the robbers hustle out to their truck and find themselves for just one second face-to-face with a blond

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Very early, 4:45, on a bitterly cold Minnesota morning, three men burst through the door of a hospital pharmacy, duct-tape the hands, feet, mouth, and eyes of two pharmacy workers, and clean the place out. But then things go bad. One of the workers dies, and the robbers hustle out to their truck and find themselves for just one second face-to-face with a blond woman in the garage: Weather Karkinnen, surgeon, wife of an investigator named Lucas Davenport. Can she identify them? It seems to them there is only one thing to do: Find out who she is, and eliminate the only withness...

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Despite its inaccurate, generic and dumb title-what's next, Murder Prey?-Lucas Davenport's 20th case is one of his best. "We don't hurt anyone," Lyle Mack tells his brother Joe and their biker buddies Mikey Haines and Shooter Chapman as he conducts one last on-site review of their plans to rob the pharmacy in the Minneapolis Medical Center. But despite the thieves' success, Haines's temper gets away from him, and he kicks pharmacist Don Peterson to death. Even worse, their car is spotted by a witness who gets a good look at Joe as they're leaving the parking garage. Worst of all, the witness is Dr. Weather Karkinnen, a reconstructive surgeon who goes home each night from her demanding job-which these days involves surgery to separate a pair of 18-month-old twins joined at the head-to the arms of Lucas Davenport, her husband. Since the cops have one way of identifying Haines, whose victim managed to get some of his killer's blood under his fingernails before he bled out, and another of identifying Joe, the conspirators have every incentive to cut telltale ends short, even if those telltale ends include each other. None of them is very smart, and Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension would probably have them under lock and key by nightfall if they only stood pat. Instead, however, Lyle calls on Cappy Garner, a friend with some experience as a hit man even though he's not old enough to buy a beer, and then the fireworks begin. By the time Sandford calls it quits, eight more cast members will be dead, and virtually all the survivors will have been stalked, chased, shot at or otherwise menaced by all manner of tough guys. And by the time those two twins are finally separated, the one newrelationship that will have blossomed is an unlikely friendship between an aspiring killer and his mentor. Razor-sharp dialogue, a tautly controlled pace and enough homicides for a miniseries. What more could fans want?
Publishers Weekly
When a robbery of a hospital pharmacy leads to the death of one the pharmacists, the sudden switch from theft to murder brings a whole new level of pressure onto the thieves. Adding to their woes is an eyewitness they need to silence permanently. Sandford has delivered a fast-paced thriller with great quirky characters worthy of an Elmore Leonard novel, and Richard Ferrone brings just the right tone and expertise to his reading. With smooth assurance he keeps the story moving at a fast clip, but never at the expense of the characters, to whom he gives solid interpretations (although his French accent could use a little work). A fun-filled listen with plenty of thrills and a perfect addition to the Davenport canon. A Putnam hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 15). (May)
Marilyn Stasio
...a beautiful thing to behold. The sturdy scaffolding, designed to support two interconnecting story lines, allows readers to follow both the misadventures of an incompetent gang of thieves . . . and a complicated medical procedure to separate conjoined twins. . . . But the pretty construction job isn't all bricks and mortar. Sandford invests the villains with enough psychotic quirks to keep the action fast, jumpy and violent. And while none of the white hats can match the perverse appeal of a 20-year-old killer biker whose crazy father named him after a 1982 Chevy Caprice, that delicate operation is every bit as intense as all the other daredevil stunts in this manhunt.
New York Times Book Review
Stephen King
The latest Lucas Davenport thriller starts with a hospital drug heist in which an elderly pharmacist is killed, but the novel's most absorbing passages deal with a surgical team's fight to separate — and save — a set of infant twins joined at the head. A good thriller requires a good villain, and the latest Prey has one that would make a lovely mate for Strip's Carrie: Caprice Marlon Garner, a motorcycle-riding killer. Sandford writes great, unapologetic guy fiction...but you guy-ettes will have a good time too.
Entertainment Weekly
Library Journal
In his 20th Prey novel (after Wicked Prey), Sandford continues to deviate from the pulse-pounding serial killer thrillers of the early 1990s that put Minneapolis cop Lucas Davenport on the map. Davenport still has his sharp mind, quick reflexes, and dirty mouth, but now marriage and fatherhood give him something to lose. And as head of Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, he's working with a larger cast of law enforcement agents and a wider variety of criminals. The morning that his wife, surgeon Weather Karkinnen, is set to separate conjoined twins, she sees a man who just robbed the hospital pharmacy. Davenport calls Virgil Flowers to protect Weather and help him catch the robbers before they can identify her as the witness. The bikers behind the drug heist are portrayed as petty criminals, but the doctor and hit man they're working with are slowly revealed as out-and-out sociopaths. VERDICT This fast-paced crime novel with bad guys so calmly amoral will have readers dead-bolting their doors for weeks. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/10.]—Karen Kleckner, Deerfield P.L., IL

