There comes a crystalline moment in the lives of most young male virgins when they realize that they are about to get laid, and they will clutch that moment to their hearts for the rest of their days.
For some, maybe most, the realization comes nearly simultaneously with the moment. With others, not so much.
For Layton Burns Jr., of Red Wing, Minnesota, a recent graduate of Red Wing High School (Go Wingers!), the moment arrived on the night of the Fourth of July. He and Ginger Childs were wrapped in a blanket and propped against a tree of some sort—neither was a botanist—in a park in Stillwater, Minnesota, looking down at the river, where the fireworks were going off.
Fireworks were not going off in Red Wing, because the city council was too cheap to pay for them.
In any case, Stillwater did have fireworks. Layton, a jock, had his muscular right arm wrapped around Ginger’s back, then under her arm and in past the unbuttoned second button on her blouse, where he was getting, in the approved parlance of the senior class at Red Wing High School, a bare tit. One of those hot, nipple-rolling bare tits. Not only a bare tit, but a semi-public one, which added to the frisson of the moment.
While intensely pleasant, this was not entirely a new development. They’d taken petting to a fever pitch, but Layton was the tiniest bit shy about asking for the Big One.
Ginger had her hand on Layton’s thigh, where, despite his shy- ness, his interest was evident, and then as the final airbursts exploded in red-white-and-blue over the hundred boats in the harbor below, Ginger turned and bit him lightly on the earlobe and muttered, “Oh, God, if only you had some . . . protection.”
Until that very moment, one of the few people in Red Wing who wasn’t sure that Layton was going to get laid that summer was Layton himself. His parents knew, her parents knew, Ginger knew, all of Layton’s friends knew, all of Ginger’s friends knew, and Ginger’s youngest sister, who was nine, strongly suspected.
But Layton, there in the park, wasn’t organized for the moment. He groaned and said, in words made memorable by thousands of impromptu daddies, “Nothin’ll happen.”
“Can’t take a chance,” said Ginger, who was no dummy, and for whom, not to put it too bluntly, Layton was more or less a passing bump in the night. “Do you think by tomorrow night?”
· · ·
By the next night, Layton was organized.
He’d gotten the green light to borrow his mom’s three-year-old Dodge Grand Caravan, which had Super Stow ’n Go seating in the back, converting instantly into a mobile bedroom. He’d stashed a Target air mattress and a six-pack of Coors with a friend. And he’d stolen three, no make it four, lubricated condoms from a twelve- pack that his father had conveniently left unhidden in the second drawer of his bedroom bureau, for the very purpose of being stolen by his son, his wife being on the pill.
Layton also had the perfect spot, discovered a year earlier when he was detasseling corn. The perfect spot had once been a farmyard with a small woodlot on the north side. The farm had failed decades earlier. Most of the land had been sold off, and the house had fallen into ruin and had eventually been burned by the local volunteer fire department in a training exercise. The outbuildings had either been torn down or had simply rotted in place. Still, the home site had not yet been plowed under, though the cornfields were pressing close to the sides of the old yard.
A narrow track, once a driveway, led across a culvert into the site; and there were good level places to park. An hour before he was to pick up Ginger, Layton signed onto his computer and went out to his favorite porn site to review his knowledge of female anatomy; which also reminded him to put a flashlight in the car in case he wanted to . . . you know . . . watch.
Layton had built a sex machine, and it worked flawlessly.
He got the beer and air mattress from his friend, picked up Ginger, and they headed west on Highway 58, out of the Mississippi
River Valley, up on top, then down through the Hay Creek Valley, up on top again, and out into farm country. The ride was short and sweet in the warm summer night, with fireflies in the ditches and Lil Wayne on the satellite radio, which was a good thing, because Ginger was hotter than a stovepipe, and had her hand in Layton’s jeans before they even got off the main highway and onto the back roads.
They found the turnoff into the farm lot on the first try, pushed aside some senile, overgrown lilacs as they wedged into a parking space, pumped up the air mattress with an air pump powered through the cigarette lighter, and got right to it.
