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John Sandford is the pseudonym of Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist John Camp. He is the author of the Prey novels, the Kidd novels, the Virgil Flowers novels, The Night Crew, and Dead Watch. He lives in New Mexico.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
In the Beginning . . . They were in a service alley, tucked between two Dumpsters.Carl Reed, a beer can in his hand, kept watch. LarryClay peeled the drunk Indian girl, tossing her clothes on thefloor of the backseat, wedging himself between her legs.
The Indian started to howl. “Christ, she sounds like afuckin’ coon- dog,” said Reed, a Kentucky boy.
“She’s tight,” Clay grunted. Reed laughed and said,“Hurry up,” and lobbed his empty beer can toward one of theDumpsters. It clattered off the side and fell into the alley.
Clay was in full gallop when the girl’s howl pitched up,reaching toward a scream. He put one big hand over her faceand said, “Shut up, bitch,” but he liked it. A minute later hefinished and crawled off.
Reed slipped off his gunbelt and dumped it on top of thecar behind the light bar. Clay was in the alley, staring downat himself. “Look at the fuckin’ blood,” he said.
“God damn,” Reed said, “you got yourself a virgin.” Heducked into the backseat and said, “Here comes Daddy. . . .”
The squad car’s only radios were police- band, so Clay andReed carried a transistor job that Reed had bought in a PXin Vietnam. Clay took it out, turned it on and hunted forsomething decent. An all- news station was babbling aboutRobert Kennedy’s challenging Lyndon Johnson. Clay keptturning and finally found a country station playing “Odeto Billy Joe.”
“You about done?” he asked, as the Bobbie Gentry songtrickled out into the alley.
“Just . . . fuckin’ . . . hold on . . .” Reed said.
The Indian girl wasn’t saying anything.
When Reed finished, Clay was back in uniform. Theytook a few seconds to get some clothes on the girl.
“Take her, or leave her?” Reed asked.
The girl was sitting in the alley, dazed, surrounded bydiscarded advertising leaflets that had blown out of theDumpster.
“Fuck it,” Clay said. “Leave her.”They were nothing but drunk Indian chicks. That’swhat everybody said. It wasn’t like you were wearing it out.It’s not like they had less than they started with. Hell, theyliked it.
And that’s why, when a call went out, squad cars respondedfrom all over Phoenix. Drunk Indian chick. Needsa ride home. Anybody?
Say “drunk Indian,” meaning a male, and you’d thinkevery squad in town had driven off a cliff. Not a peep. Buta drunk Indian chick? There was a traffic jam. A lot ofthem were fat, a lot of them were old. But some of themweren’t.Lawrence Duberville Clay was the last son of arich man. The other Clay boys went into the family business:chemicals, plastics, aluminum. Larry came out of college andjoined the Phoenix police force. His family, except for the oldman, who made all the money, was shocked. The old mansaid, “Let him go. Let’s see what he does.”
Larry Clay started by growing his hair out, down on hisshoulders, and dragging around town in a ’56 Ford. In twomonths, he had friends all over the hippie community. Fiftylong- haired flower children went down on drugs, before theword got out about the fresh- faced narc.
After that it was patrol, working the bars, the nightclubs,the after- hours joints; picking up the drunk Indian chicks.You could have a good time as a cop. Larry Clay did.
Until he got hurt.
He was beaten so badly that the first cops on the scenethought he was dead. They got him to a trauma center andthe docs bailed him out. Who did it? Dope dealers, he said.Hippies. Revenge. Larry Clay was a hero, and they made hima sergeant.
When he got out of the hospital, Clay stayed on the forcelong enough to prove that he wasn’t chicken, and then hequit. Working summers, he finished law school in two years.He spent two more years in the prosecutor’s office, then wentinto private practice. In 1972, he ran for the state senateand won.
His career really took off when a gambler got in troublewith the IRS. In exchange for a little sympathy, the gamblergave the tax men a list of senior cops he’d paid off over theyears. The stink wouldn’t go away. The city fathers, gettingnervous, looked around and found a boy with a head on hisshoulders. A boy from a good family. A former cop, a lawyer,a politician.
Clean up the force, they told Lawrence Duberville Clay.But don’t try too hard. . . .
He did precisely what they wanted. They were properlygrateful.
In 1976, Lawrence Duberville Clay became the youngestchief in the department’s history. He quit five years later totake an appointment as an assistant U.S. attorney generalin Washington.
A step backward, his brothers said. Just watch him, saidthe old man. And the old man was there to help: the rightpeople, the right clubs. Money, when it was needed.
When the scandal hit the FBI— kickbacks in an insider-tradinginvestigation— the administration knew where togo. The boy from Phoenix had a rep. He’d cleaned up thePhoenix force, and he’d clean up the FBI. But he wouldn’ttry too hard.
