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Authors: John Sandford

Tags: #Suspense, #Mystery, #Thriller

Invisible Prey (9 page)

BOOK: Invisible Prey
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“That number is…You gotta pen?”

“Davenport, man, you’re killing me,” Ignace said.

“Ruffe, listen: Tell her the story. The whole thing, the murders, everything. Tell her that Deep Throat called. Take her back to your office, drive as fast as you can, scream into your cell phone at the editors while you’re driving. Fake it, if nobody’s working. Then when you get there, sit her down, write the story, and ask her what she thinks. Then make some change she suggests; joke that she ought to get a share of the byline.”

“Yeah, bullshit. The Ignace doesn’t share bylines.”

“Listen, Ruffe, she’ll be all over you,” Lucas said. “You’ll nail her in the front seat of your car.”

“I got a Prelude, man. With a stick shift. It’d hit her right in the small of the back.”

“Whatever,” Lucas said. “This will not mess up your night. I swear to God. You’re good as gold—but try to get it in tomorrow morning, okay? I need this.”

“You need that and I need this—” The phone clicked off.

But Lucas smiled.

He knew his reporters. No way Ignace wouldn’t write the story.

 

A
ND LATE
that night, in bed, Weather reading the latest Anne Perry, Lucas said, “I’m worried about the Kline thing. The governor’s got me talking to Mitford tomorrow.”

“I thought you liked him. Mitford.”

“I do—but that doesn’t mean that he’s not a rattlesnake,” Lucas said. “You gotta watch your ankles when he’s around.”

“You’ve never talked to the girl, have you?” Weather asked. “It’s all been that fuckin’ Flowers.”

“No. I haven’t talked to her. I should. But we’ve been trying to keep it at the cop level, apolitical. Now Kline’s trying to cut a separate deal, but Rose Marie says that’s not gonna fly. Nobody’ll buy it. I expect I’m going to have to talk to Kline and then we’re gonna bring in the Ramsey County attorney. That little chickenshit will do everything he can to turn it into a three-ring circus.”

“Don’t get in too deep, Lucas,” Weather said. “This sounds like it’ll require scapegoats.”

“That worries me,” he said.

“And sort of interests you, too.”

He sat for a moment looking at the book in his lap. He was learning more about antiques. Then he grinned at her and admitted, “Maybe.”

5

L
UCAS READ
the paper in the morning, over breakfast, and was happy to see Ignace’s story on the possible theft; and he truly hoped that Ignace had gotten laid, which he, like most newspaper reporters, of both sexes, desperately needed.

In any case, the story should wake somebody up.

Sam was still working on his spoon technique, slopping oatmeal in a five-foot radius of his high chair; the housekeeper was cursing like a sailor, something to do with the faucet on the front of the house wouldn’t turn off. Weather was long gone to work, where she spent almost every morning cutting on people. Letty was at school, the first summer session.

Lucas noticed a story on a zoning fight in the Dakota County suburbs south of the Twin Cities. One of the big shopping centers, the Burnsville Mall, was looking to expand, and some of its commercial neighbors thought that was a bad idea.

Lucas thought, “Hmmm,” and closed his eyes.
Dakota County…

 

L
UCAS TOLD
the housekeeper to call a plumber, kissed Sam on the head, dodged a spoonful of oatmeal, and went to look up Kidd’s phone number. Kidd was the artist who might be able to help with the reckless painting. Lucas found his book, dialed, and got a dairy. Kidd had either changed numbers, or left town.

He glanced at his watch: Kidd’s apartment was down by the river. He could drop by after he talked with Neil Mitford. Mitford was the governor’s hatchet man; he tried to cut out at least one gizzard every morning before going out for a double latte grande.

Lucas finished his coffee and headed up the stairs to suit up; and once outside, it was another great day, puffy fair-weather clouds under a pale blue sky, just enough wind to ruffle the stars ’n’ stripes outside an elementary school. He motored along Summit Avenue toward the Capitol, elbow out, counting women on cell phones making illegal turns.

 

M
ITFORD HAD
a modest office down the hall from the governor’s, in what he said had been a janitor’s closet when the building was first put up. With just enough room for a desk, a TV, a computer, a thousand books, and a pile of paper the size of a cartoon doghouse, it might have been.