There was some confusion at the beginning, when Layton un- rolled the first rubber, rather than rolling it down the erect append- age, and was reduced to trying to pull it on like a sock. A bit later, if Layton had been more attentive, he might have noticed that Ginger knew a good deal about technique and positioning, but he was not in a condition to notice; nor would he have given a rat’s ass.
And it all went fine.
They did it twice, stopped for a beer, and then did it again, and stopped for another beer, and Layton was beginning to regret that he hadn’t stolen five rubbers, when Ginger said, demurely, “I kinda got to go outside.”
“You know . . .”
She had to pee. Layton finally got the message and Ginger dis- appeared into the dark, with the flashlight. She was back two minutes later.
“Boy, something smells really bad out there.”
“Yeah?” He didn’t care. She didn’t care much either, especially as she’d reminded him about the flashlight.
So they messed around with the flashlight for a while, and Ginger said, “You’re really large,” which made him feel pretty good, al- though he’d measured himself several dozen times and it always came out at six and one-quarter inches, which numerous Internet sources said was almost exactly average.
Anyway, the fourth condom got used and stuffed in the sack the beer had come in, and Layton began to see the limits of endurance even for an eighteen-year-old—he probably wouldn’t have needed the fifth one. They lay naked in each other’s arms and drank the fifth and sixth beers and Ginger burped and said, “We probably ought to get back and establish our alibis,” and Layton said, “Yeah, but . . . I kinda got to go outside.”
Ginger laughed and said, “I wondered about that. You must have a bladder like an oil drum.”
“I’m going,” he said. He took the flashlight and moved off into the trees, wearing nothing but his Nike Airs, found a spot, and as he was taking the leak, smelled the smell: and Ginger was right. Some- thing really stank.
It was impossible to grow up in the countryside and not know the odor of summertime roadkill, and that’s what it was. Some- thing big was dead and rotting, and close by.
He finished and went back to the car and found Ginger in her underpants, and getting into her jean shorts. “I want to go out and look around for a minute,” he said. In the back of his mind he noticed his own sexual coolness. Even though her breasts were right there, and as attractive and pink and perky as they’d been fifteen minutes ago, he could have played chess, if he’d known how to play chess. “There’s something dead out there.”
“That’s the stink I told you about.”
“Not an ordinary stink,” Layton said. “Whatever it is, is big.” She stopped dressing: “You mean . . . like a body?”
“Like something. Man, it really stinks.”
When they were dressed, and with Ginger holding onto the back of Layton’s belt, they walked into the woods—as if neither one of them had ever seen a Halloween movie—following the light of the flash. As they got deeper in, the smell seemed to fade. “Wrong way,” Layton said.
They turned back and Ginger said, “Hope the light holds out.” “It’s fine,” Layton said. Fresh batteries: Layton had been ready. They walked back toward the area where the house had been, and the smell grew stronger, until Ginger bent and gagged. “God . . . what is it?”
Whatever it was, they couldn’t find it. Layton marched back and forth over the old farmstead, shining the light into the underbrush and even up into the trees. They found nothing.
“Don’t ghosts smell?” Ginger said. “I saw it on one of those British ghost-hunter shows, that sometimes ghosts make a bad smell.”
Every hair on Layton’s neck stood up: “Let’s get out of here,” he said.
They started walking back to the car, but by the time they got back, they were running. They jumped in, slammed the doors, clicked the locks, backed out of the parking place, and blasted off down the gravel road, not slowing until they got to the highway. The bag with the used condoms and the empty beer cans went into an overgrown ditch, and fifteen minutes later, they were headed down the hill into the welcoming lights of Red Wing.
Layton lay in bed that night and thought about it all—mostly the sex, but also about Ginger’s best friend, Lauren, and what a wicked threesome that would be, and about that awful odor. Ginger called him the next morning to say it had been the most wonderful night of her life; and he told her that it had been the most wonderful night of his.
The night had been wonderful, but not quite perfect. There’d been that smell.
Layton’s best friend’s older brother was a Goodhue County deputy named Randy Lipsky, who was only six or eight years older than Layton. If not quite a friend, he was something more than an acquaintance.
Layton got up late, shaved, ate some Cheerios, and still not sure if he was doing the right thing, called the sheriff ’s office and asked if Lipsky was around. He was.