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Lucas Davenport Series, #20
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Three of them, hard men carrying nylon bags, wearing work jackets, Carhartts and Levi’s, all of them with facial hair. They walked across the parking structure to the steel security door, heads swiveling, checking the corners and the overheads, steam flowing from their mouths, into the icy air, one of the men on a cell phone.

As they got to the door, it popped open, and a fourth man, who’d been on the other end of the cell-phone call, let them through. The fourth man was tall and thin, dark-complected, with a black brush mustache. He wore a knee-length black raincoat that he’d bought at a Goodwill store two days earlier, and black pants. He scanned the parking structure, saw nothing moving, pulled the door shut, made sure of the lock.

“This way,” he snapped.

Inside, they moved fast, reducing their exposure, should someone unexpectedly come along. No one should, at the ass-end of the hospital, at fifteen minutes after five o’clock on a bitterly cold winter morning. They threaded through a maze of service corridors until the tall man said, “Here.”

Here was a storage closet. He opened it with a key. Inside, a pile of blue, double-extra-large orderly uniforms sat on a medical cart.

The hard men dumped their coats on the floor and pulled the uniforms over their street clothes. Not a big disguise, but they weren’t meant to be seen close-up—just enough to slip past a video camera. One of them, the biggest one, hopped up on the cart, lay down and said, “Look, I’m dead,” and laughed at his joke. The tall man could smell the bourbon on the joker’s breath.

“Shut the fuck up,” said one of the others, but not in an unkindly way.

The tall man said, “Don’t be stupid,” and there was nothing kind in his voice. When they were ready, they looked at each other and the tall man pulled a white cotton blanket over the man on the cart, and one of the men said, “Let’s do it.”

“Check yourself . . .”

“We don’t hurt anyone,” the tall man said. The sentiment reflected not compassion, but calculation: robbery got X amount of attention, injuries got X-cubed.

“Yeah, yeah . . .” One of the men pulled a semiautomatic pistol from his belt, a heavy, blued, no-bullshit Beretta, stolen from the Army National Guard in Milwaukee, checked it, stuck it back in his belt. He said, “Okay? Everybody got his mask? Okay. Let’s go.”

They stuffed the ski masks into their belts and two hard men pushed the cart into the corridor. The tall man led them farther through the narrow, tiled hallways, then said, “Here’s the camera.”

The two men pushing the cart turned sideways, as the tall man told them to, and went through a cross-corridor. A security camera peered down the hall at them. If a guard happened to be looking at the monitor at that moment, he would have seen only the backs of two orderlies, and a lump on the cart. The tall man in the raincoat scrambled along, on his hands and knees, on the far side of the cart.

The big man on the cart, looking at the ceiling tiles go by, giggled, “It’s like ridin’ the Tilt-A-Whirl.”

When they were out of the camera’s sight line, the tall man stood up and led them deeper into the hospital—the three outsiders would never have found the way by themselves. After two minutes, the tall man handed one of the outsiders a key, indicated a yellow steel door, with no identification.

“This is it?” The leader of the three was skeptical—the door looked like nothing.

“Yes,” said the tall man. “This is the side door. When you go in, you’ll be right among them. One or two. The front door and service window is closed until six. I’ll be around the corner until you call, watching.”

He’d be around the corner where he could slip out of sight, if something went wrong.

The other man nodded, asked, “Everybody ready?” The other two muttered, “Yeah,” tense now, pulled on the masks, took their pistols out. The leader put the key in the lock and yanked open the door.

Weather Karkinnen had taken a half-pill at nine o’clock, knowing that she wouldn’t sleep without it. Too much to do, too much to think about. The procedure had been researched, rehearsed, debated, and undoubtedly prayed over. Now the time had come.

Sleep came hard. She kept imagining that first moment, the first cut, the commitment, the parting of the flesh beneath the edge of her scalpel, on a nearly circular path between the skulls of the two babies—but sometime before nine-thirty, she slip ped away.

