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Authors: John Sandford

Tags: #Suspense, #Mystery, #Thriller

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BOOK: Invisible Prey
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“What happened?”

“Somebody beat the shit out of her with a pipe. Maybe a piece of re-rod. Not a hammer, nothing with an edge. Crushed her skull, that’s what killed her. Might have some postmortem crushing, we’ve got lacerations but not much bleeding. Same with Mrs. Bucher, upstairs. Fast, quick, and nasty.”

“When?”

Ted looked up, and eased back on his heels. “Johnny says they were seen late Friday afternoon, alive, by a researcher from the Historical Society who’s doing a book on Summit Avenue homes. He left at four-thirty. Neither one of them went to church on Sunday. Sometimes Mrs. Bucher didn’t, but Mrs. Peebles always did. So Johnny thinks it was after four-thirty Friday and before Sunday morning, and that looks good to me. We’ll rush the lab work…”

“That’s Peebles there,” Lucas said.

“Yo. This is Peebles.”

 

S
MITH GOT OFF
the cell phone and Lucas stepped over, grinned: “You’ll be rolling in glory on this one,” he said. “Tom Cruise will probably play your character. Nothing but watercress sandwiches and crème brûlée from now on.”

“I’m gonna be rolling in something,” Smith said. “You getting involved?”

“If there’s anything for me to do,” Lucas said.

“You’re more’n welcome, man.”

“Thanks. Ted says sometime between Friday night and Sunday morning?”

Smith stood up and stretched and yawned. “Probably Friday night. I got guys all over the neighborhood and we can’t find anybody who saw them Saturday, and they were usually out in the garden on Saturday afternoon. Beheading roses, somebody said. Do you decapitate roses?”

“I don’t know,” Lucas said. “I don’t, personally.”

“Anyway, they got four phone calls Saturday and three more Sunday, all of them kicked through to the answering service,” Smith said. “I think they were dead before the phone calls came in.”

“Big storm Friday night,” Lucas said.

“I was thinking about that—there were a couple of power out-ages, darker’n a bitch. Somebody could have climbed the hill and come in through the back, you wouldn’t see them come or go.”

Lucas looked back at Peebles’s legs. Couldn’t be seen from outside the house. “Alarm system?”

“Yeah, but it was old and it was turned off. They had a series of fire alarms a couple of years ago, a problem with the system. The trucks came out, nothing happening. They finally turned it off, and were going to get it fixed, but didn’t.”

“Huh. Who found them?”

“Employees. Bucher had a married couple who worked for them, did the housekeeping, the yard work, maintenance,” Smith said. “They’re seven-thirty to three, Monday through Friday, but they were off at a nursery this morning, down by Hastings, buying some plants, and didn’t get back here until one o’clock. Found them first thing, called nine-one-one. We checked, the story seems good. They were freaked out. In the right way.”

“Anything stolen?”

“Yeah, for sure. They got jewelry, don’t know how much, but there’s a jewelry box missing from the old lady’s bedroom and another one dumped. Talked to Bucher’s niece, out in L.A., she said Mrs. Bucher kept her important jewelry in a safe-deposit box at Wells Fargo. Anything big she had here she’d keep in a wall safe behind a panel in the dining room…” He pointed down a hall to his right, past a chest of drawers that had held children’s clothing, pajamas with cowboys and Indians on them, and what looked like a coonskin cap; all been dumped on the floor. “The dining room’s down that way. Whoever did it, didn’t find the panel. The safe wasn’t touched. Anyway, the jewelry’s probably small stuff, earrings, and so on. And they took electronics. A DVD player definitely, a CD player, a radio, maybe, there might be a computer missing…We’re getting most of this from Mrs. Bucher’s friends, but not many really knew the house that well.”

“So it’s local.”

“Seems to be local,” Smith said. “But I don’t know. Don’t have a good feel for it yet.”

“Looking at anybody?”

Smith turned his head, checking for eavesdroppers, then said, “Two different places. Keep it under your hat?”

“Sure.”

“Peebles had a nephew,” Smith said. “He’s in tenth grade over at Cretin. His mother’s a nurse, and right now she’s working three to eleven at Regions. When she’s on that shift, he’ll come here after school. Peebles’d feed him dinner, and keep an eye on him until his mom picked him up. Sometimes he stayed over. Name is Ronnie Lash. He’d do odd jobs for the old ladies, edge trimming, garden cleanup, go to the store. Pick up laundry.”

“Bad kid?”

