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Wicked Prey

John Sandford - Author

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ISBN 9781101050798 | 464 pages | 12 May 2009 | Berkley | 8.26 x 5.23in | 18 - AND UP
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For twenty years, John Sandford's novels have been beloved for their "ingenious plots, vivid characters, crisp dialogue and endless surprises" (The Washington Post), and nowhere are those more in evidence than in the sudden twists and shocks of Wicked Prey.

Out of Lucas Davenport's past comes a psycho nursing a violent grudge. But why go after Davenport for revenge when Davenport's young daughter is so close-and so vulnerable?



Randy Whitcomb was a human stinkpot, a red-haired cripple with a permanent cloud over his head; a gap-toothed, pock-faced, paraplegic crank freak, six weeks out of the Lino Lakes medium-security prison. He hurtled past the luggage carousels at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, pumping the wheels of his cheap non-motorized state-bought wheelchair, his coarse red hair a wild halo around his head.

"Get out of the way, you little motherfucker," he snarled at a blond child of three or four years. He zipped past the gawking mother and tired travelers and nearly across the elegant cordovan shoe-tips of a tall bearded man. "Out of the way, fuckhead," and he was through the door, the anger streaming behind him like coal smoke from a power plant.



The bearded man with the elegant cordovan shoes, which came from a shop in Jermyn Street in London, leaned close to his companion, a dark-haired woman who wore blue jeans and a black blouse, running shoes and cheap oversized sunglasses with unfashionable plastic rims. He said, quietly, in a cool Alabama accent, "If we see yon bugger again, remind me to crack his skinny handicapped neck."

The woman smiled and said, "Yon bugger? You were in England way too long."

Brutus Cohn, traveling under the passport name of John Lamb, tracked the wheelchair down the sidewalk. There was no humor in his cold blue eyes. "Aye, I was that," he said. "But now I'm back."



Cohn and the woman, who called herself Rosie Cruz, walked underground to the short-term parking structure, trailing Cohn's single piece of wheeled luggage. As they went out the door, the heat hit them like a hand in the face. Not as bad as Alabama heat, but dense, and sticky, smelling of burned transmission fluid, spoiled fruit and bubble gum. Cruz pushed the trunk button on the remote key and the taillights blinked on a beige Toyota Camry.

"Ugly car," he said, as he lifted the suitcase into the trunk. Cohn disliked ugly cars, ugly clothes, ugly houses.

"The best-selling car in America, in the least attention-getting color," Cruz said. She was a good-looking woman of no particularly identifiable age, who'd taken care to make herself mousy. She wore no makeup, had done nothing with her hair.

Cohn had once seen her in Dallas, where women dressed up, and she'd astonished him with her authentic Texas vibe: moderately big hair, modestly big lipstick, two-inch heels, stockings with seams down the back; her twice-great-grand-uncle might have died at the Alamo. Cruz, when working, dressed for invisibility. She fit in Dallas, she fit in Minnesota, she fit wherever they worked – she was wallpaper, she was background. She took the driver's side, and he sat on the passenger side, fiddling with the seat controls to push it all the way back. At six-foot-six, he needed the leg room.

"Give me your passport and documents," Cruz said, when the air conditioning was going.

He took a wallet out of his breast pocket and handed it over. Inside were a hundred pounds, fifty euros, fifty dollars, an American passport, a New York state driver's license, two credit cards, a building security card with a magnetic strip, and a variety of wallet-detritus.

The whole lot, except for the passport and currency, had been taken from the home of the real John Lamb by his building superintendent, who was a crook. Since the credit cards would never be used, no one would be the wiser. The passport had been more complicated, but not too – a stand-in had applied by mail, submitting a photograph of Cohn, and when it came to Lamb's apartment, it had been stolen from the mailbox. As long as the real Lamb didn't apply for another one, they were good.

Cruz took out the currency and handed it back to Cohn, tucked the wallet under the car seat and handed over another one, thick with cash. "William Joseph Wakefield – Billy Joe. Everything's real, except the picture on the driver's license. Don't use the credit cards unless it's an emergency."

"Billy Joe." Cohn thumbed through the cash. "Two thousand dollars. Three nights at a decent hotel."

