The brilliant new Lucas Davenport thriller from the #1 New York Times-bestselling author.
"Sandford's track record as a bestselling author is amazing, but it's not an accident," wrote Booklist of Wicked Prey. "His plotting is sharp, his villains are extraordinarily layered, and his good guys are always evolving.
And this time, there's a storm brewing...Very early, 4:45, on a bitterly cold Minnesota morning, three big men burst through the door of a hospital pharmacy, duct-tape the hands, feet, mouth, and eyes of two pharmacy workers, and clean the place out. But then things swiftly go bad, one of the workers dies, and the robbers hustle out to their truck-and find themselves for just one second face-to-face with a blond woman in the garage: Weather Karkinnen, surgeon, wife of an investigator named Lucas Davenport.
Did she see enough? Can she identify them? Gnawing it over later, it seems to them there is only one thing they can do: Find out who she is, and eliminate the only possible witness...
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Pulitzer prize-winning journalist John Sandford is the author of the Prey series, four Kidd novels and the Virgil Flowers series. He lives in Minnesota. Visit www.johnsandford.org for more information.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Three of them, hard men carrying nylon bags, wearing workjackets, Carhartts and Levi’s, all of them with facial hair. Theywalked across the parking structure to the steel security door,heads swiveling, checking the corners and the overheads, steamflowing from their mouths, into the icy air, one of the men on acell phone.
As they got to the door, it popped open, and a fourth man,who’d been on the other end of the cell-phone call, let themthrough. The fourth man was tall and thin, dark-complected,with a black brush mustache. He wore a knee-length black raincoatthat he’d bought at a Goodwill store two days earlier, andblack pants. He scanned the parking structure, saw nothing moving,pulled the door shut, made sure of the lock.
“This way,” he snapped.
Inside, they moved fast, reducing their exposure, should someoneunexpectedly come along. No one should, at the ass-end ofthe hospital, at fifteen minutes after five o’clock on a bitterly coldwinter morning. They threaded through a maze of service corridorsuntil the tall man said, “Here.”
Here was a storage closet. He opened it with a key. Inside, a pileof blue, double-extra-large orderly uniforms sat on a medical cart.
The hard men dumped their coats on the floor and pulled theuniforms over their street clothes. Not a big disguise, but theyweren’t meant to be seen close-up—just enough to slip past avideo camera. One of them, the biggest one, hopped up on thecart, lay down and said, “Look, I’m dead,” and laughed at his joke.The tall man could smell the bourbon on the joker’s breath.
“Shut the fuck up,” said one of the others, but not in an unkindlyway.
The tall man said, “Don’t be stupid,” and there was nothingkind in his voice. When they were ready, they looked at eachother and the tall man pulled a white cotton blanket over the manon the cart, and one of the men said, “Let’s do it.”
“Check yourself . . .”
“We don’t hurt anyone,” the tall man said. The sentiment reflectednot compassion, but calculation: robbery got X amount ofattention, injuries got X-cubed.
“Yeah, yeah . . .” One of the men pulled a semiautomatic pistolfrom his belt, a heavy, blued, no-bullshit Beretta, stolen fromthe Army National Guard in Milwaukee, checked it, stuck it backin his belt. He said, “Okay? Everybody got his mask? Okay.Let’s go.”
They stuffed the ski masks into their belts and two hard menpushed the cart into the corridor. The tall man led them fartherthrough the narrow, tiled hallways, then said, “Here’s the camera.”
The two men pushing the cart turned sideways, as the tall mantold them to, and went through a cross-corridor. A security camerapeered down the hall at them. If a guard happened to belooking at the monitor at that moment, he would have seen onlythe backs of two orderlies, and a lump on the cart. The tall manin the raincoat scrambled along, on his hands and knees, on thefar side of the cart.
The big man on the cart, looking at the ceiling tiles go by,giggled, “It’s like ridin’ the Tilt-A-Whirl.”
When they were out of the camera’s sight line, the tall manstood up and led them deeper into the hospital—the three outsiderswould never have found the way by themselves. After twominutes, the tall man handed one of the outsiders a key, indicateda yellow steel door, with no identification.
“This is it?” The leader of the three was skeptical—the doorlooked like nothing.
“Yes,” said the tall man. “This is the side door. When you goin, you’ll be right among them. One or two. The front door andservice window is closed until six. I’ll be around the corner untilyou call, watching.”
He’d be around the corner where he could slip out of sight, ifsomething went wrong.
The other man nodded, asked, “Everybody ready?” The othertwo muttered, “Yeah,” tense now, pulled on the masks, took theirpistols out. The leader put the key in the lock and yanked openthe door.
Weather Karkinnen had taken a half-pill at nine o’clock, knowingthat she wouldn’t sleep without it. Too much to do, too muchto think about. The procedure had been researched, rehearsed,debated, and undoubtedly prayed over. Now the time had come.
