The killer was mad but brilliant.
He left notes with every woman he killed. Rules of murder: Never have a motive. Never follow a discernible pattern. Never carry a weapon after it has been used...So many rules to his sick, violent games of death.
But Lucas Davenport, the cop who’s out to get him, isn’t playing by the rules.
“Terrifying...Sandford has crafted the kind of trimmed-to-the-bone thriller that is hard to put down…scary...intriguing...unpredictable.”—Chicago Tribune
“Rules of Prey is so chilling that you’re almost afraid to turn the pages. So mesmerizing you cannot stop...A crackle of surprises.”—*Carl Hiaasen
“Sleek and nasty...A big scary, suspenseful read, and I loved every minute of it.”—Stephen King
“A cop and a killer you will remember for a long, long time.”—Robert B. Parker
About the Author
Hometown:St. Paul, Minnesota
Date of Birth:February 23, 1944
Place of Birth:Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Education:State University of Iowa, Iowa City: B.A., American History; M.A., Journalism
Read an Excerpt
1A rooftop billboard cast a flickering blue lightthrough the studio windows. The light ricocheted offglass and stainless steel: an empty crystal bud vase rimedwith dust, a pencil sharpener, a microwave oven, peanut-butterjars filled with drawing pencils, paintbrushes andcrayons. An ashtray full of pennies and paper clips. Jarsof poster paint. Knives.
A stereo was dimly visible as a collection of rectangularsilhouettes on the window ledge. A digital clockpunched red electronic minutes into the silence.
The maddog waited in the dark.
He could hear himself breathe. Feel the sweat tricklefrom the pores of his underarms. Taste the remains of hisdinner. Feel the shaven stubble at his groin. Smell theodor of the Chosen’s body.
He was never so alive as in the last moments of a longstalk. For some people, for people like his father, it mustbe like this every minute of every hour: life on a higherplane of existence.
The maddog watched the street. The Chosen was anartist. She had smooth olive skin and liquid brown eyes,tidy breasts and a slender waist. She lived illegally in thewarehouse, bathing late at night in the communal restroom down the hall, furtively cooking microwave mealsafter the building manager left for the day. She slept on anarrow bed in a tiny storage room, beneath an art-decocrucifix, immersed in vapors of turpentine and linseed.She was out now, shopping for microwave dinners. Themicrowave crap would kill her if he didn’t, the maddogthought. He was probably doing her a favor. He smiled.
The artist would be his third kill in the Cities, the fifthof his life.
The first was a ranch girl, riding out of her back pasturetoward the wooded limestone hills of East Texas.She wore jeans, a red-and-white-checked shirt, and cowboyboots. She sat high in a western saddle, riding morewith her knees and her head than with the reins in herhand. She came straight into him, her single blonde braidbouncing behind.
The maddog carried a rifle, a Remington Model 700ADL in .270 Winchester. He braced his forearm against arotting log and took her when she was forty yards out.The single shot penetrated her breastbone and blew heroff the horse.
That was a killing of a different kind. She had not beenChosen; she had asked for it. She had said, three years beforethe killing, in the maddog’s hearing, that he had lipslike red worms. Like the twisting red worms that youfound under river rocks. She said it in the hall of theirhigh school, a cluster of friends standing around her. Afew glanced over their shoulders at the maddog, whostood fifteen feet away, alone, as always, pushing hisbooks onto the top shelf of his locker. He gave no signthat he’d overheard. He had been very good at concealment,even in his youngest days, though the ranch girldidn’t seem to care one way or another. The maddog wasa social nonentity.
But she paid for her careless talk. He held her commentto his breast for three years, knowing his timewould come. And it did. She went off the back of thehorse, stricken stone-cold dead by a fast-expandingcopper-jacketed hunting bullet.
