A brilliant but insane pathologist flees to New York to continue his research on death, and the police call on Lucas Davenport, who merges his investigative talents with an old flame to put an end to the madness. 100,000 first printing.
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John Sandford is the pseudonym of Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist John Camp. He is the author of the Prey novels, the Kidd novels, the Virgil Flowers novels, The Night Crew, and Dead Watch. He lives in New Mexico.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
1A thought sparked in the chaos of Bekker’smind.
He caught it, mentally, like a quick hand snatching a flyfrom midair.
Bekker slumped at the defense table, the center of thecircus. His vacant blue eyes rolled back, pale and wide as aplastic baby- doll’s, wandering around the interior of thecourtroom, snagging on a light fixture, catching on an electricaloutlet, sliding past the staring faces. His hair hadbeen cut jail house short, but they had let him keep the wildblond beard. An act of mercy: The beard disguised the tangledmass of pink scar tissue that crisscrossed his face. Inthe middle of the beard, his pink rosebud lips opened andclosed, like an eel’s, damp and glistening.
Bekker looked at the thought he’d caught: The jury.House wives, retirees, welfare trash. His peers, they calledthem. A ridiculous concept: He was a doctor of medicine.He stood at the top of his profession. He was respected.Bekker shook his head.
Understand . . . ?
The word tumbled from the judge- crow’s mouth andechoed in his mind. “Do you understand, Mr. Bekker?”
What . . . ?
The idiot flat- faced attorney pulled at Bekker’s sleeve:“Stand up.”
What . . . ?
The prosecutor turned to stare at him, hate in her eyes.The hate touched him, reached him, and he opened hismind and let it flow back. I’d like to have you for five minutes,good sharp scalpel would open you up like a goddamn oyster: zip,zip. Like a goddamn clam.
The prosecutor felt Bekker’s interest. She was a hardwoman; she’d put six hundred men and women behind bars.Their petty threats and silly pleas no longer interested her.But she flinched and turned away from Bekker.
What? Standing? Time now?
Bekker struggled back. It was so hard. He’d let himselfgo during the trial. He had no interest in it. Refused to testify.The outcome was fixed, and he had more serious problemsto deal with. Like survival in the cages of the HennepinCounty Jail, survival without his medicine.
But now the time had come.
His blood still moved too slowly, oozing through his arterieslike strawberry jam. He fought, and simultaneouslyfought to hide his struggle.
And he started, so slowly it was like walking throughpaste, trudging back to the courtroom. The trial had lastedfor twenty- one days, had dominated the papers and the television newscasts. The cameras had ambushed him, morningand night, hitting him in the face with their intolerable lights,the cameramen scuttling backward as they transferred him, inchains, between the jail and the courtroom.
The courtroom was done in blond laminated wood,with the elevated judge’s bench at the head of the room, thejury box to the right, tables for the prosecution and defensein front of the judge. Behind the tables, a long rail dividedthe room in two. Forty uncomfortable spectator’s chairswere screwed to the floor behind the rail. The chairs wereoccupied an hour before arguments began, half of them allottedto the press, the other half given out on a first- comebasis. All during the trial, he could hear his name passingthrough the ranks of spectators: Bekker Bekker Bekker.
The jury filed out. None of them looked at him. They’dbe secluded, his peers, and after chatting for a decent interval,they’d come back and report him guilty of multiplecounts of first- degree murder. The verdict was inevitable.When it was in, the crow would put him away.
The black asshole in the next cell had said it, in hisphony street dialect: “They gon slam yo’ nasty ass into OakPark, m’man. You live in a motherfuckin’ cage the size of amotherfuckin’ refrigerator wit a TV watching you everymove. You wanta take a shit, they watchin’ every move,they makin’ movies of it. Nobody ever git outa Oak Park.It is a true motherfucker.”
But Bekker wasn’t going. The thought set him offagain, and he shook, fought to control it.
Focus . . .
He focused on the small parts: the gym shorts bitinginto the flesh at his waist. The razor head pressed againstthe back of his balls. The Sox cap, obtained in a trade forcigarettes, tucked under his belt. His feet sweating in theridiculous running shoes. Running shoes and white sockswith his doctor’s pinstripes—he looked a fool and he knewit, hated it. Only a moron would wear white socks withpinstripes, but white socks and running shoes . . . no. Peoplewould be laughing at him.
He could have worn his wing tips, one last time—a manis innocent until proven guilty—but he refused. Theydidn’t understand that. They thought it was another eccentricity,the plastic shoes with the seven- hundred- dollar suit.They didn’t know.
Everyone was standing now, the crow- suit staring, theattorney pulling at his sleeve. And here was RaymondShaltie. . . .
“On your feet,” Shaltie said sharply, leaning over him.Shaltie was a sheriff’s deputy, an overweight time- server inan ill- fitting gray uniform.