She didn’t feel her husband come to bed at one o’clock in the morning. He took care not to disturb her, undressing in the dark, lying as unmoving as he could, listening to her breathing, until he, too, slipped away.

And then her eyes opened.


Dark, not quite silent—the furnace running in the winter night. She lifted her head to the clock. Four-thirty. She’d been asleep for seven hours. Eight would have been the theoretical ideal, but she never slept eight. She closed her eyes again, organizing herself, stepping through the upcoming day. At twenty minutes to five, she got out of bed, stretched, and headed to the en suite bathroom, checking herself: she felt sharp. Excellent. She brushed her teeth, showered, washed and dried her short-cut blond hair.

She’d laid out her clothes the night before. She walked across the bedroom barefoot, in the light of the two digital clocks, picked them up: a thick black-silk jersey and gray wool slacks, and dressy, black-leather square-toed shoes. She would have preferred to wear soft-soled cross-training shoes, like the nurses did, but surgeons didn’t dress like nurses. She’d never even told anyone about the gel innersoles.

She carried her clothes back to the bathroom, shut the door, turned on the light again, and dressed. When she was ready, she looked at herself in the mirror. Not bad.

Weather might have wished to have been a little taller, for the authority given by height; she might have wished for a chiseled nose. But her husband pointed out that she’d never had a problem giving orders, or having them followed; and that he thought her nose, which she saw as lumpy, was devastatingly attractive, and that any number of men had chased after her, nose and all.

So, not bad.

She grinned at herself, turned to make sure the slacks didn’t make her ass look fat—they didn’t—switched off the light, opened the bathroom door and tiptoed across the bedroom. Her husband said, in the dark, “Good luck, babe.”

“I didn’t know you were awake.”

“I’m probably more nervous than you are,” he said.

She went back to the bed and kissed him on the forehead. “Go back to sleep.”

Downstairs in the kitchen, she had two pieces of toast, a cup of instant coffee, and a yogurt, got her bag, went out to the car, backed out of the garage, and headed downtown, on the snowy streets, across the river to the Minnesota Medical Research Center. She might be first in, she thought, but maybe not: there were forty people on the surgical team. Somebody had to be more nervous than she was.

At the hospital, the yellow door popped open and the three big men swarmed through.

Two people were working in the pharmacy—a short, slender, older man, who might once in the sixties have been a dancer, but no longer had the muscle tone. He wore a scuzzy beard on his cheeks, a soul patch under his lower lip. First thing, when he came to work, he tied a paper surgeon’s cap on his head, for the rush he got when people looked at him in the cafeteria. The other person was a busy, intent, heavyset woman in a nurse’s uniform, who did the end-of-shift inventory, making sure it was all there, the stacks and rows and lockers full of drugs.

Some of it, put on the street, was worthless. Nobody pays street prices to cure the heartbreak of psoriasis.

Most of it, put on the street—on more than one street, actually; there was the old-age street, the uninsured street, the junkie street—was worth a lot. Half-million dollars? A million? Maybe.

The three hard men burst through the door and were on top of the two pharmacy workers in a half-second. The woman had enough time to whimper, “Don’t,” before one of the men pushed her to the floor, gun in her face, so close she could smell the oil on it, and said, “Shutta fuck up. Shut up.” Soul-patch huddled into a corner with his hands up, then sank to his butt.

The leader of the three waved a pistol at the two on the floor and said, “Flat on the floor. Roll over, put your hands behind your back. We don’t want to hurt you.”

The two did, and another of the men hurriedly taped their hands behind them with gray duct tape, and then bound their feet together. That done, he tore off short strips of tape and pasted them over the victims’ eyes, and then their mouths.

He stood up: “Okay.”

The leader pushed the door open again and signaled with a fingertip. The tall man stepped in from the hallway, said, “These,” and pointed at a series of locked, glass-doored cupboards. And, “Over here . . .”

A row of metal-covered lockers. The leader of the big men went to the man on the floor, who looked more ineffectual than the woman, and ripped the tape from his mouth.

“Where are the keys?” For one second, the man on the floor seemed inclined to prevaricate, so the big man dropped to his knees and said, “If you don’t tell me this minute, I will break your fuckin’ skull as an example. Then you will be dead, and I will ask the fat chick.”

“In the drawer under the telephone,” Soul-patch said.

“Good answer.”

As the big man retaped Soul-patch’s mouth, the tall man got the keys and began popping open the lockers. All kinds of good stuff here, every opiate and man-made opiate except heroin; lots of hot-rock stimulants, worth a fortune with the big-name labels.