"We're not staying at a decent hotel," Cruz said. She reached into the back seat, picked up a baseball cap with a Minnesota Twins logo, and said, "Put this on and pull it down over your eyes."

He did, and with his careful British suit, it made him look a bit foolish. She wouldn't have given it to him without a reason, so he put it on, and asked, "Where're we set up?"

She backed carefully out of the parking space and turned for the exit. "At the HomTel in Hudson, Wisconsin, just across the state line from here. Thirty miles. Two hundred and twenty dollars a night, for two rooms for you, adjoining, which is twice as much as they're worth, but with the convention in town, you get what you can. I'm upstairs and on the other side of the motel."

"Where're the boys?"

"Jesse's across the street at the Windmill, Tate is at the Cross Motel, Jack is at a mom-and-pop called Wakefield Inn, all in Hudson. All within easy walking distance from the HomTel." Multiple nearby rooms in different hotels made it easier to get together, and also easier to find an emergency hideout if the cops made one or another of them. They could be off the street in minutes, in a motel where they'd never been seen by the management.

Standard operating procedure, worked out and talked-over in prisons across the country. Cohn nodded and said, "Okay."



"I almost went home when you invited Jack back in," Cruz said, threading her way through the concrete pillars of the parking ramp.

"Better to have him inside the tent pissin' out, than outside the tent pissin' in," Cohn said.

"I don't know what that means," she said.

"It means that when he gets picked up – and I do mean when, it's only a matter of time – he'll try to cut a deal," Cohn said. "We're one of the things he's got. I need to talk to him."

"He'd cut a deal whatever we do."

"No. Not really. I've thought on that," he said, in an accent that spoke of the deep southern part of Yorkshire. "There are circumstances in which he would not cut a deal, no matter what the coppers might have offered to him."

"You've got to lose that bullshit British syntax, right now," Cruz said. "You're Billy Joe Wakefield from Birmingham, Alabama. You need khakis and golf shirts."

"Give me two minutes listening to country music," Cohn said. "That'll get 'er done."

"Anyway, about Jack…"

"Let it go," he said. "I'll take care of Jack."

"Okay," she said. "Put your sunglasses on."



At seven o'clock, the sky was still bright. Cohn took a pair of wrap-around sunglasses from his jacket pocket and slipped them on. At the pay booth, Cruz dropped the window and handed ten dollars to a Somali woman in a shawl. Cruz got the change from the ten, and a receipt, rolled the window back up, pulled away from the booth and handed the receipt to Cohn.

"Check it out," she said.

He looked at the receipt, said, "Huh. The tag number's on it."

"There's a scanning camera at the entrance," Cruz said. "I'm wondering if it might digitize faces at the same time that it picks up the license plates – hook them together, then run them through a facial recognition program."

"Would that be a problem?"

"Not as long as somebody doesn't put your face in the car with your face in the FBI files," she said. "That's not a question with me, of course."

"Got the beard, now," he said. "And the hat and glasses. I cut the beard off square to give my chin a different line. I was wondering about the baseball hat…"

They rode along for a minute or two, as she got off the airport and headed into St. Paul, past the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. Even in the middle of a big urban area, the river valleys had a wildness that reminded him of home in Alabama. In Britain, even the wild areas had a groomed look.



"Jack, I can't get him off my mind. I'm sorry…"

"Never mind Jack." He was looking out the window. "You almost went home, huh? That'd be… Zihuatanejo?"

"Never been to Mexico in my life, Brute," she said with a grin. "Give it up."

"With a name like Cruz, you gotta have been in Mexico."

Her eyes flicked to him. "Why would you think my name is Cruz?"

He laughed, and said, "Okay." But she looked like a Cruz.

She clicked on the radio, dialed around, found a country station. "Instead of worrying about where I'm from, see if you can get the Alabama accent going."

The first song up was Sawyer Brown singing "Some Girls Do," and Cohn sang along with it, all the way to the end, and then shouted, "Jesus Christ, it's good to be back in the states. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and North Ireland can go fuck itself."



Randy Whitcomb, Juliet Briar and a man whose real name might have been Dick, but who called himself Ranch, lived in a rotting wooden house on the east side of St. Paul, that sat above a large hole in the ground called Swede Hollow; once full of houses full of Swedes, the hole was now a neglected public park.