Smith shook his head. “Don’t have a thing on him. Good in school. Well liked. Wasn’t here Friday night, he was out dancing with kids from school. But his neighborhood…there are some bad dudes on his street. If he’s been hanging out, he could’ve provided a key. But it’s really sensitive.”

“Yeah.” A black kid with a good school record, well liked, pushed on a brutal double murder. All they had to do was ask a question and there’d be accusations of racism. “Gotta talk to him, though,” Lucas said. “Get a line going, make him one of many. You know.”

Smith nodded, but looked worried anyway. The whole thing was going to be enough of a circus, without a civil-rights pie fight at the same time.

“You said two things,” Lucas prompted.

“There’s a halfway house across the street, down a block. Drugs, alcohol. People coming and going. You could sit up in one of those windows and watch Bucher’s house all night long, thinking about how easy it would be.”

“Huh. Unless you got something else, that sounds as good as the nephew,” Lucas said.

“Yeah, we’re trying to get a list out of corrections.”

“Was there…did the women fight back? Anything that might show some DNA?”

Smith looked over his shoulder toward Peebles. “Doesn’t look like it. It looks like the assholes came in, killed them, took what they wanted, and left. The women didn’t run, didn’t hide, didn’t struggle as far as we can tell. Came in and killed them. Peebles was probably killed at the front door and dragged back there on the rug. We think the rug should be right in front of the door.”

They thought about it for a minute, then Smith’s cell phone rang, and Lucas asked quickly, “Can I look around?”

“Sure. Go ahead.” Smith flipped open the phone and added, “Your boss was out in the backyard talking to the chief, ten minutes ago…Hello?”

 

L
UCAS TOOK
the stairs up to the bedroom level, where another team was working over Bucher’s body. The bedroom was actually a suite of four rooms: a sitting room, a dressing room, a bathroom, and the main room. The main room had a big king-sized bed covered with a log-cabin quilt, two lounge chairs, and a wood-burning fireplace. All four rooms had been dumped: drawers pulled out of chests, a jewelry box upside down on the carpet.

A half-dozen paintings hung crookedly on the walls and two lay on the floor. Another quilt, this one apparently a wall hanging, had been pulled off the wall and left lying on the floor. Looking for a safe? The bath opened off to the right side and behind the bed. The medicine cabinet stood open, and squeeze bottles of lotion, tubes of antiseptic and toothpaste littered the countertop beneath it. No prescription medicine bottles.

Junkies. They’d take everything, then throw away what they couldn’t use; or, try it and see what happened.

A St. Paul investigator was squatting next to a wallet that was lying on a tile by the fireplace.

“Anything?” Lucas asked.

“Look at this,” the investigator said. “Not a dollar in the wallet. But they didn’t take the credit cards or the ATM cards or the ID.”

“Couldn’t get the PINs if Bucher and Peebles were already dead,” Lucas said.

The cop scratched his head. “Guess not. Just, you don’t see this every day. The cards not stolen.”

 

L
UCAS BROWSED THROUGH
the second floor, nodding at cops, taking it in. One of the cops pointed him down the hall at Peebles’s apartment, a bedroom, a small living room with an older television, a bathroom with a shower and a cast-iron tub. Again, the medicine cabinet was open, with some of the contents knocked out; another quilt had been pulled off the wall.

The other bedrooms showed paintings knocked to the floor, bed-covers disturbed.

A door to a third floor stood open and Lucas took the stairs. Hotter up here; the air-conditioning was either turned off, or didn’t reach this far. Old-time servants’ quarters, storage rooms. One room was full of luggage, dozens of pieces dating back to the early part of the twentieth century, Lucas thought. Steamer trunks. A patina of dust covered the floor, and people had walked across it: Lucas found multiple footprints came and went, some in athletic shoes, others in plain-bottomed shoes.

He browsed through the other rooms, and found a few more footprints, as well as stacks of old furniture, racks of clothing, rolls of carpet, shelves full of glassware, a few old typewriters, an antique TV with a screen that was nearly oval, cardboard boxes full of puzzles and children’s toys. A room full of framed paintings. A cork bulletin board with dozens of promotional pins and medallions from the St. Paul Winter Carnival. The dumbshits should have taken them, he thought; some of the pins were worth several hundred dollars.

He was alone in the dust motes and silence and heat, wondered about the footprints, turned around, went back downstairs, and started hunting for his boss.

 

O
N THE
first floor, he walked around the crime scene in the hallway and past another empty room, stopped, went back. This was the TV room, with a sixty-inch high-definition television set into one wall.

