Authors: John Sandford
Tags: #Suspense, #Mystery, #Thriller
“You won’t believe this,” he said. “She had it around her neck.” He opened his fist—his hands were covered with latex kitchen gloves—to show off a diamond the size of a quail’s egg.
“Is it real?”
“It’s real and it’s blue. We’re not talking Boxsters anymore. We’re talking SLs.” Big opened the box. “There’s more: earrings, a necklace. There could be a half million, right here.”
“Can Fleckstein handle it?”
Big snorted. “Fleckstein’s so dirty that he wouldn’t recognize the
He’ll handle it.”
He pushed the jewelry at Little, started to turn, caught sight of Peebles lying on the rug. “Bitch,” he said, the word grating through his teeth. “Bitch.” In a second, in three long steps, he was on her again, beating the dead woman with the pipe, heavy impacts shaking the floor. Little went after him, catching him after the first three impacts, pulling him away, voice hard, “She’s gone, for Christ’s sakes, she’s gone, she’s gone…”
“Fucker,” Big said. “Piece of shit.”
Little thought, sometimes, that Big should have a bolt through his neck.
Big stopped, and straightened, looked down at Peebles, muttered, “She’s gone.” He shuddered, and said, “Gone.” Then he turned to Little, blood in his eye, hefting the pipe.
Little’s hands came up: “No, no—it’s me. It’s me. For God’s sake.”
Big shuddered again. “Yeah, yeah. I know. It’s you.”
Little took a step back, still uncertain, and said, “Let’s get to work. Are you okay? Let’s get to work.”
Twenty minutes after they went in, the front door opened again. Big came out, looked both ways, climbed into the van, and eased it around the corner of the house and down the side to the deliveries entrance. Because of the pitch of the slope at the back of the house, the van was no longer visible from the street.
The last light was gone, the night now as dark as a coal sack, the lightning flashes closer, the wind coming like a cold open palm, pushing against Big’s face as he got out of the van. A raindrop, fat and round as a marble, hit the toe of his shoe. Then another, then more, cold, going pat-pat…pat…pat-pat-pat on the blacktop and concrete and brick.
He hustled up to the back door; Little opened it from the inside.
“Another surprise,” Little said, holding up a painting, turning it over in the thin light. Big squinted at it, then looked at Little: “We agreed we wouldn’t take anything off the walls.”
“Wasn’t on the walls,” Little said. “It was stuffed away in the storage room. It’s not on the insurance list.”
“Amazing. Maybe we ought to quit now, while we’re ahead.”
“No.” Little’s voice was husky with greed. “This time…this time, we can cash out. We’ll never have to do this again.”
“I don’t mind,” Big said.
“You don’t mind the killing, but how about thirty years in a cage? Think you’d mind
Big seemed to ponder that for a moment, then said, “All right.”
Little nodded. “Think about the SLs. Chocolate for you, silver for me. Apartments: New York and Los Angeles. Something right on the Park, in New York. Something where you can lean out the window, and see the Met.”
“We could buy…” Big thought about it for a few more seconds. “Maybe…a Picasso?”
“A Picasso…” Little thought about it, nodded. “But first—I’m going back upstairs. And you…”
Big grinned under the mask. “I trash the place. God, I love this job.”
across the back lawn, down the bluff, over the top of the United Hospital buildings and Seventh Street and the houses below, down three-quarters of a mile away, a towboat pushed a line of barges toward the moorings at Pig’s Eye. Not hurrying. Tows never hurried. All around, the lights of St. Paul sparkled like diamonds, on the first line of bluffs, on the second line below the cathedral, on the bridges fore and aft, on the High Bridge coming up.
The pilot in the wheelhouse was looking up the hill at the lights of Oak Walk, Dove Hill, and the Hill House, happened to be looking when the lights dimmed, all at once.
The rain-front had topped the bluff and was coming down on the river.
Hard rain coming, the pilot thought.
a couple of Diet Cokes over to the booth where Lucas Davenport waited, sitting sideways, his feet up on the booth seat. The bar was modern, but with an old-timey decor: creaking wooden floors, high-topped booths, a small dance floor at one end.
Sloan was the proprietor, and he dressed like it. He was wearing a brown summer suit, a tan shirt with a long pointed collar, a white tie with woven gold diamonds, and a genuine straw Panama hat. He was a slat-built man, narrow through the face, shoulders, and hips. Not gaunt, but narrow; might have been a clarinet player in a fading jazz band, Lucas thought, or the cover character on a piece of 1930s pulp fiction.