Whitcomb was a pimp. He'd become a pimp as soon as he could, after his parents had thrown him out of the house twelve years earlier. He liked the idea of being a pimp, and he liked TV shows that featured pimps and pimp-wannabes and his finest dream was to own a Mercedes Benz R-Class pimpmobile in emerald green. He enjoyed the infliction of pain, as long as he wasn't the object of it.

Briar was his only employee.

A heavy young woman who wore a shapeless grey dress, her hair was the sad tatters of a curly perm gone old. She sat half-crouched over the steering wheel of Whitcomb's handicapped van, and alternately chirped brightly about the sights on the street, and sobbed, pressing her knuckles to her teeth, fearing for what was coming. What was coming, she thought, would be a whipping from Whitcomb, with his whipping stick.

He'd broken the stick out of a lilac hedge a block from their house. A sucker, looking for light, the branch had grown long and leggy, an inch thick at the butt, tapering to an eighth of an inch at the tip. Whitcomb had striped the bark off with a penknife; the switch sat, white and naked, spotted here and there with blood, in the corner of the room next to his La-Z-Boy chair.

He'd beaten her with it three times over the summer, when her performance had sagged below his standards.

He liked the work. He couldn't stand up, so he made her drop on the floor like a dog, on her hands and knees, while he sat on his chair and whipped her with the switch. The thing was limber enough that it didn't break bone – he wouldn't have cared, except that broken bones would have kept her from waiting on him – but it did maul her skin. So she laughed and chirped and pointed and giggled and then sobbed, the fear rising in her throat as they got closer to the house.

They couldn't afford a van equipped for handicapped drivers, and Whitcomb hadn't been trained on one anyway. They did get one with a hydraulic ramp, bought used and cheap through CurbCut, a St. Paul charity. At the house, Briar parked next to a wooden ramp built by Make a House a Home, and Whitcomb dropped the ramp and rolled out of the van, used the remote to retract the ramp and close the van door. He hadn't spoken a word since the airport, but his breath was coming in fast chuffs.

Whitcomb was getting himself excited, though, of course, nothing would come of it. He'd taken the bullet low in the spine, and he'd not have another erection in this life.

Now he spoke: "Inside."

"The light's on," Briar said. She stopped. She was sure she'd turned the lights off as they left. "I turned them off."

She was stalling, Whitcomb thought. "Ranch must be up."

"Ranch is not up."

Stalling. The crazy bitch had got the flight wrong, and now a pharmaceutical salesman was wondering why he couldn't find his sample case, and somebody else was wondering why a green nylon bag was going round and round on a baggage carousel somewhere else. Eventually they'd look in it, and find the sample case, and put two-and-two together, and the whole goddamn racket could come down around their ears. She was stalling.

"In the house," he said.

"The light…"

He shouted at her now: "Get in the fuckin' house…"



She turned and climbed the ramp, unlocked the door and pushed inside, holding the door for him, and he bumped over the door jamb and turned toward the living room and accelerated. Moving too fast to turn back. And there were the Pollish twins, Dubuque and Moline, sitting on the couch, big bulky black men with corn-rowed hair, drop-crotch jeans and wife-beater shirts.

Ranch was lying in a corner on a futon, face down, mouth open, a white stain under his chin, breathing heavily.

Moline had one of Whitcomb's beers in one hand and a piece-of-shit .22 in the other. The twins were managers in the sexual entertainment industry, and were known around the St. Paul railroad tracks as Shit and Shinola, because stupid people found them hard to tell apart. The cops and the smarter street people knew that Dubuque had lost part of his left ear in a leveraged buyout on University Avenue. Moline pointed the gun at Whitcomb's head and said, "Tell me why I shouldn't shoot you in the motherfuckin' head."

"What are you talking about?" Whitcomb asked. "What are you doing in my house? " He rolled across the room to Ranch and jammed the foot-plate on the wheelchair hard into Ranch's ribs: "You alive?"

Ranch groaned, twitched away from the pain. The door slammed in the kitchen. Dubuque jumped and asked, "What was that?"

"Woman runnin' for the cops," Whitcomb said. "She knows who you are. You're fucked."