“I need to talk to you for a minute, if I could run over there,” Layton said.
So he went over to the law enforcement center, found Lipsky, and they walked around the block.
Layton said, “Just between you and me.” “Depending on what it is,” Lipsky said. “I’m a cop.” “Well, I didn’t do anything,” Layton said.
“What is it?” Lipsky asked.
“Last night, my girlfriend and I went up to this old farm place, out in the country, and parked for a while.”
“She’s pretty hot. You nail her?”
“Hey . . . But, yeah, as a matter of fact.” He was so cool about it that ice cubes could have rolled out of his ears.
“Anyway . . .”
“Anyway, there’s something dead up there. Something big. I never smelled anything like it. I thought it was a cow or a pig. The weird thing is, we couldn’t find anything, and there aren’t any dairies or pig farms around there. We could smell it, like it was right there: like we were standing on it. It made Ginger throw up it was so strong. I was thinking last night, what if we couldn’t find it because . . . somebody buried something?”
“You mean . . .” Lipsky stopped and looked at Layton. Layton was a jock, but not an idiot.
“Yeah. I thought I should ask,” Layton said. “Now you can tell me I’m a whiny little girl, and we can forget about it.”
Lipsky said: “I’ll tell you something, Layton: Ninety-five percent it’s nothing. Probably somebody shot a buck out of season, and you were smelling the gut dump. Those can be pretty hard to see in the dark, once they go gray. But, five percent, we gotta go look.”
Lipsky went to get a patrol car and Layton called Ginger and told her what he’d done. “Well, God, don’t mention me,” she said.
“If it’s something, I’ll probably have to,” he said.
“Well, if it’s something . . . sure. I worried about it, too, last night,” she said. “Like you were saying, it smelled big. What if it’s a dead body?”
“I’ll call you when we get back,” Layton said.
The drive in the daytime was even faster than the drive the night before, out into the countryside and the hot July sun. Layton pointed Lipsky into the abandoned farm lot and Lipsky said, “What a great place to park.”
“Yeah, it’d be okay, if it didn’t stink so bad,” Layton said. “Over here.”
He led the way back where the old house had been, and the smell was like a wall. They hit it and Lipsky’s face crinkled and he said, “Jesus Christ on a crutch.”
“I told you,” Layton said.
“Where’s it coming from?” Lipsky asked.
They quartered the area, kicking through the underbrush, and eventually always came back to the yard where the house had been, and finally Lipsky pointed to the edge of the clearing and said, “Go over and pull out that old fence post, and bring it back here.”
The fence post was a rusting length of steel still attached to a single strand of barbed wire. Layton wrenched it loose, pulled the barbed wire off, and carried it back to Lipsky. Lipsky was walking around a patch of fescue grass twenty feet across, a distracted look on his face.
“What do you think?” Layton asked.
“Might be an old cistern here, or an old well,” Lipsky said. “You see that line in the grass?”
“Maybe . . .”
Lipsky took the fence post from Layton and began probing the patch of grass. He’d done it four times when, on the fifth, there was a hollow thunk.
“There it is,” Lipsky said. “Should have been filled in, doesn’t sound like it was.”
He scraped around with the fence post and found the edge of the cistern cover, which was a circular piece of concrete. A whole pad of fescue lifted off it, in one piece, and Lipsky said, “Just be- tween you and me, I don’t think we’re the first ones to do this.”
“Maybe we ought to call the cops,” Layton said. Lipsky gave him a look, and Layton said, “You know what I mean. More cops.”
“Let’s just take a look,” Lipsky said.
They pulled the grass off, and Lipsky said, “Check this out.”
One edge of the concrete cover showed what seemed to be re- cent scrapes, perhaps made with a pick, or a crowbar; and all around the edges, older scrapes. Lots of them. Lipsky found a place where he could get the good end of the fence post under the rim of the cistern cover, and pried. There was a pop when it came loose, and the gas hit them and they both reeled away, gagging, vomiting into the grass away from the cistern.
When they’d vomited everything in their stomachs—Lipsky had gone to his hands and knees—they went back and looked into the cistern, but all they saw was darkness.