The maddog ran lightly through the woods and acrossa low stretch of swampy prairie. He dumped the gun beneatha rusting iron culvert where a road crossed themarsh. The culvert would confuse any metal detectorused to hunt for the weapon, although the maddogdidn’t expect a search—it was deer season and the woodswere full of maniacs from the cities, armed to the teethand ready to kill. The season, the weapon cache, had allbeen determined far in advance. Even as a sophomore incollege, the maddog was a planner.
He went to the girl’s funeral. Her face was untouchedand the top half of the coffin was left open. He sat as closeas he could, in his dark suit, watched her face and felt thepower rising. His only regret was that she had not knownthat death was coming, so that she might savor the pain;and that he had not had time to enjoy its passage.
The second killing was the first of the truly Chosen, althoughhe no longer considered it a work of maturity. Itwas more of . . . an experiment? Yes. In the secondkilling, he remedied the deficiencies of the first.
She was a hooker. He took her during the spring breakof his second year, the crisis year, in law school. The needhad long been there, he thought. The intellectual pressureof law school compounded it. And one cool night in Dallas,with a knife, he earned temporary respite on the palewhite body of a Mississippi peckerwood girl, come to thecity to find her fortune.
The ranch girl’s shooting death was lamented as ahunting accident. Her parents grieved and went on toother things. Two years later the maddog saw the girl’smother laughing outside a concert hall.
The Dallas cops dismissed the hooker’s execution as astreet killing, dope-related. They found Quaaludes in herpurse, and that was good enough. All they had was astreet name. They put her in a pauper’s grave with thatname, the wrong name, on the tiny iron plaque thatmarked the place. She had never seen her sixteenth year.
The two killings had been satisfying, but not fully calculated.The killings in the Cities were different. Theywere meticulously planned, their tactics based on a professionalreview of a dozen murder investigations.
The maddog was intelligent. He was a member of thebar. He derived rules.
Never kill anyone you know.
Never have a motive.
Never follow a discernible pattern.
Never carry a weapon after it has been used.
Isolate yourself from random discovery.
Beware of leaving physical evidence.
There were more. He built them into a challenge.
He was mad, of course. And he knew it.
In the best of worlds, he would prefer to be sane. Insanitybrought with it a large measure of stress. He hadpills now, black ones for high blood pressure, reddish-brownones to help him sleep. He would prefer to besane, but you played the hand you were dealt. His fathersaid so. The mark of a man.
So he was mad.
But not quite the way the police thought.
He bound and gagged the women and raped them.
The police considered him a sex freak. A cold freak.He took his time about the killings and the rapes. Theybelieved he talked to his victims, taunted them. He carefullyused prophylactics. Lubricated prophylactics. Postmortemvaginal smears on the first two Cities victimsproduced evidence of the lubricant. Since the copsnever found the rubbers, they assumed he took themwith him.
Consulting psychiatrists, hired to construct a psychologicalprofile, believed the maddog feared women. Possiblythe result of a youthful life with a dominant mother,they said, a mother alternately tyrannical and loving, withsexual overtones. Possibly the maddog was afraid of AIDS,and possibly—they talked of endless possibilities—he wasessentially homosexual.
Possibly, they said, he might do something with the semenhe saved in the prophylactics. When the shrinks saidthat, the cops looked at each other. Do something? Dowhat? Make Sno-Cones? What?
The psychiatrists were wrong. About all of it.
He did not taunt his victims, he comforted them; helpedthem to participate. He didn’t use the rubbers primarily toprotect himself from disease, but to protect himself fromthe police. Semen is evidence, carefully collected, examined,and typed by medical investigators. The maddog knew of acase where a woman was attacked, raped, and killed by oneof two panhandlers. Each man accused the other. A sementypingwas pivotal in isolating the killer.
The maddog didn’t save the rubbers. He didn’t dosomething with them. He flushed them, with their evidentiaryload, down his victims’ toilets.
Nor was his mother a tyrant.
She had been a small unhappy dark-haired womanwho wore calico dresses and wide-brimmed straw hats inthe summertime. She died when he was in junior highschool. He could barely remember her face, though once,when he was idly going through family boxes, he cameacross a stack of letters addressed to his father and tiedwith a ribbon. Without knowing quite why, he sniffedthe envelopes and was overwhelmed by the faint, lingeringscent of her, a scent like old wild-rose petals and thememories of Easter lilacs.