Moline looked at the front door, then asked, "Why you running Jasmine down my street? "

"Jasmine?" Whitcomb sneered at him. "I ain't seen her in two weeks. She's running with Jorgenson."

"Jorgenson? You pullin' my dick," Moline said.

"Am not," Whitcomb said. "Juliet's all I got left. Jasmine got pissed because I whacked her lazy ass with my stick, and she snuck out of here with her clothes. The next thing I hear, she's working for Jorgenson. If find her, she's gonna have a new set of lips up her cheek."

Dubuque said to Moline, casually, "He lying to us."

"Juliet knows us, though," Moline said. He was the thinker of the two.

"I'm not lying," Whitcomb said.

Moline stood up, pulled up his shirt, stuck the .22 under his belt and said, "Get the door, bro."

Whitcomb figured he was good: "You next time you motherfuckers come back here…"

Dubuque was at the front door, which led out to the front porch, which Whitcomb never used because of the six steps down to the front lawn.

"We come back here again, they gonna find your brains all over the wall," Moline said, and with two big steps, he'd walked around Whitcomb's chair, and Moline was a large man, and he grabbed the handles on the back and started running before Whitcomb could react, and Dubuque held the door and Whitcomb banged across the front porch and went screaming down the steps, his bones banging around like silverware in a wooden box.

The whole crash actually took a second or two, and he wildly tried to control it, but the wheels were spinning too fast, and there was never any hope, and he pitched forward and skidded face-first down the sidewalk, his legs slack behind him like a couple of extra-long socks.

Moline bent over him, "Next time, we ain't playing no pattycake."



Juliet showed up three or four minutes later, crying, "Oh, god, oh, god. Are you all right, honey? Are you all right? The cops are coming…"

Whitcomb had managed to roll onto his back. Most of the skin was gone from his nose, and he was bleeding from scrapes on his hands and forearms and belly.

He started to weep, slapping at his legs. He couldn't help himself, and it added to the humiliation. "Davenport did this to me," he said. "That fuckin' Davenport…"



Brutus Cohn didn't have much to unload. He tossed his suitcase on the motel bed and said, "I need to take a walk – haven't been able to walk since I got on the train in York. You get the guys together. See you in a half hour."

Cruz nodded and picked up a pen from the nightstand and handed it to him: "Write my room number in your palm. Remember it."

Cohn wrote the number in his palm and Cruz led the way out, and he said, "See you in a bit, babe," and gave her a little pat on the ass. She didn't mind, because that was just Cohn being Cohn, no offense meant.

So Cohn took a walk, looking up and down the street. They'd gotten off at Exit 2 in Wisconsin, a major fast-food and franchise intersection outside the built-up part of the metro area.

From the front of the motel, straight ahead, he could see a Taco Bell, which made his mouth water, and a McDonald's, both a block or two away. Closer, an Arby's, Country Kitchen, a Burger King and a Denny's. To his right, across the main street off the interstate, a Buffalo Wings, a Starbucks, a Chipotle and a couple of stores. To his left, a supermarket, a liquor store, some clothing stores, a buffet restaurant. Behind the hotel, to the left, a Home Depot.

Excellent. He needed fuel, liquor and a hardware store, and here it all was.



He hit the Taco Bell first and got a grilled stuft burrito with chicken; while he ate, he read the StarTribune about the Republican convention. The paper was just short of hysterical, which was good. The more confusion, the more cops doing street security, the better. Besides, he was a political conservative and wished John McCain well. He liked the thought of a bunch of little anarchist assholes getting beat up by the cops.

Out of the Taco Bell, he stopped at the supermarket, got some apples, one doughnut, and three Pepsis. He picked up a bottle of George Dickel at the liquor store, then carried the whole load down to Home Depot, where he bought a box of contractor's clean-up bags and a crescent wrench, the biggest one he could find.

"Big wrench," said the cute little blonde at the checkout.

He gave her a twinkle: "I gotta big nut to deal with," he said.

She giggled, seeing in the comment a double-entendre of some kind, which may or may not have existed, Cohn thought, as he walked back to the motel with his bags.



So the gang was back in town.

