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Suspense, thrills and love in October Best Reads

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PREORDER this sexy & emotional story about a single dad wild with grief and the strong survivor he hires as his nanny!


Gathering Prey

Gathering Prey, May 2015
Lucas Davenport #25
by John Sandford

Putnam
Featuring: Letty Davenport; Lucas Davenport
416 pages
ISBN: 0399168796
EAN: 9780399168796
Kindle: B00O2BKKUS
Hardcover / e-Book
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"A chilling thriller that almost feels too real!"

Fresh Fiction Review

Gathering Prey
John Sandford

Reviewed by Monique Daoust
Posted April 13, 2015

Thriller Police Procedural | Mystery Police Procedural | Mystery

Lucas Davenport, of Minnesota's BCA, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, is more or less dragged into an investigation by his adopted daughter, Letty, who is home from Stanford University. Letty had met some buskers, more specifically Henry and Skye, in San Francisco who told her an unsettling story. It is rumoured that there is some sort of cult whose members are killing homeless people. Skye had told Letty that the group's leader is suspected of having disciples who steal for him, he has the women prostitute themselves, and most likely there is drug dealing involved. Letty had given her cell phone number to Skye, who not long after phones Letty to tell her that Skye's friend Henry has disappeared, and Skye fears the worst. Letty convinces her father to look into it, and when Henry is found dead, killed in a most gruesome manner, Lucas has a nagging feeling that the busker's death may be linked to a recent murder case.

GATHERING PREY is the latest in the very long-running Lucas Davenport series, and readers new to the series can dive ahead safely: Mr. Sandford provides solid yet concise background on Lucas and his family so that it all seems familiar right from the start. Lucas Davenport is a no- nonsense cop, he's middle-aged, has a family; he's a bit of throwback to an age of more realistic policemen, and the daily grind of police work.

GATHERING PREY is fast-paced, very straightforward; there are no superfluous embellishments: Lucas is on the hunt for a ruthless killer who, it turns out, is awfully clever at not being found. GATHERING PREY leads Lucas on a cross-country chase as the bodies pile up; we are also privy to the dastardly villain's machinations. GATHERING PREY is a chilling read because some things almost feel too real for comfort.

Learn more about Gathering Prey

SUMMARY

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

They call them Travelers. They move from city to city, panhandling, committing no crimes—they just like to stay on the move. And now somebody is killing them.

Lucas Davenport’s adopted daughter, Letty, is home from college when she gets a phone call from a woman Traveler she’d befriended in San Francisco. The woman thinks somebody’s killing her friends, she’s afraid she knows who it is, and now her male companion has gone missing. She’s hiding out in North Dakota, and she doesn’t know what to do.

Letty tells Lucas she’s going to get her, and, though he suspects Letty’s getting played, he volunteers to go with her. When he hears the woman’s story, though, he begins to think there’s something in it. Little does he know. In the days to come, he will embark upon an odyssey through a subculture unlike any he has ever seen, a trip that will not only put the two of them in danger—but just may change the course of his life.

Excerpt

Chapter One

Skye and Henry stood on a corner of Union Square on a fading San Francisco afternoon in early June, the occasional odor of popcorn swirling through, trying to busk up a few dollars. Skye saw the devil go by in his black '85 T-top, crooked smile, ponytail, twisty little braids in his beard. His skinny blond girlfriend sat beside him, tats running across her bare shoulders like grapevines, front teeth filed to tiny sharp points. Skye turned away, a chill running down her back.

Henry was strumming on a fifty-dollar acoustic guitar he'd bought at a pawnshop. Skye played her harmonica and kept time with a half-tambourine strapped to one foot, jangling out into the evening, doing their version of "St. James Infirmary," Henry banging between chords and struggling through, "When I die, bury me in a high-top Stetson hat..."

He did not sound like any kind of black blues singer from the Mississippi Delta. He sounded like a white punk from Johnson City, Texas, which he was.

Skye was stocky with high cheekbones and green eyes. She wore an earth-colored loose knit wrap over a sixties olive-drab army shirt, corporal's stripes still on the sleeves, and gray cargo pants over combat boots. Her hair was apricot-colored and tangled, with a scraggly braid hanging down her back. Henry was a tall apple-cheeked man/boy with a perpetually smiley face, dressed in a navy blue Mao jacket, buttoned to the throat, and matching slacks, and high-topped sneakers. Their packs sat against the wall of the building behind them, big, capable nylon bags, with a peeled-pine walking stick attached to one side of hers.

"Put a ten-piece jazz band on my tail-gate to raise hell as we roll along..."

They both smelled bad. They washed themselves every morning in public bathrooms, but that didn't eliminate the musty stink of their clothes. A laundromat cost money, which they didn't have at the moment. A cigar box on the sidewalk held five dollar bills and a handful of change. They'd put in two of the dollar bills themselves, to encourage contributions, to suggest that their music might be worth listening to.

They weren't the worst of the buskers on the square, but they were not nearly the best, and in terms of volume, they couldn't compete with the horn players.

As Henry wound down through the song, his shaky baritone breaking from time to time, Skye noticed the young woman leaning on a fire hydrant, watching them.

Was she with the devil? She was the kind he went for. Thin but hot. Not blond, though. The devil went for blondes.

The young woman was casually dressed in a loose, multicolored blouse, jeans, and sneakers, each of those separate components suggesting money: the blouse looked as though it might be real silk, the jeans fit perfectly, and even the sneakers suggested a secret sneaker store, one that only rich people knew about.

Her dark hair had been styled by somebody with talent.

Skye thought, Maybe with the devil — but if not, maybe good for a five? Even a ten? A ten would buy dinner and a cup of coffee in the morning....

Henry gave up on the "St. James Infirmary," said, "Fuck this. We ain't doing no good."

"Don't have enough cash to eat. Let's give it another ten minutes. How about that Keb' Mo' thing?"

"Don't know the words yet." He looked around the square. "We should have gone up to the park. Can't fight these fuckin' horns."

The young woman who'd been leaning against the fire hydrant ambled up to them. She smiled and nodded to Henry, but spoke to Skye. "I don't give money to buskers... or panhandlers... because I'm afraid they'll spend it on dope. I got better things to do with it."

"Well, thank you very fucking much," Skye said. Her voice was harshed by smoke and a good bit of that had been weed.

"You're a traveler," the woman said, showing no offense.

"You know about us?"

"Enough to pick you out," the woman said. "My name's Letty. What's yours?"

"Skye. My friend is Henry." Skye was calculating: this woman was either with the devil, or... she could be worked. And Skye was hungry.

"Let's go up to the park," Henry said.

"Hang on," Skye said. Back to the young woman: "If you won't give us money, could you get us a bite?"

"There's a McDonald's a couple blocks from here," Letty said. "I'll buy you as much as you can eat."

"Them's the magic words," Henry said, suddenly enthusiastic, his pink face going even pinker.

The two travelers shouldered their packs and Henry carried his guitar case and they started down Geary, walking toward Market Street, weaving through the tourists. "Where are you coming from and where are you going?" Letty asked.

Skye said, "We were in Santa Monica for the winter, then we started up here a couple weeks ago. Planning to be here for a couple of weeks, get some money, then go on up to Eugene, and maybe Seattle."

