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Silken Prey

Sandford, John Author

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The extraordinary new Lucas Davenport thriller from the #1 New York Times–bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winner.

“If you haven’t read Sandford yet, you have been missing one of the great summer-read novelists of all time.”—Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly

Murder, scandal, political espionage, and an extremely dangerous woman. Lucas Davenport’s going to be lucky to get out of this one alive.

Very early one morning, a Minnesota political fixer answers his doorbell. The next thing he knows, he’s waking up on the floor of a moving car, lying on a plastic sheet, his body wet with blood. When the car stops, a voice says, “Hey, I think he’s breathing,” and another voice says, “Yeah? Give me the bat.” And that’s the last thing he knows.    
 
Davenport is investigating another case when the trail leads to the man’s disappearance, then—very troublingly—to the Minneapolis police department, then—most troublingly of all—to a woman who could give Machiavelli lessons. She has very definite ideas about the way the world should work, and the money, ruthlessness, and sheer will to make it happen.

No matter who gets in the way.

Filled with John Sandford’s trademark razor-sharp plotting and some of the best characters in suspense fiction, Silken Prey  is further evidence for why the Cleveland Plain Dealer called the Davenport novels “a perfect series,” and Suspense Magazine wrote, “If you haven’t read any of the Prey series, you need to jump on board right this second.”

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About the Author:

JOHN SANDFORD is the author of twenty-three Prey novels; six Virgil Flowers novels, most recently Mad River; and six other books. He lives in California and New Mexico.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER 1

Squeak.

Tubbs was half-asleep on the couch, his face covered with an unfolded Star Tribune. The overhead light was still on, and when he’d collapsed on the couch, he’d been too tired to get up and turn it off. The squeak wasn’t so much consciously felt, as understood: he had a visitor. But nobody knocked.

Tubbs was a political.

In his case, political wasn’t an adjective, but a noun. He didn’t have a particular job, most of the time, though sometimes he did: an aide to this state senator or that one, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Association of Whatever, a staffer for so-and-so’s campaign. So-and so was almost always a Democrat.

He’d started with Jimmy Carter in ’76, when he was eighteen, stayed pure until he jumped to the Jesse Ventura gubernatorial revolt in ’98, and then it was back to the Democrats. He’d never done anything else.

He was a political; and frequently, a fixer.

Occasionally, a bagman.

Several times—like just now—a nervous, semi-competent black mailer.



Tubbs slept, usually, in the smaller of his two bedrooms. The other was a chaotic offi ce, the floor stacked with position papers and reports and magazines, with four overflowing file cabinets against one wall. An Apple iMac sat in the middle of his desk, surrounded by more stacks of paper. A disassembled Mac Pro body and a cinema screen hunkered on the floor to one side of the desk, along with an abandoned Sony desktop. Boxes of old three-and-a-half-inch computer disks sat on bookshelves over the radiator. They’d been saved by simple negligence: he no longer knew what was on any of them.

The desk had four drawers. One was taken up with current employment and tax files, and the others were occupied by office junk: envelopes, stationery, yellow legal pads, staplers, rubber bands, thumb drives, Post-it notes, scissors, several pairs of fingernail clippers, Sharpies, business cards, dozens of ballpoints, five or six coffee cups from political campaigns and lobbyist groups, tangles of computer connectors.

He had two printers, one a heavy-duty Canon office machine, the other a Brother multiple-use copy/fax/scan/print model.

There were three small thirty-inch televisions in his office, all fastened to the wall above the desk, so he could work on the iMac and watch C-SPAN, Fox, and CNN all at once. A sixty-inch LED screen hung on the living room wall opposite the couch where he’d been napping.

Squeak.

This time he opened his eyes.



Tubbs reached out for his cell phone, punched the button on top, checked the time: three-fifteen in the morning. He’d had any number of visitors at three-fifteen, but to get through the apartment house’s front door, they had to buzz him. He frowned, sat up, listening, smacked his lips; his mouth tasted like a chicken had been roosting in it, and the room smelled of cold chili.

Then his doorbell blipped: a quiet ding-dong. Not the buzzer from outside, which was a raucous ZZZZTTT, but the doorbell. Tubbs dropped his feet off the couch, thinking, Neighbor. Had to be Mrs. Thomas R. Jefferson. She sometimes got disoriented at night, out looking for her deceased husband, and several times had locked herself out of her own apartment.

Tubbs padded across the floor in his stocking feet. There was nothing tubby about Tubbs: he was a tall man, and thin. Though he’d lived a life of fund-raising dinners and high-stress campaigns, he’d ignored the proffered sheet cake, Ding Dongs, Pepsi, Mr. Goodbars, and even the odd moon pies, as well as the stacks of Hungry-Man microwave meals found in campaign refrigerators. A vegetarian, he went instead for the soy-based proteins, the non-fat cereals, and the celery sticks. If he found himself cornered at a church-basement dinner, he looked for the Jell-O with shredded carrots and onions, and those little pink marshmallows.