“Let me get a flash,” Lipsky said. “Don’t fall in.” He spit into the weeds as he went, and then spit again, and Layton spit a couple times himself, his mouth sour from the vomit.
Lipsky got the flashlight and walked back to where Layton was standing, his forearm bent over his nose.
They looked into the hole and Lipsky turned on the six-cell
Maglite, and they first saw the two white ovals. “Is that . . . ?” Layton asked.
“What?” Lipsky looked like he didn’t want to hear it.
“Feet? It looks like the bottoms of somebody’s feet,” Layton said. Lipsky turned back toward the squad car.
“Where’re you going?” Layton asked.
“To call the cops,” Lipsky said. “More cops. Lotsa cops.”
The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is housed in a modern redbrick-and-glass building in St. Paul, Minnesota. Lucas Davenport had once explained the somewhat odd name to an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation this way: “In Minnesota, see, we actually apprehend the assholes, instead of just investigating them.” The fed said, “Really? Doesn’t that get you in trouble? I’d think the paperwork would be a nightmare.”
Lucas parked his Porsche 911 in the lot below his office window, where he could keep an eye on it. The last time he’d parked it out of eyesight, somebody had stuck a vegan bumper sticker on it that said: “Beef: It’s What’s Rotting In Your Colon.”
He hadn’t found it until he pulled off the interstate, wondering why other drivers were honking at him: A tire problem? Something about to fall off ? When he saw the sticker, he crawled home in shame, through the back streets, and then spent a half hour peeling it off, cursing the rotten bastard who’d stuck it there.
Today, he would park within pistol range.
· · ·
His office was on the second floor, in a corner, and when he got there . . . there was nobody home. He walked back out to a conference room, where the door was open. One of his agents, Del Caps- lock, was sitting at the conference table, looking solemn, part of a crowd of solemn agents. Lucas was sure he hadn’t missed a scheduled meeting, so . . .
Del looked out through the door, saw Lucas, and crooked a finger at him.
Lucas had been out of the office since the previous afternoon. Before leaving, he’d heard that the BCA crime-scene crew was leaving for a murder site west of Red Wing, a small Mississippi River town something less than an hour south of St. Paul, famous for boots and country crocks and the state reform school: “If you don’t eat your Cap’n Crunch, the cops will send you to Red Wing.”
Something about a cistern, with a body in it.
Lucas slipped into the conference room. All the chairs were full, so he propped himself in a corner. Henry Sands, a bald man of limited emotional dimension, sat at the head of the table, the flats of his hands pressed to his temples, as though he were trying to hold his head together. Not a good sign, since Sands was the director of the BCA.
Rose Marie Roux, the commissioner of public safety, and Sands’s boss, whose office was in a different building entirely, was sitting at one corner of the table, rubbing her forehead with the tips of her fingers. Another bad sign.
Almost everyone else—a dozen people, ten male, two female—were staring at them, waiting, or looking at a variety of yellow legal pads, laptops, and iPads. When nobody else spoke, Lucas did. “How bad is it?”
Roux looked up and said, “Lucas. Good morning. They’ve got fifteen skulls. They don’t have them all, yet. They’re not even sure that they’ve got most of them. We just had Beatrice Sawyer on the phone, and she said it’s like excavating ten feet of cold bean soup. She says there might be four feet of bones at the bottom.”
“That’s the prevailing sentiment,” Roux said. She was a heavy- set woman with a notorious smoking habit and hair of an ever- changing color. A politician and former prosecutor, Minneapolis police chief, and, briefly, a street cop, she was one of Lucas’s oldest friends and a longtime ally.
“Have they identified anyone?” Lucas asked.
Sands said, “Mary Lynn Carpenter. She disappeared from Du- rand, Wisconsin, two weeks ago. They found her car at the Diamond Bluff cemetery, across the river from Red Wing. She’d go there every once in a while to clean up her grandparents’ graves. The cemetery’s on the Mississippi, above a slough. They’d been looking for her body in the river.”
“Who else?” Lucas asked.