“Got enough Viagra to stock a whorehouse,” one of the men grunted.

Another one: “Take this Tamiflu shit?”

“Fifty bucks a box in California . . . Take it.”

Five minutes of fast work, the tall man pointing them at the good stuff, sorting out the bad.

Then the old guy on the floor made a peculiar wiggle.

One of the holdup men happened to see it, frowned, then went over, half-rolled him. The old guy’s hands were loose—he’d pulled one out of the tape, had had a cell phone in a belt clip under his sweater, had worked it loose, and had been trying to make a call. The big man grunted and looked at the face of the phone. One number had been pressed successfully: a nine.

“Sonofabitch was trying to call nine-one-one,” he said, holding up the phone to the others. The old man tried to roll away, but the man who’d taken the phone punted him in the back once, twice, three times, kicking hard with steel-toed work boots.

“Sonofabitch . . . sonofabitch.” The boot hit with the sound of a meat hammer striking a steak.

“Let him be,” the leader said after the third kick.

But the old man had rolled back toward his tormentor and grasped him by the ankle, and the guy tried to shake him loose and the old man moaned something against the tape and held on, his fingernails raking the big guy’s calf.

“Let go of me, you old fuck.” The guy shook him off his leg and kicked him again, hard, in the chest.

The leader said, “Quit screwing around. Tape him up again and let’s get this stuff out of here.”

The old man, his hands taped again, was still groaning as they loaded the bags. That done, they went to the door, glanced down the hallway. All clear. The bags went under the blanket on the cart, and the three big men pushed the cart past the security-camera intersection, back through the rabbit warren to the utility closet, replaced the orderly uniforms with their winter coats, picked up the bags.

The leader said, “Gotta move, now. Gotta move. Don’t know how much time we got.”

Another of the men said, “Shooter—dropped your glove.”

“Ah, man, don’t need that.” He picked it up, and the tall man led them out, his heart thumping against his rib cage. Almost out. When they could see the security door, he stopped, and they went on and out. The tall man watched until the door re-latched, turned, and headed back into the complex.

There were no cameras looking at the security door, or between the door and their van. The hard men hustled through the cold, threw the nylon bags in the back, and one of them climbed in with them, behind tinted windows, while the leader took the wheel and the big man climbed in the passenger seat.

“Goddamn, we did it,” said the passenger. He felt under his seat, found a paper bag with a bottle of bourbon in it. He was unscrewing the top as they rolled down the ramp; an Audi A5 convertible, moving too fast, swept across the front of the van and caught the passenger, mouth open, who squinted against the light. For just a moment, he was face-to-face with a blond woman, who then swung past them into the garage.


The leader braked and looked back, but the A5 had already turned up the next level on the ramp. He thought they might turn around and find the woman . . . but then what? Kill her?

“She see you guys?” asked the man in the back, who’d seen only the flash of the woman’s face.

The guy with the bottle said, “She was looking right at me. Goddamnit.”

“Nothing to do,” the leader said. “Nothing to do. Get out of sight. Shit, it was only one second . . .”

And they went on.

Weather had seen the man with the bottle, but paid no attention. Too much going through her head. She went on to the physicians’ parking, got a spot close to the door, parked, and hurried inside.

The tall man got back to the utility closet, pulled off the raincoat and pants, which he’d used to conceal his physician’s scrubs: if they’d been seen in the hallway, the three big men with a doc, somebody would have remembered. He gathered up the scrubs abandoned by the big men, stuffed them in a gym bag, along with the raincoat and pants, took a moment to catch his breath, to neaten up.

Listened, heard nothing. Turned off the closet light, peeked into the empty hallway, then strode off, a circuitous route, avoiding cameras, to an elevator. Pushed the button, waited impatiently.

When the door opened, he found a short, attractive blond woman inside, who nodded at him. He nodded back, poked “1,” and they started down, standing a polite distance apart, with just the trifle of awkwardness of a single man and a single woman, unacquainted, in an elevator.

The woman said, after a few seconds, “Still hard to come to work in the dark.”

“Can’t wait for summer,” the tall man said. They got to “2,” and she stepped off and said, “Summer always comes,” and she was gone.

Weather thought, as she walked away from the elevator, No point looking at the kids. They’d be asleep in the temporary ICU they’d set up down the hall from the operating room. She went instead to the locker room and traded her street clothes for surgical scrubs. Another woman came in, and Weather nodded to her and the other woman asked, “Couldn’t sleep?”