Henry said to Skye, "I could have sworn I saw Pilot go by a few minutes ago. I heard they were traveling this summer."

"We stay away from that asshole," Skye said. "He's the devil."

"Is not," Henry said. "He's cool."

"He's not cool, Henry. He's a crazy motherfucker."

"Been in movies, man," Henry said. "He said he might be able to get me a part."

Skye grabbed his shirtsleeve, turning him: "Henry. He'll kill you."

"Ah, bullshit." Henry started walking again and they could see the McDonald's sign beyond him. He looked back at the two women. "You don't know a chance when you see one, Skye. He could get me a part. I'd like to be in a movie. I'd really like that."

"Why? So you know you're alive? You're alive, Henry. Let's try to keep it that way."

Henry shut up and they got to the McDonald's.

Inside, the two travelers loaded up on calories: Henry ordered a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, large fries, a chocolate shake. Letty said, "Get a couple burgers, if you want."

"You serious?" Henry asked.

"Go ahead."

They did — two sandwiches, two fries, and a shake for each of them. Letty got a fish sandwich and a Diet Coke. When they'd spread out at a table, Letty asked Skye, "So... you feel safe when you're on the road?"

"Yeah, I'm pretty safe," Skye said. She took a big bite of the first burger and said, "I'm usually with somebody. Which helps. When I'm alone, getting ready to move, I'll find a festival, or something like that, where there are a lot of people. You can ask around, find somebody going in your direction. Check up on him. Or her. Sometimes, when I got the money, I'll ride the dog. One time, I met this guy in San Antonio, he was a dope dealer but, you know, he was okay. He bought me a ticket on the train to Los Angeles. More than three hundred dollars. And he didn't want anything for it."

"They usually want something for it?" Letty asked.

"Oh, sometimes they think they might get something... but they don't," Skye said. "If they're the kind of guy who's going to push it, I can usually figure that out ahead of time and I don't go."

"Ever make a mistake?" Letty asked.

Skye grinned at her, showing her yellow teeth, and said, "You're kinda snoopy, aren't you?"

Letty smiled back and said, "I used to work at a TV news station."

Skye bobbed her head and took another bite of the sandwich. Eventually she said, "I made a couple of mistakes."

"What'd you do about it?" Letty asked.

"Nothing. What could I do?"

"I would have killed them," Letty said.

Henry was examining the side of his sandwich, and his eyes cut over to her and he said, "Easy to say, not so easy to do."

"Not that hard," Letty said.

Skye and Letty locked eyes for a few seconds, then Skye said, "Jesus." She swallowed and said, "You're with Pilot, aren't you?"

"What?"

Henry brightened up: "Hey, really? You're with Pilot?"

"I don't know who Pilot is," Letty said. "I'm a student. At Stanford. I'm meeting friends in fifteen minutes, back at the square. We're on a last shopping trip before summer vacation."

Skye looked at her for another moment and then said, "Yeah. I can see that. You don't know Pilot? He likes college girls. Or at least, college-girl types."

"No. Who is he?"

"He's an asshole," Skye said. "Maybe the biggest asshole in California. Travels around with his disciples, he calls them. Fucks them all, men and women alike."

"Does not," Henry said. "Nothing queer about Pilot."

"You hang with him, you'll find out, little pink cheeks," Skye said. She reached out and pinched his cheek. "And I'm not talking about these cheeks, either."

"Fuck you, Skye." He didn't sound like he meant it, though.

"'Biggest asshole in California' would put him in the running for the national title," Letty said. "What'd he do?"

Skye looked at her steadily for a moment, then said, "Might be a little more than a college girl would want to know," she said.

Letty said, "I'm not the standard-issue college girl. What's he do? Besides being hot for Henry?"

"Shut up," Henry said.

"Hot for Henry — we ought to write a song," Skye said to Henry.

Henry knew the two women were teasing, and said again, "Shut up," and, "You want all them fries?"

"Yes, I do," Skye said. "So: Pilot. Pilot has these people he calls disciples, and they steal for him, the men do, and the women give him their paychecks and sometimes he sells them, the women. He peddles dope to TV people and sometimes these TV guys need to hustle a deal or hustle up some money, and Pilot's women will go over and do whatever the money-men want."

"Nasty," Letty said.

"That's not even the bad stuff," Skye said. "There are probably twenty guys in Hollywood doing that. Pilot's like one of those cult guys. He says the end of the world's coming — he calls it the Fall — and the only thing that'll be left are the outlaws. Like him and the disciples, and the dope gangs and bikers and Juggalos and the skinheads and like that. He believes that the groups need to bind themselves together with blood. By killing people. We both heard that he's killed people. That the whole gang has."

"All bullshit," Henry said.

The women ignored him and Letty asked, "Why don't you call the cops?"

"Nothing to call them about," Skye said. "We say, 'We heard he's killed someone.' They go, 'Who?' 'We don't know.' 'When?' 'We don't know that, either.' 'Who told you?' 'We don't know. Some street guy.' The cops say, 'Uh-huh, we'll get right on it' and hang up."

Letty said, "Huh."

Skye: "He'd snatch you off the street in a minute."

Letty showed some teeth in what wasn't exactly a smile. "He'd get his throat cut."

Henry swallowed a smile and said, "Yeah, right. Pilot eat you right up..."

Letty stared at him until he turned his eyes away. Skye squinted at her: "Where'd you get that mean streak?"

"I grew up dirt poor out on the prairie in northern Minnesota," Letty said. "My old man dumped us and my mom was a drunk. I kept us going by trapping muskrats and coons, wandering around in the snow with a bunch of leg-hold traps and a .22. Must've killed a thousand rats with that gun. Pilot's just another rat to me."

"Bet you had to trap a lot of coons to get into Stanford," Skye said.

Letty smiled again, and said, "Well, my mom got murdered and the cop who was investigating, he and his wife adopted me. They're my real mom and dad. It was like winning the lottery."

Skye: "For real?"

"For real," Letty said.

Skye said, "Huh. How about your real pop?"

"Never really knew him," Letty said. "He's a shadow way back there."

"He never... messed with you, or anything?"

"No, nothing like that," Letty said.

"Sorry about your mom," Skye said.

"Yeah, thanks. She... couldn't deal with it. With anything."

Skye nodded. "My mom is like that. She didn't get murdered or anything — as far as I know, she's still living in her old trailer."

"What about your dad?"

"He's probably still around, too. Probably messing with my little sister, if she hasn't taken off already."

Letty didn't ask the obvious question; the little sister comment made it unnecessary.

Skye felt that and bent the conversation in another direction. "What's that little teeny watch you're wearing?" she asked, poking a finger at the red band around Letty's wrist.

"Ah, it's one of those athlete things. Not a watch. Tells you how many steps you've taken in a day, and how high your heart rate got, and all of that."

Skye held up a wrist. A piece of dark brown, elaborately braided leather was wrapped around it, and she said, "My bracelet doesn't tell me anything."

"Yours has more magic," Letty said.

"Wanna trade?"

Letty's eyebrows went up. "Are you serious? It isn't important to you?"

