Unabridged CDs, 10 CDs, 12 hours
Read by Richard Ferrone
The brilliant new Lucas Davenport thriller from the #1 New York Times-bestselling author.
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John Sandford is the pseudonym of Pulitzer Prizewinning 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.:
Three of them, hard men carrying nylon bags, wearing work jackets, Carhartts and Levi’s, all of them with facial hair. They walked across the parking structure to the steel security door, heads swiveling, checking the corners and the overheads, steam flowing from their mouths, into the icy air, one of the men on a cell phone.
As they got to the door, it popped open, and a fourth man, who’d been on the other end of the cell-phone call, let them through. The fourth man was tall and thin, dark-complected, with a black brush mustache. He wore a knee-length black raincoat that he’d bought at a Goodwill store two days earlier, and black pants. He scanned the parking structure, saw nothing moving, pulled the door shut, made sure of the lock.
“This way,” he snapped.
Inside, they moved fast, reducing their exposure, should someone unexpectedly come along. No one should, at the ass-end of the hospital, at fifteen minutes after five o’clock on a bitterly cold winter morning. They threaded through a maze of service corridors until the tall man said, “Here.”
Here was a storage closet. He opened it with a key. Inside, a pile of blue, double-extra-large orderly uniforms sat on a medical cart.
The hard men dumped their coats on the floor and pulled the uniforms over their street clothes. Not a big disguise, but they weren’t meant to be seen close-up—just enough to slip past a video camera. One of them, the biggest one, hopped up on the cart, lay down and said, “Look, I’m dead,” and laughed at his joke. The tall man could smell the bourbon on the joker’s breath.
“Shut the fuck up,” said one of the others, but not in an unkindly way.
The tall man said, “Don’t be stupid,” and there was nothing kind in his voice. When they were ready, they looked at each other and the tall man pulled a white cotton blanket over the man on the cart, and one of the men said, “Let’s do it.”
“Check yourself . . .”
“We don’t hurt anyone,” the tall man said. The sentiment reflected not compassion, but calculation: robbery got X amount of attention, injuries got X-cubed.
“Yeah, yeah . . .” One of the men pulled a semiautomatic pistol from his belt, a heavy, blued, no-bullshit Beretta, stolen from the Army National Guard in Milwaukee, checked it, stuck it back in his belt. He said, “Okay? Everybody got his mask? Okay. Let’s go.”
They stuffed the ski masks into their belts and two hard men pushed the cart into the corridor. The tall man led them farther through the narrow, tiled hallways, then said, “Here’s the camera.”
The two men pushing the cart turned sideways, as the tall man told them to, and went through a cross-corridor. A security camera peered down the hall at them. If a guard happened to be looking at the monitor at that moment, he would have seen only the backs of two orderlies, and a lump on the cart. The tall man in the raincoat scrambled along, on his hands and knees, on the far side of the cart.
The big man on the cart, looking at the ceiling tiles go by, giggled, “It’s like ridin’ the Tilt-A-Whirl.”
When they were out of the camera’s sight line, the tall man stood up and led them deeper into the hospital—the three outsiders would never have found the way by themselves. After two minutes, the tall man handed one of the outsiders a key, indicated a yellow steel door, with no identification.
“This is it?” The leader of the three was skeptical—the door looked like nothing.
“Yes,” said the tall man. “This is the side door. When you go in, you’ll be right among them. One or two. The front door and service window is closed until six. I’ll be around the corner until you call, watching.”
He’d be around the corner where he could slip out of sight, if something went wrong.
The other man nodded, asked, “Everybody ready?” The other two muttered, “Yeah,” tense now, pulled on the masks, took their pistols out. The leader put the key in the lock and yanked open the door.
Weather Karkinnen had taken a half-pill at nine o’clock, knowing that she wouldn’t sleep without it. Too much to do, too much to think about. The procedure had been researched, rehearsed, debated, and undoubtedly prayed over. Now the time had come.
Sleep came hard. She kept imagining that first moment, the first cut, the commitment, the parting of the flesh beneath the edge of her scalpel, on a nearly circular path between the skulls of the two babies—but sometime before nine-thirty, she slip ped away.
She didn’t feel her husband come to bed at one o’clock in the morning. He took care not to disturb her, undressing in the dark, lying as unmoving as he could, listening to her breathing, until he, too, slipped away.
And then her eyes opened.