“Got a few hours,” Weather said. “Are we the only two here?”

The woman, a radiologist named Regan, laughed: “No. John’s got the doll on the table and he’s talking about making some changes to the table, for God’s sakes. Rick’s here, he’s messing with his saws. Gabriel was down in the ICU, he just got here, he’s complaining about the cold. A bunch of nurses . . .”

“Nerves,” Weather said. “See you down there.”

She was cool in her scrubs, but comfortably so: she’d been doing this for nearly fifteen years, and the smell of a hospital, the alcohol, the cleaners, even the odor of burning blood, smelled like fresh air to her.

No point in looking at the kids, but she’d do it anyway. There were two nurses outside the temporary ICU, and they nodded and asked quietly, “Are you going in?”

“Just a peek.”

“They’ve been quiet,” one of the nurses said. “Dr. Maret just left.”

Moving as silently as she could, in the semi-dark, she moved next to the babies’ special bed. When you didn’t look closely, they looked like any other toddlers, who happened to be sleeping head-to-head; small hands across their chests, eyes softly closed, small chests rising up and down. The first irregularity that a visitor might notice was the ridges in their skulls: Weather had placed a series of skin expanders under their scalps, to increase the amount of skin available to cover the skull defects—the holes—when they were separated.

There was really no need for her to look at them: she simply wanted to. Two babies, innocent, silent, feeling no pain; their world was about to change. She watched them for a minute. The one named Ellen sighed, and one foot moved, and then she subsided again.

Weather tiptoed out.

The old man in the pharmacy was moaning, the woman trying to talk, and the old man heard the woman fall down against a chair, after trying to get up, and then somebody was rapping at the service window and they both tried to scream, and they were loud but muffled. He was chewing at the duct tape on his mouth, and finally it came loose from one side and he spat it away from his face.

“Dorothy, can you hear me?”

A muffled “Yes.”

“I think I’m hurt bad. If I don’t make it, tell the police that I scratched one of the robbers. I should have blood on my hand.” She replied, but the reply was unintelligible. He’d been working on the tape on his wrists, and eventually pulled one free . . . He tried to get up, but was too weak. He couldn’t orient himself; nothing seemed to be working. He fumbled at the tape over his eyes, failed to get it free, moaned, moaned . . .

More time went by and the old man felt himself going dark; didn’t know what was happening, but his heart was pounding and he told himself, calm down, calm down. He’d had heart and circulatory problems, clots, and he didn’t need a clot breaking free, but his heart was pounding and he was sweating and something was going more wrong than it should be, more wrong than rolling around on a tile floor gagged and blinded and beaten. Hurt bad.

Then the door rattled and he shouted and he heard an answering shout, and he shouted again and Dorothy tried to scream through her gag, and some time later the door rattled again, and he heard it open, and somebody cried out, and then more people were there.

He blacked out for a moment, then came back, realized he was on a gurney, that they’d put a board on him, they were moving down a hallway. Somebody said, a few inches from his face, “We’re moving you down to the ER, we’re moving you.”

He said, as loud as he could as the world faded, “I scratched him. I scratched him. Tell the police, I scratched him . . .”

The operating room had been reworked for the separation operation. Maret had stripped out all the general surgery stuff, put in more lights, brought in the custom table. The table had been made in Germany, and lined with a magic memory foam that would adapt to the kids as their bodies were moved this way and that.

Sara and Ellen Raynes were joined at the skull, vertically, but slightly turned from each other. If an observer was standing at Sara’s feet, looking at her face, and Sara was looking straight up, then Ellen’s face was upside down and rotated to the observer’s left. Imaging studies, done by Regan and her associates, indicated that their brains were separate, but they shared a portion of the dura mater under the skull, a kind of fibrous lining that protected and facilitated the drainage of venous blood from the brain.

The incoming blood in the arterial system was good in both babies; but if the blood couldn’t be drained away, and recirculated, it would put increasing pressure on the brains, eventually killing them.

Sara and Ellen were eighteen months old. Their parents had known the babies were conjoined before birth. The option of abortion had been proposed but rejected by the parents, Lucy and Larry Raynes, for religious and emotional reasons. The children had been delivered by cesarean section at seven and a half months. Sara had been born with a congenital heart defect, which further complicated matters.

Weather pushed into the OR and found three surgeons working with the baby doll—a life-sized, actual-weight dense-foam model of the Raynes twins. They had it on the table and were rolling it against the foam.

“So . . . no change,” Gabriel Maret said.

