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An extraordinary Lucas Davenport thriller from #1 New York Times–bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winner John Sandford.
After the events in Gathering Prey, Lucas Davenport finds himself in a very unusual situation—no longer employed by the Minnesota BCA. His friend the governor is just cranking up a presidential campaign, though, and he invites Lucas to come along as part of his campaign staff. “Should be fun!” he says, and it kind of is—until they find they have a shadow: an armed man intent on killing the governor...and anyone who gets in the way.
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John Sandford is the pseudonym for the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist John Camp. He is the author of twenty-six Prey novels; four Kidd novels; eight Virgil Flowers novels; two YA novels coauthored with his wife, Michele Cook; and three other books, most recently Saturn Run.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Bright-eyed Marlys Purdy carried a steel bucket around to the side of the garage to the rabbit hutches, which were stacked up on top of each other like Manhattan walkups. She paused there for a moment, considering the possibilities. A dozen New Zealand whites peered through the screened windows, their pink noses twitching and pale eyes watching the intruder, their long ears turning like radar dishes, trying to parse their immediate future: Was this dinner, or death?
A car went by on the gravel road, on the far side of a ditch-line of lavender yarrow and clumps of black-eyed susans and purple cone flowers, throwing a cloud of dust into the late-afternoon sun. Marlys turned to look. Lori Schaeffer, who lived three more miles out. Didn’t bother to wave.
Marlys was a sturdy woman in her fifties, white curls clinging to her scalp like vanilla frosting. She wore rimless glasses, a homemade red-checked gingham dress and low-topped Nikes. Short-nosed and pale, she had a small pink mouth that habitually pursed in thought, or disapproval.
She popped the door on one of the hutches and pulled the rabbit out by its hind feet.
The animal smelled of rabbit food and rabbit poop and the pine shavings used as bedding. A twelve-inch Craftsman crescent wrench, its working end rusted shut, lay on top of the hutches. Marlys stretched the rabbit over her thigh and held it tight until it stopped wriggling, then picked up the crescent wrench and whacked the rabbit on the back of the head, separating the skull from the spine.
So it was death.
The rabbit went limp, but a few seconds later, began twitching as its nerves fired against oxygen starvation. That went on for a bit and then the rabbit went quiet again.
Some years before, Marlys had mounted a plank on the side of the garage, at head-height. Before mounting the board, she’d driven two twenty-penny common nails through it, so that an inch of nail protruded, angling upward. Every year or so, she’d use a bastard file to sharpen up the nails.
Now she positioned the bucket, with a used plastic shopping bag on the inside, under the board with the nails. She pushed the dead rabbit’s feet onto the nails, until the nails stuck through; and, in a minute or so, had stripped the rabbit’s fur, pulled off its head, and gutted it, all the unwanted parts and most of the blood draining into plastic bag in the bucket
Not all of the blood: a dinner-plate-sized blotch of old black blood stains marred the wooden side of the garage, supplemented by new red blotches from this last butchery. She carried the bloody meat back to the house, paused to tie up the top of the plastic bag and drop it into the garbage can, and in the kitchen, washed the meat.
During the entire five-minute process of killing and butchering the rabbit, she’d never once thought about either the animal, or the process. All of that was automatic, like pulling beets or picking wax beans.
Marlys’ brain was consumed with other thoughts.
If and when, and where and how, and with what.
Marlys was a woman of ordinary appearance, if seen in a supermarket or library, dressed in homemade or Walmart dresses or slacks, a little too heavy, but fighting it, white-haired, ruddy-faced.
In her heart, though, she housed a rage that knew no bounds. The rage fully possessed her at times and she might be seen sitting in her truck at a stoplight, pounding the steering wheel with the palms of her hands; or walking through the noodle aisle at the supermarket with a teeth-baring snarl. She had frightened strangers, who might look at her and catch the flames of rage, quickly extinguished when Marlys realized she was being watched.
The rage was social and political and occasionally personal, based on her hatred of obvious injustice, the crushing of the small and helpless by the steel wheels of American plutocracy.
Jesse walked into the kitchen, running a hand over his close-cropped hair. He peered over her shoulder into the sink. “What are we having?”
“Rabbit fettuccine alfredo,” Marlys said to her blue-eyed son. “We’re eating early, ’cause I got to get over to Mt. Pleasant. You go on out and get me some broccoli and a tomato. Where’s your brother?”
“Messin’ around with that .22,” Jesse said. He put a hand to his left cheek, a gesture of thought or weariness in others, but in Jesse, an unconscious move to cover the port wine stain that marked his neck and the bottom of his cheek. “He says there’s nothing wrong with it that a good cleaning won’t fix.”