At forty- two, Lawrence Duberville Clay was named theyoungest FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover. He became theadministration’s point man for the war on crime. He tookthe FBI to the people, and to the press. During a dope raid inChicago, an AP photographer shot a portrait of a wearyLawrence Duberville Clay, his sleeves rolled above his elbows,a hollow look on his face. A huge Desert Eagle semiautomaticpistol rode in a shoulder rig under his arm. Thepicture made him a celebrity.
Not many people remembered his early days in Phoenix,the nights spent hunting drunk Indian chicks.
During those Phoenix nights, Larry Clay developed ataste for the young ones. Very young ones. And some of themmaybe weren’t so drunk. And some of them weren’t so interestedin backseat tag team. But who was going to believe anIndian chick, in Phoenix, in the mid- sixties? Civil rightswere for blacks in the South, not for Indians or Chicanos inthe Southwest. Date- rape wasn’t even a concept, and feminismhad barely come over the horizon.
But the girl in the alley . . . she was twelve and she was alittle drunk, but not so drunk that she couldn’t say no, orremember who put her in the car. She told her mother. Hermother stewed about it for a couple of days, then told twomen she’d met at the res.
The two men caught Larry Clay outside his apartmentand beat the shit out of him with a genuine Louisville Slugger.Broke one of his legs and both arms and a whole bunchof ribs. Broke his nose and some teeth.
It wasn’t dope dealers who beat Larry Clay. It was acouple of Indians, on a comeback from a rape.
Lawrence Duberville Clay never knew who they were, buthe never forgot what they did to him. He had a lot of shots atIndians over the years, as a prosecutor, a state senator, apolice chief, an assistant U.S. attorney general.
He took them all.
And he didn’t forget them when he became director of theFBI, the iron fist on every Indian reservation in the nation.
But there were Indians with long memories too.
Like the men who took him in Phoenix.
1Ray Cuervo sat in his office and counted his money.He counted his money every Friday afternoon betweenfive and six o’clock. He made no secret of it.
Cuervo owned six apartment buildings scattered aroundIndian Country south of the Minneapolis Loop. Thecheapest apartment rented for thirty- nine dollars a week.The most expensive was seventy- five. When he collectedhis rent, Cuervo took neither checks nor excuses. If youdidn’t have the cash by two o’clock Friday, you slept onthe sidewalk. Bidness, as Ray Cuervo told any number ofbroken- ass indigents, was bidness.
Dangerous business, sometimes. Cuervo carried achrome- plated Charter Arms .38 Special tucked in hispants while he collected his money. The gun was old. Thebarrel was pitted and the butt was unfashionably small.But it worked and the shells were always fresh. You couldsee the shiny brass winking out at the edge of the cylinder.Not a flash gun, his renters said. It was a shooter.When Cuervo counted the week’s take, he kept the pistolon the desktop near his right hand.
Cuervo’s office was a cubicle at the top of three flightsof stairs. The furnishings were sparse and cheap: a blackdial telephone, a metal desk, a wooden file cabinet andan oak swivel chair on casters. A four- year- old Sports Illustratedswimsuit calendar hung on the left- hand wall.Cuervo never changed it past April, the month whereyou could see the broad’s brown nipples through thewet T-shirt. Opposite the calendar was a corkboard. Adozen business cards were tacked to the corkboard alongwith two fading bumper stickers. One said SHIT HAPPENSand the other said HOW’S MY DRIVING? DIAL 1- 800-EAT- SHIT. Cuervo’s wife, a Kentucky sharecropper girlwith a mouth like barbed wire, called the office a shithole.Ray Cuervo paid no attention. He was a slumlord,after all.
Cuervo counted the cash out in neat piles, ones, fivesand tens. The odd twenty he put in his pocket. Coins hecounted, noted and dumped into a Maxwell House coffeecan. Cuervo was a fat man with small black eyes. Whenhe lifted his heavy chin, three rolls of suet popped out onthe back of his red neck. When he leaned forward, threemore rolls popped out on his side, under his armpits. Andwhen he farted, which was often, he unconsciously easedone obese cheek off the chair to reduce the compression.He didn’t think the movement either impolite or impolitic.If a woman was in the room, he said “Oops.” If thecompany was all male, he said nothing. Farting was somethingmen did.A few minutes after five o’clock on October 5, anunseasonably warm day, the door slammed at the bottomof the stairs and a man started up. Cuervo put his fingertipson the Charter Arms .38 and half stood so he couldsee the visitor. The man on the stairs turned his face upand Cuervo relaxed.
Leo Clark. An old customer. Like most of the Indianswho rented Cuervo’s apartments, Leo was always backand forth from the reservations. He was a hard man, Leowas, with a face like a cinder block, but Cuervo never hadtrouble with him.
Leo paused at the second landing, catching his breath,then came up the last flight. He was a Sioux, in his forties,a loner, dark from the summer sun. Long black braidstrailed down his back and a piece of Navaho silver flashedfrom his belt. He came from the West somewhere: Rosebud,Standing Rock, someplace like that.
“Leo, how are you?” Cuervo said without looking up.He had money in both hands, counting. “Need a place?”