"Nah. I buy the leather in craft shops, we go in and ask if they've got any scraps, and I make these up, then we sell them, when we can."

"Even up," Letty said. She peeled the band off her wrist, and Skye did it with hers, and they traded.

"If this Pilot guy is such an asshole, why does Henry like him so much?" Letty asked.

Henry: "He's a movie guy."

Skye turned on him: "You know, I don't usually think you're stupid, but you're stupid about Pilot. He tells you he was on TV and you believe him. If he's on TV, why's he driving around in a piece-of-shit Pontiac? That thing is fifteen years older than you are, Henry."

"It's a cool car, man."

"It's a piece of shit." Skye turned back to Letty. "We made the mistake of hanging round with some of the disciples for a while. If you're on the street, down in L.A., if you're around the beaches, you'll run into them."

"If you hate him so much, why'd you hang with them?" Letty asked.

"They share," Henry said.

Skye nodded. "They do. That's one thing about them. They'll feed you if you're willing to listen to Pilot talk about the Fall. You get hungry enough, you'll listen."

"I would have been curious to meet him," Letty said.

Skye said, "Not unless you're crazier than you look. I'm not kiddin' you: he is an evil motherfucker."

They talked for a few minutes more, then Letty checked the time on her cell phone. "I've got to go."

"Where's your home?" Skye asked.

"Still Minnesota."

"Really? Maybe I'll see you there. Henry and I are gonna hit the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, the bikers are usually good for something. Problem is, Pilot's going there, too. To Sturgis, to sell dope. That's what he told a friend of ours, anyway."

Letty took a miniature legal pad out of her shoulder bag and scribbled a phone number on the page, with her first name only. "If you make it to Minneapolis, give me a call, I'll buy you another cheeseburger," she said. She took a fifty out of her purse, folded it to the same dimensions as the note and pushed it across the table. "Emergency money."

"Thanks. I mean really, thanks." Skye took it and asked, "Do you really think you could kill somebody?"

Letty nodded: "I have."

Skye cocked her head: "Really?"

"Really. Believe me, Skye, when it's you or them, you tend to choose them. And not feel bad about it."

Skye said, "If you say so. If we get there, I'll call. In fact, I might come there just to get the sandwiches."

"I'll look for you," Letty said, and she slid out of the booth and added, "Take it easy, Henry. And if you get in the shower with the devil, don't pick up the soap."

Skye laughed and Henry nodded, his mouth too full to reply. When Letty was gone, he swallowed and said, "Man, this turned out good. That killing stuff, though, I mean, what a bunch of bullshit."

"I don't think it was," Skye said. After a moment, "You weren't looking in her eyes."

Skye and Henry spent June in San Francisco, then Eugene, and the Fourth of July in Seattle. Later that month they caught a ride to Spokane and made a little money before the cops started hassling them.

They got lucky at a truck stop and a trucker hauled them all the way to Billings, Montana.

In Billings they took a big risk — or Henry did, but if there'd been trouble, they both would have gone to jail.

The trucker dropped them off on the edge of I-90, a few blocks before he'd have to turn off to his terminal. "They wouldn't want to see me giving people a ride," he told them, and they thanked him, and he went on his way. It was nearly ten o'clock at night, and they found themselves in an industrial area on the edge of town, with some farm fields and brushy areas mixed in.

Three hundred yards away, a dark building stood under a dozen orange security lights, which illuminated a bunch of farm equipment — tractors, trailers, combines, as well as a few bulldozers and graders. They went that way, walking along the frontage road, because it seemed to be more toward the center of town.

As they were walking along, a man pulled into the parking lot of the farm-equipment dealership, got out, locked his car — the car was small and swoopy and expensive-looking. The man went to a glass door on the side of the building, unlocked it, went inside.

They continued to walk along the frontage road, moving slowly in the dark, and were fifty yards away when the man came back out of the building. He'd left a light on inside and they could see he was now wearing shorts and a T-shirt. He took off running, or jogging, away from them, along the frontage road, moving fast.

Henry said, "Take my pack."

"What?"

"Get off the road and take my pack. Get back in the weeds," he said. "Wait for me."

"What?"

He didn't say anything else, but wrenched the walking stick off her pack and ran toward the building. Skye watched him cross the parking lot, crouch by the door, and a minute later, heard the distant sound of breaking glass. Henry disappeared inside, and a minute later, crawled back out and ran toward her.

As he came up, he said breathlessly, "C'mon — we got to go. We got to go."

"What'd you get?"

"Got his billfold."

"Oh, Jesus, Henry."

They jogged until Henry got a stitch in his side, and then they walked for a while, swerving off the frontage road whenever a car came along, going down in the ditch, crouching, catching their breath, then running some more. They were a mile south when they heard sirens and saw the flashing lights of the cop cars back the way they'd come.

They kept going, another mile, and another, and then a cop car went by on the frontage road, as they lay in some weeds in the ditch. When the cop was gone, they ran some more, the best they could, nearly panicked, until after midnight, when Skye couldn't go any farther. She told Henry, and they swerved off into a farm field, dark as pitch, and eventually stumbled into a copse of trees.

They spread out their bags, broke out a flashlight, and looked in the wallet.

Eight hundred and forty dollars. They couldn't believe it: more money than they'd ever had at one time.

"They'll be coming for us," Henry said. "They'll be all over us. I never thought it'd be this big." "So we hide out," Skye said. "Maybe right here. Tomorrow night, we start walking again." "Which way?" She pointed back the way they'd come with the trucker. "There were some diners back there, some gas stations. We find some broken-ass guy with out-of-state plates, going through. Give him fifty dollars for gas." "And we're gone," Henry said.

That's what they did. They buried the stolen wallet in the field, and on the next night, found a ride that took them back through the city, and then south and east. On the fourth of August, a hot day, a trucker with an eagle feather in his hair dropped them off in Sturgis, South Dakota.

Right in the middle of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally; thousands of bikers, mostly old guys with beards and full-sleeve tattoos and hefty old ladies who looked like they'd be more comfortable making Jell-O salads with little pink marshmallows.

And there were a few people like themselves.

Travelers.

They'd been there two days when Skye saw the devil, loafing through town in his black Pontiac with the gold firebird decal on the hood, the blonde still riding shotgun.

Henry saw him, too.

Henry was wandering through the Sturgis marketplace in the gathering dusk, looking at tattoos, thinking about getting one, something small and stylish; looking at chaps, the leather jackets, the Harley accessories. Henry was a traveler, but wouldn't always be one. When his traveling days ended, he thought, maybe he'd get a Harley. Really, though, he liked the looks of another bike, might be Italian...

He was checking out a tall, muscular man dressed all in black leather and silver, with wraparound black shades and a harsh black goatee — Henry liked the look, but realistically, he wouldn't get a goatee like that in this lifetime; he barely had blond fuzz — when a woman slipped in behind Henry and licked his ear.

He tensed and turned and there was Kristen, she of the filed teeth. She was wearing a leather bikini bottom and a strip of black duct tape across her breasts, little bumps where her nipples pushed against the tape, and black high-heeled boots. She had a silver ring through one wing of her nose, and a bead through her tongue. Her body was a riot of tattooed Wonder Woman comic art.

