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Authors: John Sandford

Tags: #Suspense, #Mystery, #Thriller

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BOOK: Invisible Prey
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“Did Burt do it?” Rose Marie asked. She and Kline were old political adversaries.

“Yeah. I don’t know if we can prove it,” Lucas said.

He told her about the DNA and the size-ten dress, and the girl’s sexual history. She already knew about the semicolons and that Kline had admitted an affair with Mom.

“The newest thing is, Kline wants to do something like a consent agreement,” Lucas said. “Everybody agrees that nobody did anything wrong and that nobody will ever do it again. He, in return, pays them another year’s rent on the room and a car-storage fee for her garage, like twenty thousand bucks total.”

“That’s bullshit. You can’t sign a consent agreement that gets you out of a statutory-rape charge,” Rose Marie said. “Especially not if you’re a state senator.”

“So I’ll send Virgil around and you tell him what you want him to do,” Lucas said.

She made a rude noise, shook her head. “That fuckin’ Flowers…”

“C’mon, Rose Marie.”

She sighed. “All right. Send him up. Tell him to bring the file, make a presentation. Three or four people will be there, he doesn’t have to be introduced to them, or look them up later. Tell him to wear a jacket, slacks, and to get rid of those goddamn cowboy boots for one day. Tell him we don’t need an attitude. Tell him if we get attitude, I’ll donate his ass to the Fulda City Council as the town cop.”

“I’ll tell him…” He looked around. Several panels in the wall of the dining room had been pulled open. One showed a safe door; another, rows of liquor bottles; a third, crockery serving dishes with molded vegetables as decoration.

“Listen. This is a sideshow,” she said, waving a hand at the trashed room. “The governor wants a presence here, because she’s big political and social money. But you need to focus on Kline.” She popped a piece of Nicorette gum, started chewing rapidly, rolling it with her tongue. “I don’t care who fixes it, but it’s gotta be fixed.”

“Why don’t we just go the grand jury route? You know, ‘We presented it to the grand jury and in their wisdom, they decided to indict’? Or not indict?”

“Because we’re playing with the legislature, and the Republicans still own it, and they
know
that’s bullshit. Radioactive bullshit. We need to be in position before this girl shows up on Channel Three.”

 

L
UCAS WALKED HER
out to her car; when she’d gotten out of her spot in a neighboring driveway, he started back to the house. On the way, thinking more about Kline than about the Bucher murder, he spotted a red-haired reporter from the
Star Tribune
on the other side of the police tape. The reporter lifted a hand and Lucas stepped over.

“How’d she get it?” Ruffe Ignace asked. He was smiling, simple chitchat with a friend.

“There are two of them,” Lucas said quietly. “A maid named Sugar-Rayette Peebles and Constance Bucher. Peebles was killed downstairs, near the front door. Her body was wrapped in a Persian carpet in a hallway. The old lady was killed in her bedroom. They were beaten to death, maybe with a pipe. Skulls crushed. House is ransacked, bedrooms tossed. Probably Friday night.”

“Any leads?” Ignace was taking no notes, just standing on the neighbor’s lawn with his hands in his jacket pockets. He didn’t want to attract the attention of other reporters. Lucas had found that Ignace had an exceptional memory for conversation, for however long it took him to go somewhere and write it down.

“Not yet,” Lucas said. “We’ll be talking to people who knew the women…”

“How about that place down the street?” Ignace asked. “The halfway house? Full of junkies.”

“St. Paul is looking into that,” Lucas said.

“Did it look like junkies?” Ignace asked.

“Something like that, but not exactly,” Lucas said.

“How not exactly?”

“I don’t know—but
not exactly,
” Lucas said. “I’ll get back to you when I figure it out.”

“You running it?”

“No. St. Paul. I’ll be consulting,” Lucas said.

“Okay. I owe you,” Ignace said.

“You already owed me.”

“Bullshit. We were dead even,” Ignace said. “But now I owe you one.”

 

A
WOMAN
called him. “Lucas! Hey, Lucas!” He turned and saw Shelley Miller in the crowd along the sidewalk. She lived down the street in a house as big as Oak Walk.

“I gotta talk to this lady,” Lucas said to Ignace.

“Call me,” Ignace said. He drifted away, fishing in his pocket for a cell phone.

Miller came up. She was a thin woman; thin by sheer willpower. “Is she…?” Miller was a cross between fascinated and appalled.