“Damn Diet Coke, it fizzes like crazy. I thought there was something wrong with the pump, but it’s just the Coke. Don’t know why,” Sloan said, as he dropped the glasses on the table.
At the far end of the bar, the bartender was reading a
Wall Street Journal
by the light from a peanut-sized reading lamp clamped to the cash register. Norah Jones burbled in the background; the place smelled pleasantly of fresh beer and peanuts.
Lucas said, “Two guys in the bar and they’re both drinking Cokes. You’re gonna go broke.”
Sloan smiled comfortably, leaned across the table, his voice pitched down so the bartender couldn’t hear him, “I put ten grand in my pocket last month. I never had so much money in my life.”
“Probably because you don’t spend any money on lights,” Lucas said. “It’s so dark in here, I can’t see my hands.”
“Cops like the dark. You can fool around with strange women,” Sloan said. He hit on the Diet Coke.
“Got the cops, huh?” The cops had been crucial to Sloan’s business plan.
“Cops and schoolteachers,” Sloan said with satisfaction. “A cop and schoolteacher bar. The teachers drink like fish. The cops hit on the schoolteachers. One big happy family.”
The bartender laughed at something in the
a nasty laugh, and he said, to no one in particular, “Gold’s going to a thousand, you betcha.
we’ll see what’s what.”
They looked at him for a moment, then Sloan shrugged, said, “He’s got a B.S. in economics. And I do mean a B.S.”
“Not bad for a bartender…So what’s the old lady think about the place?”
“She’s gotten into it,” Sloan said. He was happy that an old pal could see him doing well. “She took a course in bookkeeping, she handles all the cash, running these QuickBook things on the computer. She’s talking about taking a couple weeks in Cancun or Palm Springs next winter. Hawaii.”
“That’s terrific,” Lucas said. And he
pleased by all of it.
O THEY TALKED
about wives and kids for a while, Sloan’s retirement check, and the price of a new sign for the place, which formerly had been named after a tree, and which Sloan had changed to Shooters.
Even from a distance, it was clear that the two men were good friends: they listened to each other with a certain narrow-eyed intensity, and with a cop-quick skepticism. They were close, but physically they were a study in contrasts.
Sloan was slight, beige and brown, tentative.
Lucas was none of those. Tall, dark haired, with the thin white line of a scar draped across his tanned forehead, down into an eyebrow, he might have been a thug of the leading-man sort. He had intense blue eyes, a hawk nose, and large hands and square shoulders; an athlete, a onetime University of Minnesota hockey player.
Sloan knew nothing about fashion, and never cared; Lucas went for Italian suits, French ties, and English shoes. He read the men’s fashion magazines, of the serious kind, and spent some time every spring and fall looking at suits. When he and his wife traveled to Manhattan, she went to the Museum of Modern Art, he went to Versace.
Today he wore a French-blue shirt under a linen summer jacket, lightweight woolen slacks, and loafers; and a compact .45 in a Bianchi shoulder rig.
Lucas’s smile came and went, flashing in his face. He had crow’s-feet at the corners of his eyes, and silver hair threaded through the black. In the morning, when shaving, he worried about getting old. He had a way to go before that happened, but he imagined he could see it, just over the hill.
HEN THEY FINISHED
the Diet Cokes, Sloan went and got two more and then said, “What about Burt Kline?”
“You know him, right?” Lucas asked.
“I went to school with him, thirteen years,” Sloan said. “I still see him around, when there’s a campaign.”
“Good guy, bad guy?” Lucas asked.
“He was our class representative in first grade and every grade after that,” Sloan said. “He’s a politician. He’s always been a politician. He’s always fat, greasy, jolly, easy with the money, happy to see you. Like that. First time I ever got in trouble in school, was when I pushed him into a snowbank. He reported me.”
“But what’s even more interesting, is that you were a school bully. I never saw that in you,” Lucas said. He scratched the side of his nose, a light in his eye.
Sloan made a rude noise. “I weighed about a hundred and ten pounds when I graduated. I didn’t bully anybody.”
“You bullied Kline. You just said so.”
“Fuck you.” After a moment of silence, Sloan asked, “What’d he do?”