She said, "Well, well, well. Our Henry. Pilate's been looking for you. He talked to the producer and he thinks they have a slot for you in the miniseries. Think you could do a cowboy?"

Henry didn't know how to answer and didn't know where to look. He backed a step away, blushing but said, "Well, shoot, I grew up in Johnson City, Texas. I guess I could do a cowboy."

"We're out scouting locations, right now. You know what that is?"

"Yup, I do." He'd once talked to a location scout in Pasadena, California.

"Well, fine. Me and Ellen are meeting up at the Conoco at eight o'clock. Be there. You got one chance. Okay?"

"Okay. I don't know where Skye is..."

"We don't want Skye. Skye is a pain in the ass. She's so negative, you know what I mean? You bring Skye, Pilate will say forget it."

Henry swallowed, scratched his nose, glanced over at the black leather guy, who winked at him. He turned back to Kristen and said, "I'll be there."

She stepped right up to him, pushing her breasts into his chest. He tried to step back again but she grabbed his package and squeezed, a little, and said, "Me'n Ellen are looking forward to it." Then she turned and ambled off, her hips swinging off the pinpoints of the boot heels.

Ellen looked like either a mean schoolteacher or a mean prison guard, Henry thought, when he met them at the Conoco an hour later. He thought it was her hair: short, tightly curled, her ears sticking out like semaphore signals. He was having second thoughts about going off with them, but the idea of being in a movie: a movie. He'd be somebody.

Ellen was gassing up a Subaru station wagon when Henry wandered up, and Kristen came out of the Conoco carrying two grocery bags, heavy enough that the muscles stood out in her forearms. She'd changed into jeans in the cool of the evening, but still had the black duct tape across her breasts.

They got in the Subaru, Henry in the back, with his pack and the grocery sacks, the women in the front. Ellen started the car, and then Kristen, in the passenger seat, threw her arm around Ellen's shoulder, and the two women kissed, a long, sloppy French kiss, with Kristen's eyes cutting to Henry in the back, who looked away.

After ten seconds or so, Ellen turned away, put the car in gear, and they headed out through town, past the roaming bikers, country people in trucks, out of the built-up area, and into the hills. "Where're we going?" Henry asked, ten minutes out. There were no lights along the road they were on. Ellen said, "Got a camp out here. The movie's set out in the wilderness. The thing is, you can't have shit like road signs and telephone wires when you're shooting a cowboy movie. You gotta get way out in the countryside."

They drove along for another few minutes then Henry asked Kristen a question that had been bothering him a bit: "Aren't you a little... cold?"

"Mmm, yeah, you know. There's a shirt right behind you, in the back, toss that to me, will you?"

Henry turned in his seat, looked over the back, saw the shirt, got it, and handed it to her. She ripped the tape between her breasts and peeled it off, then turned to Ellen and said, "What do you think?"

"We get back to camp, and I'll suck them right off your body."

"You wanna help?" Kristen asked Henry.

"Uh, I don't know," he said.

"You don't know? What the fuck does that mean?"

"I think he's queer," Ellen said.

Kristen nodded. "Yeah, he looks queer."

"Not queer," Henry said, turning to look out at the night. He really wished he'd stayed with Skye.

"He's queer," Kristen said. She pulled on the shirt and buttoned it. "Maybe he could blow Raleigh."

Henry shrank away into a corner of the seat. "Why don't you guys let me out. I can walk back from here."

"Oh, fuck that. Pilate wants to talk to you about the movie. We told him you were coming, and if we don't bring you up here, he'll kick our asses."

The road had started out bad and had gotten worse, gone from gravel to rutted dirt. Ellen slowed, slowed some more, and Kristen said, "There's the rock."

An orange rock, looking like a pumpkin, sat on the edge of the road. Ellen took a right and started climbing a hill. The headlights no longer showed any road at all, although here and there, Henry could see tire tracks. They topped the hill and off to the left, and higher, he saw a sparkle of lights coming down through a stand of trees, and as they got closer, an oversized campfire.

"Here we be," Kristen said. Ellen pushed the Subaru past a circle of cars, and the group's RV, and stopped.

The two women got out, collected the grocery bags, and Henry, toting his pack, followed behind them, through some trees and between a couple of older cars, toward a campfire whose flames were reaching to head height.

He looked up and saw the entire Milky Way, right there, on top of him. He staggered a little, looking straight up as he walked. The stars looked like the lights of L.A., from up on top of the Santa Monica Mountains.

"Got him," Ellen called, as they walked into the firelight.

Henry could see fifteen or twenty people sitting on camp chairs and stools around the fire, and then Pilate stood up and called, "Everybody say, 'Yay,' for Henry the traveler."

The people around the campfire all shouted, "Yay," and Pilate came over and wrapped his arm around Henry's shoulders and said, "Glad you could come. Hey, Raleigh, come over here and say, 'Hi.' Bell, come over here..."

Three or four men came over, and wrapped up Henry, tighter, really tight, and he tried to laugh or smile and at the same time push them off, and then Pilate said, "Take him down, gentle," and the whole mass of them collapsed on the ground, and somebody said, "Give me the tape," and Henry tried to fight them then, but his arms were pinned, and he tried to bite, but there was a hand on his forehead, pushing him back, and then somebody rolled a strip of tape over his eyes and they turned him and rolled him and in the end, he was helpless, his hands taped behind him, his feet taped at the ankles, his legs at the knees, another strip around his mouth so he couldn't scream.

He could still hear.

He flopped around on the ground, hit the back of his head on a tree root, and everybody laughed and then Pilate said, "Shred him."

Somebody had a knife or a razor, and they cut his clothes off him, until he was buck naked except for the tape, and then Pilate said, "Kristen..."

"I got them," she said. She clanked something together. Steel.

Henry was dragged for a while, rough, over rocks and tree roots and spiky brush, and then somebody said, "Gonna cut the tape, hold his arms."

For a few seconds, Henry thought they were going to cut him loose, and he stopped struggling while somebody he couldn't see cut the tape around his wrists. Two or three people had hold of each arm, and he fought them, but couldn't get free, and they pushed him up against the rough bark of a pine tree and Pilate said, "Higher, get them really high."

Henry's tormentors levered his arms overhead, his back against the bark, and a woman said, "I can't reach that high," and a man said, "Give'm to me."

They nailed him to the tree. Drove big spikes through his wrists, just below the heel of his hands. Henry screamed and screamed and screamed and not much got out, because of the tape over his mouth. Then he fainted.

He came to, what might have been a half-minute later, his hands over his head, his entire body electric with pain.

A woman said, a rough excitement riding her voice, "Look at this kid. Really. Look at this..." He fainted again.

Chapter Two

Lucas Davenport knew he was stinking the place up, but he couldn't help himself. He'd snarled at his wife, growled at his daughter, snapped at his son, and probably would have punted the baby had she crossed his path.

Okay, he wouldn't have kicked the baby.

He was out trying to run it off without much luck.

His problems were both strategic and tactical.

The strategic difficulty derived from a case the year before, when a madman's body dump had been found down an abandoned cistern south of the Twin Cities. The killer had kidnapped a sheriff's deputy and had been beating and raping her, and was about to kill her, when Lucas arrived. The madman had been killed in the ensuing fight. The deputy had eventually left the sheriff's department and had moved to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, where she was working as an investigator.