But she was nothing.
She never contributed. Won nothing. Did nothing.She was a drag on his father. His father and his fascinatinggames, and she was a drag on them. He rememberedhis father shouting at her once, I’m working, I’m working,and you will stay out of this room when I am working, I haveto concentrate and I cannot do it if you come in here andwhine, whine . . . The fascinating games played in courtsand jailhouses.
The maddog was not homosexual. He was attractedonly to women. It was the only thing that a man coulddo, the thing with women. He lusted for them, seeingtheir death and feeling himself explode as one transcendentmoment.In moments of introspection, the maddog had rootedthrough his psyche, seeking the genesis of his insanity.He decided that it had not come all at once, but hadgrown. He remembered those lonely weeks of isolationon the ranch with his mother, while his father was in Dallasplaying his games. The maddog would work with his.22 rifle, sniping the ground squirrels. If he hit a squirreljust right, hit it in the hindquarters, rolled it away fromits hole, it would struggle and chitter and try to claw itsway back to the nest, dragging itself with its front paws.
All the other ground squirrels, from adjacent holes,would stand on the hills of sand they’d excavated fromtheir dens and watch. Then he could pick off a second one,and that would bring out more, and then a third, until anentire colony was watching a half-dozen wounded groundsquirrels trying to drag themselves back to their nests.
He would wound six or seven, shooting from a proneposition, then stand and walk over to the nests and finishthem with his pocketknife. Sometimes he skinned themout alive, whipping off their hides while they struggled inhis hands. After a while, he began stringing their ears,keeping the string in the loft of a machine shed. At theend of one summer, he had more than three hundred setsof ears.
He had the first orgasm of his young life as he layprone on the edge of a hayfield sniping ground squirrels.The long spasm was like death itself. Afterward he unbuttonedhis jeans and pulled open the front of his underwearto look at the wet semen stains and he said tohimself, “Boy, that did it . . . boy, that did it.” He said itover and over, and after that, the passion came more oftenas he hunted over the ranch.
Suppose, he thought, that it had been different. Supposethat he’d had playmates, girls, and they had gone toplay doctor out in one of the sheds. You show me yours, I’llshow you mine. . . . Would that have made all the difference? He didn’t know. By the time he was fourteen, itwas too late. His mind had been turned.
A girl lived a mile down the road. She was five or sixyears older than he. Daughter of a real rancher. She rodeby on a hayrack once, her mother towing it with a tractor,the girl wearing a sweat-soaked T-shirt that showed hernipples puckered against the dirty cloth. The maddog wasfourteen and felt the stirring of a powerful desire and saidaloud, “I would love her and kill her.”
He was mad.
When he was in law school he read about other menlike himself, fascinated to learn that he was part of a community.He thought of it as a community, of men whounderstood the powerful exaltation of that moment ofejaculation and death.
But it was not just the killing. Not anymore. Therewas now the intellectual thrill.
The maddog had always loved games. The games hisfather played, the games he played alone in his room.Fantasy games, role-playing games. He was good atchess. He won the high-school chess tournament threeyears running, though he rarely played against others outsidethe tournaments.
But there were better games. Like those his fatherplayed. But even his father was a surrogate for the realplayer, the other man at the table, the defendant. Thereal players were the defendants and the cops. The maddogknew he could never be a cop. But he could still be a player.
And now, in his twenty-seventh year, he was approachinghis destiny. He was playing and he was killing,and the joy of the act made his body sing with pleasure.
The ultimate game. The ultimate stakes.
He bet his life that they could not catch him. And hewas winning the lives of women, like poker chips. Menalways played for women; that was his theory. They werethe winnings in all the best games.
Cops, of course, weren’t interested in playing. Copswere notoriously dull.