Sleep came hard. She kept imagining that first moment, thefirst cut, the commitment, the parting of the flesh beneaththe edge of her scalpel, on a nearly circular path between theskulls of the two babies—but sometime before nine-thirty, sheslip ped away.
She didn’t feel her husband come to bed at one o’clock in themorning. He took care not to disturb her, undressing in the dark,lying as unmoving as he could, listening to her breathing, untilhe, too, slipped away.
And then her eyes opened.
Dark, not quite silent—the furnace running in the winternight. She lifted her head to the clock. Four-thirty. She’d beenasleep for seven hours. Eight would have been the theoreticalideal, but she never slept eight. She closed her eyes again, organizingherself, stepping through the upcoming day. At twenty minutesto five, she got out of bed, stretched, and headed to theen suite bathroom, checking herself: she felt sharp. Excellent. Shebrushed her teeth, showered, washed and dried her short-cutblond hair.
She’d laid out her clothes the night before. She walked acrossthe bedroom barefoot, in the light of the two digital clocks, pickedthem up: a thick black-silk jersey and gray wool slacks, and dressy,black-leather square-toed shoes. She would have preferred towear soft-soled cross-training shoes, like the nurses did, but surgeonsdidn’t dress like nurses. She’d never even told anyone aboutthe gel innersoles.
She carried her clothes back to the bathroom, shut the door,turned on the light again, and dressed. When she was ready, shelooked at herself in the mirror. Not bad.
Weather might have wished to have been a little taller, for theauthority given by height; she might have wished for a chiselednose. But her husband pointed out that she’d never had a problemgiving orders, or having them followed; and that he thought hernose, which she saw as lumpy, was devastatingly attractive, andthat any number of men had chased after her, nose and all.
So, not bad.
She grinned at herself, turned to make sure the slacks didn’tmake her ass look fat—they didn’t—switched off the light, openedthe bathroom door and tiptoed across the bedroom. Her husbandsaid, in the dark, “Good luck, babe.”
“I didn’t know you were awake.”
“I’m probably more nervous than you are,” he said.
She went back to the bed and kissed him on the forehead. “Goback to sleep.”
Downstairs in the kitchen, she had two pieces of toast, a cupof instant coffee, and a yogurt, got her bag, went out to the car,backed out of the garage, and headed downtown, on the snowystreets, across the river to the Minnesota Medical Research Center.She might be first in, she thought, but maybe not: there wereforty people on the surgical team. Somebody had to be more nervousthan she was.
At the hospital, the yellow door popped open and the threebig men swarmed through.
Two people were working in the pharmacy—a short, slender,older man, who might once in the sixties have been a dancer, butno longer had the muscle tone. He wore a scuzzy beard on hischeeks, a soul patch under his lower lip. First thing, when he cameto work, he tied a paper surgeon’s cap on his head, for the rushhe got when people looked at him in the cafeteria. The otherperson was a busy, intent, heavyset woman in a nurse’s uniform,who did the end-of-shift inventory, making sure it was all there,the stacks and rows and lockers full of drugs.
Some of it, put on the street, was worthless. Nobody paysstreet prices to cure the heartbreak of psoriasis.
Most of it, put on the street—on more than one street, actually;there was the old-age street, the uninsured street, the junkiestreet—was worth a lot. Half-million dollars? A million? Maybe.
The three hard men burst through the door and were on topof the two pharmacy workers in a half-second. The woman hadenough time to whimper, “Don’t,” before one of the men pushedher to the floor, gun in her face, so close she could smell the oilon it, and said, “Shutta fuck up. Shut up.” Soul-patch huddled intoa corner with his hands up, then sank to his butt.
The leader of the three waved a pistol at the two on the floorand said, “Flat on the floor. Roll over, put your hands behind yourback. We don’t want to hurt you.”
The two did, and another of the men hurriedly taped theirhands behind them with gray duct tape, and then bound their feettogether. That done, he tore off short strips of tape and pastedthem over the victims’ eyes, and then their mouths.
He stood up: “Okay.”
The leader pushed the door open again and signaled with afingertip. The tall man stepped in from the hallway, said, “These,”and pointed at a series of locked, glass-doored cupboards. And,“Over here . . .”
A row of metal-covered lockers. The leader of the big menwent to the man on the floor, who looked more ineffectual thanthe woman, and ripped the tape from his mouth.
“Where are the keys?” For one second, the man on the floorseemed inclined to prevaricate, so the big man dropped to hisknees and said, “If you don’t tell me this minute, I will break yourfuckin’ skull as an example. Then you will be dead, and I will askthe fat chick.”
“In the drawer under the telephone,” Soul-patch said.
As the big man retaped Soul-patch’s mouth, the tall man gotthe keys and began popping open the lockers. All kinds of goodstuff here, every opiate and man-made opiate except heroin;lots of hot-rock stimulants, worth a fortune with the big-namelabels.
