Broken Prey
Author:John Sandford

“Could be something,” Sloan said. “All the other blood on him is running down his body—he hung him up like he hung up Larson. Wonder if he tried to fight at the last minute, and scratched the guy?” He squatted next to Lucas, then bent to look at the fingernails. “Skin, for sure, I think. Your guys gotta be careful or they could lose it.”



“They’ll get it,” Lucas said. He stood up and made a hand-dusting motion. “What do you think? Look around, or wait for crime scene?”


Sloan shook his head. “I don’t think we’ll find anything looking around. I’ve done everything I could think of with Angela Larson—went over her apartment inch by inch, the place she worked, did histories on her until they were coming out of my ears. I don’t think this has much to do with the victims. They’re stranger-killings. He stalks them and kills them.”




“I don’t know. We never found Larson’s clothes or her jewelry, so maybe they were taken as trophies . . . but then . . . Rice’s clothes are right here.”


“Never found out where he killed Larson.”


“No. Probably a basement. The soles of her feet were dirty, and there was concrete dust in the dirt. So . . . could have been a basement.”




THEY STOOD NEXT TO THE BODY for a minute, a strange comradely cop-moment, their shoes just inches from the puddle of blood, a half dozen fat lazy bluebottle flies buzzing around the room; bluebottles, somebody once told Lucas, were actually blowflies. One landed on the far side of the blood puddle, and they could see it nibbling at the crusting blood.


“You can’t really quit,” Lucas said.


“Sure I can,” Sloan said.


“What would you do?” A fly buzzed past Lucas’s head, and he swatted at it.


“Ah . . . talk to you about it sometime. I got some ideas.”


Lucas got up, looked around: a pleasant, homey place, the house creaking a bit, a sound that must have seemed warm and welcome; a glider-chair lounged in one corner, comfortably worn, facing a fat old Sony color TV with a braided rug on the floor in front of it. A couple of nice-looking quilts hung from the walls, between yellowed photographs of what must have been grandparents and great-grandparents.




“YOU KNOW THE PROBLEM,” Lucas said softly. He was looking at a log-cabin quilt; he didn’t know anything about quilts, but he liked the earth colors in it. “We’re not going to pick up much here, not unless we get lucky. Maybe DNA. But where’s that gonna get us?”


“A conviction when we get him.”


“The problem is getting him. That’s the fucking problem,” Lucas said. “A conviction . . . that can always be fixed, when we get the right guy. Getting him . . .”


“Yeah . . .”


“I want all the paper from Minneapolis,” Lucas said.


Sloan nodded. “I’ll get Anderson on it.”


“And I’ll get the crime-scene guys to copy everything to you, from here. You got nothing off the Larson killing?”


“I got names. That’s one thing I got.”


“Okay. That’s a start. I’ll get a co-op center going, get them to set up a database. We’ll pipe in everything from here, from Nordwall’s guys.”


“There’s gotta be more from here. There’s gotta be,” Sloan said, looking around, an edge of desperation in his voice. “If we don’t get anything, then we won’t get him before . . .”


Lucas nodded and finished his sentence: “. . . before he does it again.”




OUTSIDE ON THE LAWN, Nordwall and the other deputies were sitting on the grass, in the shade of an elm, looking like attendees at the annual cop picnic. The summer was at its peak, the prairie grasses lush and tall, just starting to show hints of yellow and tan. A mile or so away, across a wide, low valley, a distant car kicked up a cloud of gravel dust.


Nordwall was chewing on a grass stem; when they came up, he stood and asked, “What do you think?”


“Same guy,” Sloan said.


“Sloan did a lot of research on the first one, up in Minneapolis,” Lucas said. “We’re gonna set up a co-op center out of the BCA. We need a complete biography on Rice and the kid—who did they know, who had they met recently. The guy knew about him—something about him. He didn’t come out here by accident. And he knew about the first one, too. Maybe the two of them, Rice and Larson, intersect somewhere.”


“You think . . . maybe some kind of boy-girl romance thing?” one of the deputies suggested. “A jilted lover? Rice’s wife got killed in a car accident a couple years ago, he might have been looking around.”


“You get a jilted lover, you get a gun in a bedroom or a knife in the kitchen, but you don’t get the boyfriend raped,” Sloan said mildly.


Nordwall swiveled and looked at another of the deputies and said, “You get right on this biography, Bill. Don’t hold back, and don’t worry about the overtime. I’ll cover anything you need.” To Lucas, he said, “This is Bill James. I’ll get his phone number for you.”


The deputy stood up and dusted off the seat of his pants with a couple of slaps: “I’ll go right now. Get started.”


“What happened with the wife?” Lucas asked. “A straight-up accident, no question?”


“In the winter, winter before last,” said Nordwall. “She came around a snowplow, didn’t see the pickup coming the other way. Boom. Died in the ditch.”


“So . . .”


“Whole goddamn family up in smoke,” a deputy said.


“Here comes a truck,” somebody else said.


A white Mission Impossible–style van was rolling down the gravel road toward them. “That’s the crime-scene guys,” Lucas said. “Why don’t you guys get them inside? Me and Sloan’ll go talk to Mrs. Rice.”




LAURINA RICE WAS IN HER SIXTIES, with white puffy grandmother hair and a round, leathery face lined by age and the sun. She was too heavy, too many years of potatoes and beef. She wore a dress with small flowers on it. Her sister, Gloria, was perhaps three or four years older, and the friend about the same.