Tubbs had blond hair, still thick as he pushed into his fifties, a neatly cropped mustache, and a flat belly. Given his habits and his diet, he figured his life expectancy was about ninety-six. Maybe ninety-nine.

One big deficit: he hadn’t had a regular woman since his third wife departed five years earlier. On the other hand, the irregular women came along often enough—campaign volunteers, legislative staff, the occasional lobbyist. He had always been a popular man, a man with political stories that were funny, generally absurd, and sometimes terrifying. He told them well.

As he walked toward the door, he scratched his crotch. His dick felt sort of . . . bent. Chafed. A little swollen.

The latest irregular woman was more irregular than most.

They’d had a strenuous workout earlier that evening, a day that had left Tubbs exhausted. Hours of cruising the media outlets, talking to other operators all over the state, assessing the damage; a tumultuous sexual encounter; and finally, the biggest blackmail effort of his life, the biggest potential payoff . . .

He was beat, which was why, perhaps, he wasn’t more suspicious.

Tubbs checked the peephole. Nobody there. Probably Mrs. Jefferson, he thought, who hadn’t been five-two on her tallest day, and now was severely bent by osteoporosis.

He popped open the door, and,

Surprise!



Tubbs regained consciousness on the floor of a moving car, an SUV. He was terribly injured, and knew it. He no longer knew exactly how it had happened, if he ever had, but there was something awfully wrong with his head, his skull. His face and hands were wet with blood, and he could taste blood in his mouth and his nose was stuffed with it. He would have gagged if he had the strength.

He could move his hands, but not his feet, and with a little clarity that came after a while, he knew something else: he was lying on a plastic sheet. And he knew why: so the floor of the car wouldn’t get blood on it.

The images in his mind were confused, but deep down, in a part that hadn’t been impacted, he knew who his attackers must be, and he knew what the end would be. He’d be killed. And he was so hurt that he wouldn’t be able to fight it.

Tubbs was dying. There wasn’t much in the way of pain, because he was too badly injured for that. Nothing to do about it but wait until the darkness came.

The car was traveling on a smooth road, and its gentle motion nevertheless suggested speed. A highway, headed out of St. Paul. Going to a burial ground, or maybe to the Mississippi. He had no preference. A few minutes after he regained consciousness, he slipped away again.

Then he resurfaced, and deep down in the lizard part of his brain, a spark of anger burned. Nothing he could do? A plan formed, not a good one, but something. Something he could actually do. His hands were damp with blood. With much of his remaining life force, he pushed one wet hand across the plastic sheet, and tried as best he could to form the letters TG.

That was it. That was all he had. A scrawl of blood on the underside of a car seat, where the owner wouldn’t see it, but where a crime-scene technician might.

He pulled his hand back and then felt his tongue crawl out of his mouth, beyond his will, the muscles of his face relaxing toward death.

He was still alive when the car slowed, and then turned. Still alive when it slowed again, and this time, traveled down a rougher road. Felt the final turn, and the car rocking to a stop. Car doors opening.

His killers pulled him out of the backseat by pulling and lifting th plastic tarp on which he lay. One of them said, “Skinny fuck is heavy.”

The other answered, “Hey. I think he’s breathing.”

“Yeah? Give me the bat.”

Just before the darkness came, Tubbs sensed the fetid wetness of a swamp; an odor, a softness in the soil beneath his body. He never heard or felt the crunch of his skull shattering under the bat.

Nothingness.



CHAPTER 2

Lucas Davenport was having his hockey nightmare, the one where he is about to take the ice in an NCAA championship game, but can’t find his skates. He knows where they are— locker 120—but the locker numbers end at 110 down one aisle, and pick up at 140 on the next one.

He knows 120 is somewhere in the vast locker room, and as the time ticks down to the beginning of the match, and the fan-chants start from the bleachers overhead, he runs frantically barefoot up and down the rows of lockers, scanning the number plates. . . .

He knew he was dreaming even as he did it. He wanted nothing more than to end it, which was why he was struggling toward consciousness at eight o’clock on a Sunday morning and heard Weather chortling in the bathroom.

Weather, his wife, was a surgeon, and on working days was always out of the house by six-thirty. Even on sleep-in days, she hardly ever slept until eight. Lucas, on the other hand, was a night owl. He was rarely in bed before two o’clock, except for recreational purposes, and he was content to sleep until nine o’clock, or later.

This morning, he could hear her laughing in the bathroom, and realized that she was watching the built-in bathroom TV as she put on her makeup. She’d resisted the idea of a bathroom television, but Lucas had installed one anyway, claiming that it would increase their efficiency—get the local news out of the way, so they could start their days.

In reality, it had more to do with shaving. He’d started shaving when he was fifteen, and had never had a two-week beard. Even counting the rare days when he hadn’t shaved for one reason or another, he’d still gone through the ritual at least twelve thousand times, and he enjoyed it. Took his time with it. Found that the television added to the whole ceremony.