To help them grasp the concept of the game, he left arule with each killing. Words carefully snipped from theMinneapolis newspaper, a short phrase stuck with ScotchMagic tape to notebook paper. For the first Cities kill, itwas Never kill anyone you know.
That puzzled them sorely. He placed the paper on thevictim’s chest, so there could be no doubt about who hadleft it there. As an almost jocular afterthought, he signedit: maddog.
The second one got Never have a motive. With that,they would have known they were dealing with a man ofpurpose.
Though they must have been sweating bullets, thecops kept the story out of the papers. The maddogyearned for the press. Yearned to watch his legal colleaguesfollow the course of the investigation in the dailynews. To know that they were talking to him, about him,never knowing that he was the One.
It thrilled him. This third collection should do thetrick. The cops couldn’t suppress the story forever. Policedepartments normally leaked like colanders. He was surprisedthey’d kept the secret this long.
This third one would get Never follow a discernible pattern.He left the sheet on a loom.
There was a contradiction here, of course. The maddogwas an intellectual and he had considered it. He wascareful to the point of fanaticism: he would leave noclues. Yet, he deliberately created them. The police andtheir psychiatrists might deduce certain things about hispersonality from his choice of words. From the fact thathe made rules at all. From the impulse to play.
But there was no help for that.
If killing were all that mattered, he didn’t doubt thathe could do it and get away with it. Dallas had demonstratedthat. He could do dozens. Hundreds. Fly to LosAngeles, buy a knife at a discount store, kill a hooker, flyback home the same night. A different city every week.They would never catch him. They would never evenknow.
There was an attraction to the idea, but it was, ultimately,intellectually sterile. He was developing. Hewanted the contest. Needed it.
The maddog shook his head in the dark and lookeddown from the high window. Cars hissed by on the wetstreet. There was a low rumble from I-94, two blocks tothe north. Nobody on foot. Nobody carrying bags.
He waited, pacing along the windows, watching thestreet. Eight minutes, ten minutes. The intensity wasgrowing, the pulsing, the pressure. Where was she? Heneeded her.
Then he saw her, crossing the street below, her darkhair bobbing in the mercury-vapor lights. She was alone,carrying a single grocery bag. When she passed out ofsight directly below him, he moved to the central pillarand stood against it.
The maddog wore jeans, a black T-shirt, latex surgeon’sgloves, and a blue silk ski mask. When she was tiedto the bed and he had stripped himself, the woman wouldfind that her attacker had shaven: he was as clean of pubichair as a five-year-old. Not because he was kinky, althoughit did feel . . . interesting. But he had seen a case inwhich lab specialists recovered a half-dozen pubic hairsfrom a woman’s couch and matched them with samplesfrom the assailant. Got the samples from the assailantwith a search warrant. Nice touch. Upheld on appeal.
He shivered. It was chilly. He wished he had worn ajacket. When he left his apartment, the temperature wasseventy-five. It must have fallen fifteen degrees since dark.Goddamn Minnesota.
The maddog was not large or notably athletic. For abrief time in his teens he thought of himself as lean, althoughhis father characterized him as slight. Now, hewould concede to a mirror, he was puffy. Five feet teninches tall, curly red hair, the beginnings of a doublechin, a roundness to the lower belly . . . lips like redworms. . . .
The elevator was old and intended for freight. Itgroaned once, twice, and started up. The maddogchecked his equipment: The Kotex that he would use as agag was stuffed in his right hip pocket. The tape that hewould use to bind the gag was in his left. The gun wastucked in his belt, under the T-shirt. The pistol was smallbut ugly: a Smith & Wesson Model 15 revolver. He’dbought it from a man who was about to die and then did.Before he died, when he offered it for sale, the dying mansaid his wife wanted him to keep it for protection. Heasked the maddog not to mention that he had purchasedit. It would be their secret.
And that was perfect. Nobody knew he had the gun. Ifhe ever had to use it, it would be untraceable, or traceableonly to a dead man.