Catrin Mattsson was doing all right. She was still screwed up and admitted it, but drugs and shrinks were moving her around to the place where she could live with herself. She'd become friends with his wife and daughter, and would occasionally drop around for dinner and a chat.

Lucas had taken it differently. He wasn't bothered by the fact that the killer had died in the fight. He didn't worry about the secret that he and Mattsson shared, about what exactly had happened down in that basement in the final half-second of the confrontation.

He worried about the world. Everything seemed off-kilter. Everything. That was bad. He'd once suffered through a clinical depression and had sworn he wouldn't go through that again, not without drugs, or whatever else the docs said he had to do. Even then, depression was to be feared — and he could feel it sniffing around outside his door, looking for a way in.

He'd never been a particularly cheerful guy, but he'd done all right — he had an interesting job, a great family, good friends, even made a bundle of money a few years before, on a computer simulation system.

Which had nothing to do with depression.

William Styron's book Darkness Visible, which he'd read while going through his own depression, had argued that depression is a terrible word for the affliction. Should be called something like mindstorm. Still, Lucas's intuition told him that mindstorms didn't just show up: they needed something to chew on.

His problem was that he'd looked a little too deeply into the souls of a lot of bad people; done what he could to track them down. He'd been largely successful, over the years, but there was apparently a never-ending line of assholes, who would continue to show up after he was long gone. He was beginning to feel helpless.

Not only helpless, but unhelped.

The bureaucrats at the BCA didn't much like him. They didn't mind his catching criminals, as long as it wasn't too much of an inconvenience; as long as it didn't shred their overtime budget. As long as nothing required them to go on TV and sweat and do tap dances.

Lucas had always simply dismissed bureaucrats. They were the guys who were supposed to fix overtime budgets and do tap dances and take the blame for the clusterfucks, because they were always sure to be there when credit was being taken.

No more. Now it was all about keeping your head down, while figuring ways to push the budget up. About not pissing anyone off. About, Hey, people get killed from time to time, that's just the way of the world, let's not bust a budget about it....

It was getting him down, because he made his living by hunting killers, and had always thought it was a righteous thing to do. Important, intelligent people were now saying, you know, not so much. That was the strategic part of his problem.

Tactically, a lawyer named Park Raines was running legal rings around the BCA, and if he won out, a killer named Ben Merion was going to walk. Even more annoying, Raines was actually a pretty good guy, ethically sound, and he'd take it to the hoop right in your face and not go around whining about foul this and foul that.

Still, Lucas didn't like being on the losing side in a murder case and the prospect was churning his gut.

Park Raines's client, Ben Merion, lived in the town of Sunfish Lake, probably the richest plot of land, square foot for square foot, in Minnesota. On the last day of February, he'd hit his wife, Gloria Merion, on the head, with a carefully crafted club, and had then thrown her down the stairs in their $2.3 million lakeside home, where her head had rattled off the wooden railings — railings that fit the depressive fracture in her skull exactly perfectly.

The fall hadn't quite killed her, though it had knocked her out, so Merion put his hand over her mouth and pinched off her nose until she stopped breathing.

Lucas's group had run the investigation, and over a couple of months, he and his investigators determined that the Merion marriage was on the rocks; that Ben Merion had signed a prenup that said he'd get nothing in a divorce, but would inherit half if she predeceased him; that in case the house and ten million in stock wouldn't work for him, he'd taken out a five-million-dollar insurance policy on her three months before she was murdered — or died, as Park Raines put it. As icing on the BCA's cake, Merion had a girlfriend named Connie Sweat, or, when working at the Blue Diamond Cutter Gentleman's Club, Honey Potts, and his wife had found out about it.

Two of Lucas's investigators, Jenkins and Shrake, had further determined that Ben met Gloria while remodeling her house — he was a building contractor — and as Shrake put it, "He spent more time laying pipe than laying tile, if you catch my drift."

"So what?" Lucas said.

"Well, that staircase had a custom set of balusters. Those are like the spokes in a railing..."

"I know what balusters are," Lucas said.

"The thing is, Merion turned the balusters himself on his handy little wood lathe. If he needed to make an exact copy to whack her with, it'd take him about ten minutes."

"You guys are your own kind of geniuses," Lucas said.

"We knew that."

They had the medical examiner on their side: death, he said, had come from asphyxiation, not from the blow to the head. The blow may have been intended to kill, but when that didn't work, a second blow would be unseemly for the simple reason that a good medical examiner could determine the time difference between the first and second impact, gauged by the amount of blood released by the first whack. If the second impact came, say, three minutes after the first... well, falling down the stairs didn't often take three minutes. Not unless you had a lot longer staircase than the Merions had.

Park Raines had, of course, gotten his own medical expert, who said that the fall had forced the unconscious woman's face into the carpeting on the stair tread, and that had smothered her. He found carpet threads on her tongue.

The medical examiner pointed out that Gloria Merion's mouth may well have been open during her fall down the stairs, and she could have picked up the carpet threads that way.

Could have, might have. Beyond a reasonable doubt? Maybe not.

So there'd been some legitimate doubt, even in Lucas's mind... until Beatrice Sawyer, leader of the BCA crime-scene crew, discovered three bloody hairs stuck to a baseboard... in the bathroom. And tiny droplets of blood, invisible to the naked eye, on the wallpaper and baseboard, but none on the floor, because the floor had been washed.

That added up to murder.

Unless, Raines argued, in the preliminary hearing, incompetent cops had tracked the damp blood in there — they had gone into the bathroom after tramping up and down the stairs, before the crime-scene people got there.

And that insurance policy? Nothing but a legal maneuver rich people used to get around the federal estate tax, and commonly done, Park Raines said. It had been intended to benefit the children from her first marriage, not Ben Merion.

The wood-lathe business? Sure, he could have done that. Proof that he'd done it? Well, show me the proof.

And the girlfriend? Yes, Ben had once been intimate with Connie Sweat, but that ended when Ben and Gloria married. He'd visited Connie's town house a couple of times, but only to retrieve personal property that he'd left at her place, back before Ben got married.

The trial was starting in three weeks and things did not look all that good. The best trial prosecutors had begged off, worrying about their high-profile conviction stats, leaving the case to a twenty-eight-year-old hippie who'd gotten out of law school three years earlier, played saxophone in a jazz band at night, and showed more interest in the music than the law. He'd never been the lead prosecutor on a major case.

Lucas believed that he would be a good prosecutor someday, if he chose law over music, but he wasn't yet.

Running five miles, until it felt like his wheels were coming off, didn't do all that much for his physical condition, but the pain helped Lucas stop thinking about Merion.

And the combination of it all, the strategic and tactical, had the depression monster sniffing around his doorstep.

So he ran.

As he was out running, his daughter Letty was lying on the carpet in the den, nine o'clock at night, her legs, from her knees to her feet, on a couch. She was staring at the ceiling, thinking about life, or that part of life that involved a guy named Gary Bazile. Bazile was a junior in economics at Stanford who also played lacrosse; he had big white teeth and large muscles. He was calling her every night and her father had begun to notice.

