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Authors: John Sandford

Tags: #Suspense, #Mystery, #Adult, #Thriller

Night Prey

BOOK: Night Prey
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Night Prey

John Sandford

*

Chapter
1

The Night Was Warm, The Twilight Inviting: Middle-Aged
couples in pastel shirts, holding hands, strolled the old cracked sidewalks along the Mississippi. A gaggle of college girls jogged down the bike path, wearing sweatsuits and training shoes, talking as they ran, their uniformly blond ponytails bouncing behind them. At eight, the streetlights came on, whole blocks at once, with an audible pop. Overhead, above the new green of the elms, nighthawks made their skizzizk cries, their wing-flashes like the silver bars on new first-lieutenants.

Spring was shading into summer. The daffodils and tulips were gone, while the petunias spread across their beds like Mennonite quilts.

Koop was on the hunt.

He rolled through the residential streets in his Chevy S-10, radio tuned to Country-Lite, his elbow out the window, a bottle of Pig's Eye beer between his thighs. The soft evening air felt like a woman's fingers, stroking his beard.

At Lexington and Grand, a woman in a scarlet jacket crossed in front of him. She had a long, graceful neck, her dark hair up in a bun, her high heels rattling on the blacktop. She was too confident, too lively, moving too quickly; she was somebody who knew where she was going. Not Koop's type. He moved on.

Koop was thirty-one years old, but at any distance, looked ten or fifteen years older. He was a short, wide man with a sharecropper's bitter face and small, suspicious gray eyes; he had a way of looking at people sideways. His strawberry-blond hair was cut tight to his skull. His nose was pinched, leathery, and long, and he wore a short, furry beard, notably redder than his hair. His heavy shoulders and thick chest tapered to narrow hips. His arms were thick and powerful, ending in rocklike fists. He had once been a bar brawler, a man who could work up a hate with three beers and a mistimed glance. He still felt the hate, but controlled it now, except on special occasions, when it burned through his belly like a welding torch...

Koop was an athlete of a specialized kind. He could chin himself until he got bored, he could run forty yards as fast as a professional linebacker. He could climb eleven floors of fire stairs without breathing hard.

Koop was a cat burglar. A cat burglar and a killer.

Koop knew all the streets and most of the alleys in Minneapolis and St. Paul. He was learning the suburbs. He spent his days driving, wandering, looking for new places, tracking his progress through the spiderweb of roads, avenues, streets, lanes, courts, and boulevards that made up his working territory.

Now he drifted down Grand Avenue, over to Summit to the St. Paul Cathedral, past a crack dealer doing business outside the offices of the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and down the hill. He drove a couple of laps around United Hospitals, looking at the nurses on their way to their special protected lot-a joke, that. He looked in at antique stores along West Seventh, drove past the Civic Center, and then curled down Kellogg Boulevard to Robert Street, left on Robert, checking the dashboard clock. He was early. There were two or three bookstores downtown, but only one that interested him. The Saint had a reading scheduled. Some shit about Prairie Women.

The Saint was run by a graying graduate of St. John's University. Books new and used, trade your paperbacks two-for-one. Coffee was twenty cents a cup, get it yourself, pay on the honor system. A genteel meat-rack, where shy people went to get laid. Koop had been inside the place only once. There'd been a poetry reading, and the store had been populated by long-haired women with disappointed faces-Koop's kind of women-and men with bald spots, potbellies, and tentative gray ponytails tied with rubber bands.

A woman had come up to ask, "Have you read the Rubaiyat?"

"Uh...?" What was she talking about?

" The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam? I just read it again," she babbled. She had a thin book in her hand, with a black poetical cover. "The Fitzgerald translation. I hadn't read it since college. It really touched me. In some ways it's analogous to the poems that James was reading tonight."

Koop didn't give a shit about James or his poems. But the question itself, Have you read the Rubaiyat? had a nice ring to it. Intellectual. A man who'd ask that question, Have you read the Rubaiyat?, would be... safe. Thoughtful. Considerate.

