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Investigating the shooting murder of a kayaker at a women-only Minnesota resort, investigator Virgil Flowers finds more suspects than anticipated including the victim's fellow patrons and a talented local country singer, a case that is further complicated by the discovery of other murders.
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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.:
Table of Contents
ALSO BY JOHN SANDFORD
Rules of Prey
Eyes of Prey
The Night Crew
The Fool’s Run
The Empress File
The Devil’s Code
The Hanged Man’s Song
VIRGIL FLOWERS NOVELS
Dark of the Moon
G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sandford, John, date.
Rough country / John Sandford.
1. Police—Minnesota—Fiction. 2. Murder—Investigation—Fiction.
3. Stillwater (Minn.)—Fiction. I. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
For Daniel, on his birthday
I wrote this book with my longtime fishing partner and fellow journalist Bill Gardner, author of the musky-fishing classic Time on the Water. We have been fishing for muskies together for nearly thirty years, and it was through his intercession that, in this novel, I make musky fishing out to be a much less stupid activity than it actually is.
THE AUGUST HEAT WAS slipping away with the day. A full moon would climb over the horizon at eight o’clock, and the view across Stone Lake should be spectacular.
All tricks of the light, McDill thought. Her father taught her that.
A full moon on the horizon was no larger than a full moon overhead, he’d told her, as a small child, as they stood hand in hand in the backyard. The larger apparent size was all an optical illusion. She hadn’t believed him, so he’d proven it by taking a Polaroid photograph of a harvest moon on the horizon, the biggest, fattest, yellowest moon of the year, then comparing it to another shot of the moon when it was overhead. And they were the same size.
He took pride in his correctness. He was a scientist, and he knew what he knew.
McDill ran an advertising agency, and she knew her father was both right and wrong. Technically he was correct, but you wouldn’t make any money proving it. You could sell a big fat gorgeous moon coming over the horizon, shining its ass off, pouring its golden light on whatever product you wanted to sell, and screw the optical illusion. . . .
MCDILL SLIPPED across the water in near silence. She was paddling a fourteen-foot Native Watercraft, a canoe-kayak hybrid designed for stability. Good for a city woman, with soft hands, who wasn’t all that familiar with boats.
She didn’t need the stability this evening, because the lake was glassy-flat, at the tag end of a heat wave. The forecasters were predicting that the wind would pick up overnight, but nothing serious.
She could hear the double-bladed paddle pulling through the water, first right, then left, and distantly, probably from another lake, either an outboard or a chain saw, but the sound was so distant, so intermittent, so thready, that it was like aural smoke—a noise on the edge of nothingness. Aquatic insects were hatching around her: they’d come to the surface and, from there, take off, leaving a dimple in the water.
A half-mile out from the lodge, she paddled toward the creek that drained the lake. The outlet was a crinkle in a wall of aspen, across a lily-pad flat, past a downed tree where five painted turtles lined up to take the sun. The turtles plopped off the log when they spotted her, and she smiled at the sight and sound of them. Another few yards and she headed into the creek, which pinched down to hallway-width for twenty yards or so, and around a turn to an open spot, rimmed with cattails.
The pond, as she called it, was a hundred and fifty yards long, and fifty wide. At the end of it, where the creek narrowed down and got about its real business—running downhill—a white pine stood like a sentinel among the lower trees. A bald eagle’s nest was built high in the tree, and on most evenings, she’d see one or both of the eagle pair coming or going from the nest.
From down the lake, a few minutes earlier, she’d seen one of them leaving, looking for an evening meal. She idled toward the pine, hoping she’d see the bird coming back, then leaned back in the seat, hung the paddle in the side-mounted paddle holder, spread her legs and let her feet dangle over the side of the boat, in the warm summer water.
Felt the sun on her back. Dug in a polypro bag, found a cigarette and a lighter, lit the cigarette, sucked in a lungful of smoke.
Perfect, if only her mind would stop running.
MCDILL RAN AN ADVERTISING AGENCY, Ruff-Harcourt-McDill, in Minneapolis. Ruff was dead, Harcourt retired; and Harcourt, two weeks earlier, had agreed to sell his remaining stock to McDill, which would give her seventy-five percent of the outstanding shares.
She’d toyed with the idea of a name change—Media/McDill, or McDill Group—but had decided that she would, for the time being, leave well enough alone. Advertising buyers knew RHM, and the name projected a certain stability. She would need the sense of stability as she went about weeding out the . . .
Might as well say it: weeds.
THE AGENCY, over the years, had accumulated footdraggers, time-wasters, slow-witted weeds more suited for a job, say, in a newspaper than in a hot advertising agency. Getting rid of them—she had a list of names—would generate an immediate twelve percent increase in the bottom line, with virtually no loss in production. Bodies were expensive. Some of them seemed to think that the purpose of the agency was to provide them with jobs. They were wrong, and were about to find that out. When she got the stock, when she nailed that down, she’d move.
The question that plagued her was exactly how to do it. The current creative director, Barney Mann, was smart, witty, hardworking, a guy she wanted to keep—but he had all kinds of alliances and friendships among the worker bees. Went out for drinks with them. Played golf with them. Lent some of them money. He was loved, for Christ’s sakes. He was the kind of guy who could turn a necessary managerial evolution into a mudslinging match.