Early in her freshman year, Letty, who had avoided carnal entanglements in high school — "I don't want to be the girl that the jocks practice on," she'd told a friend — had decided that Now Was the Time. Bazile had benefited greatly from the decision, but Letty's interest was beginning to wane.

In contemplating the ceiling, a telephone by her hand, she thought perhaps she'd cut Gary off a little too abruptly a few minutes earlier. "Gotta put my baby sister to bed," she'd lied. When her phone rang again, she picked it up, willing herself to be kind to him: but the screen said the call was coming from Unknown, in an unfamiliar area code, 605. California? She didn't get many solicitation calls, because she'd listed her number on the "do not call" registry.

She punched Answer and said, "Hello?"

"Is this Letty?" A woman's voice, rough, vaguely familiar.

"Yes, this is Letty."

"Letty, this is Skye, do you remember me? From San Francisco, me and Henry were singing on the square? You bought us dinner at McDonald's?"

"Hey, Skye," Letty said, swinging her feet down to the floor. "How are you? Where are you? In town?"

"Rapid City. Man, the devil got Henry. They cut his heart out."

"What? What? Henry?"

"They cut his heart out." Skye began to sob into the phone. "That's what Pilot's girlfriend told me, and she was laughing. She said Pilot keeps it in a Mason jar. She said they're going to get mine, next. Man, I am in some serious shit out here and they cut Henry's heart out."

"Where are you, exactly?" Letty asked.

"Rapid City... I got dropped off by this guy," Skye said.

"Are you safe? For right now?"

"For right now. I'm in the bus station. It's the only public phone I could find."

"Okay, slow down. Now, tell me," Letty said.

"The devil was in Sturgis..."

"When you say 'the devil'..."

"Pilot. Pilot. We told you about Pilot. Pilot was in Sturgis with his disciples. They were camping out there and they were pretending to be bikers and some of the women were turning tricks out of their RV. I told Henry to stay away, but he disappeared. We were supposed to meet, and he didn't show up. We had a backup meet, and he never showed there, either. All the bikers left, and the town was almost empty. I spent three days walking around, looking for him, and he's not there. Then I was in a grocery store and the blond bitch came in and when I went out, she came out at the same time, she said that they killed Henry and they ate part of him and Pilot put his heart in a Mason jar. He said Pilot made some guy roast Henry's dick over a fire and eat it."

"Oh, Jesus," Letty said.

"I'm calling because you said your old man was a cop, and because... you're the only friend I got," Skye said.

Letty was on her feet now, pacing. "Let me call and charge a bus ticket for you, to get you here, where we can figure something out. Stay in the station until you're on the bus."

"I got money for a bus, but I didn't know where to go. Then I thought about you. What about Henry? What if they killed him?"

"They're probably trying to freak you out, but I'll get you with my dad, and he can check around," Letty said. "The main thing is, to get you somewhere safe. How much money do you have?"

"Two hundred dollars. It's left over... we got lucky. Two hundred dollars."

"Can you buy a ticket to Minneapolis?"

"Wait a minute."

Letty heard some talk in the background, and then said, "Yes, it's a hundred dollars."

"Then do it. I'll give you the money back, no problem," Letty said. "Call and tell me when you'll get here."

"It's the Jefferson Lines, I can get a ticket now. Wait a minute, let me ask this guy." She was gone for a minute, and Letty could hear some talk in the background. Skye came back to the phone and said, "The bus leaves here at midnight and arrives in Minneapolis at ten o'clock tomorrow morning."

"All right. All right, I'll meet you at the bus station. Stay away from Pilot and stay away from that blonde."

"I will. Oh, Jesus, what about Henry?"

"We'll work that out. I'll get my dad, and we'll work that out."

Her dad was Lucas Davenport.

Lucas was a tall man, dark-haired except for a streak of white threading across his temples and over his ears, dark-complected, heavy at the shoulders. He had blue eyes, a nose that had been broken a couple of times, and a scar that reached from his hairline down over one eye, not from some back-alley fight, but from a simple fishing accident. He had another scar high on his throat, where a young girl had once shot him with a piece-of-crap street gun. So his body was well lived-in, and he'd just turned fifty, and didn't like it. Some days, too many days lately, he felt old — too much bullshit, not enough progress in saving the world.

For his birthday, his wife, Weather, a surgeon, had bought him an elliptical machine: "You've been pounding the pavement for too long. Give your knees a break."

He used it from time to time, but he really liked running on the street, especially after a rain. He liked running through the odors of the night, through the air off the Mississippi, through the neon flickering off the leftover puddles of rainwater. He needed to run when he was dealing with people like Ben Merion.

By the time he reached the last corner toward home, he'd worked through his grouchiness. He turned the corner and picked up the pace, not quite to a full-out sprint, but close enough for a fifty-year-old. And through the sweat in his eyes, saw Letty standing under the porch light, hands in her jeans pockets: looking for him.

Letty had gotten herself laid: he and Weather agreed on that, although Weather called it "becoming sexually active." Lucas was ninety percent sure that she hadn't been sexually active in high school, aside from some squeezing and rubbing, though she'd been a popular girl. Once at Stanford, she'd apparently decided to let go.

Lucas deeply hoped that the sex had been decent and that the guy had been good for her, and kind. When he was college-aged, he hadn't always been good for the woman in his life, or kind, and he regretted it. He also knew that there was not much he could do about Letty's sex life, for either good or bad. Keep his mouth shut and pray, that was about it. Trust her good instincts.

He turned up the driveway and called out, "Whatcha doing?"

"Waiting for you. Something's come up," Letty said.

He stopped short of the porch, bent over, his hands on his knees, gulping air. When he'd caught his breath, he stood up: "Tell me."

When she'd told him, he said, "Have you thought about the possibility that she's nuts? Or that she's working you?"

"Of course. I don't think she's crazy — I mean, I don't think she's delusional," Letty said. "I have to admit that she talks about a guy being the devil, which doesn't sound good, but when she does it... you almost have to hear it. She's not talking literally: not a guy with horns and a tail. She's talking about, what? A Charlie Manson type. A Manson family guy. He calls himself Pilot."

"Pilot."

"Yeah. Pilot. She flat-out says he's a killer," Letty said. "She didn't come up with that today, she said it weeks ago, when we first met in San Francisco, when there was no money in it. As far as working me goes, she tried to work me a little in San Francisco, because they weren't making any money with their singing. Then she realized she didn't have to work me, because I was going to buy them a McDonald's anyway. She's not dumb."

Lucas sat on the porch next to her and said, "Okay. First of all, you know, she is crazy. Somehow, someway, because all street people are. Not necessarily schizophrenic, or clinically paranoid, but almost certainly sociopathic to some extent, because they can't survive otherwise. If they're too sane, their whole worldview breaks down, and they wind up in treatment or in a hospital or dead: dope or booze."

"She's not exactly street," Letty said. "She's a traveler. They're kind of street, but they're different. A lot of street people are... bums. Beggars. Travelers are different. For one thing, they travel. They're usually pretty put together — they buy good outdoor gear, they stay neat, they try to stay clean. Lots of them have dogs that they take care of. They have objectives. They make plans. They know each other, they meet up."

