Broken Prey
Author:John Sandford

SIX COP CARS, a couple of vans, and a truck jammed the street. Light bars turned on four of the vehicles, the piercing red-and-blue LED lights cutting down toward the river and up toward the houses perched on the high bank above it. Half of the cops from the cars were standing in the street, which had been blocked at both ends; the other half were down the riverbank, gathered in a spot of brilliant white light.


People from the neighborhood clustered under an oak tree; they all wore raincoats, like shrouds in a Stephen King chorus, and a few had umbrellas overhead. A child asked a question in an excited, high-pitched voice, and was promptly hushed.


Waiting for the body to come up.




LUCAS DIDN’T WANT to get trapped, so he left his Porsche at the top of the street, pulled a rain shirt over his head, added a green baseball cap that said John Deere, Owner’s Edition, and headed down the sidewalk toward the cop cars.


When he stepped into the street, a young uniformed cop, hands on her hips, maybe twenty-three or twenty-four, in a translucent plastic slicker said, “Hey! Back on the sidewalk.”


“Sloan called me,” Lucas said.


He was about to add “I’m with the BCA,” when she jumped in, sharp, officious, defensive about her own inexperience—part of the new-cop scripture that said you should never let a civilian get on top of you: “Get on the sidewalk. I’ll see if Detective Sloan wants to talk to you.”


“Why don’t I just yell down there?” Lucas asked affably. Before she could answer, he bellowed, “HEY, SLOAN!”


She started to poke a finger at his face, and then Sloan yelled, “Lucas: Down here!”


Instead of shaking her finger at him, she twitched it across the road and turned away from him, hands still on her hips, shoulders square, dignity not quite preserved.




A PORTABLE HONDA GENERATOR had been set up on the street, black power cables snaking down the riverbank where a line of Caterpillar-yellow work lights, on tripods, threw a couple of thousand watts of halogen light on the body. Nobody had covered anything yet.


Lucas eased down the hillside, the grass slippery with churned-up mud. Twenty feet out, he saw the body behind a circle of legs, a red-and-white thing spread on the grass, arms outstretched to the sides, legs spread wide, faceup, naked as the day she was born.


Lucas moved through the circle of cops, faces turning to glance at him, somebody said, “Hey, Chief,” and somebody else patted him on the back. Sloan stood on the slope below, leaning into the bank. Sloan was a narrow-faced, narrow-shouldered man wearing a long plastic raincoat, shoe rubbers, and a beaten-up snap-brim canvas hat that looked like it had just been taken out of the back closet. The hat kept the rain out of his eyes. He said to Lucas, “Look at this shit.”


Lucas looked at the body and said, “Jesus Christ,” and somebody else said, “More’n you might think, brother. She was scourged.”




SCOURGED. The word hung there, in the mist, in the lights. She’d been a young woman, a few pounds too heavy, dark hair. Her body, from her collarbone to her knees, was crisscrossed with cuts that had probably been made with some kind of flail, Lucas thought: a whip made out of wire, maybe. The cut lines were just lines: the rain had washed out any blood. There were dozens of the cuts, and the way they wrapped around her body, he expected her back to be in the same condition.


“You got a name?” he asked.


“Angela Larson,” Sloan said. “College student at the U, from Chicago. Worked in an art store. Missing since yesterday.”


“Cut her throat like she was a goddamn beef,” said one of the cops. A strobe went off, a flash of white lightning. Lucas walked around the body, down to stand next to Sloan.


Because his feet were lower than the victim, he could get closer to her face. He looked at the cut in the throat. As with the wire cuts, it was bloodless, washed clean by the rain, resembling a piece of turkey meat. He didn’t doubt that he could have buried a finger in it up to the knuckle. He could smell the rawness of the body, like standing next to the meat counter in a supermarket.


“The neck wound’s what killed her, I think,” Sloan said. “No sign of a gunshot wound or a stab wound. He beat her, whipped her, until he was satisfied, and then cut her throat.”


“Ligature marks on her wrists,” said a man in plainclothes. His name was Stan, and he worked as an investigator for the Hennepin County Medical Examiner, and was known for his grotesque sense of humor. His face was as long as anyone’s.


“We got a call last night when Larson didn’t get back to her apartment,” Sloan said. “Her roommate called. We found her car in the parking lot behind Chaps; she worked at a place called the MarkUp down the block . . .”


“I know it,” Lucas said. Chaps was a younger club, mixed straights and gays, dancing.


“. . . and used to park at Chaps because the store didn’t have its own parking, the street is metered, and the Chaps lot has lights. She got off at nine o’clock, stopped and said hello to a bartender, had a glass of white wine. Bartender said just enough to rinse her mouth. Probably about twenty-after she walked out to her car. She never got home. We found her car keys in the parking lot next to the car; no blood, no witnesses saw her taken.”


Lucas looked at the ligature marks on her wrists. The rope, or whatever she’d been tied with—it was rope, he thought—had been a half inch thick and had both cut and burned her. There were more burns and chafing wounds at the base of her thumbs. “Hung her up,” Lucas said.


“We think so,” Sloan said. He tipped his head down the bank. “Give me a minute, will you?”




THEY STEPPED AWAY, twenty feet down the bank, into the privacy of the darkness.


Sloan took off his hat, brushed his thinning hair away from his eyes, and asked, “What do you think?”


“Pretty bad,” Lucas said, turning back to the circle of lights. Even from this short distance, the body looked less than human, and more like an artifact, or even an artwork. “He’s nuts. You’ve checked her friends . . .”


“We’ve started, but we’re coming up empty,” Sloan said. “She was dating a guy, sleeping with him off and on, until a couple of months ago. Until the end of the school year. Then he went back home to Pennsylvania.”