“Got enough Viagra to stock a whorehouse,” one of the mengrunted.
Another one: “Take this Tamiflu shit?”
“Fifty bucks a box in California . . . Take it.”
Five minutes of fast work, the tall man pointing them at thegood stuff, sorting out the bad.
Then the old guy on the floor made a peculiar wiggle.
One of the holdup men happened to see it, frowned, thenwent over, half-rolled him. The old guy’s hands were loose—he’dpulled one out of the tape, had had a cell phone in a belt clipunder his sweater, had worked it loose, and had been trying tomake a call. The big man grunted and looked at the face of thephone. One number had been pressed successfully: a nine.
“Sonofabitch was trying to call nine-one-one,” he said, holdingup the phone to the others. The old man tried to roll away, butthe man who’d taken the phone punted him in the back once,twice, three times, kicking hard with steel-toed work boots.
“Sonofabitch . . . sonofabitch.” The boot hit with the sound ofa meat hammer striking a steak.
“Let him be,” the leader said after the third kick.
But the old man had rolled back toward his tormentor andgrasped him by the ankle, and the guy tried to shake him looseand the old man moaned something against the tape and held on,his fingernails raking the big guy’s calf.
“Let go of me, you old fuck.” The guy shook him off his legand kicked him again, hard, in the chest.
The leader said, “Quit screwing around. Tape him up againand let’s get this stuff out of here.”
The old man, his hands taped again, was still groaning as theyloaded the bags. That done, they went to the door, glanced downthe hallway. All clear. The bags went under the blanket on the cart,and the three big men pushed the cart past the security-cameraintersection, back through the rabbit warren to the utility closet,replaced the orderly uniforms with their winter coats, picked upthe bags.
The leader said, “Gotta move, now. Gotta move. Don’t knowhow much time we got.”
Another of the men said, “Shooter—dropped your glove.”
“Ah, man, don’t need that.” He picked it up, and the tall manled them out, his heart thumping against his rib cage. Almost out.When they could see the security door, he stopped, and they wenton and out. The tall man watched until the door re-latched,turned, and headed back into the complex.
There were no cameras looking at the security door, or betweenthe door and their van. The hard men hustled through thecold, threw the nylon bags in the back, and one of them climbedin with them, behind tinted windows, while the leader took thewheel and the big man climbed in the passenger seat.
“Goddamn, we did it,” said the passenger. He felt under hisseat, found a paper bag with a bottle of bourbon in it. He wasunscrewing the top as they rolled down the ramp; an Audi A5convertible, moving too fast, swept across the front of the vanand caught the passenger, mouth open, who squinted against thelight. For just a moment, he was face-to-face with a blond woman,who then swung past them into the garage.
The leader braked and looked back, but the A5 had alreadyturned up the next level on the ramp. He thought they might turnaround and find the woman . . . but then what? Kill her?
“She see you guys?” asked the man in the back, who’d seenonly the flash of the woman’s face.
The guy with the bottle said, “She was looking right at me.Goddamnit.”
“Nothing to do,” the leader said. “Nothing to do. Get out ofsight. Shit, it was only one second . . .”
And they went on.
Weather had seen the man with the bottle, but paid no attention.Too much going through her head. She went on to the physicians’parking, got a spot close to the door, parked, and hurriedinside.
The tall man got back to the utility closet, pulled off the raincoatand pants, which he’d used to conceal his physician’s scrubs: ifthey’d been seen in the hallway, the three big men with a doc,somebody would have remembered. He gathered up the scrubsabandoned by the big men, stuffed them in a gym bag, along withthe raincoat and pants, took a moment to catch his breath, toneaten up.
Listened, heard nothing. Turned off the closet light, peekedinto the empty hallway, then strode off, a circuitous route, avoidingcameras, to an elevator. Pushed the button, waited impatiently.
When the door opened, he found a short, attractive blondwoman inside, who nodded at him. He nodded back, poked “1,”and they started down, standing a polite distance apart, with justthe trifle of awkwardness of a single man and a single woman,unacquainted, in an elevator.
The woman said, after a few seconds, “Still hard to come towork in the dark.”
“Can’t wait for summer,” the tall man said. They got to “2,”and she stepped off and said, “Summer always comes,” and shewas gone.
Weather thought, as she walked away from the elevator, Nopoint looking at the kids. They’d be asleep in the temporary ICUthey’d set up down the hall from the operating room. She wentinstead to the locker room and traded her street clothes for surgicalscrubs. Another woman came in, and Weather nodded toher and the other woman asked, “Couldn’t sleep?”
“Got a few hours,” Weather said. “Are we the only two here?”
The woman, a radiologist named Regan, laughed: “No. John’sgot the doll on the table and he’s talking about making somechanges to the table, for God’s sakes. Rick’s here, he’s messingwith his saws. Gabriel was down in the ICU, he just got here, he’sco...
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