"More like hobos," Lucas suggested.

"I don't exactly know what a hobo is. Aren't they on trains?"

"Yeah, but these travelers sound like hobos," Lucas said. "They have a certain status."

"Exactly," Letty said. "Will you come with me, when I meet her? She'll be in around noon."

"Yeah, sure. I might have to push a meeting around, nothing important," Lucas said.

"She said they had Henry's heart in a Mason jar," Letty said.

"Ah, the old heart-in-the-jar story," Lucas said.

"That Pilot made a guy eat Henry's penis... roast it and eat it."

"Ah, the old roasted penis story..."

"What if it's true?"

"It's not," Lucas said.

Lucas stood up and dusted off the seat of his running shorts. "There are certain kinds of stories that pop up around crazy people, especially street people. Apocryphal stories, urban legends. Slander: cannibals are the big crowd favorite. I've run into all kinds of stories like that — the most extreme ones you can think of, people eating babies or feeding babies to dogs, and so on. Exactly none of them have been true."

"But..."

Lucas held up a finger: "There are cannibals out there, but there aren't any true stories about them. Cannibals are quiet about what they do. When you hear cannibal stories, it's always about somebody trying to get somebody else in trouble. And usually about roasting and eating somebody's dick. Or somebody's breasts. Sexual fantasies, made up to get somebody else in trouble."

"All right. But — come with me tomorrow."

Lucas moved his meetings around and at noon the next day, he and Letty were in Minneapolis. The Jefferson Lines shared a terminal with Greyhound off Tenth Street, a relatively cheerful place compared to most bus stations, built under a parking garage.

They could see the green-glass top of the IDS tower peeking over the surrounding buildings as Lucas parked his Mercedes SUV on the street. He and Letty walked over to the station, where they were told that the bus was running forty-five minutes late. "Hasn't even gotten to Burnsville yet. There was a big accident out on I-90. The driver's trying to make up time, though, so they won't be in Burnsville for more'n a couple minutes," said the guy behind the Jefferson Lines desk.

They decided to kill the time by walking over to the downtown shopping strip, so Letty could check out new arrivals at the Barnes & Noble and Lucas could look at suits at Harry White's.

The Harry White salesman was happy to see him, as always: "You're running late in the season this year, but I snuck a suit off the rack, put it in the back, until I could show it to you. Italian, of course. It's not quite as dark as charcoal, you couldn't call it charcoal, but it's a touch deeper than a medium gray, with a very fine almost yellow pinstripe, more beige, I'd say."

Lucas was a clotheshorse, and always had been. He spent a half hour looking at suits, had a couple of them put back for further examination on the following Saturday, spent five minutes looking at ties, another five with shoes, checked out a black leather jacket — $2,450 and soft as pudding. He spent nothing, and walked across the street to Barnes & Noble, where he found Letty checking out with a Yoga tome and a book on compact concealed-carry firearms.

"You're not going to start carrying a gun," Lucas said.

"Of course not, but I want to stay informed," Letty said. "We oughta go out to the range this weekend, if it doesn't rain."

"Let's do that," Lucas said. "It's been a while."

Skye was the last person off the bus. She was wearing the same outfit as in San Francisco, but smelled like soap. She and Letty shared a perfunctory hug, Letty introduced Lucas, and they waited until Skye's bag was unloaded. Lucas said, "We got you a hotel room in St. Paul. We'll drop your stuff there and grab something to eat, and figure out what we're doing."

"That's great, but I really don't think I can afford..."

"We got it," Lucas said. "For two or three days, anyway."

"Appreciate it," Skye said. She'd learned not to decline kindnesses; they might not be offered a second time.

A half an hour later, they'd checked her into a Holiday Inn on the edge of St. Paul's downtown area, and from there went to a quiet Bruegger's Bagel bakery on Grand Avenue to talk. They all got baskets of bagels and Lucas and Letty got Diet Cokes and Skye a regular Coke — the calories thing again — and as they settled down at a corner table, Lucas said, "You're worried about your friend."

"One of Pilot's disciples — one of the women he sleeps with — told me they cut out Henry's heart and put it in a Mason jar and they take it out at night and worship it."

Lucas stared at her for a moment, then asked, "Do you believe that?"

She held up her hands, palms toward Lucas, like a "stop" sign. "I know what you're thinking. It's all road bullshit. But I'm telling you, Mr. Davenport, this is not like that. We go back a way with Pilot, all the way back to Los Angeles, and there are stories about him. That he kills people, that they all join in, killing people. Not like some black Masses or something, that weird shit. They do it because they like it, and because it makes them feel important. I call him the devil because that's what he wants people to think about him. He loves that. He loves that whole idea of being evil to people, and have people talking about him."

Lucas leaned back and smiled, and offered, "He does sound pretty unlikable. You know his real name?" "No. Everybody calls him Pilot. He has this tie-dyed sleeveless T-shirt that he wears all the time, it's yellow with a big red P on it. The P is made to look like blood, and he tells people it is blood."

"You think it is?" Letty asked.

"Looks like regular tie-dye to me, kind of faded out." She turned back to Lucas: "Mr. Davenport, Pilot is full of shit. He's a liar and he's lazy and he's crazy and he sells dope, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't do some of the stuff he says he does. I know for sure that they have all these food- stamp cards, and they sell them for money at these crooked stores in L.A. They've been running that scam for a couple of years. He talks about how the Fall is coming, and how the only way to survive will be to join up with the outlaws... and you gotta be willing to kill in cold blood. They've got guns, and everything."

"The Fall?"

"Yeah, you know, when everything blows up and all the survivors wear camo and drive around in Jeeps."

Lucas and Letty threw questions at her for fifteen minutes, and when they were done, they had character sketches of Pilot and four of his disciples, named Kristen, Linda, Bell, and Raleigh, no last names. "Raleigh plays a guitar and Pilot calls him Sledge, like a combination of Slash and Edge, and Kristen used a steel file to sharpen her teeth into points, and she's like inked from head to toe," Skye said, but she had few hard facts.

She knew that Pilot's group traveled in a caravan of old cars, including at least one RV, and she thought they'd been hassled by the South Dakota highway patrol at some point, because Henry, before he disappeared, but after he spotted Pilot at the rally, said they never stopped talking about it. "They had all kind of drugs in their cars, and they almost got busted by a South Dakota highway patrolman, but they didn't because the cop was on his way home for dinner."

"That sounds real enough," Letty said, glancing at Lucas.

In the end, Lucas said, "All right. You've got me interested. Let me take a look at the guy. I need to know Henry's full name, and it would be good if we could get the license plate numbers on Pilot's vehicles."

"It's Henry Mark Fuller and he's from Johnson City, Texas. He went to Lyndon B. Johnson High School, but I think he dropped out in eleventh grade. I don't know any license plate numbers."

Lucas wrote Henry's name in his notebook, and then said, "If you ever see any of Pilot's people, take down the license plate numbers, if you have a chance. That can get us a lot of information. If you run into friends you trust, ask them to keep an eye out."

"I will."