Sands shook his head. “Don’t know, but Beatrice said that judging from the skulls, they’re all women. Carpenter had been strangled with a piece of nylon rope. It’s still around her neck. What’s left of her neck. She’s probably been in the well for two weeks.”
“Cistern,” somebody said.
“Can’t they pump it out?” Lucas asked.
“They’re trying, but the bottom of the cistern is cracked and the crack’s below the water table,” Sands said. “Water seeps back in almost as fast as they can pump it out. They can’t pump too fast, be- cause they don’t want to lose any of the . . . material.”
“What towns are down there? Besides Red Wing?” Roux asked.
One of the agents was looking at a laptop and said, “Not much— closest town, besides Red Wing, is Diamond Bluff, across the river in Wisconsin, less than five hundred people. That’s where Carpenter was when she disappeared. Ellsworth is fourteen miles away, also in Wisconsin, three thousand people. In Minnesota, there’s Lake City, seventeen miles south of Red Wing, Holbein, fourteen miles southwest, Zumbrota, eight miles past Holbein, Hastings, more or less twenty-five miles north, and Cannon Falls, twenty miles west. The cistern is eight miles from Red Wing, nine miles from Holbein, eleven from Lake City, quite a bit further from Cannon Falls and Hastings.”
“Are we talking to the Wisconsin DCI?” Lucas asked.
“We are,” Sands said. “They already had an agent involved, on the Carpenter disappearance. He’s down at the scene now.”
Another agent, a woman, jumped in: “On a sheer numbers basis, the killer’s probably from Red Wing. Next most likely is that he’s from here in the Cities—we’re fifty miles from the cistern. But if you were originally from that area, and knew about the cistern, and you were living up here and needed a body dump . . .”
A third agent: “We don’t have the facts. We’ve got to identify more of the bodies before we can start talking about where the killer’s from. Right now, with one identifiable body, picked up in that area, I’m betting he’s from down there. If we find a couple more from down there . . .”
That set off a round of squabbling, until Roux held up a hand and said, “Okay, okay, okay. You guys can do the numbers later. Henry, we need a structure here. We need the most intense investigation we’ve ever run, because, my friends, this is pretty much it. You are all standing in front of the fan that the shit just hit. They’ll be screaming about this from every TV station in the nation tonight and they will continue screaming until we get the killer. Is that perfectly clear to everyone?”
Sands said, “Bob Shaffer will run the investigation. There’ll be a lot of ins and outs to the case, so he’ll need a lot of guys. Anybody who isn’t closing out a case, Bob’ll be talking to you. The only ex- emptions are Lucas’s crew . . .”
He looked over at Lucas: “Can you switch off the Bryan case?” Lucas shook his head. “Not really. We still haven’t figured out whether he’s dead.”
“He’s dead,” somebody said.
Somebody else disagreed: “No, he’s not. Ten-to-one he’s in Honduras, or someplace like it.”
Lucas said, “I just don’t know.” “What’s Flowers doing?” Roux asked.
Lucas said, “Vacation, down in New Mexico. He left two days ago, pulling his boat. He won’t be back for three weeks.”
“New Mexico’s a fuckin’ desert,” somebody offered.
“He says there’s a musky lake,” Lucas said. “He said he’s gonna clean it out.”
“He ought to bring the boat back. We could use it in the cistern,”
Roux said. And: “All right. Bob, get your crew together and get going.”
Shaffer, who had been sitting silently taking notes, nodded and stood up and said, “I want to talk to Jon and Sandy right now, my office. Everybody else, we’ll meet back here in a half hour.”
Roux stood up and said, “Lucas, I want you to take a look at whatever Bob comes up with. Henry, I want updates every couple of hours today, and then every morning and evening until we close this out. Let’s get this done, guys. Let’s get it done in one big hurry.” While they were all there together, so they’d all hear it at once, Lucas pushed away from the wall and said, “I don’t think that’s going to happen, Rose Marie. If there are really that many dead women, and we didn’t know about it, didn’t connect the disappearances, then the killer is smart and careful. I mean, really careful.
This could take time.”
“I don’t want to hear that,” Roux snapped.
