Field of Prey
An Excerpt From
Field of Prey
YEARS A GO . . .

The fifth woman was a blond waitress who enhanced her income
by staying late to do kitchen cleanup at Auntie’s, a diner in Faribault,
a small city on Interstate 35 south of the Twin Cities. The diner had
excellent qualities for a kidnapping. The blacktop parking lot was
wide and deep in front, shallow and pitted in back, which meant that
nobody parked there. When the fifth woman finished her cleanup,
at midnight, she’d haul garbage bags to a dumpster out back.

In the dark.

She was out there alone, sweating in the summer heat, sickened
by the odor from the dumpster, with no light except what came
through the diner’s open rear door and two pole lights in the
front lot.

R-A waited for her there, hidden behind the dumpster. He was
carrying an old canvas postal bag, of the kind once used to carry
heavy loads of mail in cross-country trucks. The bags, forty-eight
inches long and more than two feet in diameter, had eyelets around
the mouth, with a rope running through the eyelets. The rope could
be cinched tight with a heavy metal clasp.

R-A also carried a leather-wrapped, shot-filled sap, in case something
went wrong with the bag.

Horn sat in his truck, in an adjacent parking lot, no more than a
hundred feet away, where he could see the action at the dumpster,
and warn against any oncoming cop cars. When the waitress came
out with her second load of garbage bags, R-A waited until she was
standing on tiptoe, off-balance while throwing one of the bags into
the dumpster. He stepped out behind her, unseen, and dropped the
canvas bag over her head, like a butterfly in a net.

The woman struggled and fought, and screamed, but the
screams were muffled by the heavy bag, and two seconds after he
took her to the ground, R-A slipped the locking clasp tight around
her legs.

Horn was coming, in the truck. He stopped beside them, blocking
the view from the street. Together, Horn and R-A lifted her and
threw her in the back of Horn’s extended cab truck. Horn climbed
in on top of her with a roll of duct tape, and threw a half dozen fast
wraps around the woman’s ankles. Sort of like calf-roping, he
thought.

As he did that, R-A jogged a half-block down the street to where
he’d parked his own truck. When Horn had finished taping the
woman’s ankles, he jumped out and slammed the narrow door, ran
around the back of the truck and climbed into the driver’s seat, and
they were gone, Horn a half-block ahead of R-A.

The system had worked again.

In three minutes, they’d gotten to the edge of town and were
starting cross-country toward a hunter’s shack in the backwaters of
a Mississippi River impoundment. There, they’d rape the waitress
and kill her.

R-A trailed a half-mile behind Horn. That was part of the system,
too. If a cop car came along, and showed any interest at all in
Horn’s truck, R-A could provide warning, and support. If worse
came to worst, R-A would drive recklessly and way too fast past the
cop, provoking a chase, while Horn would re-route.

The system had worked before, and would have worked again,
except that Heather Jorgenson had always worried about being
alone in that parking lot in the night. She carried a Leatherman
multi-tool, which included a three-inch-long serrated blade, in the
pocket of her waitress uniform, and while her feet were restricted
by the locked bag and the duct tape, her hands were free.

For the first minute or so of the truck ride, she fought with a
panic-stricken violence against the heavy bag, without making any
progress at all. In the thrashing, her hand slapped against the Leatherman.

The knife!

She fumbled it out and broke a nail trying to get it open, but
hardly noticed; three minutes into the ride, she had the knife out
and open. Jorgenson knew she’d only have one chance at it, so she
continued to shout and scream, and thrash with one hand, as the
truck drove through town. At the same time, she slit the bag with
the razor-sharp blade, and at the bottom end, cut the binding rope
around her legs. Finally, she carefully sliced through the duct tape at
her ankles.

She took a moment to get her courage up, then pushed herself
up in the back of the truck, and screaming, “You sonofabitch,” she
stabbed Horn in the neck, and then stabbed him again, in the back,
in the spine, and then in the arms, and in the neck again, and Horn
was shouting, screaming, trying to swat her away, while struggling
to control the truck. He failed, and the truck swerved to the left
edge of the road, two wheels dropping off the tarmac. They ran
along like that for a hundred feet, then the truck began to tip, and
finally rolled over into the ditch.

Jorgenson, in the back, felt the truck going. A former cheerleader,
still with a cheerleader’s suppleness, despite the extra pounds
she’d picked up in the diner, she braced her feet against the roof of
the truck and locked herself in place as it went over. When it settled,
driver’s side down, she found the handle on the back door, unlocked
it, shoved it open, and crawled out.

She ran across the roadside ditch, tumbled over a barbed-wire
fence, ripping her clothes and hands, into a cornfield—she was
afraid to run down the road, because the kidnapper could see her,
might come after her.

They’d just left town, and there were house lights no more than
four or five hundred yards away. She ran as hard as she could, choking
with fear, through the knee-high corn, then fell again and found
herself in a mid-field swale, a seasonal creek, dry now.

