Authors: John Sandford
Tags: #Suspense, #Mystery, #Thriller
Inside, the crime-scene people were expanding their search, but had nothing new to report. He walked through the place one last time, then headed across the street to the halfway house.
HE HALFWAY HOUSE
looked like any of the fading mansions on the wrong side of Summit, a brown-brick three-story with a carriage house out back, a broad front porch with white pillars, now flaking paint, and an empty porch swing.
Dan Westchester somewhat resembled the house: he was on the wrong side of fifty, the fat side of two-twenty, and the short side of five-ten. He had a small gray ponytail, a gold earring in his left ear-lobe, and wore long cotton slacks, a golf shirt, and sandals. The name plaque on his desk showed a red-yellow-green Vietnam ribbon under his name.
“I already talked to St. Paul, and I talked to your guy at the BCA,” he said unhappily. “What do you want from us?”
“Just trying to see what’s what,” Lucas said. “We’ve got two murdered old ladies across the street from a halfway house full of convicted criminals. If we didn’t talk to you, our asses would get fired.”
“I know, but we’ve worked so hard…”
“I can believe that,” Lucas said. “But…” He shrugged.
Westchester nodded. “The guys here…we’ve had exactly six complaints since we opened the facility, and they involved alcoholic relapses,” he said. “None of the people were violent. The DOC made a decision early on that we wouldn’t house violent offenders here.”
Lucas: “Look. I’m not here to dragoon the house, I’m just looking for an opinion: If one of your guys did this, who would it be?”
“None of them,” Westchester snapped.
“Bullshit,” Lucas snapped back. “If this was a convent, there’d be two or three nuns who’d be more likely than the others to do a double murder. I’m asking for an assessment, not an accusation.”
“None of them,” Westchester repeated. “The guys in this house wouldn’t beat two old ladies to death. Most of them are just unhappyguys…”
“Yeah.” Unhappy guys who got drunk and drove cars onto sidewalks and across centerlines into traffic.
Westchester: “I’m not trying to mess with you. I’m not silly about convicted felons. But honest to God, most of the people here are sick. They don’t intend to do bad, they’re just
They’re inflicted with an evil drug.”
“So you don’t have a single guy…”
“I can’t give you a name,” Westchester said. “But I’ll tell you what: you or St. Paul can send over anyone you want, and I’ll go over my guys, file by file, and I’ll tell you everything I know. Then
make the assessment. I don’t want a goddamn killer in here. But I don’t think I’ve got one. I’m sure I don’t.”
Lucas thought about it for a moment: “All right. That’s reasonable.” He stood up, turned at the office door. “Not a single guy?”
Westchester sat back and grinned. “I’m in a foosball league. I was playing foosball. I got two dozen ’ballers to back me up.”
a little pissed, feeling thwarted: he’d wanted a name, any name, a place to start. Halfway down the sidewalk, his cell phone rang, and when he looked at the number, saw that it came from the governor’s office.
“Yeah. Governor,” Lucas said.
“You catch them?”
“Well, fuck ’em then, they’re too smart for you,” the governor said. “Now: I want you to talk to Neil tomorrow morning. He has some suggestions about the way you conduct the Kline investigation, okay?”
“Maybe not,” Lucas said. “I hate the charge, ‘suborning justice.’”
“We’re not going to suborn anything, Lucas,” said the governor, putting a little buttermilk in his voice. “You know me better than that. We’re managing a difficult situation.”
“Not difficult for me, at this point,” Lucas said. “Could get difficult, if I talk to Neil.”
“Talk to Neil. Talk. How can it hurt?” the governor asked.
“Ask the White House guys in federal minimum security…Listen, sir, there’s a straightforward way to handle this.”
“No, there isn’t,” the governor said. “We’ve gone over all the options. We need more. If you can think up some reasonable options, then we won’t have to turn Neil loose. So talk to him.”
Lucas told the Bucher story to his wife, Weather; his fifteen-year-old ward, Letty; and his son, Sam, who was almost two feet tall now, and who’d developed an intense interest in spoons.
Weather was a short blonde with a bold nose, square shoulders, and shrewd Finnish eyes; she was a plastic and microsurgeon and spent her days fixing heads and faces, revising scars, and replacing skin and cutting out lesions. When he was done with the story, Weather said, “So it was a robbery.”