Koop hadn't been in the market for a woman that night, but he took the book and tried to read it. It was bullshit. Bullshit of such a high, unadulterated order that Koop eventually threw it out his truck window because it made him feel stupid to have it on the seat beside him.

He threw the book away, but kept the line: Have you read the Rubaiyat?

Koop crossed I-94, then recrossed it, circling. He didn't want to arrive at the bookstore until the reading had begun: he wanted people looking at the reader, not at him; what he was doing tonight was out of his careful pattern. He couldn't help it-the drive was irresistible-but he would be as careful as he could.

Back across the interstate, he stopped at a red light and looked out the window at the St. Paul police station. The summer solstice was only two weeks away, and at eight-thirty, there was light enough to make out faces, even at a distance. A group of uniformed cops, three men, a couple of women, sat talking on the steps, laughing about something. He watched them, not a thing in his mind, just an eye...

The car behind him honked.

Koop glanced in the left mirror, then the right, then up at the light: it had turned green. He glanced in the rearview mirror again and started forward, turning left. In front of him, a group of people started across the street, saw him coming, stopped.

Koop, looking up, saw them and jammed on his brakes, jerking to a halt. When he realized they'd stopped, he started through the turn again; and when they saw him stop, they started forward, into the path of the truck. In the end, they scattered, and Koop swerved to miss a barrel-shaped man in coveralls who was not quite agile enough to get out of the way. One of them shouted, an odd cawing sound, and Koop gave him the finger.

He instantly regretted it. Koop was the invisible man. He didn't give people the finger, not when he was hunting or working. He checked the cops, still a half block away. A face turned toward him, then away. He looked in the rearview mirror. The people in the street were laughing now, gesturing to each other, pointing at him.

Anger jumped up in his stomach. "Faggots," he muttered. "Fuckin'-A fags..."

He controlled it, continued to the end of the block, and took a right. A car was easing out of a parking place across the street from the bookstore. Perfect. Koop did a U-turn, waited for the other car to get out, backed in, locked the truck.

As he started across the street, he heard the cawing sound again. The group he'd almost hit was crossing the end of the block, looking toward him. One of them gestured, and they made the odd cawing sound, laughed, then passed out of sight behind a building.

"Fuckin' assholes." People like that pissed him off, walking on the street. Ass-wipes, he oughta... He shook a Camel out of his pack, lit it, took a couple of angry drags, and walked hunch-shouldered down the sidewalk to the bookstore. Through the front window, he could see a cluster of people around a fat woman, who appeared to be smoking a cigar. He took a final drag on the Camel, spun it into the street, and went inside.

The place was crowded. The fat woman sat on a wooden chair on a podium, sucking on what turned out to be a stick of licorice, while two dozen people sat on folding chairs in a semicircle in front of her. Another fifteen or twenty stood behind the chairs; a few people glanced at Koop, then looked back at the fat woman. She said, "There's a shocking moment of recognition when you start dealing with shit-and call it what it is, good Anglo-Saxon words, horseshit and pig shit and cow shit; I'll tell you, on those days when you're forkin' manure, the first thing you do is rub a little in your hair and under your arms, really rub it in. That way, you don't have to worry about getting it on yourself, you can just go ahead and work..."

At the back of the store, a sign said "Photography," and Koop drifted that way. He owned an old book called Jungle Fever, with pictures and drawings of naked black women. The book that still turned him on. Maybe he'd find something like that...

Under the "Photography" sign, he pulled down a book and started flipping pages. Barns and fields. He looked around, taking stock. Several of the women had that "floating" look, the look of someone reaching for connections, of not really being tuned to the author, who was saying, "... certain human viability from hand-hoeing beans; oh, gets hot, sometimes so hot that you can't spit..."

Koop was worried. He shouldn't be here. He shouldn't be hunting. He'd had a woman last winter, and that should have been enough, for a while. Would have been enough, if not for Sara Jensen.

He could close his eyes and see her...

Seventeen hours earlier, having never in his life seen Sara Jensen, Koop had gone into her apartment building, using a key. He'd worn a light coat and hat against the prying eyes of the video cameras in the lobby. Once past the cameras, he took the fire stairs to the top of the building. He moved quickly and silently, padding up the stairs on the rubber-soled loafers.