“Well, he knows his guns. Go get me that broccoli. We’ll eat in an hour.”
Marlys and her younger son, Cole, lived on a nine-acre place north of Pella, Iowa, in a weathered clapboard farmhouse with three bedrooms and a bathroom up, a living room, parlor, a half-bath and a kitchen down, and a rock-walled basement under all of that.
The basement held the mechanical equipment for the house, and a twenty-one-cubic-foot Whirlpool freezer that Marlys filled with corn, green and wax beans, peas, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli, that kept them eating all winter. Applesauce from a half-dozen apple trees went in Ball jars, stored on dusty wooden shelves next to the freezer.
Her older son, Jesse, until recently had lived in an apartment in town with his wife and daughter, and sold Purdy produce at most of the big farmers’ markets between Cedar Rapids and Des Moines.
Cole worked in the truck gardens and ran the mower at the country club during golf season. The two sons would jacklight four to six deer during the various hunting seasons, and the venison steaks and sausage, supplemented by the rabbits, filled out their meat requirements. They’d once had a chicken yard, but a mid-winter spate of accounting several years earlier had convinced Marlys that chickens were cheaper to buy at the supermarket, than to raise at home, even given the bonus eggs.
In the winter, to raise cash, Marlys made hand-stitched quilts which she sold through an Amish store in Des Moines. She wasn’t Amish, but nobody much cared, as long as the quilts moved.
The Purdys weren’t rich, but they did all right, not counting the possibly inherited tendency to psychosis.
Jesse walked down to the closest garden, cut a few broccoli heads – they were big and tough, being the last harvest of the first season, but good enough when chopped – and got a nice ripe tomato. All of that took only a minute, but by the time he started back to the house, he was sweating.
There’d been a lot of rain that Spring and everything was looking lush and fine. At the moment, the sun was shining and the temperature was in the low nineties, with the humidity close to eighty percent.
The local farmers, of course, were bitching because the bean and corn harvests were going to be huge and the prices depressed. Of course, if it hadn’t rained, they’d be bitching because their crops were small, even if the prices were high. You couldn’t win with farmers.
For Marlys and her sons, the frequent rain was nothing but a blessing: more food than they could eat, so many apples that they’d have to cull them before they were mature to keep the apple tree branches from breaking; enough raspberries and Concord grapes to make jam enough for five years of toast. Marlys had been talking of buying an upright freezer for the kitchen. She could freeze a year’s worth of cinnamon apple slices and they all did like apple pie.
As Jesse walked back to the house, he noticed a pale haziness on the western horizon, above the afterglow left by the sun, hinting of a new weather system moving in, even more rain. All right with him. Looking up at the top floor of the house, he saw Cole sitting behind the bedroom window screen with his rifle, which he had reassembled.
“You don’t go shooting nobody,” he called up to his brother.
Cole didn’t say anything, but lifted a hand.
Gray-eyed Cole sat in his bedroom window, looking out over the road, a scoped Ruger 10-22 in his hands. Squirrel rifle. Below him, a quilt hung on the wire clothesline, airing out. Before the end of the day, the quilt would smell like early-summer fields, with a little gravel dust mixed in. A wonderful smell, a smell like home.
An aging green pickup was motoring over the hill to the south, about to take the curve in front of the house. Cole tracked it with the scope, watching David Souther horse the truck around the curve heading south toward Pella. He whispered to himself, “Bang!”
One dead Souther.
Souther was a hippy kind of guy and had a hundred and twenty acres given over to sheep, which he’d shear so his wife could wash, spin, dye and weave the fleece into blankets and wall-hangings, which they sold at a store at the Amana Colonies. Souther was also a poet and sometimes had a book published. The Purdys had two of his books, which Souther had given them, but Cole had never read any of the poems.
Cole had nothing at all against Souther or his wife. They worked hard and they didn’t get rich, but they did all right, he supposed. Janette Souther was the shyest woman Cole had ever met: she couldn’t even look at another human being. How she and Souther ever gotten together, he had no idea. Of course, they had no kids, so maybe they hadn’t exactly gotten together, Souther being a poet and all.
Another truck came over the hill to the south.
Cole put his scope on it...
Cole had been to Iraq twice with the National Guard. He’d been a truck driver, not a combat troop, but in Iraq, even the truck drivers were on the front lines. He’d been in his truck on two occasions when IEDs went off at the side of the road, once a short distance ahead of him, once behind him, artillery shells fired with cell phones.