Below it was a shelf for electronics, showing nothing but a bunch of gold cable ends. He was about to step out, when he saw a bright blue plastic square behind the half-open door of a closet. He stepped over, nudged the door farther open, found a bookcase set into the closet, the top shelves full of DVD movies, the bottom shelves holding a dozen video games. He recognized the latest version of Halo, an Xbox game. There was no Xbox near the TV, so it must have been taken with the rest of the electronics.

Were the old ladies playing Halo? Or did this belong to the Lash kid?

Smith went by, and Lucas called, “Hey, Johnny…have you been up on the third floor?”

“No. I was told there wasn’t much there,” Smith said.

“Who went up?” Lucas asked.

“Clark Wain. You know Clark? Big pink bald guy?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Lucas said. “When’re you talking to Peebles’s nephew?”

“Soon. You want to sit in?”

“Maybe. I noticed that all the electronics were taken, but there were a bunch of games and DVDs there that weren’t,” Lucas said. “That’s a little odd, if it’s just local assholes.”

Smith rubbed his lip, then said, “Yeah, I know. I saw that. Maybe in a hurry?”

“They had time to trash the place,” Lucas said. “Must have been in here for half an hour.”

“So…”

“Maybe somebody asked them not to,” Lucas said.

“You think?” They were talking about the Lash kid.

“I don’t know,” Lucas said. “They stole the game console, but not the games? I don’t know. Maybe check and see if Lash has another console at home.”

 

L
UCAS FOUND
Rose Marie in the small kitchen talking with the state representative for the district, an orange-haired woman with a black mustache who was leaking real tears, brushing them away with a Kleenex. Lucas came up and Rose Marie said, “You know Kathy. She and Mrs. Bucher were pretty close.”

“I-ba-I-ba-I-ba…” Kathy said.

“She identified the bodies,” Rose Marie said. “She lives two doors up the street.”

“I-ba-I-ba…”

Lucas would have felt sorrier for her if she hadn’t been such a vicious political wolverine, married to a vicious plaintiffs’ attorney. And he couldn’t help feeling a
little
sorry for her anyway. “You oughta sit down,” he said. “You look tippy.”

“Come on,” Rose Marie said, taking the other woman’s arm. “I’ll get you a couch.” To Lucas: “Back in a minute.”

 

T
HE KITCHEN
had been tossed like the rest of house, all the cabinet drawers pulled out, the freezer trays lying on the floor, a flour jar dumped along with several other ceramic containers. Flour was everywhere, mixed with crap from the refrigerator. Dried pickles were scattered around, like olive-drab weenies, and he could smell ketchup and relish, rotting in the sunshine, like the remnants of a three-day-old picnic, or a food tent at the end of the state fair.

To get out of the mess, Lucas walked through the dining room and stepped out on the back porch, a semicircle of warm yellow stone thirty feet across. Below it, the lawn slipped away to the edge of the bluff, and below that, out of sight, I-35, then United Hospital, then the old jumble of West Seventh, and farther down, the Mississippi. Cops were standing around on the lawn, talking, clusters and groups of two and three, a little cigarette and cigar smoke drifting around, pleasantly acrid. One of the cops was Clark Wain, the guy who’d explored the third floor. Lucas stepped over, said, “Clark,” and Wain said, “Yeah, Lucas, what’s going on?”

“You went up to the third floor?”

“Me and a couple of other guys,” Wain said. “Making sure there wasn’t anybody else.”

“Were there footprints going up? In the dust?”

“Yeah. We had them photographed but there wasn’t anything to see, really—too many of them,” Wain said. “Looked like people were up there a lot.”

“Nothing seemed out of place?”

Wain’s eyes drifted away as he thought it over, then came back to Lucas: “Nothing that hit me at the time. They didn’t trash the place like they did some of the other rooms. Maybe they took a peek and then came back down—if it was even their footprints. Could have been anyone.”

“All right…” Rose Marie came out on the porch looking for him, and Lucas raised a hand to her. To Wain he said, “Gotta talk to the boss.”

They stepped back into the dining room. Rose Marie asked, “What do you have going besides Kline?”

“The Heny killing down in Rochester, that’s still pooping along, and we’ve got a girl’s body down by Jackson, we don’t know what happened there. The feds are pushing for more cooperation on illegal aliens, they want us to put somebody in the packing plants down in Austin…But Kline is the big one. And this.”

BOOK: Invisible Prey
3.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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