And he’d done an absolutely brilliant job on the Mattocks Motor City campaign, no question about it. Dave Mattocks thought Mann was a genius and the Motor City account brought in nine percent of RHM’s billings in the last fiscal year. Nine percent. If you lost an account of that size, you lost more than the account—other buyers would wonder why, and what happened, and might think that RHM was losing its edge.
McDill wanted to keep Mann, and wondered how much of a saint he really was. Suppose she took him to dinner and simply put it on him: a partnership, options on ten percent of the stock, a million bucks up front, and no fuss when the ax came down.
In fact, he might usefully soften the blow to the people who were . . . remaindered. Maybe he could take charge of an amelioration fund, little tax-deductible money gifts to be parceled out as needed, to keep any pathetic tales of woe out of the media. Wouldn’t have to be much . . .
MCDILL DRIFTED, thinking about it.
And her thoughts eventually drifted away from the agency, to the upcoming evening, about her sneaky date the night before, and about Ruth. She’d outgrown Ruth. Ruth was settling into middle-aged hausfrau mode, her mind going dull as her ass got wider. She was probably at home right now, baking a pumpkin pie or something.
In a way, McDill thought, the takeover of the agency changed everything.
The agency was hot, she was hot.
Time to shine, by God.
THE EAGLE CAME BACK.
She saw it coming a half-mile out, unmistakable in its size, a giant bird floating along on unmoving wings.
A thousand feet away, it carved a turn in the crystalline air, like a skier on a downhill, and banked away.
McDill wondered why: the eagles had never been bothered by her presence before. She was farther away now than she had been last night, when she coasted right up to the tree trunk.
Huh. Had the eagle sensed something else?
McDill turned and scanned the shoreline, and then, in her last seconds, saw movement, frowned, and sat forward. What was that? A wink of glass . . .
The killer shot her in the forehead.
FIVE-THIRTY IN THE MORNING.
The moon was dropping down toward the horizon, the bottom edge touching the wisps of fog that rose off the early-morning water. Virgil Flowers was standing in the stern of a seventeen-foot Tuffy, a Thorne Brothers custom musky rod in his hand, looking over the side. Johnson, in the bow of the boat, did a wide figure-eight with an orange-bladed Double Cowgirl, his rod stuck in the lake up to the reel.
“See her?” Virgil asked, doubt in his voice.
“Not anymore,” Johnson said. He gave up, straightened, pulled the rod out of the water. “Shoot. Too much to ask, anyway. You ain’t gonna get one in the first five minutes.”
“Hell, I don’t know. Flash of white.” Johnson looked at the moon, then to the east. The sun wouldn’t be up for ten minutes, but the horizon was getting bright. “Need more light on the water.”
He plopped down in the bow seat and Virgil threw a noisy top-water bait toward the shore, reeled it in, saw nothing, threw it again.
“With the fog and stuff, the moon looks like one of those fake potato chips,” Johnson said.
“What?” Virgil wasn’t sure he’d heard it right.
“One of those Pringles,” Johnson said.
Virgil paused between casts and said, “I don’t want to disagree with you, Johnson, but the moon doesn’t look like a Pringle.”
“Yes, it does. Exactly like a Pringle,” Johnson said.
“It looks like one of those balls of butter you get at Country Kitchen, with the French toast,” Virgil said.
“Ball of butter?” Johnson blinked, looked at the moon, then back at Virgil. “You been smokin’ that shit again?”
“Looks a hell of a lot more like a butterball than it does like a Pringle,” Virgil said. “I’m embarrassed to be in the same boat with a guy that says the moon looks like a Pringle.”
You need a good line of bullshit when you’re musky fishing, because there’re never a hell of a lot of fish to talk about. Johnson looked out over the lake, the dark water, the lights scattered through the shoreline pines, the lilacs and purples of the western sky, vibrating against the luminous yellow of the Pringle- or butterball-like moon. “Sure is pretty out here,” he said. “God’s country, man.”
“That’s the truth, Johnson.”
Vermilion Lake, the Big V, far northern Minnesota. They floated along for a while, not working hard; it’d be a long day on the water. A boat went by in a hurry, two men in it, on the way to a better spot, if there was such a thing.
WHEN THE SUN CAME UP , a finger of wind arrived, a riffle across the water, enough to set up a slow motorless drift down a weedline at the edge of a drop-off. They were two hours on the water, halfway down the drift, when another boat came up from the east, running fast, then slowed as it passed, the faces of the two men in the boat white ovals, looking at Virgil and Johnson. The boat slowed some more and hooked in toward the weedline.
“Sucker’s gonna cut our drift,” Johnson said. He had no time for mass murderers, boy-child rapers, or people who cut your drift.
“Looks like Roy,” Virgil said. Roy was the tournament chairman.
“Huh.” Roy knew better than to cut somebody’s drift.
The guy on the tiller of the other boat chopped the motor, and they drifted in a long arc, sliding up next to the Tuffy.
“Morning, Virgil. Johnson.” Roy reached out and caught their gunwale and pulled the boats close.
“Morning, Roy,” Johnson said. “Arnie, how you doing?”
Arnie nodded and ejected a stream of tobacco juice into the lake...
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