Maret was a short man, with a head slightly too large for his body, the size emphasized by a wild thatch of curly black hair, shot through with silver. He was dark-eyed, olive-complected, with a chipped front tooth. He favored cashmere in his carefully tailored, French-cut winter suits, and the women around the hospital paid close attention to him: he was French, and the observing women agreed that his accent, in English, was perfect.

Maret had come to dinner with Lucas and Weather every week or so over the winter, enjoying the kids and the family life. He was divorced, with four children of his own. He and his wife still shared an apartment in Paris, and, sometimes, he said, a bed. “It’s insane,” he said. “She is more stubborn than one of your mules.”

“More stubborn than you?” Weather had asked.

He considered the question: “Maybe not that stubborn,” he said.

He and her husband, Lucas, who got along improbably well, once spent an hour talking about men’s fashion, nearly driving Weather crazy with the inanity of it. She’d said, “Fifteen minutes on loafers? Loafers?”

“We were just getting started,” Lucas said. She wasn’t sure he was joking.

“So . . . no change,” Maret said.

“Not as long as everything goes right,” said John Dansk, a neurosurgeon.

“If we run into trouble splicing the six vein, if we lose it, we may have to take out another piece and that means rolling Sara this way and Ellen will torque back to the right.”

The six vein was a vein shared by the twins. They’d tie it off on Ellen’s side, and attempt to splice it into the five vein on Sara’s, the better to move blood out of Sara’s brain. The vein numbers simply came from imaging charts prepared by the radiologists.

“So what are you suggesting?” Maret asked. He glanced at Weather: “You are gorgeous this morning.”

“I know,” she said, to make him laugh. As did the other women around him, she liked to make him laugh.

Dansk scowled at them and said, “I’m suggesting that we slice a few wedges out of the base of the mold, so that we can use them as shims if we have to brace one of the kids.”

“Why not have a nurse hold her?” Maret asked.

“Because we might be talking a couple hours, if worse comes to worse.”

“You know how much that mold cost?” Maret asked.

“About one nine-thousandth of your annual salary,” Dansk said.

Maret shrugged. “So, we cut a few wedges. Why not? If we need them, we have them, and if we don’t, it won’t matter.”

“Should have thought of this before now,” said Rick Hanson, an orthopedic surgeon who would make the bone cuts through the kids’ shared skull. He seemed shaky; he’d invented a halfdozen little saws for this operation and would be the focus of a lot of attention. Because of the way the children’s skulls intersected, they formed a complex three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle— basically, an oval ring of bone—of which he’d be removing only a few pieces at a time. Normally the cutting would have been done by the neurosurgeon, with drills and flexible wire saws. Hanson, from Washington University in St. Louis, had developed his own set of electric saws matched to jigs—cutting templates— for complicated bone cuts. Maret had decided that Hanson’s technique would be ideal, and would make it possible to prepare perfectly fitted composite plates to cover the holes in the babies’ skulls.

“We’re just nervous,” Maret said now. “That’s normal.” Maret was the team leader, the one with all the experience. He’d done two other craniopagus separations, one in France, one in Miami. Of the four children involved, two had survived—one from each operation. When he talked about the work, he talked mostly about the children who’d died.

Another doc pushed into the room, followed by a second one. They had all kinds—anesthesiologists, radiologists, neurosurgeons, cardiologists, plastic and orthopedic surgeons, and a medical professor who specialized in anatomical structures of the skull, as it pertained to craniofacial reconstruction. They had twenty nurses and surgical assistants.

Weather said to Dansk, the neurosurgeon, “If you want to cut those wedges, you better get it done: they’ve got to start cleaning the place up.”

Dansk said, “I’m on it,” and, “I need a scalpel or something. Anybody got an X-Acto knife?”

Above the table, in an observation room behind a canted glass wall, people were beginning to filter into the stadium seating.

A nurse came into the OR—one of the sterile nurses—and said, “I wanted to see if we could make the move one more time.”

She wanted to practice breaking the tables apart, so that when the final cut was made, and the twins were separated, they could be moved to separate operating areas for the fitting of the new composite skull shells.

“Why don’t we visually check the linkage . . .” Maret began.

It was starting; Weather didn’t think it, but she felt it, felt the excitement and the tension starting to build. She worked almost every day, cutting, sewing, cauterizing, diagnosing. This was different.

She thought, Remember to pee.