“Yeah. She and her maid,” Lucas said. “How well did you know her?”

“I talked to her whenever she was outside,” Miller said. “We used to visit back and forth. How did they kill her?”

“With a pipe, I think,” Lucas said. “The ME’ll figure it out.”

Miller shivered: “And they’re still running around the neighborhood.”

Lucas’s forehead wrinkled: “I’m not sure. I mean, if they’re from the neighborhood. Do you know Bucher’s place well enough to see whether anything was taken? I mean, the safe was untouched and we know one jewelry box was dumped and another might have been taken, and some electronics…but other stuff?”

She nodded. “I know it pretty well. Dan and I are redoing another house, down the street. We talked about buying some old St. Paul paintings from her and maybe some furniture and memorabilia. We thought it would be better to keep her things together, instead of having them dispersed when she died…I guess they’ll be dispersed, now. We never did anything about it.”

“Would you be willing to take a look inside?” Lucas asked. “See if you notice anything missing?”

“Sure. Now?”

“Not now,” Lucas said. “The crime-scene guys are still working over the place, they’ll want to move the bodies out. But I’ll talk to the lead investigator here, get you into the house later today. His name is John Smith.”

“I’ll do it,” she said.

 

L
UCAS WENT
back inside, told Smith about Shelley Miller, then drifted around the house, taking it in, looking for something, not knowing what it was, watching the crime-scene techs work, asking a question now and then. He was astonished at the size of the place: A library the size of a high school library. A ballroom the size of a basketball court, with four crystal chandeliers.

John Smith was doing the same thing. They bumped into each other a few times:

“Anything?”

“Not much,” Lucas said.

“See all the silverware behind that dining room panel?” Smith asked.

“Yeah. Sterling.”

“Looks like it’s all there.”

Lucas scratched his forehead. “Maybe they figured it’d be hard to fence?”

“Throw it in a car, drive down to Miami, sayonara.”

“It’s got names and monograms…” Lucas suggested.

“Polish it off. Melt it down,” Smith said. “Wouldn’t take a rocket scientist.”

“Maybe it was too heavy?”

“Dunno…”

Lucas wandered on, thinking about it. A hundred pounds of solid silver? Surely, not that much. He went back to the dining room, looked inside the built-in cabinet. Three or four sets of silverware, some bowls, some platters. He turned one of the platters over, thinking it might be gilded pewter or something; saw the sterling mark. Hefted it, hefted a dinner set, calculated…maybe forty pounds total? Still, worth a fortune.

A uniformed cop walked by, head bent back, looking at the ceiling.

“What?” Lucas asked.

“Look at the ceiling. Look at the crown molding.” Lucas looked. The ceiling was molded plaster, the crown molding was a frieze of running horses. “The crown molding is worth more than my house.”

“So if it turns up missing, we should look in your garage,” Lucas said.

The cop nodded. “You got that right.”

 

A
COUPLE
of people from the ME’s office wheeled a gurney through the dining room and out a side door; a black plastic body bag sat on top of it. Peebles.

 

L
UCAS WENT BACK
to the silver. Where was he? Oh yeah—must be worth a fortune. Then a stray thought: Was it really?

Say, forty pounds of solid silver; 640 ounces…but silver was weighed in troy ounces, which, if he remembered correctly, were about ten percent heavier than regular ounces. Sterling wasn’t pure, only about 90 percent, so you’d have some more loss. Call it roughly 550 troy ounces of pure silver at…he didn’t know how much. Ten bucks? Fifteen? Not a fortune. After fencing it off, reworking it and refining it, getting it to the end user, the guys who carried it out of the house would be lucky to take out a grand.

In the meantime, they’d be humping around a lot of silver that had the dead woman’s initials all over it. Maybe, he thought, they didn’t take it because it wasn’t worth the effort or risk. Maybe smarter than your average cokehead.

Another gurney went by in the hall, another body bag: Bucher. Then a cop stuck his head in the dining room door: “The Lash kid is here. They’ve taken him into the front parlor.”

 

L
UCAS WENT
that way, thinking about the silver, about the video games, about the way the place was trashed, the credit cards not stolen…Superficially, it looked local, but under that, he thought, it looked like something else. Smith was getting the same bad feeling about it: something was going on, and they didn’t know what it was.