“How long?” Bekker asked the attorney, looking up,struggling to get the words out, his tongue thick in hismouth.
“Shhh . . .”
The judge was talking, looking at them: “. . . standingby, and if you leave your numbers with my office, we’ll getin touch as soon as we get word from the jury . . .”
The attorney nodded, looking straight ahead. Hewouldn’t meet Bekker’s eyes. Bekker had no chance. In hisheart, the attorney didn’t want him to have a chance.Bekker was nuts. Bekker needed prison. Prison forever andseveral days more.
“How long?” Bekker asked again. The judge had disappearedinto her chambers. Like to get her, too.
“Can’t tell. They’ll have to consider the separate counts,”the attorney said. He was court- appointed, needed themoney. “We’ll come get you. . . .”
Pig’s eye, they would.
“Let’s go,” said Shaltie. He took Bekker’s elbow, dug hisfingertips into the nexus of nerves above Bekker’s elbow,an old jailer’s trick to establish dominance. Unknowingly,Shaltie did Bekker a favor. With the sudden sharp pulse ofpain, Bekker snapped all the way back, quick and hard, likea handclap.
His eyes flicked once around the room, his mind cold,its usual chaos squeezed into a high- pressure corner, wildthoughts raging like rats in a cage. Calculating. He put painin his voice, a childlike plea: “I need to go. . . .”
“Okay.” Shaltie nodded. Ray Shaltie wasn’t a bad man.He’d worked the courts for two de cades, and the experiencehad mellowed him—allowed him to see the humanside of even the worst of men. And Bekker was the worstof men.
But Bekker was nevertheless human, Shaltie believed:He that is without sin among you, let him cast the firststone. . . . Bekker was a man gone wrong, but still a man.And in words that bubbled from his mouth in a whinysingsong, Bekker told Shaltie about his hemorrhoids. Jailfood was bad for them, Bekker said. All cheese and breadand pasta. Not enough roughage. He had to go. . . .
He always used the bathroom at noon, all through thetwenty- one days of the trial. Raymond Shaltie sympathized:He’d had them himself. Shaltie took Bekker by the arm andled him past the now empty jury box, Bekker shuffling,childlike, eyes unfocused. At the door, Shaltie turned him—docile, quiet, apparently gone to another world—and puton the handcuffs and then the leg chains. Another deputywatched the pro cess, and when Bekker was locked up,drifted away, thinking of lunch.
“Gotta go,” Bekker said. His eyes turned up to RayShaltie.
“You’ll be okay, you’ll be okay,” Shaltie said. Shaltie’s tiehad soup stains on it, and flakes of dandruff spotted hisshoulders: an oaf, Bekker thought. Shaltie led Bekker out ofthe courtroom, Bekker doing the jail house shuffle, his legsrestricted to a thirty- inch stride. Behind the courtroom, anarrow hallway led to an internal stairway, and from there,to a holding cell. But to the left, through a service door, wasa tiny employees- only men’s room, with a sink, a urinal, asingle stall.
Shaltie followed Bekker into the men’s room. “Now,you’re okay . . .” A warning in his voice. Ray Shaltie wastoo old to fight.
“Yes,” Bekker said, his pale- blue eyes wandering in theirsockets. Behind the wandering eyes, his mind was movingeasily now, the adrenaline acting on his brain like a dose ofthe purest amphetamine. He turned, lifted his arms up andback, thrusting his wrists at Shaltie. Shaltie fitted the key,uncuffed the prisoner: Shaltie was breaking the rules, but aman can’t wipe himself if he’s wearing handcuffs. Besides,where would Bekker go, high up here in the governmentbuilding, with the leg chains? He couldn’t run. And hiswildly bearded face was, for the moment at least, the mostrecognizable face in the Cities.
Bekker shuffled into the stall, shut the door, dropped histrousers, sat down. Eyes sharp now, focused. They useddisposable safety razors in the jail, Bics. He’d broken thehandle off one, leaving only the head and a stub, easy tohide during the shakedowns. When he’d had a chance, he’dburned the stub with a match, rounding the edges, to makeit more comfortable to wear. This morning he’d taped itunder his balls, fixed with the end of a Band- Aid. Now hepeeled the razor off himself, pulled the remaining tape offthe razor, and began hacking at his beard.
He’d grown the beard to cover his furrowed face. Bekker,once so beautiful, the possessor of a classic Nordic face, apale, uninflected oval with rose lips, had been beaten into agrotesque gnome, torn to pieces and only poorly repaired.Davenport. Get Davenport. The fantasy seized him: openingDavenport, using the knife to peel the face, lifting the skinoff inch by inch. . . .
He fought it: Fantasies were for the lockup. He forcedDavenport out of his mind and continued shaving, quickly,raggedly, the razor scraping over his dry skin. The painprompted a groan. Outside the stall, Shaltie winced.
“ ’Bout done in there?” Shaltie called. The bathroomsmelled of ammonia, chlorine, urine, and wet mops.