Jesse Lane was a white man with dirty blond hair that fell on his shoulders, a thick face with eyes too closely spaced, a bony nose marked by enlarged pores, and thin, pale-pink lips. A hand-made silver earring, big as a wedding ring, hung from his left ear lobe. Fifteen years earlier he'd done time in an Alabama prison, for armed robbery, where he picked up the weight-lifting habit. He was still a lifter, and showed it in the width of his shoulders and his narrow, tapered waist.

Lane owned a farm in Tennessee, on the 'Bama border, where he grew soybeans and worked on cars in a shop in the barn. His specialty was turning run-of-the-mill family vehicles into machines that could flat outrun the highway patrol – not for crooks, but just the everyday Dukes-of-Hazzard wanabees.

Tate McCall was a black version of Jesse Lane. He'd done a total of ten years in California, both sets for robbery, but had been clean for eight years. Like Lane, he'd been a lifter, but where Lane was square, McCall was tall and rangy, like a wide receiver, with hands the size of dinner plates. McCall owned a piece of a diner on Main Street in Ocean Park, a neighborhood in Santa Monica.

Jack Spitzer was from Austin, Texas. He looked like a big-nosed French bicycle racer, or a runner, mid-height but greyhound-thin, his thinning black hair slicked back on his small head. His nose had been broken sometime in the past. He was mostly unemployed.

Lane was sitting at the computer desk, McCall was draped over an easy chair, Spitzer sat on a bed, more-or-less facing the other two. Lane and McCall were wearing golf shirts and slacks, while Spitzer wore a short-sleeved dress shirt and a black sport coat, because, all the others thought, he was carrying a pistol in the small of his back, the dumb shit.

Rosie Cruz came through the door that connected Cohn's two rooms, and said, "He's coming."

"Nothing around here to see but chain restaurants," McCall said.

"How'd you know?" Cruz asked.

"I looked," McCall said. "While you were pickin' up Brute."

"And that's what Brute's doing – looking," she said. "You know what he's like."

"We gotta get this shit straightened out," McCall said, looking at Spitzer.

Spitzer said, defensively, "I'll do whatever Brute says."

"Goddamn right," Lane said.



They all sat, waiting, the television on, but muted, a CNN chick soundlessly running her mouth with a forest fire on a screen behind her head. A minute or two, then a key rattled in the door lock, and Cohn came in. He was wearing tan golf slacks, a red golf shirt and a blue blazer, carrying a grocery bag and a plastic sack. He looked like a city manager on his day off.

He saw them and flashed his smile, genuinely happy to see them, and they knew it. He shut the door and said, "Boys. Damned good to see you. Jesse. Tate. Jack…" He stepped through the room, shaking hands, slapping shoulders. Cruz was leaning in the doorway to the second room, watching.

Lane said, "Man, you're looking good. I like that beard."

"Yeah, yeah," Cohn said, scratching at the beard. "Let me run down the hall and get some ice…"

He picked up the ice bucket, went out, and was back in a minute with a bucket of ice cubes.

"Got some Dickel," he said. "I been drinking nothing but scotch and gin and it's good but it ain't bourbon."

McCall said, "We got some shit to figure out." He looked at Spitzer.

"All right," Cohn said. "Let's get it out." He found a glass, scooped some ice into it, and poured in a couple of ounces of bourbon. "I think we agree that Jack sorta screwed the pooch the last time out." He took a sip of the drink and closed his eyes and smiled: "That's smooth."

"Screwed the pooch? He signed us up for death row," Lane said. "Wasn't no point in shooting those boys."

"Accident," Spitzer said. "Goddamn one in a million. I thought he was coming for me. What the fuck was I supposed to do? Once he was down, I had to do the other one…"

"They were cops," McCall said.

"Jack's right, though. After the first one went down, he had to do the second," Cohn said. He was standing next to Spitzer, one hand on his shoulder, drink in the other hand.

McCall said, "Brute, you know I like working with you. You got a class act. But this asshole…"

Spitzer turned his head toward McCall and away from Cohn. When he did that, Cohn put the drink down, pulled the eighteen-inch-long crescent wrench from his back pocket, cocked his wrist, and slammed it into the back of Spitzer's head. Spitzer jerked forward, his face suddenly blank, eyes wide, and fell on the floor.