 

R
ONNIE
L
ASH
was tall and thin, nervous—scared—a sheen of perspiration on his coffee-brown forehead, tear tracks on his cheeks. He was neatly dressed in a red short-sleeved golf shirt, tan slacks, and athletic shoes; his hands were in his lap, and he twisted and untwisted them. His mother, a thin woman in a nurse’s uniform, clutched a black handbag the size of a grocery sack, stood with him, talking to John Smith.

“They always say, get a lawyer,” Mrs. Lash said. “Ronnie didn’t do anything, to anybody, he loved Sugar, but they always say, get a lawyer.”

“We, uh, Mrs. Lash, you’ve got to do what you think is right,” Smith said. “We could get a lawyer here to sit with Ronnie, we could have somebody here in an hour from the public defender, won’t cost you a cent.” Which was the last thing Smith wanted. He wanted the kid alone, where he could lie to him.

Mrs. Lash was saying, “…don’t have a lot of money for lawyers, but I can pay my share.”

Ronnie was shaking his head, looking up at his mother: “I want to get this over with, Ma. I want to talk to these guys. I don’t want a lawyer.”

She put a hand on his shoulder. “They always say get a lawyer, Ronnie.”

“If you need one, Ma,” the Lash kid said. “I don’t need one. Jesus will take care of me. I’ll just tell the truth.”

She shook a finger at him: “You talk to them then, but if they start saying stuff to you, you holler for me and we’ll get a lawyer up here.” To John Smith: “I still don’t understand why I can’t come in. He’s a juvenile.”

“Because we need to talk to Ronnie—not to the two of you. We need to talk to you, too, separately.”

“But I didn’t…” she protested.

“We don’t think you did, Mrs. Lash, but we’ve got to talk to everybody,” Smith said. His voice had lost its edge, now that he knew he’d be able to sweat Ronnie, without a lawyer stepping on his act.

 

L
UCAS LEANED AGAINST
the hallway wall, listening to the exchange, mother and son going back and forth. The Lashes finally decided that Ronnie could go ahead and talk, but if the cops started saying stuff to him…

“I’ll call you, Ma.”

At that point, Lucas was eighty-three percent certain that Ronnie Lash hadn’t killed anyone, and hadn’t helped kill anyone.

 

T
HEY PUT
Mrs. Lash on a settee in the music room and took Ronnie into the parlor, John Smith, a fat detective named Sy Schuber, and Lucas, and shut the door. They put Ronnie on a couch and scattered around the room, dragging up chairs, and Smith opened by outlining what had happened, and then said, “So we’ve got to ask you, where were you this weekend? Starting at four-thirty Friday afternoon?”

“Me’n some other guys took a bus over to Minneapolis, right after school on Friday,” Lash said. “We were going over to BenBo’s on Hennepin. They were having an underage night.”

BenBo’s was a hip-hop place. Ronnie and four male friends from school spent the next five hours dancing, hanging out with a group of girls who’d gone over separately: so nine other people had been hanging with Ronnie most of the evening. He listed their names, and Schuber wrote them down. At ten o’clock, the mother of one of the kids picked up the boys in her station wagon and hauled them all back to St. Paul.

“What kind of car?” Lucas asked.

“A Cadillac SUV—I don’t know exactly what they’re called,” Lash said. “It was a couple of years old.”

Coming back to St. Paul, Ronnie had been dropped third, so he thought it was shortly before eleven o’clock when he got home. His mother was still up. She’d bought a roasted chicken at the Cub supermarket, and they ate chicken sandwiches in the kitchen, talked, and went to bed.

On weekends, Lash worked at a food shelf run by his church, which wasn’t a Catholic church, though he went to a Catholic school. He started at nine in the morning, worked until three o’clock.

“They don’t pay, but, you know, it goes on your record for college,” he said. “It’s also good for your soul.”

Schuber asked, “If you’re such a religious guy, how come you were out at some hip-hop club all night?”

“Jesus had no problem with a good time,” Ronnie said. “He turned water into wine, not the other way around.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Smith was rubbing his eyeballs with his fingertips. “Ronnie, you got a guy down the block from you named Weldon Godfrey. You know Weldon?”

“Know who he is,” Ronnie said, nodding. He said it so casually that Lucas knew that he’d seen the question coming.

“You hang out?” Smith asked.

“Nope. Not since I started at Catholic school,” Lash said. “I knew him most when I went to public school, but he was two grades ahead of me, so we didn’t hang out then, either.”

BOOK: Invisible Prey
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