At three in the morning, the apartment hallways were empty, silent, smelling of rug cleaner, brass polish, and cigarettes. At the eleventh floor, he stopped a moment behind the fire door, listened, then went quietly through the door and down the hall to his left. At 1135, he stopped and pressed his eye to the peephole. Dark. He'd greased the apartment key with beeswax, which deadened metal-to-metal clicking and lubricated the lock mechanism. He held the key in his right hand, and his right hand in his left, and guided the key into the lock. It slipped in easily.

Koop had done this two hundred times, but it was a routine that clattered down his nerves like a runaway freight. What's behind door number three? A motion detector, a Doberman, a hundred thousand in cash? Koop would find out... He turned the key and pushed: not quickly, but firmly, smoothly, his heart in his mouth. The door opened with a light click. He waited, listening, then stepped into the dark apartment, closed the door behind him, and simply stood there.

And smelled her.

That was the first thing.

Koop smoked unfiltered Camels, forty or fifty a day. He used cocaine almost every day. His nose was clogged with tobacco tars and scarred by the coke, but he was a creature of the night, sensitive to sounds, odors, and textures-and the perfume was dark, sensual, compelling, riding the sterile apartment air like a naked woman on a horse. It caught him, slowed him down. He lifted his head, ratlike, taking it in. He was unaware that he left his own scent behind, the brown scent of old tobacco smoke.

The woman's living room curtains were open, and low-level light filtered in from the street. As his eyes began to adjust, Koop picked out the major pieces of furniture, the rectangles of paintings and prints. Still he waited, standing quietly, his vision sharpening, smelling her, listening for movement, for a word, for anything-for a little red light from an alarm console. Nothing. The apartment was asleep.

Koop slipped out of his loafers and in surefooted silence crossed the apartment, down a darker hallway past a bathroom to his left, an office to his right. There were two doors at the end of the hall, the master bedroom to the left, a guest room to the right. He knew what they were, because an ex-con with Logan Van Lines had told him so. He'd moved Jensen's furniture in, he'd taken an impression of her key, he'd drawn the map. He'd told Koop the woman's name was Sara Jensen, some rich cunt who was, "like, in the stock market," and had a taste for gold.

Koop reached out and touched her bedroom door. It was open an inch, perhaps two. Good. Paranoids and restless sleepers usually shut the door. He waited another moment, listening. Then, using just his fingertips, he eased the door open a foot, moved his face to the opening, and peered inside. A window opened to the left, and as in the living room, the drapes were drawn back. A half-moon hung over the roof of an adjoining building, and beyond that, he could see the park and the lake, like a beer ad.

And he could see the woman clearly in the pale moonlight.

Sara Jensen had thrown off the light spring blanket. She was lying on her back, on a dark sheet. She wore a white cotton gown that covered her from her neck to her ankles. Her jet-black hair spread around her head in a dark halo, her face tipped slightly to one side. One hand, open, was folded back, to lie beside her ear, as if she were waving to him. The other hand folded over her lower belly just where it joined the top of her pelvic bone.

Just below her hand, Koop imagined that he could see a darker triangle; and at her breasts, a shading of her brown nipples. His vision of her could not have been caught on film. The darkening, the shading, was purely a piece of his imagination. The nightgown more substantial, less diaphanous than it seemed in Koop's mind, but Koop had fallen in love.

A love like a match firing in the night.

Koop paged through the photo books, watching, waiting. He was looking at a picture of a dead movie star when his woman came around the corner, looking up at "Hobbies & Collectibles."

He knew her immediately. She wore a loose brown jacket, a little too long, a bit out of fashion, but neat and well-tended. Her hair was short, careful, tidy. Her head was tipped back so she could look up at the top shelves, following a line of books on antiques. She was plain, without makeup, not thin or fat, not tall or short, wearing oversize glasses with tortoiseshell frames. A woman who wouldn't be noticed by the other person in an elevator. She stood looking up at the top shelf, and Koop said, "Can I reach something for you?"

BOOK: Night Prey
8.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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