He hadn’t exactly been wounded either time, but he’d been hurt. He couldn’t hear anything for a while after the second explosion and never could hear as well as he had when he enlisted. Right after the IEDs, he’d been too dizzy to drive for a while, and nauseous for a couple of days, but the Army told him that he was okay, and the VA had waved him off – they had more important things to do.
He wasn’t entirely sure about how okay he really was. Hadn’t been able to sleep since he got back, and that was nine years now; and he’d had a bell-like ringing in his ears since the first explosion, sometimes so loud that he thought it would drive him crazy.
And maybe it had.
The approaching truck went into the turn: Sherm Miller, who had a farm up the road, nine hundred and sixty acres, one of the richer people around, his land alone probably worth seven or eight million.
Cole whispered, “Bang!”
Jesse dropped the broccoli and tomato with his mother, and said, “I’m running down to Henry’s to get some cigs. You want anything?”
“Mmm, get me a box of those hundred-calorie fudge bars. You stay away from Willie.” Willie was Jesse’s estranged wife.
“We gotta get that sorted out soon,” Jesse said. “I can’t be living here for the rest of my life.”
Marlys paused in her dinner prep: “Well, you could. You could have your old bedroom back permanently. You know you’re welcome.”
“Gotta get away from here sooner or later, ma,” Jesse said. “Then I won’t have to listen to any more of that political bullshit from you and Cole. That Michaela Bowden bullshit. You guys are a little fucked up on the subject.”
“Quiet! You be quiet!” Marlys said. “I don’t want to hear anything about her.”
“Nobody here but us,” Jesse said.
Marlys pointed toward the ceiling: the NSA satellites were watching everything and everybody, and sorting, sorting, sorting. She was on forums that said so. The feds would be listening for the name “Michaela Bowden.” Mention it the wrong way and the black helicopters would be all over your butt.
“You go on, but be back for dinner,” Marlys said. And, “Stay away from Willie.”
Jesse said, “Yeah,” and “Cole’s up in his window again,” and walked out.
When Jesse was gone, Marlys went back to thinking about what she’d been thinking about for the past year: getting the right man in the White House.
That would mean killing Michaela Bowden, the leading candidate on the Democratic side. Bowden was a sure thing, everybody thought. Sure to get the nomination, sure to win the election.
She might already have some Secret Service protection, but the convention was still a year off. Bowden was running around the countryside, pumping up the base, trying to brick up the nomination, trying to fend off any possible competition, stretching to win Iowa’s political caucuses, now only five months away. She was out in the open and the Secret Service protection would be light, compared to what it’d be after the convention.
If they were going to get her, now was the time.
Right now. They couldn’t wait.
Jesse got back to the house with the cigarettes, and two minutes later, his wife showed up with the kid. His wife, whose name was Wilma, but who everybody called Willie, was dropping the daughter, Caralee, for the weekend.
Marlys heard Willie and Jesse collide at the front door and thought, “Uh-oh,” and hurried that way, in time to hear Jesse saying, “I ain’t payin’ to support that asshole no way. You want to suck his lazy cock, you go right ahead, but you ain’t seeing no more money from me...”
“I’ll get the court after you again, you ugly piece of shit,” Willie said.
Marlys called, “Hey, hey, you all shut up. Both of you. Willie, you get the hell out of here, you aren’t welcome inside the house. You know that.”
Caralee was sucking on a binkie and had the dried remnants of green baby food dribbled down her shirt. A small, round-headed blonde, she looked frightened, her eyes switching nervously between her parents, and Marlys got down on one knee and said, “Come on to Grandma, honey, come on, it’s okay.”
Willie left, banging the screen door behind her and shouting, “Fuck all you Purdys,” and Jesse shouted back, “Suck on it, bitch,” and Willie threw a finger over her shoulder. Upstairs, Cole put the scope’s crosshairs on Willie’s back and said to himself, “Bang.”
That evening, after dinner, as Jesse, Cole and Caralee settled down to watch a Cubs game on television, Marlys drove to Mt. Pleasant. On the way, she felt the anger burning through her, as it always did, when she got together with the other members of the Lost Tribes of Iowa.
Found herself hunched over the steering wheel, her knuckles white, remembering.
It had been thirty years since the Purdys lost the farm. Four hundred and eighty acres of good black soil, gone with low crop prices and high interest rates. Gone with it was the three hundred thousand dollars that her parents had loaned to the newlyweds as a down payment on the mortgage loan, and to buy basic equipment. The loss of the three hundred thousand had crippled her father’s retirement. He’d planned to trav...
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