“Odd robbery,” Lucas said, with a shake of his head. “If they were after the jewelry, why did they trash the rest of the house? If they were after paintings, why were there terrific old paintings all over the place? Why would they take swoopy furniture? The kid said it looked like they took it off the
set. It’s just weird: They stole a printer? They stole an Xbox but not the hottest game on the market?”
“That is definitely strange,” Letty said. She was a lanky girl, dark haired, and was growing into a heart-stopper.
“All that other stuff was to throw you off, so you’d think dopers did it, but it’s really a gang of serious antique and jewel thieves,” Weather said. “They took a few special pieces and scattered the rest around to conceal it. It’s as plain as the nose on your face.”
“Weather…” Lucas said impatiently.
“Lucas,” Weather snapped. “Look around, if you can get your head out of your butt long enough.”
Letty giggled. “…head out of your butt.” Sam pointed his spoon and yelled, “Butt!”
“We have three antiques,” Weather said. “The most expensive one cost sixteen thousand.”
“Sixteen thousand?” Lucas was appalled. “Which one was that?”
“The china cabinet,” Weather said. “Most real antique people would tell you it is a piece of junk. When I redid the house, how much do you think I spent on furniture? Just give me a ballpark figure.”
Lucas’s eyes wandered down the dining room, toward the living room; thought about the new bedroom set, the couches in the den, the living room, the family room, and the TV room. The latter now needed new covers because he kept putting his feet on the arms. “I don’t know. Forty, fifty thousand?”
It sounded high, but better high than low.
Weather stared at him, then looked at Letty, and back to Lucas. “Lucas, I mean, sweet-bleedin’…”
She looked at Letty again, who filled in, “Jesus.”
Lucas said, “We’re letting our mouths get a little out of control here…” That was an uphill fight he’d never win. He was laying down a smoke screen to cover his furniture-pricing faux pas, if that’s what it was.
Weather said, “Lucas, I spent two hundred and ten thousand dollars, and that wasn’t the really good stuff that I actually wanted.”
His mouth didn’t drop open, but he felt as if it had.
She continued: “Lucas, a fair-to-middling couch with custom coverings
at five thousand dollars. This table”—she rapped with her knuckles on the dining table—“cost nine thousand dollars with eight chairs. And that’s nothing. Nothing. Rich people would spit on this table.”
“Not with me around,” Lucas said.
Weather jabbed a fork at him. “Now. You say Bucher has as much money as your old pal Miller.”
“Yeah. Same league,” Lucas said. “Maybe some of the same ancestors.”
“Those people were billionaires when a billion dollars was serious money,” Weather said. “Everything in their houses would be top quality—and an eighty-year-old woman’s house would be stuffed to the gills with antiques…Lucas, I don’t know much about antiques, but I know you could get a million dollars’ worth in a van. Paintings, who knows what they’re worth? I thought maybe I’d buy a couple of nice old American paintings for the living room. But you know what old American impressionist-style paintings go for now? You could put twenty million dollars in the trunk of your Porsche. I’m not even talking about the biggest names. Painters you never heard of, you have to pay a half million dollars for their work.”
Now he was impressed. He pushed back from the table: “I didn’t…I gotta get a book.”
Weather marched on: “This Lash kid, he said she had some old pots, and you said there were smashed pots lying around. They were covering up for what they took. Art Deco pots can go for fifty thousand dollars. Swoopy chairs with leather sets? There are Mies van der Rohe swoopy chairs that go for five thousand dollars each. I know, because Gloria Chatham bought two, and she never stops talking about it. Lucas, they could’ve taken millions out of this place. Not even counting those diamonds.”
Lucas looked down at his roast, then back up to Weather: “You paid nine thousand dollars for this table? We could have gone over to IKEA.”
“Fuck IKEA,” Weather said.
Letty giggled. “I’d like to see that.”
Sam hit a glass with a spoon; Weather looked at him and smiled and said, “Good boy.”