"If Pilot was ever in serious trouble, where would I most likely find a police report?" Lucas asked. Skye considered that for a moment, then said, "I heard that he was originally from Louisiana, somewhere, but he claimed that he was an actor in Los Angeles for a long time. I think Los Angeles. I don't know where in Louisiana."

Letty asked, "Will you see any more travelers here?"

"I think so. The St. Paul cops are mellower than the Minneapolis cops, so people come here and hang out in Swede Hollow. I've been there a couple times."

"You can walk there from the hotel," Lucas said. He said, "Check around, but don't be too obvious about it. Don't ask about Pilot, ask about Henry. Mostly just listen."

"I can do that," Skye said. "I've been asking about Henry everywhere."

Letty didn't want to end the interview there, so they all drove back to the house, where Letty borrowed the SUV to take Skye to a laundromat.

"I'll drop her at the Holiday Inn after we finish with her clothes," Letty told Lucas. "Meet you back here."

Lucas went on downtown in his Porsche, made calls to friends in Los Angeles, and talked to one of his agents, Virgil Flowers, who had good connections in South Dakota, and then ran a database search on "Pilot" as a known alias.

Oddly enough, nothing came up. Lucas had been under the impression that almost any noun in the dictionary had been, at one time or another, given to the cops as a fake name.

Flowers called back with the name of a South Dakota highway patrol officer working out of Pierre, and when Lucas called him, he said he'd put out a statewide request for information based on Lucas's description of the caravan. Lucas especially wanted license plate numbers. "Won't take long," the cop said, "unless whoever saw them is off-duty and off-line. I'll call you, one way or another."

Lucas also asked him to put out a stop-and-hold on a Henry Mark Fuller of Johnson City, Texas. Late in the day, he got a call from a lieutenant in the L.A. Special Operations Bureau, who said he should call an intelligence cop named Lewis Hall in Santa Monica. Lucas did, and Hall said, "You're looking for a guy named Pilot?"

"We're interested in him. Don't know where to look. He apparently travels with a band of followers in a bunch of beat-up old cars and an RV. Some of the women with him may be turning tricks."

"Yeah, I know about that guy. I've seen him a couple of times," Hall said. "Never talked to him. Somebody would come in and say that he'd heard that Pilot had a satanic ritual somewhere. I'm not real big on tracking down satanic rituals, since they usually involve people who know the governor."

"I hear you," Lucas said. "Any indication of violence? I mean, specific reports?"

"Nothing specific. Rumors," Hall said. "I know they used to hang out in Venice for a while. I know some people down there I could ask."

"If you get the time, I'd appreciate it," Lucas said. "He supposedly says he's an actor."

"What'd he do?"

"I kinda hate to tell you, because it sounds like more bullshit. We have a traveler here who says she was told that Pilot cut out her boyfriend's heart, and keeps it in a Mason jar."

Hall laughed and said, "You must have some extra time on your hands."

"You know what? If I were in your shoes, I'd have said the same thing. But this girl we have here, this traveler, she's sort of... convincing."

"Uh-oh. Okay, I'll see who I can round up in Venice and get back to you. Lord knows, we've got enough really weird assholes around here."

"Thanks, I know you're busy. If we hear anything at all, either up or down, I'll call you," Lucas said.

"Wait — you've got nothing more to go on? Nothing that would point me in any particular direction?"

"No. I've been doing database searches and I can't find a single person with a Pilot alias. I'm wondering if I should start checking airports."

Another couple seconds of silence from the other end, then Hall said, "Uh, the guy I'm talking about, it's not Pilot, like airplane pilot. It's Pilate, like Pontius Pilate. You know, the guy who did whatever he did, to Jesus."

"What?"

"Yeah. P-i-l-a-t-e, not Pilot."

"Ah... poop. Back to the databases," Lucas said.

Hall laughed again. "Good luck with that."

Lucas went back to the databases and Pilate popped up immediately, and twice: once in Arkansas and once in Arizona.

The Arkansas hit was tied to a man whose real name was Rezin Carter, who had a long rap sheet that started in 1962, when Carter was twelve. Too old for Pilate, who Skye had said was probably in his early thirties.

The second was a traffic stop on I-10 in Quartzsite, Arizona, six years earlier. The driver had no license, or any other ID. He said he'd bought his car for five hundred dollars in Phoenix, and was trying to get to Los Angeles, where he had the promise of an acting job. He gave his name as Porter Pilate. The cop who'd stopped him had given him a ticket, and had the car towed to a local commercial impoundment lot that had several dozen cars inside.

At one o'clock the next morning, the night man at the impoundment lot had a pistol stuck in his face by a man wearing a cowboy bandanna as a mask. The night man was tied up and left on the floor of his hut. Keys to the impounded cars weren't available, because they were in a drop safe, and the night man didn't have the key. Nevertheless, the gunman drove away a few minutes later.

The night man couldn't see which car was taken, but an inventory the next morning indicated that the 1998 Pontiac Sunfire driven by Porter Pilate was gone, which was the only reason a routine traffic stop showed up in Lucas's database, on a warrant for armed robbery. The Sunfire was later located after it was towed in Venice, California, a week after it disappeared in Quartzsite.

Both the Arizona and California cops listed the same license tag, which tracked back to a man named Ralph Benson, a professional bowler from Scottsdale, Arizona, who said he'd left his car in the long- term parking at Sky Harbor airport.

He'd had two keys in a magnetic holder under the rear bumper. When contacted by L.A. cops, he declined to travel to Los Angeles to retrieve the car, which he said wasn't worth the trip. The car was eventually sent to a recycling yard, and that was the end of it.

Porter Pilate.

Lucas ran the full name through the database and came up with nothing except the Arizona hit. He called the Arizona Highway Patrol and found that the cop who'd issued the ticket had retired, but they had a phone number. The cop was in his swimming pool and his wife took a phone out to him.

"I do remember that guy, because of the robbery that night," the cop said. "He was like an advertisement for an asshole, if you'll excuse the expression. You know, wife-beater T-shirt, smelled like sweat, black hair in half-ass cornrows."

"White guy?"

"Yeah. Dark complexion, but sort of dark reddish. No accent, sounded native-born. Had some prison ink, one of those weeping Jesuses, on his shoulder, crown of thorns with blood running down. From that, you might've thought he was a Mexican gangster, but he wasn't."

"No ID at all?"

"None. Not a single piece of paper. Gave him a ticket and he signed it. After the robbery, we went back to the ticket to see if he'd left prints, but there was nothing there but mine. Of course, we didn't have the car. When they found it in California, we asked them to process it, but it wasn't a priority. When they finally got around to it, turned out it had been wiped."

That was it. Lucas thanked the cop, said it must be nice to be in a pool, and the cop said it was 108 on his patio: "It's not so much nice, as a matter of survival."

Lucas called the South Dakota highway patrolman, gave him the new name and the details, and then the L.A. cop, who said the Arizona Pilate sounded like the Pilate he'd seen. Lucas closed up and went home.

Letty was out somewhere, and the housekeeper had taken Sam to Whole Foods, and the baby was asleep, and Weather said that her back had been feeling grimy, probably from the hot weather. Lucas took her up to the shower and washed her back, thoroughly enough that she wouldn't really need another


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