Broken Prey
Author:John Sandford

“Didn’t come back to visit?”

 

 

“Not as far as we can tell—he says he hasn’t, and I sorta believe him. He was there when she disappeared, we talked to him ten hours after she dropped out of sight—and the Philadelphia cops called a couple people for us, and he checks out.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“He said they were a little serious, but not too—she knew he planned to go in the army when he got out of school, and she didn’t like the idea. Her friends say he’s a pretty straight guy, they can’t imagine that he’s involved. They don’t know she was involved with anyone else, yet. And that’s what we’ve got.”

 

Lucas was still looking at the body, at the rain falling around the cops. “I’d put my money on a semistranger. Whoever did this . . . This guy is pushed by brain chemistry. He’s got something wrong with him. This isn’t a bad love affair. The way she’s displayed . . .”

 

Sloan half turned back to the lights: “That’s what I was thinking. The goddamned display.”

 

 

 

THEY JUST STOOD AND WATCHED for a minute, the cops moving around the lights, talking up and down the bank. The two of them might have done this two hundred times. “So what can I do for you?” Lucas asked. Lucas worked with the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Minneapolis had its own murder investigators, who would tell you that they were better than any BCA cherry who ever walked the face of the earth.

 

Lucas, who had been a Minneapolis cop before he moved to the state, mostly bought that argument: Minneapolis saw sixty or eighty murders a year; the BCA worked a dozen.

 

“You agree he’s a nut?”

 

Lucas wiped his eyebrows, which were beading up with rain. “Yeah. No question.”

 

“I need to talk to somebody who is really on top of this shit,” Sloan said. “That I can get to whenever I need to. I don’t need some departmental consultant who got his BA three years ago.”

 

“You want to talk to Elle,” Lucas said.

 

“Yeah. I wanted to see if you’d mind. And I wanted you to look at the body, too, of course. I’m gonna need all the brains on this I can get,” Sloan said.

 

“Elle’s an adult,” Lucas said. “She can make up her own mind.”

 

“C’mon, man, you know what I’m saying. It’s a friendship thing. If you said not to call her, I wouldn’t. I’m asking you.”

 

“Call her,” Lucas said. “I would.”

 

 

 

SLOAN CALLED ELLE—Sister Mary Joseph in her professional life. She was the head of the department of psychology at St. Anne’s College and literally Lucas’s oldest friend; they’d walked to kindergarten together with their mothers.

 

When Lucas became a cop and she became a teacher, they got back in touch, and Elle had worked on a half dozen murders, as an unofficial advisor, and not quite a confessor. Then, once, a crazy woman with a talent for misdirection caught Elle outside at night and had nearly beaten her to death. Since then, Lucas had shied from using her. If it happened again . . .

 

Elle didn’t share his apprehension. She liked the work, the tweezing apart of criminal psyches. So Sloan called Elle, and Elle called Lucas, and they all talked across town for two weeks. Theories and arguments and suggestions for new directions . . .

 

Nothing. The murder of Angela Larson began to drift away from them—out of the news, out of the action. A black kid got killed in a bar outside the Target Center, and some of the onlookers said it had been a racial fight. Television news pushed Larson back to an occasional mention, and Sloan stopped trudging around, because he had no place farther to trudge.

 

“Maybe a traveler?” Elle wondered. She had a thin, delicate bone structure, her face patterned with the white scars of a vicious childhood acne; Lucas had wondered if the change from a pretty young blond girl in elementary school to a irredeemably scarred adolescent might have been the impulse that pushed her into the convent.

 

She’d known he’d wondered and one time patted him on the arm and told him that no, she’d heard Jesus calling . . .

 

“A traveler? Maybe,” Lucas said. Travelers were nightmares. They might kill for a lifetime and never get caught; one woman disappearing every month or so, most of them never found, buried in the woods or the mountains or out in the desert, no track to follow, nobody to pull the pieces together. “But real travelers tend to hide their victims, and that’s why you never hear much about them. This guy is advertising.”

 

Elle: “I know.” Pause. “He won’t stop.”

 

“No,” Lucas said. “He won’t.”

 

 

 

A WEEK AFTER THAT CONVERSATION, a few minutes before noon, on a dry day with sunny skies, Lucas sat in a booth in a hot St. Paul bar looking at a lonely piece of cheeseburger, two untouched buns, and a Diet Coke.

 

The bar was hot because there’d been a power outage, and when the power came back on, an errant surge had done something bad to the air conditioner. From time to time, Lucas could hear the manager, in his closet-sized office, screaming into a telephone, among the clash and tinkle of dishes and silverware, about warranties and who’d never get his work again, and that included his apartments.

 

Two sweating lawyers sat across from Lucas and took turns jabbing their index fingers at his chest.

 

“I’m telling you,” George Hyde said, jabbing, “this list has no credibility. No credibility. Am I getting through to you, Davenport? Am I coming in?”

 

Hyde’s pal Ira Shapira said, “You know what? You leave the Beatles out, but you got folk on it. “Heart of Saturday Night”? That’s folk.”

 

“Tom Waits would beat the shit out of you if he heard you say that,” Lucas said. “Besides, it’s a great song.” He lifted his empty glass to a barmaid, who nodded at him. “I’m not saying the list is perfect,” he said. “It’s just an attempt—”

 

“The list is shit. It has no musical, historical, or ethical basis,” Hyde interrupted.

 

“Or sexual,” Shapira added.