Dark, not quite silent—the furnace running in the winter night. She lifted her head to the clock. Four-thirty. She’d been asleep for seven hours. Eight would have been the theoretical ideal, but she never slept eight. She closed her eyes again, organizing herself, stepping through the upcoming day. At twenty minutes to five, she got out of bed, stretched, and headed to the en suite bathroom, checking herself: she felt sharp. Excellent. She brushed her teeth, showered, washed and dried her short-cut blond hair.
She’d laid out her clothes the night before. She walked across the bedroom barefoot, in the light of the two digital clocks, picked them up: a thick black-silk jersey and gray wool slacks, and dressy, black-leather square-toed shoes. She would have preferred to wear soft-soled cross-training shoes, like the nurses did, but surgeons didn’t dress like nurses. She’d never even told anyone about the gel innersoles.
She carried her clothes back to the bathroom, shut the door, turned on the light again, and dressed. When she was ready, she looked at herself in the mirror. Not bad.
Weather might have wished to have been a little taller, for the authority given by height; she might have wished for a chiseled nose. But her husband pointed out that she’d never had a problem giving orders, or having them followed; and that he thought her nose, which she saw as lumpy, was devastatingly attractive, and that any number of men had chased after her, nose and all.
So, not bad.
She grinned at herself, turned to make sure the slacks didn’t make her ass look fat—they didn’t—switched off the light, opened the bathroom door and tiptoed across the bedroom. Her husband said, in the dark, “Good luck, babe.”
“I didn’t know you were awake.”
“I’m probably more nervous than you are,” he said.
She went back to the bed and kissed him on the forehead. “Go back to sleep.”
Downstairs in the kitchen, she had two pieces of toast, a cup of instant coffee, and a yogurt, got her bag, went out to the car, backed out of the garage, and headed downtown, on the snowy streets, across the river to the Minnesota Medical Research Center. She might be first in, she thought, but maybe not: there were forty people on the surgical team. Somebody had to be more nervous than she was.
At the hospital, the yellow door popped open and the three big men swarmed through.
Two people were working in the pharmacy—a short, slender, older man, who might once in the sixties have been a dancer, but no longer had the muscle tone. He wore a scuzzy beard on his cheeks, a soul patch under his lower lip. First thing, when he came to work, he tied a paper surgeon’s cap on his head, for the rush he got when people looked at him in the cafeteria. The other person was a busy, intent, heavyset woman in a nurse’s uniform, who did the end-of-shift inventory, making sure it was all there, the stacks and rows and lockers full of drugs.
Some of it, put on the street, was worthless. Nobody pays street prices to cure the heartbreak of psoriasis.
Most of it, put on the street—on more than one street, actually; there was the old-age street, the uninsured street, the junkie street—was worth a lot. Half-million dollars? A million? Maybe.
The three hard men burst through the door and were on top of the two pharmacy workers in a half-second. The woman had enough time to whimper, “Don’t,” before one of the men pushed her to the floor, gun in her face, so close she could smell the oil on it, and said, “Shutta fuck up. Shut up.” Soul-patch huddled into a corner with his hands up, then sank to his butt.
The leader of the three waved a pistol at the two on the floor and said, “Flat on the floor. Roll over, put your hands behind your back. We don’t want to hurt you.”
The two did, and another of the men hurriedly taped their hands behind them with gray duct tape, and then bound their feet together. That done, he tore off short strips of tape and pasted them over the victims’ eyes, and then their mouths.
He stood up: “Okay.”
The leader pushed the door open again and signaled with a fingertip. The tall man stepped in from the hallway, said, “These,” and pointed at a series of locked, glass-doored cupboards. And, “Over here . . .”
A row of metal-covered lockers. The leader of the big men went to the man on the floor, who looked more ineffectual than the woman, and ripped the tape from his mouth.
“Where are the keys?” For one second, the man on the floor seemed inclined to prevaricate, so the big man dropped to his knees and said, “If you don’t tell me this minute, I will break your fuckin’ skull as an example. Then you will be dead, and I will ask the fat chick.”
“In the drawer under the telephone,” Soul-patch said.
As the big man retaped Soul-patch’s mouth, the tall man got the keys and began popping open the lockers. All kinds of good stuff here, every opiate and man-made opiate except heroin; lots of hot-rock stimulants, worth a fortune with the big-name labels.
“Got enough Viagra to stock a whorehouse,” one of the men grunted.
Another one: “Take this Tamiflu shit?”
“Fifty bucks a box in California . . . Take it.”
Five minutes of fast work, the tall man pointing them at the good stuff, sorting out the bad.
Then the old guy on the floor made a peculiar wiggle.