Breathing hard, she crouched for a moment, listening, fearing
that the kidnapper was right behind her. When she heard nothing,
she got to her feet, stooped over so far that her hands touched the
ground, and groped forward in the dark, toward the house lights.

She had no idea how long she’d been in the field when she made
it into a tree line, the branches of the saplings slapping her in the
face and chest. She crossed another fence and a ditch, out onto a
road, then ran across the road toward the house lights. She was now
so frightened and exhausted that she took no care about waking
the house. She leaned on the lighted doorbell and pounded on the
door while screaming, “Help! Help me!”

The cops were there in five minutes.

They found an upside-down truck with lots of blood in the
front seat, and the cut-open mail sack in the back. They traced the
truck in another five minutes, and were on their way to Horn’s
house in ten.

When R-A got to Horn’s truck, the woman was gone.

Horn groaned, “I’m hurt, man, I’m hurt bad.”

“Where is she?” R-A asked.

“She ran off, she’s gone, man, we gotta get out of here.” Horn
was crumpled onto the driver’s side window of the truck. R-A was
kneeling on the narrow back door on the passenger side, looking
down into the truck, the front door propped half open. “Help me
out, help me.”

Horn was covered with blood, down to his waist. R-A pulled him
out of the truck, but Horn couldn’t walk: “Did something to my
legs, they don’t work . . .”

R-A carried him to his own truck, put him in the back, and told
him to stay down. “The hospital . . .”

“Fuck that. Fuck the hospital,” Horn said. “They’re gonna find
my truck. The bitch knows my face, from the scouting trips. She’ll
pick me out.”

“Then where?”

“Your place,” Horn groaned. “They’ll be at my place, sure as
shit.”

R-A got him back to his place, managed to half-drag, half-carry
him down to the basement bomb shelter. Put him on a cot, plastered
his wounds the best he could.

Thought about killing him. Horn’s legs didn’t work, he could
never be anything but a liability. But R-A couldn’t do it: Horn was
the closest thing he’d ever had to a friend.

Horn made the TV the next morning: Heather Jorgenson, according
to police reports, said she’d been attacked by a man in the
parking lot behind Auntie’s, and had stabbed him. The police were
looking for Jack Horn, of Holbein. Jack Horn, singular. No mention
of two men. R-A cruised by his house, and the cops were all
over it.

Horn himself, down in the bomb shelter, was drifting in and out
of consciousness. In one of his lucid moments, he saw R-A staring
at him.

“What’re you staring at?” he mumbled. And, “Water. I need a
drink. Need some . . . medicine.”

R-A ran a country hardware store, with veterinary medicine in a
locked cabinet at the back. Horn was out of it, so never felt the
horse-sized needle that R-A used to give him the penicillin.

· · ·

Horn was still in and out. During one of his lucid moments,
R-A told Horn that the cops had taken his truck away, and that
there was a warrant out for him, for kidnapping. “They’re looking
for you everywhere between Chicago and Billings. You can’t look at
the TV without seeing your ugly face.”

“Water,” said Horn. R-A went away and came back with a glass
of water, but Horn found he couldn’t even lift his hand. R-A poured
it awkwardly into Horn’s open, trembling mouth.

“How long?” he said, when he found his voice again.

“You’ve been up and down for two days,” R-A said. A pause.
“Mostly down.”

“No hospital . . .” Horn said.

“If I don’t, I figure you’ll die,” R-A said. “Then what’ll I do?”

“No hospital . . .” Horn repeated. And then he was gone again.

It went like that for two more days; by the end of the second day,
the bomb shelter smelled like an unclean hospital room, with the
stink of human waste and corruption.

Then, on a Friday, R-A got back from the store and found Horn
deathly still, his face as pale and gray as newsprint. At first, R-A
thought him dead. That would have . . . made things easier. He
could get rid of the body, and still feel he’d filled the requirements
of male comradeship.

Then Horn opened his eyes and said in a calm voice, “You been
thinking about choking me out, haven’t you?”

“The thought crossed my mind,” R-A admitted.

“No need, now. Things are different now.”

“Yeah, I . . .”

“I been thinking about it. This is the perfect place. You’re going
to have to start bringing the girls here.”

“I . . . thought I might stop.”
Horn grunted: “Roger—you can’t stop. But there’s no more

banging them out in the woods. That’s all done. . . . Now you’ll have
to bring them down here. Look around. It’s perfect. Down here, we
can keep them for a while. Half the trouble, twice the fun.”

And it’d worked. For a very long time.



1


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 shyness,
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?”

Wul, yeah.

· · ·

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 unrolled
the first rubber, rather than rolling it down the erect appendage,
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.”

“What?”

“You know . . .”

She had to pee. Layton finally got the message and Ginger disappeared
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, although
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. Something
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. Something
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.”
“Ginger?”
“Uh-huh.”
“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 between
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 recent
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.”
Field of Prey

Field of Prey