The Raynes twins were a rare and complicated medical phenomenon. Craniopagus twins comprise only about one percent of conjoined twins. Because of the rarity of the condition, ex perience with separation surgery was limited. One of the twins, Sara, suffered from defects in the septum of the heart—the wall that divides the right side of the heart from the left side— and the defects were already causing congestion in the circulatory system.

The type of surgery usually favored for craniopagus separation might take place over several months. The most critical part of most operations was doing a staged separation of the brain’s blood-drainage system. Each operation would isolate the drainage systems a bit more, and would allow the bodies to create new bypass channels.

In the Rayneses’ case, surgeons feared that a protracted series of operations would weaken and possibly kill Sara, which would also threaten the stronger Ellen, especially if Sara were to go into a rapid decline.

The additional factor in the Rayneses’ case was that the conjoined area was relatively small—the hole left behind in the babies’ skulls after the separation would be no bigger than the diameter of an orange. That meant that a single operation was possible—even with some shared venous drainage, it was thought that one continuous operation would be the best chance for saving both twins.

The surgical team would do the separation, and once separated, the team would break in two, each working on an individual twin. The joint surgery was expected to last up to twenty hours.

The team was committed to saving both twins.

Weather did aesthetic, reconstructive, and microsurgery. Her availability in Minnesota, and a paper she’d done on a thumb reconstruction, had caught Maret’s eye when he began to consider the Raynes twins.

In Weather’s case, a young boy had caught his thumb in a hydraulic log-splitter: the thumb had been pulped. After the wound healed, Weather had removed one of the boy’s second toes, and used the toe to replace the thumb. Since a thumb represents a full fifty percent of the function of the hand, the reconstruction gave back the kid the use of his hand. As he used the new thumb, it would strengthen and grow, and eventually come to resemble a normal thumb, except for the extra knuckle.

As part of the eleven-hour operation, Weather had hooked up two nerves, two tiny arteries, and two even smaller veins—veins the size of broom straws. The photomicrographs of the sutured veins had particularly attracted Maret’s attention. The more veins that could be hooked up, the better off the twins would be—and Weather could do that work, even on the smallest vessels.

He’d also been attracted to her sheer stamina: eleven hours of microsurgery was a super-marathon. He sold her on the idea of joining the team, which also made her available to study the twins, to get to know the parents, and to place the skin expanders under their scalps.

Weather had turned away from Maret and the argument— Remember to pee—when they heard a commotion outside the operating room.

“What is that?” Maret asked. Dansk had just come back with a large scalpel, and he turned to look. A few seconds later, an anesthesiologist named Yamaguchi burst into the room. He looked, Weather thought, like someone who’d just come to the emergency room to see his child: panicked.

He said, urgently, to Maret, Weather, and the others, “It’s off. The operation’s off. We’ve got, we’ve got . . .”

Weather caught his sleeve and said, “Slow down, slow down.”

“It’s off,” Yamaguchi said. “Some guys just raided the pharmacy and cleaned the place out. Everything is shut down. Everything.”

Maret’s face clicked through a series of expressions, from “Is this a joke?” to astonishment: “What?”

“Some guys with guns,” Yamaguchi said. He was flapping his arms, like a loon trying to take off. “Robbers. They robbed the pharmacy. The police are here. There’s nothing left, they took everything . . . That old guy who works there, the one who wears the surgical hat . . .”

“Don,” said Weather.

“Yeah, Don—he’s hurt pretty bad. They’re taking him into the ER.”

“You must be shitting me,” Maret said with a non-Gallic precision, looking around at his astonished crew.

Alain Barakat stood at the back of the emergency operating room, mask dangling around his neck, watching the work: the surgeon was cursing at the nurse, who was fumbling the gear, and they were all watching the blood pressure on the old man dropping and the surgeon was saying, “Get it in there, get it in there, get some pressure on it,” and the nurse stood on a chair and lifted the bottle of saline and somebody else said, “Two minutes for the blood.” The surgeon said, “I don’t think we have the time, I don’t think we’ve got it . . .” and the anesthesiologist said, “We’re losing him, man,” and the doc said, “Fuck this, I’m going in,” and he cut and cut again and again, going in through the beginning of a brutal black bruise on the old man’s belly, and the anesthesiologist said, “Hurry it up, man,” and the surgeon said, “Ah, Jesus, I’ve got no blood, I got no blood here,” and he hurled the scalpel into a corner and it clanged around and he said, “It must’ve been his goddamn kidneys. Let’s see if we can roll him,” and the nurses moved up to help with the roll and the anesthesiologist said, “Man, he’s arresting.”

