"A chilling thriller that almost feels too real!"
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
"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
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
"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.
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
"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
Skye bobbed her head and took another bite of the sandwich.
Eventually she said, "I made a couple of
"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?"
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
"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
"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,"
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
"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
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
"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.
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
"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
"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.
"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
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
"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."
"Get off the road and take my pack. Get back in the weeds,"
he said. "Wait for me."
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
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
"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."
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
"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.
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
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
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
"Yup, I do." He'd once talked to a location scout in
"Well, fine. Me and Ellen are meeting up at the Conoco at
eight o'clock. Be there. You got one chance.
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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 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
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.
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
And the combination of it all, the strategic and tactical,
had the depression monster sniffing around
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,"
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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."
"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
"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
"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."
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
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
Lucas stared at her for a moment, then asked, "Do you
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
"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."
"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
"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."
"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
"I can do that," Skye said. "I've been asking about Henry
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
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
"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
"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."
"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
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.
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."
"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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