“Yes, Ray.” Bekker dropped the razor in his jacketpocket, then worked on the toilet- paper holder. Originally,it had been held in place with four screws. He’d removedand flushed two of them during the first three days of thetrial, and had worked the other two loose. He’d actuallyhad them out the day before, to make sure the holder wouldpull free. It had. Now he removed the screws one last time,dropped them in the toilet and eased the paper- holder freefrom the wall. When he grasped it by the roller, it fit his handlike a steel boxing glove.
“Okay now, Ray.” Bekker stood, pulled his pants up,pulled off his jacket, dropped the coat over the iron fist,flushed the toilet. Took a breath. Put his head down, asthough he were looking at his fly. Opened the door. Shuffledforward.
Shaltie was waiting with the cuffs: jowly, freckled, slowon the uptake. “Turn around. . . .”
Seeing Bekker’s face, realizing: “Hey . . .”
Bekker was half- turned, wound up. He dropped thejacket, his right hand whipping like a lash, his mouth open,his white teeth flashing in the fluorescence. Shaltie lurchedback, tried to cover with a hand. Too late, too late. Thestainless- steel club hit him above the ear: Shaltie went down,cracking the back of his head on the porcelain sink as he fell.
And then Bekker was on him, lifting the steel fist, smashingit down, lifting it, feeling Shaltie’s skull crack, the bloodspatter.
Hit hit hit hit . . .
The synapses of Bekker’s brain lit with the static sparks.He fought it, fought for control, but it was hard, the smellof fresh blood in his nose. He stopped swinging, found hisleft hand on Shaltie’s throat. Pulled the hand away, halfstood, brain not quite right. He said aloud, shushing himself,“Shhh. Shhhhhh,” finger to his lips.
He straightened. His blood was running like water now,like steam, filling him. Now what? Door. He hobbled tothe door, flipped the catch. Locked. Good. He went backto Shaltie, who was supine on the tile floor, blowing bloodbubbles through his torn nose. Bekker had watched thedeputy handle his keys, and the keys had gone in Shaltie’sright pocket. . . . He found them, popped the locks on theleg chains. Free. Free.
Stop. He brought himself back, looked in the mirror.His face was a mess. He retrieved the razor from his jacketpocket, splashed water and liquid soap on his face andraked the razor across it. Listened to Shaltie, breathing, agargling moan. Shaltie’s head lay in a puddle of blood, andBekker could smell it.
Bekker threw the razor in a trash basket, turned, stooped,caught Shaltie under the shoulders, dragged him to the toiletstall, sat him on the toilet and propped him against the wall.Shaltie made a snoring sound and more blood bubbled fromhis nose. Bekker ignored him. Not much time.
He stripped off his suit pants, put the Sox hat on hishead, and used the pants to wipe up the blood on the floor.When he finished, he threw the pants, jacket, shirt and tieover Shaltie’s body. Checked himself in the mirror: greentank top, red shorts, gym shoes, hat. A jogger. The face wasbad, but nobody had seen him close up, without a beard,for weeks. A few of the cops would know him, a couple oflawyers. But with any luck, they wouldn’t be looking atjoggers.
Davenport. The thought stopped him. If Davenportwas out there, had come to see the verdict, Bekker was adead man.
No help for that. He threw off the thought, took abreath. Ready. He stepped inside the stall with Shaltie,locked it, dropped to his back, slid under the door, stoodup again.
“Motherfucker.” He said it out loud, had learned it injail: the standard, all- purpose curse. He dropped back onthe floor, slid halfway under the stall, groped for Shaltie’swallet. Found it, checked it. Twelve dollars. One creditcard, a Visa. Not good. Money could be a problem. . . .He slipped the wallet into his underpants, went to thedoor, listened.
Could hear Shaltie breathing, bubbling. Bekker thoughtabout going back into the stall, strangling him with hisbelt. All the humiliations of the past weeks, the torturewhen they took away his chemicals . . . Not enough time.Time was hurting him now. Had to move.
He left Shaltie living, turned the lock knob, peered intothe hallway. The internal corridor was empty. Went to thenext door—public hall. Half dozen people, all down at thepublic end, near the elevators, talking. He wouldn’t have towalk past them. The stairs were the other way: He could seethe exit sign, just beyond the fire hose.
Another breath. And move. He stepped out into thehall, head down. A lunchtime bureaucrat- jogger on his wayoutside. He walked confidently down the hall to the stairs,away from the elevators. Waiting for a shout. For someoneto point a finger. For running feet.
He was in the stairway. Nobody took the stairs, notfrom this high up. . . .
He ran down, counting the floors. As he passed six, adoor slammed somewhere below and he heard somebodywalking down ahead of him. He padded softly behind,heard another door open and shut, and stepped up the paceagain. At the main level, he stopped and looked out. Dozensof people ...
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