“Put your hands in your lap, Ray,” Leo said. Cuervolooked up. Leo was pointing a pistol at him.
“Aw, man, don’t do this,” Cuervo groaned, straighteningup. He didn’t look at his pistol, but he was thinkingabout it. “If you need a few bucks, I’ll loan it to you.”
“Sure you will,” Leo said. “Two for one.” Cuervo did alittle loansharking on the side. Bidness was bidness.
“Come on, Leo.” Cuervo casually dropped the stack ofbills on the desktop, freeing his gun hand. “You wannaspend your old age in the joint?”
“If you move again, I’ll shoot holes in your head. Imean it, Ray,” Leo said. Cuervo checked the other man’sface. It was as cold and dark as a Mayan statue’s. Cuervostopped moving.
Leo edged around the desk. No more than three feetseparated them, but the hole at the end of Leo’s pistolpointed unwaveringly at Ray Cuervo’s nose.
“Just sit still. Take it easy,” Leo said. When he was behindthe chair, he said, “I’m going to put a pair of handcuffson you, Ray. I want you to put your hands behindthe chair.”
Cuervo followed instructions, turning his head to seewhat Leo was doing.
“Look straight ahead,” Leo said, tapping him behindthe ear with the gun barrel. Cuervo looked straight ahead.Leo stepped back, pushed the pistol into the waistband ofhis slacks and took an obsidian knife from his front pantspocket. The knife was seven inches of beautifully craftedblack volcanic glass, taken from a cliff at Yellowstone NationalPark. Its edge was fluted and it was as sharp as asurgeon’s scalpel.
“Hey, Ray?” Leo said, stepping up closer to the slumlord.Cuervo farted, in either fear or exasperation, andthe fetid smell filled the room. He didn’t bother to say“Oops.”
“Yeah?” Cuervo looked straight ahead. Calculating.His legs were in the kneehole under the desk: it’d be hardto move in a hurry. Let it ride, he thought, just a couplemore minutes. When Leo was putting on the cuffs, maybethe right move . . . The gun glittered on the desk a footand a half from his eyes.
“I lied about the handcuffs, Ray,” Leo said. He grabbedCuervo by the hair above his forehead and jerked his headback. With a single powerful slash, Leo cut Ray Cuervo’sthroat from ear to ear.
Cuervo half stood and twisted free and groped helplesslyat his neck with one hand while the other crawledfrantically across his desk toward the Charter Arms .38.He knew even as he tried that he wouldn’t make it. Bloodspurted from his severed carotid artery as though from agarden hose, spraying the leaves of green dollars on thedesk, the Sports Illustrated broad with the tits, the brownlinoleum floor.
Ray Cuervo twisted and turned and fell, batting theMaxwell House coffee can off the desk. Coins pitched andclattered and rolled around the office and a few bounceddown the stairs. Cuervo lay faceup on the floor, his visionnarrowing to a dim and closing hole that finally settledaround Leo Clark, whose face remained impassively centeredin the growing darkness. And then Ray Cuervo wasdead.
Leo turned away as Cuervo’s bladder and sphinctercontrol went. There was $2,035 on the desktop. Leo paidit no attention. He wiped the obsidian knife on his pants,put it back in his pocket and pulled his shirt out to coverthe gun. Then he walked down the stairs and six blocksback to his apartment. He was splattered with Cuervo’sblood, but nobody seemed to notice. The cops got onlya very slender description. An Indian male with braids.There were five thousand Indian males with braids inMinneapolis.
A large number of them were delighted to hear thenews about Ray Cuervo.Fuckin’ Indians.
John Lee Benton hated them. They were worse thanthe niggers. You tell a nigger to show up, and if he didn’t,he had an excuse. A reason. Even if it was bullshit.
Indians were different. You tell a guy to come in at twoo’clock and he doesn’t show. Then he comes in at two thenext day and thinks that’s good enough. He doesn’t pretendto think so. He really thinks so.
The shrinks at the joint called it a cultural anomaly.John Lee Benton called it a pain in the ass. The shrinkssaid the only answer was education. John Lee Benton haddeveloped another approach, all on his own.
Benton had seven Indians on his case load. If theydidn’t report on schedule, he’d spend the time normallyused for an interview to write the papers that would startthem back to Stillwater. In two years, he’d sent back ninemen. Now he had a reputation. The fuckin’ Indians walkedwide around him. If you’re going out on parole, they toldeach other, you didn’t want to be on John Lee Benton’scase load. That was a sure ride back inside.
Benton enjoyed the rep.
John Lee Benton was a small man with a strong noseand mousy hair combed forward over watery blue eyes.He wore a straw- colored mustache, cut square. When helooked at himself in the bathroom mirror in the morning,he thought he looked like somebody, but he couldn’tthink who. Somebody famous. He’d think of it sooner orlater.
John Lee Benton hated blacks, Indians, Mexicans, Jewsand Asians, more or less in that order. His hate for blacksand Jews was a family heritage, passed down from hisdaddy as Benton grew up i...
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