Mitford himself was short and burly, his dark hair thinning at the crown. He’d been trying to dress better lately, but in Lucas’s opinion, had failed. This morning he was wearing pleated khaki slacks with permanent ironed-in wrinkles, a striped short-sleeved dress shirt, featureless black brogans with dusty toes, a chromed watch large enough to be a cell phone, and two actual cell phones, which were clipped to his belt like cicadas on a tree trunk.

Altogether, five or six separate and simultaneous fashion faux pas, in Lucas’s view, depending on how you counted the cell phones.

“Lucas.” Mitford didn’t bother to smile. “How are we going to handle this?”

“That seems to be a problem,” Lucas said, settling in a crappy chair across the desk from Mitford. “Everybody’s doing a tap dance.”

“You know, Burt backed us on the school-aid bill,” Mitford said tentatively.

“Fuck a bunch of school-aid bill,” Lucas said. “School aid is gonna be a bad joke if the word gets out that he’d been banging a ninth-grader.”

Mitford winced. “Tenth-grader.”

“Yeah, now,” Lucas said. “But not when they started, if she’s telling the truth.”

“So…”

“I’ve got one possibility that nobody has suggested yet, and it’s thin,” Lucas said.

“Roll it out,” Mitford said.

“The girl says Kline once took her to the Burnsville Mall and bought her clothes—a couple of blouses, skirts, some white cotton underpants, and a couple of push-up bras. She said he liked to have a little underwear-and-push-up-bra parade at night. Anyway, he got so turned on that they did a little necking and groping in the parking lot. She said she, quote, cooled him off, unquote.”

“All right. So…the push-up bra?”

“She said he bought her gifts in return for the sex.”

Mitford digressed: “He really said, ‘Oh God, lick my balls, lick my balls’?”

“According to Virgil Flowers, Kline admits he might have said it, but he would’ve said it to Mom, not the daughter,” Lucas said.

“Ah, Jesus,” Mitford said. “This is dreadful.”

“Kline said his old lady never…”

“Hey, hey—forget it.” Mitford rubbed his face, and shuddered. “I know his old lady. Anyway, he took the kid to the Burnsville Mall and groped her and she cooled him off…Is that a big deal?”

“That’d be up to you,” Lucas said. “We can make an argument that he was buying the clothes in return for sex, because of the kid’s testimony. And then there was the touching in the car, what you call your basic manual stimulation. So one element of the crime happened at the mall.”

“So what?”

“The mall is in Burnsville,” Lucas said, “which happens to be in Dakota County. Dakota County, in its wisdom, elected itself a Republican as county attorney.”

Mitford instantly brightened. “Holy shit! I knew there was a reason we hired you.”

“That doesn’t mean…” Lucas began.

Mitford was on his feet, circling his desk, shaking a finger at Lucas. “Yes, it does. One way or the other, it does. If we can get a Republican to indict this cocksucker…”

“Actually,
he
wasn’t the…”

“…then we’re in the clear. Our hands are clean. There is no Democratic involvement in the process, no goddamn little intransigent Democratic cockroach publicity-seeking motherfucking horsefly Ramsey County attorney to drag us all down. It’s a Republican problem. Yes, it is.”

“Virgil is coming up here today to brief some people on the details,” Lucas said.

“Yeah. I’ll be going. I’ve been hearing some odd things about Flowers,” Mitford said. “Somebody said he once whistled at a guy in an interrogation cell until the guy cracked and confessed.”

“Well, yeah, you have to understand the circumstances, the guy belonged to a cult…”

Mitford didn’t care about Flowers and whistling. “Goddamn! Lucas! A Republican county attorney! You my daddy!”

 

L
UCAS WAS FEELING
okay when he took the hill down into the St. Paul loop. He zigzagged southeast until he got to a chunky red-brick building that had once been a warehouse, then a loft association, and was now a recently trendy condominium.

One of the good things about the Bucher and Kline cases was that the major crime sites were so close to his house—maybe ten minutes on residential streets; and they were even closer to his office. He knew all the top cops in both cases, and even most of the uniformed guys. In the past couple of years he’d covered cases all over the southern half of Minnesota, on the Iron Range in the north, and in the Red River Valley, which was even farther north and west. Minnesota is a tall state, and driving it can wear a guy out.

Not these two cases. These were practically on his lawn.

He was whistling as he walked into the condo. An elderly lady was coming through the inner doors with a shopping bag full of old clothes. He held it for her, she twinkled at him, and he went on inside, skipping past the apartment buzzers.