Cruz said, urgently, "No, no, Brute…"

"Go in that other room," Cohn said.

"Brute…" She didn't move.

Cohn ignored her, went to a closet alcove with a dozen wire coat hangers on a rod. He'd already unwrapped one of them and he took it down, carried it back to Spitzer's body. Spitzer was out, and maybe dying, but making low growling sounds. Cohn bent the coat-hanger around Spitzer's neck, put his knee down hard on the unconscious man's spine, and pulled up on the wire until it cut halfway through his neck. His teeth bared with the effort, he did a quick twist of the wire, turning it around itself. Spitzer stopped making any sound, though a minute later, his feet began to tremble and run as his brain died.

Cohn looked at McCall and Lane and said, "Sooner or later, he'd of given us up. He didn't have a job, like you boys. He was on the street. Sooner or later, he was going to get caught, and then he was gonna cut a deal. We were nothing but money in the bank, to him."

They all looked at the body for a minute, then Cruz said, "You should have told me what you were going to do."

"Didn't know how you'd react," Cohn said, in apology. "I'm sorry if this offends you…"

"That's not what I meant," Cruz said. "What I mean was, if you'd told me, I'd have figured out a better place to do it. He's bleeding, ah, for Christ's sakes, if they find blood in the carpet…"

She took three long steps to the closet niche, snatched a HomTel plastic laundry bag off a hanger, and as the men watched, bent over Spitzer's body, lifted his head by the hair on the back of his skull, and pulled the bag over his head. Then she tugged the head to one side and said, "The carpet's okay. Goddamnit, Brute, try thinking about consequences once in a while."

Cohn was embarrassed and shrugged, and said, "Sorry, babe."

"Go wash that wrench. We'll throw it out the car window somewhere," she said. "And don't call me babe."



McCall looked at Lane, who shrugged. "Be good if nobody found out about this for a while."

"We'll take him out in the woods and bury his ass," Cohn said. "When I was buying the wrench, I bought some garbage bags at Home Depot. We can pick up a shovel on the way out."

They looked down at the body, and Cruz said, finally, "Four guys would have been better."

Cohn grinned at her: "You'll just have to carry a gun yourself, darling."

She shook her head. "I need to be outside. If I'm not outside, I can't manage the radios and all the other stuff. Three is okay, four would be better. I don't know how many people we'll be handling."

Cohn looked at Lane. "How about your brother?"

Lane shook his head. "We can't go on the same job. You know, so there'll be somebody to take care of the families, if something happens."

McCall asked, "You remember Bob Mortenson from Fresno?"

Cohn nodded.

"… He had a wheelman named Steve Sargent, he was in Chino until last year. He got caught on a jewelry deal that broke down in LA after Mortenson quit. I know him, some, he's careful, he can keep his mouth shut. If we needed him…"

"We'll talk about it," Cohn said. "But I'd rather not work with something new. Look what happened when we brought in this piece of shit." He prodded Spitzer's body with a toe of his shoe. "We'll work it with Rosie, see if we can do it with three. What happened with Mortenson? I haven't heard about him in years."

"He retired. He's in Hawaii," McCall said. "Got a place there. Goes fishing a lot. Plays golf."

"That's what we're talking about," Cohn said, the enthusiasm lighting his eyes. "That's what this job'll do for us. Rosie says this should be large: we pull this off, we're all done."

Lane levered himself to his feet. "In the meantime, we gotta get rid of Jack," he said.

"You the farm boy," McCall said. "You know about the woods. I'm city, man. I'm scared of them bears and shit. Wolfs."

A bad smell was coming from the body – flatulence, emptying lungs, or maybe death itself. Cruz said, "We need to get some air freshener. Some pine scent, that's what the motel uses."

Lane said to Cohn, "You know, even if we weren't here for a job, Jack would have been worth doing. I feel a hundred percent safer already."

McCall said to Cohn, "If you got that garbage bag…"



But then Lane asked Cruz, "What're we gonna hit, anyway? You never said."

"Not one hit," she said. "Maybe six or eight."

Lane and McCall stared at her for a second, and Cohn said, "She'll tell you all about it – but let's get rid of Jack and she can lay it all out."