Lucas looked around, then said, quietly, “This is between you and me.”
Lucas nodded. Sloan could keep his mouth shut. “He apparently had a sexual relationship with a sixteen-year-old. And maybe a fifteen-year-old—same girl, he just might’ve been nailing her a year ago.”
“Hmm.” Sloan pulled a face, then said, “I can see that. But it wouldn’t have been rape. I mean, rape-rape, jumping out of the bushes. He’s not the most physical guy.”
“No, she went along with it,” Lucas said. “But it’s about forty years of statutory.”
Sloan looked into himself for a minute, then said, “Not forty. Thirty-six.”
Another moment of silence, then Sloan sighed and asked, “Why don’t you bust him? Don’t tell me it’s because he’s a politician.”
Lucas said to Sloan, “It’s more complicated than that.” When Sloan looked skeptical, he said, “C’mon, Sloan, I wouldn’t bullshit you. It really
“I’m listening,” Sloan said.
“All right. The whole BCA is a bunch of Democrats, run by a Democrat appointee of a Democratic governor, all right?”
“And God is in his heaven.”
“If we say, ‘The girl says he did it,’ and bust him, his career’s over. Whether he did it or not. Big pederast stamp on his forehead. If it turns out he
do it, if he’s acquitted, every Republican in the state will be blaming us for a political dirty trick—a really dirty trick. Five months to the election. I mean, he’s the president of the state senate.”
“Does the kid have any evidence?” Sloan asked. “Any witnesses?”
“Yes. Semen on a dress,” Lucas said. “She also told the investigator that Kline has moles or freckles on his balls, and she said they look like semicolons. One semicolon on each nut.”
An amused look crept over Sloan’s face: “She’s lying.”
“In this day and age,” he asked, “how many sixteen-year-olds know what a semicolon is?”
Lucas rolled his eyes and said, “Try to concentrate, okay? This is serious.”
“Doesn’t sound serious,” Sloan said. “Investigating the family jewels.”
“Well, it is serious,” Lucas said. “She tells the initial investigator…”
“That fuckin’ Flowers,” Sloan said, and he laughed. “Might’ve known.”
“Yeah. Anyway, she tells Virgil that he’s got semicolons on his balls. And quite a bit of other detail, including the size of what she calls ‘his thing.’ She also provides us with a dress and there’s a semen stain on it. So Virgil gets a search warrant…”
Sloan giggled, an unattractive sound from a man of his age.
“…gets a search warrant, and a doctor, and they take a DNA scraping and examine Kline’s testicles,” Lucas said. “Sure enough, it’s like they came out of Microsoft Word: one semicolon on each nut. We got the pictures.”
“I bet they’re all over the Internet by now,” Sloan said.
“You’d bet wrong. These are not attractive pictures—and everybody involved knows that their jobs are on the line,” Lucas said. “You don’t mess with Burt Kline unless you can kill him.”
“Yeah, but the description, the semen…sounds like a big indict to me,” Sloan said.
“However,” Lucas said.
“Uh-oh.” Sloan had been a cop for twenty years; he was familiar with howevers.
“Burt says he never had sex with the daughter, but he did sleep with her mom,” Lucas said. “See, the state pays for an apartment in St. Paul. Kline rents a place from Mom, who owns a duplex on Grand Avenue, what’s left from a divorce settlement. Kline tells Virgil that he’s staying there, doing the people’s work, when Mom starts puttin’ it on him.”
“Him being such a looker,” Sloan said.
“Kline resists, but he’s only human. And, she’s got, Virgil believes, certain skills. In fact, Virgil said she’s been around the block so often it looks like a NASCAR track. Anyway, pretty soon Burt is sleeping with Mom every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.”
“How old’s Mom?” Sloan asked.
“Thirty-four,” Lucas said.
“With a sixteen-year-old daughter?”
“Yeah. Mom started young,” Lucas said. “Anyway, Burt says Mom got the idea to blackmail him, because she’s always hurting for money. He says she put the daughter up to it, making the accusation. Burt said that she would have all the necessary grammatical information.”
“And Mom says…”
“She said that they had a hasty affair, but that Burt really wanted the daughter, and she was horrified when she found out he’d gotten to her,” Lucas said. “She says no way would she have done what she would have had to do to see the semicolons, or get semen on the neckline of the dress. That’s something that her daughter had to be forced into.”