Now, as he struggled to the surface, and out of the hockey arena, he called, “What?”

She called back, “More on Smalls. The guy is truly fucked.”

Lucas said, “Have a good day,” and rolled over and tried to find a better dream, preferably involving twin blondes with long plaited hair and really tight, round . . . ZZZ.

Just before he went back to dreamland, he thought about Weather’s choice of words. She didn’t use obscenity lightly, but in this case, she was correct: Smalls was really, truly fucked.



Lucas Davenport was tall, heavy-shouldered, and hawk-faced, and, at the end of the first full month of autumn, still well-tanned, which made his blue eyes seem bluer yet, and made a couple of white scars stand out on his face and neck. The facial scar was thin, like a piece of pale fishing line strung down over his eyebrow and onto one cheek. The neck scar, centered on his throat, was circular with a vertical slash through it. Not one he liked to remember: the young girl had pulled the piece-of-crap .22 out of nowhere and shot him and would have killed him if Weather hadn’t been there with a jackknife. The vertical slash was the result of the tracheotomy that had saved his life. The slug had barely missed his spinal cord.

The tan would be fading over the next few months, and the scars would become almost invisible until, in March, he’d be as pale as a piece of typing paper.



Lucas rolled out of bed at nine o’clock, spent some time with himself in the bathroom, and caught a little more about Porter Smalls.

Smalls was a conservative Republican politician. Lucas generally didn’t like right-wingers, finding them generally to be self-righteous and uncompromising. Smalls was more relaxed than that. He was conservative, especially on the abortion issue, and he was death on taxes; on the other hand, he had a Clintonesque attitude about women, and even a sense of humor about his own peccadilloes. Minnesotans went for his whole bad-boy act, especially in comparison to the stiffs who usually got elected to high office.

Smalls was rich. As someone at the Capitol once told Lucas, he’d started out selling apples. The first one he bought for a nickel, and sold for a quarter. With the quarter, he bought five more apples, and sold them for a dollar. Then he inherited twenty million dollars from his father, and became an overnight success.

Weather loathed Smalls because he advocated Medicaid cuts as a way to balance the state budget. He was also virulently pro-life, and Weather was strongly pro-choice. He was also anti-union, and wanted to eliminate all public employee unions with a federal law. “Conflict of interest,” he said. “Payoffs with taxpayer money.”

Lucas paid little attention to it. He generally voted for Democrats, but not always. He’d voted for a nominally Republican governor, not once but twice. Whatever happened, he figured he could live with it.



Anyway, Smalls had looked like he was headed for reelection over an attractive young Minnesota heiress, though it was going to be close. Her qualifications for office were actually better than Smalls’s; she looked terrific, and had an ocean of money. If she had a problem, it was that she carried with her a whiff of arrogance and entitlement, and maybe more than a whiff .

Then, on the Friday before, a dewy young volunteer, as conservative as Smalls himself, and with the confidence that comes from being both dewy and affluent—it seemed like everybody involved in the election had money—had gone into Smalls’s campaign office to drop off some numbers on federal aid to Minnesota for bridge construction, also known as U.S. Government Certified A-1 Pork.

She told the cops that Smalls’s computer screen was blanked out when she walked into the office. She wanted him to see the bridge files as soon as he came in, so she put them on his keyboard.

When the packets hit the keyboard, the screen lit up . . . with a kind of child porn so ugly that the young woman hardly knew what she was seeing for the first few seconds. Then she did what any dewy Young Republican would have done: she called her father. He told her to stay where she was: he’d call the police.

When the cops arrived, they took one look, and seized the computer.

And somebody, maybe everybody, blabbed to the media.

Porter Smalls was in the shit.

Sunday morning, a time for newspapers and kids: Lucas pulled on a pair of blue jeans, a black shirt, and low-cut black boots. When he was done, he admired himself in Weather’s full-length admiring mirror, brushed an imaginary flake from his shoulder, and went down to French toast and bacon, which he could smell sizzling on the griddle even on the second floor.

The housekeeper, Helen, was passing it all around when he sat down. His son, Sam, a toddler, was babbling about trucks, and had three of them on the table; Letty was talking about a fashion- forward girl who’d worn a tiara to high school, in a kind of make-or-break status move; Weather was reading a Times review about some artist who’d spent five years doing a time-lapse movie of grass growing and dying; and Baby Gabrielle was throwing oatmeal at the refrigerator.

There were end-of-the-world headlines about Smalls, in both the Minneapolis and New York papers. The Times, whose editorial portentousness approached traumatic constipation, tried to suppress its glee under the bushel basket of feigned sadness that another civil servant had been caught in a sexual misadventure; they hadn’t even bothered to use the word “alleged.”

Lucas was halfway through the Star Tribune’s comics when his cell phone buzzed. He took it out of his pocket, looked at the caller ID, clicked it, and said, “Good morning, Neil. I assume you’re calling from the Cathedral.”

Neil Mitford, chief weasel for the governor of Minnesota, ignored the comme...

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