 

K
IDD CAME
to the door looking tired and slightly dazed. He had a wrinkled red baby, about the size of a loaf of Healthy Choice bread, draped over one shoulder, on a towel. He was patting the baby’s back.

“Hey…” He seemed slightly taken aback. Every time Lucas had seen him, he’d seemed slightly taken aback.

“Didn’t know you had children,” Lucas said.

“First one,” Kidd said. “Trying to get a burp. You want to take him?”

“No, thanks,” Lucas said hastily. “I’ve got a two-year-old, I just got done with that.”

“Uh…come on in,” Kidd said, stepping back from the door. Over his shoulder he called, “Lauren? Put on some pants. We’ve got company. It’s the cops.”

Kidd led the way into the living room. He was a couple inches shorter than Lucas, but broader through the shoulders, and going gray. He’d been a scholarship wrestler at the university when Lucas played hockey. He still looked like he could pull your arms off.

He also had, Lucas thought, the best apartment in St. Paul, a huge sprawling place put together from two condos, bought when condos were cheap. Now the place was worth a million, if you could get it for that. The balcony looked out over the Mississippi, and windows were open and the faint smell of riverbank carp mixed with the closer odor of spoiled milk, the odor that hangs around babies; and maybe a touch of oil paint, or turpentine.

“Ah, God,” Kidd called. “Lauren, we’re gonna need a change here. He’s really wet. Ah…shit.”

“Just a minute…” Lauren was a slender, dark-haired, small-hipped woman with a wide mouth and shower-wet hair down to her shoulders. She was barefoot, wearing a black blouse and faded boot-cut jeans. She came out of the back, buttoning the jeans. “You could do it, you ain’t crippled,” she said to Kidd.

Kidd said, “Yeah, yeah. This is Detective Davenport…He’s probably got an art problem?” This last was phrased as a question, and they both looked at Lucas as Lauren took the baby.

Lucas nodded. “You heard about the killings up on Summit?”

“Yeah. Fuckin’ maniacs,” Kidd said.

“We’re wondering if it might not be a cover for a crime…” Lucas explained about the murders, about the china cabinet swept of pots, and his theory that real art experts wouldn’t have broken the good stuff, and about getting restorers and antique experts. “But there’s this kid, the nephew of one of the dead women, who said he thinks a couple of old paintings are missing from the attic. All he knows is that they’re old, and one of them had the word ‘reckless’ written on the back. Actually, he said it was painted on the back. I wonder if that might mean something to you? You know of any paintings called
Reckless
? Or databases that might list it? Or anything?”

Kidd’s eyes narrowed, then he said, “Capital
r
in ‘reckless’?”

“I don’t know,” Lucas said. “Should there be?”

“There was an American painter, first half of the twentieth century named Reckless. I might have something on him…”

Lucas followed him through a studio, into a library, a narrow, darker space, four walls jammed with art books, Lauren and the baby trailing behind. Kidd took down a huge book, flipped through it…“Alphabetical,” he muttered to himself, and he turned more pages, and finally, “Here we go. Stanley Reckless. Sort of funky impressionism. Not bad, but not quite the best.”

He showed Lucas a color illustration, a riverside scene. Next to them, the baby made a bad smell and seemed pleased. Lucas asked, “How much would a painting like that be worth?”

Kidd shook his head: “We’ll have to go to the computer for that…I subscribe to an auction survey service.”

“I want to hear this,” Lauren said. “Bring the laptop into the baby’s room while I change the diaper.” To the baby: “Did you just poop? Did you just poop, you little man? Did you just…”

Kidd had a black Lenovo laptop in the living room, and they followed Lauren to the baby’s room, a bright little cube with its own view of the river. Kidd had painted cheerful, dancing children all around the lemon-colored walls.

“Really nice,” Lucas said, looking around.

“Uh.” Kidd brought up the laptop and Lauren began wiping the baby’s butt with high-end baby-butt cleaner that Lucas recognized from his own changing table. Then Kidd started typing, and a moment later he said, “Says his paintings are rare. Auction record is four hundred fifteen thousand dollars, that was two years ago, and prices are up since then. He had a relatively small oeuvre. The range is down to thirty-two thousand dollars…but that was for a watercolor.”

“Four hundred fifteen thousand dollars,” Lucas repeated.

“Yup.”

“That seems like a lot for one painting, but then, my wife tells me that I’m out of touch,” Lucas said.

BOOK: Invisible Prey
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