“You need to,” Lucas snapped back. He looked around. “We don’t want anyone hinting to the media that this is gonna be a walk in the park, that we’ll get the guy next week. If we do, that’s fine. But if we don’t, the media’s gonna be a hair shirt, and we’re all gonna be wearing it.”
All the cops looked at him for a moment, then Roux said, “Okay. He’s right. So: we have one guy talking to the media. Anybody else talks, you’ll be manning the new bureau down in Bumfuck, Minn. Everybody understand?”
Lucas spoke to Shaffer for a few moments after the meeting broke up, with Del orbiting around them. Shaffer and Lucas didn’t particularly like each other, but had worked several ugly cases together, with good results. They agreed that Lucas would be on the distribution list for everything coming out of the investigation, but would stay away from the main case.
“I might talk to a few people, if I come across any that are interesting,” Lucas said.
“That’s fine,” Shaffer said. “If you get anything, be sure to up- date the files.”
“I will do that,” Lucas said.
Shaffer started to step away, then said, “Lucas: I appreciate what you said to Rose Marie. This could take a while. You were the right guy to tell her that.”
Lucas nodded: “Had to be said.”
Lucas and Shaffer had been successful, when they worked together, precisely because they were so radically different in style.
Shaffer was a data collector and a grinder: with enough data, he believed, you could solve anything. His files were wonders, his spreadsheets were remarkable, his decision matrices were monuments to game theory. And they worked. Anytime his agents could collect enough relevant data, his clearance rate was exceptional.
Shaffer looked like a grinder: neatly dressed at all times, in short- sleeved shirts in the summer, blue or white oxford cloth in winter, with bland neckties, wrinkle-free khaki trousers from Macy’s, and blue blazers. He exercised extensively and efficiently, ate right, didn’t drink or smoke. Married to his high school sweetheart, he was slender, of average height, with pale brown hair.
He’d come up the hard way: a patrol officer in Duluth, then a detective, then up through the ranks at the BCA, until he’d become one of the go-to investigators. He knew statistics: he’d taken college courses in statistics and geography at the University of Minnesota’s extension school. He’d kept his nose clean.
Lucas was a connection collector, an investigator who liked to knit people together, to put one source with another and let them fight it out. He thrived on mysteries.
A tall, brooding man with dark hair, friendly blue eyes, and a sometimes frightening smile, Lucas was hawk-faced and heavy in the shoulders, and scarred from encounters with the misbegotten. Like Shaffer, he’d gone to the University of Minnesota, where in- stead of statistics, he’d studied hockey and women.
He’d never had to work his way up. He’d spent a short time on patrol, and then jumped over three dozen senior men to become a Minneapolis detective. Nor had he tried very hard to keep his nose clean. He’d been pushed out of the Minneapolis police department after beating up a pimp who’d church-keyed one of his sources.
He’d gotten back into the department when Roux, the new chief, made him a deputy chief, a political appointment. That job ended when Roux quit to become the state’s commissioner of public safety. But as soon as she reasonably could, Roux had dropped Lucas into the BCA, right into a top slot.
His clearance rate, like Shaffer’s, was excellent. Lucas exercised, but inefficiently: running frequently, but not every day, playing basketball and senior hockey. Lucas had once had a reputation for chasing skirts; and catching them. He had a daughter out of wedlock, two children from his only marriage, and an adopted daughter. He’d drink a beer in the evening, and knew his barbecue.
With all their natural differences, in career path and personality, Shaffer and Lucas were never going to be close: but with all the important differences, their real distaste for each other came on relatively minor issues. Shaffer was a natural socialist, who’d grown up in an Iron Range union family. He didn’t like rich people, not even self-made rich people.
Lucas was self-made rich.
Even worse than the money was Lucas’s whole lifestyle: the Porsche, his history with women, the wardrobe. Lucas bought his working clothes in men’s boutiques, and every couple of years, went to New York.
Lucas thought of Shaffer, when he thought of Shaffer at all, as a clerk.
Shaffer knew it.
When he’d finished talking to Shaffer, Lucas and Del went down to his office, where Shrake and Jenkins were waiting. They were both big men, in suits that were too sharp, as though they’d fallen off a truck in Brooklyn. Both had even, extra-white teeth, and for the same reason: their real, natural, yellower teeth had been knocked out at one time or another. Lucas told them about the find at Red Wing.