Barakat, standing in the corner, said, “Shit shit shit shit shit shit . . .”

One minute later, the old man was gone. No point in trying to restart the heart—there was no blood going through it. They all stood around, shell-shocked, and then the surgeon said, “Let’s clean up.”

One of the nurses said, “We had no time. He was going too quick.”

They all looked at the body on the table, worn Adidas sneakers pointed out at forty-five degrees, chest flat and still, the bloody gash on the gut. The anesthesiologist turned to get something and saw Barakat, a tall man, standing in the corner, hands pressed to the sides of his head, and the anesthesiologist said, “Wasn’t you, man. You did good. Everybody did good. He was gone when we got him.”

And Barakat thought: Now everybody will be here. Now the police will tear the place apart.

Because he really didn’t care about the old man.

The separation team was standing around, repeating what Yamaguchi had said, when Thomas Carlson, the hospital administrator, came hurrying down the hall. Carlson was wearing his white physician’s coat, which he often did on public occasions, to remind people that he had an MD in addition to the MBA; but for all that, not a bad guy, Weather thought.

He went straight to Maret: “Gabe, you’ve heard.”

“I’ve heard there was a robbery.”

“Unfortunately. The problem is, we’ve also got a man down. He’s hurt pretty badly, and we won’t have access to your drugs— any drugs, except in an absolute emergency, and then we’ll be crawling around on the floor trying to find them. The place is completely wrecked. They threw everything out of the lockers, what they didn’t take.”

“So: everybody is here,” Maret said.

“But you’re going to have to wait,” Carlson said. “God, I’m sorry, man. But this is an incredible mess. As long as the kids are stable . . .”

Maret nodded: “Well. I guess we can wait.”

Weather and Maret went together to tell the Rayneses. The parents were waiting in what the team called the “separation lounge,” once a meditation room, which had been converted for family use and for team conferences.

The Rayneses were sitting on a couch, looking out over a table full of magazines: neither one was reading. They were in their early thirties, and except for their sex, as alike as new marbles: honey-blond, tall, slender, from the small town of New Ulm in southern Minnesota. Larry worked in a heating and airconditioning business owned by his father; Lucy worked at the post office. Neither had lived outside of New Ulm. Both of them spoke fluent German, and went to Germany every summer, to hike. They had no other children.

They’d conferred with Maret on the separation process, but had worked more with Weather than any other physician, because of Weather’s involvement in the preliminary surgery.

They were astonished by the news. “What does it mean? It’s off? For how long?” Lucy Raynes blurted. “I mean . . .? ”

“We’ll go tomorrow,” Weather said, patting her arm. “Same time. This whole thing is so bizarre . . . there are police everywhere, I guess. The girls are fine, no change for them.”

“I can’t believe it,” Larry Raynes said. “After we got this far . . .”

His wife put an arm around his waist and squeezed him: “We’ll be okay. It’ll be all right.”

Of the two Rayneses, Lucy was the most demanding of information, had studied the details of the separation, used terms like “superior sagittal sinus” and “calvaria,” read medical papers on other separations. She’d spoken to the media on a number of occasions, both televised and print. Larry, on the other hand, mostly talked about timing, and the children’s development, and often, to Weather, seemed to simply want to get it over with. He wasn’t stupid, but swept along in a current too strong for him, part medical science, part circus. He wanted to go home.

Maret had warned everybody about the circus. “Whenever this is done, we get the media, because of the drama and the sympathetic aspects. You have to be prepared. In Miami, we had reporters following the surgeons home, knocking on doors, waiting in the streets.”

Now he said to the Rayneses, “I’ll talk to the media in ten minutes or so. I’d like you to be with me.”

Larry Raynes said to his wife, “You go. I’ll go sit with the kids.”

Weather left them talking, and went back to the locker room to change back into her street clothes.

By the time she got back, most of the team had drifted away. The OR nurses were shutting the place down. Weather stopped to talk with her surgical assistant, when one of the team’s cardiologists, Alan Seitz, who’d been called to the ER, came ambling down the hall, looking distracted. “What?” Weather asked.

“That Don guy died,” Seitz said. “One of the robbers kicked him to death. Broke up his kidneys. He was soaked in Coumadin. He bled out before we could get anything going. We were dumping fluid into him fast as we could, nothing to do.”

Weather stepped up and gave him a squeeze. Seitz was an old friend. “Nothing to do. You only do what you can.”

“Yeah.” Seitz looked around and said, “I mean, Jesus Christ: kicked to death. In the hospital.”

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