One of the holdup men happened to see it, frowned, then went over, half-rolled him. The old guy’s hands were loose—he’d pulled one out of the tape, had had a cell phone in a belt clip under his sweater, had worked it loose, and had been trying to make a call. The big man grunted and looked at the face of the phone. One number had been pressed successfully: a nine.
“Sonofabitch was trying to call nine-one-one,” he said, holding up the phone to the others. The old man tried to roll away, but the man who’d taken the phone punted him in the back once, twice, three times, kicking hard with steel-toed work boots.
“Sonofabitch . . . sonofabitch.” The boot hit with the sound of a meat hammer striking a steak.
“Let him be,” the leader said after the third kick.
But the old man had rolled back toward his tormentor and grasped him by the ankle, and the guy tried to shake him loose and the old man moaned something against the tape and held on, his fingernails raking the big guy’s calf.
“Let go of me, you old fuck.” The guy shook him off his leg and kicked him again, hard, in the chest.
The leader said, “Quit screwing around. Tape him up again and let’s get this stuff out of here.”
The old man, his hands taped again, was still groaning as they loaded the bags. That done, they went to the door, glanced down the hallway. All clear. The bags went under the blanket on the cart, and the three big men pushed the cart past the security-camera intersection, back through the rabbit warren to the utility closet, replaced the orderly uniforms with their winter coats, picked up the bags.
The leader said, “Gotta move, now. Gotta move. Don’t know how much time we got.”
Another of the men said, “Shooter—dropped your glove.”
“Ah, man, don’t need that.” He picked it up, and the tall man led them out, his heart thumping against his rib cage. Almost out. When they could see the security door, he stopped, and they went on and out. The tall man watched until the door re-latched, turned, and headed back into the complex.
There were no cameras looking at the security door, or between the door and their van. The hard men hustled through the cold, threw the nylon bags in the back, and one of them climbed in with them, behind tinted windows, while the leader took the wheel and the big man climbed in the passenger seat.
“Goddamn, we did it,” said the passenger. He felt under his seat, found a paper bag with a bottle of bourbon in it. He was unscrewing the top as they rolled down the ramp; an Audi A5 convertible, moving too fast, swept across the front of the van and caught the passenger, mouth open, who squinted against the light. For just a moment, he was face-to-face with a blond woman, who then swung past them into the garage.
The leader braked and looked back, but the A5 had already turned up the next level on the ramp. He thought they might turn around and find the woman . . . but then what? Kill her?
“She see you guys?” asked the man in the back, who’d seen only the flash of the woman’s face.
The guy with the bottle said, “She was looking right at me. Goddamnit.”
“Nothing to do,” the leader said. “Nothing to do. Get out of sight. Shit, it was only one second . . .”
And they went on.
Weather had seen the man with the bottle, but paid no attention. Too much going through her head. She went on to the physicians’ parking, got a spot close to the door, parked, and hurried inside.
The tall man got back to the utility closet, pulled off the raincoat and pants, which he’d used to conceal his physician’s scrubs: if they’d been seen in the hallway, the three big men with a doc, somebody would have remembered. He gathered up the scrubs abandoned by the big men, stuffed them in a gym bag, along with the raincoat and pants, took a moment to catch his breath, to neaten up.
Listened, heard nothing. Turned off the closet light, peeked into the empty hallway, then strode off, a circuitous route, avoiding cameras, to an elevator. Pushed the button, waited impatiently.
When the door opened, he found a short, attractive blond woman inside, who nodded at him. He nodded back, poked “1,” and they started down, standing a polite distance apart, with just the trifle of awkwardness of a single man and a single woman, unacquainted, in an elevator.
The woman said, after a few seconds, “Still hard to come to work in the dark.”
“Can’t wait for summer,” the tall man said. They got to “2,” and she stepped off and said, “Summer always comes,” and she was gone.
Weather thought, as she walked away from the elevator, No point looking at the kids. They’d be asleep in the temporary ICU they’d set up down the hall from the operating room. She went instead to the locker room and traded her street clothes for surgical scrubs. Another woman came in, and Weather nodded to her and the other woman asked, “Couldn’t sleep?”
“Got a few hours,” Weather said. “Are we the only two here?”
The woman, a radiologist named Regan, laughed: “No. John’s got the doll on the table and he’s talking about making some changes to the table, for God’s sakes. Rick’s here, he’s messing with his saws. Gabriel was down in the ICU, he just got here, he’s complaining about the cold. A bunch of nurses . . .”
“Nerves,” Weather said. “See you down there.”
She was cool in her scrubs, but comfortably so: she’d been doing this for nearly fifteen years, and the smell of a hospital, the alcohol, the cleaners, even the odo...
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