He took the gun out and held it by his side andthought of the sequence: grab, gun in face, force onfloor, slap her with the pistol, kneel on back, pull headback, stuff Kotex in mouth, tape, drag to bed, tape armsto the headboard, feet to baseboard.
Then relax and shift to the knife.
The elevator stopped and the doors opened. The maddog’sstomach tightened, a familiar sensation. Pleasant,even. Footsteps. Key in the door. His heart was pounding.Door open. Lights. Door closed. The gun was hot inhis hand, the grip rough. The woman passing . . .The maddog catapulted from his hiding place.
Saw in an instant that she was alone.
Wrapped her up, the gun beside her face.
The grocery bag burst and red-and-white cans ofCampbell’s soup clattered down the wooden floor likedice, beige-and-red packages of chicken nibbles andmicrowave lasagna crunched underfoot.
“Scream,” he said in his roughest voice, well-practicedwith a tape recorder, “and I’ll kill you.”
Unexpectedly, the woman relaxed against him and themaddog involuntarily relaxed with her. An instant later,the heel of her foot smashed onto his instep. The painwas unbearable and as he opened his mouth to scream,she turned in his arms, ignoring the gun.
“Aaaiii,” she said, a low half-scream, half-cry of fear.
Time virtually stopped for them, the seconds fragmentinginto minutes. The maddog watched her handcome up and thought she had a gun and felt his own gunhand traveling away from her body, the wrong way, andthought, “No.” He realized in the next crystalline fragmentof time that she was not holding a gun, but a thinsilver cylinder.
She hit him with a blast of Mace and the time streamlurched crazily into fast-forward. He screeched and swattedher with the Smith and lost it at the same time. Heswung his other hand and, more from luck than skill,connected with the side of her jaw and she fell and rolled.
The maddog looked for the gun, half-blinded, hishands to his face, his lungs not working as they should—he had asthma, and the Mace was soaking through the skimask—and the woman was rolling and coming up withthe Mace again and now she was screaming:
“Asshole, asshole . . .”
He kicked at her and missed and she sprayed him againand he kicked again and she stumbled and was rolling andstill had the Mace and he couldn’t find the gun and hekicked at her again. Lucky again, he connected with herMace hand and the small can went flying. Blood waspouring from her forehead where it had been raked bythe front sight on the pistol, streaming from the raggedcut down over her eyes and mouth, and it was on herteeth and she was screaming:
Before he could get back on the attack, she picked up ashiny stainless-steel pipe and swung it at him like awoman who’d spent time in the softball leagues. Hefended her off and backed away, still looking for the gun,but it was gone and she was coming and the maddogmade the kind of decision he was trained to make.
He ran and she ran behind him and hit him once moreon the back and he half-stumbled and turned and hit heralong the jaw with the bottom of his fist, a weak, ineffectivepunch, and she bounced away and came back withthe pipe, her mouth open, her teeth showing, showeringhim with saliva and blood as she screamed, and he madeit through the door and jerked it shut behind him.
“. . . asshole . . .”
Down the hall to the stairs, almost strangling in themask. She didn’t pursue, but stood at the closed doorscreaming with the most piercing wail he’d ever heard. Adoor opened somewhere and he continued blindly downthe stairs. At the bottom he stripped off the mask andthrust it in his pocket and stepped outside.
Amble, he thought. Stroll.
It was cold. Goddamn Minnesota. It was August andhe was freezing. He could hear her screaming. Faintly atfirst, then louder. The bitch had opened the window. Thecops were just across the way. The maddog hunched hisshoulders and walked a little more quickly down to hiscar, slipped inside, and drove away. Halfway back toMinneapolis, still in the grip of mortal fear, shaking withthe cold, he remembered that cars have heaters andturned it on.
He was in Minneapolis before he realized he was hurt.Goddamn pipe. Going to have big bruises, he thought,shoulders and back. Bitch. The gun shouldn’t be a problem,couldn’t be traced.
Christ it hurt.
What People are Saying About This
Sleek and nasty...a big, scary suspenseful read. (Stephen King)