HEN THEY WERE
done with dinner, Lucas hiked down to the Highland Park bookstore and bought a copy of Judith Miller’s
Antiques Price Guide,
which was the biggest and slickest one. Back at home, sitting in the quiet of the den, he flipped through it. Weather hadn’t been exaggerating. Lamps worth as much as $100,000; vases worth $25,000; Indian pots worth $30,000; a Dinky truck
—a Dinky truck like Lucas had played with new, as a kid, made in 1964!—
worth $10,000. Tables worth $20,000, $50,000, $70,000; a painting of a creek in winter, by a guy named Edward Willis Redfield, of whom Lucas had never heard, valued at $650,000.
“Who’d buy this shit?” he asked aloud. He spent another fifteen minutes with the book, made some notes, then got his briefcase, found his phone book, and called Smith at home.
“You catch ’em?” Smith asked.
“No. I’ve already been asked that,” Lucas said. “By the governor.”
“Listen, I’ve been doing some research…”
Lucas told Smith about the antiques book, and what he thought had to be done at the murder scene: “Interrogate the relatives. Try to nail down every piece of furniture and every painting. Get somebody who’s good at puzzles, go over to that pot cupboard, whatever you call it, and glue those smashed pots back together. Get an antiques dealer in there to evaluate the place. My guys checked her insurance, but there’s some bullshit about writs and privacy, so it’d probably be easier to check her safe-deposit box; or maybe there’s a copy in one of those file cabinets. We need some paperwork.”
Smith was uncertain: “Lucas, those pot pieces are smaller’n your dick. How in the hell are we going to get them back together?”
“The pots don’t have to be perfect. We need to see what they are, and get somebody who knows what he’s doing, and put a value on them. I’ve got this idea…”
“If the people who hit the place are big-time antique thieves, if this is some kind of huge invisible heist, I’ll bet they didn’t bust up the good stuff,” Lucas said. “I bet there’s twenty thousand bucks worth of pots in the cupboard, there’s a thousand bucks worth of busted pots on the floor, and the six missing pots are worth a hundred grand. That’s what I think.”
After a moment of silence, Smith sighed and said, “I’ll freeze the scene, won’t allow anybody to start cleaning anything out. Take pictures of everything, inch by inch. I’ll get a warrant to open the safe-deposit box, get the insurance policies. I’ll find somebody who can do the pots. I don’t know any artists, but I can call around to the galleries. What was that the Lash kid said? A painting that said ‘reckless’?”
“I put it in Google, and got nothing,” Lucas said. “There’s a guy here in town named Kidd, he’s a pretty well-known artist. He’s helped me out a couple of times, I’ll give him a call, see if he has any ideas.”
FF THE PHONE
with Smith, he considered for a moment. The media were usually a pain in the ass, but they could also be a useful club. If the robbery aspect of the murders were highlighted, it could have two positive effects: if the killers were local, and had already tried to dump the stuff, then some useful leads might pop up. If they were professionals, hitting Bucher for big money, it might freeze the resale of anything that was taken out. That’d be good, because it’d still be on their hands when the cops arrived.
There was no doubt in Lucas’s mind that the cops would arrive, sooner or later. He looked in his address book again, and dialed a number. Ruffe Ignace, the reporter from the
said, without preface, “This better be good, because I could get laid tonight if I don’t go back to the office. It’s a skinny blonde with a deep need for kinky sex.”
“You owe me,” Lucas said. “Besides, I’m doing you another favor, and then you’ll owe me two.”
“Is this a favor that’ll keep me from getting laid?” Ignace asked.
“You gotta work that out yourself,” Lucas said. “What I’m going to tell you comes from an anonymous source close to the investigation.”
“Are you talking about Brown? I got that.”
“Not Brown,” Lucas said. “But to me, it looks like a smart reporter might speculate that the murders and the trashing of the Bucher house were covers for one of the biggest arts and antiquities thefts in history, but one that’s invisible.”
Open cell phone: restaurant dishes clinking in the background. Then, hushed, “Holy shit. You think?”
“It could be speculated,” Lucas said.
“How could I find out what they had in there?”
“Call Shelley Miller. Let me get you that number. Don’t tell her that I gave it to you.”
“Motherfucker,” Ignace groaned. “The blonde just walked up to the bar. She’s wearing a dress you can see her legs through. She’s like wearing a thong? In Minneapolis? You know how rare that is? And she wants my body? You know how rare