"Just give me one minute of it, right now," Lane said. "Not the details, just the outline."

Cruz said, "There are two parts to the deal, but they're not really connected. The Republican convention is starting, and the people who run the party down at the street level are here, as delegates and spectators. So these big lobby guys come in with suitcases full of cash, and pass it out, expense money. They call it street money, hire guys to put up signs and all that, off the books. Everybody knows about it, nobody tells. Can't tell, because it's illegal. I've got the names and hotel rooms for seven of them. They could have anywhere from a quarter-million to a million dollars, each. We hit them until we feel nervous. We'll have to feel it out as we go, but three or four guys anyway. Five, maybe? We'll see. Look for reaction on TV, watch the targets see if they get bodyguards, whatever."

"Who watches them?" Lane asked.

"I do, basically. I've got a file on each of them," Cruz said. "They're schmoozers, they want to make sure they get the credit for the cash they're handing out, they'll be hooking up with people all the time."

"You're going into the convention?" McCall asked.

"No. Neither will theses guys. The security is super-tight and they don't want to get caught with a hundred thousand in small bills," Cruz said. "So they do the business at the hotels. Two of the guys are thirty seconds apart in the same hotel, we can do them both at the same time – and they're two of the biggest money guys. The third guy and the fourth guy we'll have to check. If we see any reaction from the cops, we quit, and go on to the second part."

"Which is?" Lane asked.

"A hotel job. The night McCain gets nominated there's a big ball at the St. Andrews Hotel downtown. We hit the strong-room afterwards. Three in the morning. I'm thinking twenty million in jewelry, maybe a million or two in cash."

"You got a guy inside?" McCall asked.

"Had one. A guy in Washington. Worked for the committee that sets up room assignments."

"What about at the hotel?"

"I couldn't find anybody there, that I could risk recruiting," Cruz said. "The Secret Service is all over the place. I stayed there a couple of times, a week at a time, did a lot of scouting…put my stuff in a safe deposit box, I've been in and out of the strong-room a half-dozen times. I know the hotel, top to bottom."

"Lot of people coming and going in a hotel," Lane said.

"That can be handled," Cruz said. "There's no more risk than an armored car or a bank. And I'm working a little thing that'll keep the cops occupied while we're inside."



Nobody said anything for a moment, and she added, "Guys, this is it: this is one where we all get out. If we get two million from the political guys and a million from the hotel and twenty million in diamonds, that'd be another seven or eight in cash – and we'll get at least that, I swear to god – we can quit. Shake hands and walk."

They'd worked with her on a dozen jobs and she'd never been wrong. And they'd talked about quitting. Lane had a family, McCall had a long-time lover, Cohn was getting old, Cruz was getting nervous. Past time to quit. Lane and McCall glanced at each other again, McCall tipped his head and said, "All right; we can get the details later. Right now, we need those white-trash bags."



Randy Whitcomb, strapped into the back of the van, with Juliet Briar at the wheel, Ranch sitting in a fog layer in the passenger seat, rolled past Lucas Davenport's house every few minutes, until they saw the girl getting out of a private car. She waved at the driver and headed up the driveway to Davenport's house. She was a rangy blond teenager, dressed conservatively in dark slacks, a white blouse and sandals.

"Maybe a baby-sitter," Ranch said.

"She's got a key," Briar pointed out. "They don't give keys to baby-sitters."

"Then its gotta be his daughter," Whitcomb said. "Too young for him to be fuckin'. Daughter'd be good."

"Never done anything to us," Juliet said, doubtfully.

"Davenport did this to me," Whitcomb said, whacking his inert legs. "Set it up. Started it all."

"The girl didn't…"

"Davenport set me up," Whitcomb said. He watched the girl disappear into the house. "I'm gonna get him back. No fun just shootin' him. I want to do him good, and I want him to know what I done, and who done it. Motherfucker."

"Motherfucker," Ranch said, and the word made him giggle, and then he couldn't stop giggling, even when Whitcomb started screaming "Shut up, shut up, you fuckin' scrote." He didn't mention it, but he was also frightened of Davenport, who he thought was crazy.

They went back to the house, Ranch trying to suppress the urge to laugh, but cloudbursts of giggles broke through anyway.

Because Ranch was crazy.


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