“We’re throwing Bryan out the window?” Shrake blurted.
“No, Shaffer’s doing the work,” Lucas said. “We’ll be mostly talking.”
“I hate to see that officious prick get all the glory,” Jenkins said. “He’s the kind of guy who wouldn’t give you a six-inch putt.”
“He does good records,” Del said.
“He’s also exactly the right guy to run this case,” Lucas said. “It’s gonna be all sorting bones and extracting DNA and running the spreadsheets.”
“Still wouldn’t give you a putt,” Jenkins said.
“Probably because he’s not fuckin’ stupid enough to play golf,” Lucas said. “Anyway, if Shaffer doesn’t find this killer in a hurry, they’ll be sniffing around our asses, looking for help. Let’s close out Bryan.”
Bryan had run a St. Paul investment company that turned out to be a Ponzi scheme, a scheme that had eventually come up a couple of Ponzis short. He’d been arrested and the state attorney general’s office was trying to get back the thirty-one million dollars that had been entrusted to him by 1,691 small investors, most of them elderly. Bryan said the money was gone—spent on fast Italian cars, slow Kentucky horses, and hot Russian women, along with a
$250,000 RV, which lost half its value when he turned the key on it, and an unprofitable ostrich ranch in Wyoming. Rumor said that a good deal more of the cash had gone up his nose.
There were doubters.
Bryan had divorced three years earlier, and his ex-wife, Bloomie, now lived in a house very near, but not quite on, the Atlantic Ocean in Palm Beach. According to the local conspiracy theorists, Bryan had seen the trouble coming, had given an overly generous divorce settlement to his wife, who would support him when the problems be- came public and the company went broke. There was also talk that he owned a Cabo San Lucas estate under a Mexican corporate shadow.
That may have been true, but apparently had become irrelevant when Bryan’s court-ordered ankle monitor went dead, and his BMW M6 convertible had been found parked near the St. Croix gorge at Taylors Falls with the front seat soaked in his blood. No body had been found. There were, at latest count, 1,691 suspects in Bryan’s disappearance.
“Well, we’ve already interviewed twelve of them, so that only leaves one thousand six hundred and seventy-nine to go. We should have that done by 2020,” Jenkins said.
“Start with the ones young enough to move a body,” Lucas suggested. “That’ll cut the workload by ninety-eight percent.”
“Are you gonna help?” Shrake asked.
“First, I’m gonna go down and take a look at this cistern, this well, where they found all the bodies,” Lucas said. “Then this evening, I’ll be talking to the beautiful Carrie Lee Pitt, about Bryan’s missing clothes. I’m hoping she’ll let me peek in her closet.”
“How come we’re not talking to Carrie Lee Pitt?” Jenkins asked.
“Because that will take some savoir faire, which you don’t got any of,” Lucas said.
Jenkins looked offended, lifted an arm and sniffed his armpit, and said, “Yes, I do.”
· · ·
Jenkins and Shrake left, and Lucas turned to Del, who had taken Lucas’s visitor’s chair and put his feet up on a file cabinet.
Del was a thin man, with a sun-darkened face of knobs and wrinkled plains, a little more than average height: a dusty guy in his mid-fifties, who looked like he lived on the street. He was wearing a long-sleeved turquoise cowboy shirt and faded jeans over hiking boots. “We’re going down to the well?”
“Cistern,” Lucas said. “Yeah, I guess we better. But Jesus, that shirt makes me want to pluck my eyeballs out. You been hanging out at Goodwill again?”
“From what I hear, if we’re going down to the well—the cistern—we’re gonna want to burn the clothes afterwards,” Del said. “I’d rather burn a polyester shirt than a two-thousand-dollar Italian suit. Or three-thousand-dollar Romanian shoes.”
“British shoes. And when you’re right, you’re right.” Lucas pushed himself out of his chair. “We’ll stop at my place on the way out. You ready?”
“Fifteen skulls so far,” Lucas said, as he turned off the office lights. “And there are more down the well.”
“Somebody’s been a bad, bad boy,” Del said.