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John Sandford

Naked Prey

1

THURSDAY NIGHT, PITCH black, blowing snow. Heavy clouds, no moon behind them.

The Buick disappeared into the garage and the door started down. The big man, rolling down the highway in a battered Cherokee, killed his lights, pulled into the driveway, and took the shotgun off the car seat. The snow crunched underfoot as he stepped out; the snow was coming down in pellets, rather than flakes, and they stung as they slapped his warm face.

He loped up the driveway, fully exposed for a moment, and stopped just at the corner of the garage, in a shadow beneath the security light.

Jane Warr opened the side door and stepped through, her back turned to him as she pulled the door closed behind her.

He said, "Jane."

She jumped, her hand at her throat, choking down a scream as she pivoted, and shrank against the door. Taking in the muzzle of the shotgun, and the large man with the beard and the stocking cap, she screeched: "What? Who're you? Get away… " A jumble of panic words.

He stayed with her, tracking her with the shotgun, and he said, slowly, as if speaking to a child, "Jane, this is a shotgun. If you scream, I will blow your heart out."

She looked, and it was a shotgun all right, a twelve-gauge pump, and it was pointing at her heart. She made herself be still, thought of Deon in the house. If Deon looked out and saw them… Deon would take care of himself. "What do you want?"

"Joe Kelly."

They stood for two or three seconds, the snow pellets peppering the garage, the big man's beard going white with it. Then, "Joe's not here." A hint of assertion in her voice-this didn't involve her, this shotgun.

"Bullshit," the big man said. He twitched the muzzle to the left, toward the house. "We're going inside to talk to him, and he's gonna pay me some money. I don't want to hurt you or anybody else, but I'm gonna talk to Joe. If I have to hurt the whole bunch of you, I will."

He sounded familiar, she thought. Maybe one of the guys from Missouri, from Kansas City? "Are you one of the Kansas City people? Because we're not… "

"Shut up," the big man said. "Get your ass up the steps and into the house. Keep your mouth shut."

She did what he told her. This was not the first time she'd been present when an unfriendly man flashed a gun-not even the second or third time-but she was worried. On the other hand, he said he was looking for Joe. When he found out Joe wasn't here, he'd go. Maybe.

"Joe's not here," she said, as she went up the steps.

"Quiet!" The man's voice dropped. "One thing I learned down in Kansas City-I'll share this with you-is that when trouble starts, you pull the trigger. Don't figure anything out, just pull the trigger. If Joe or Deon try anything on me, you can kiss your butt good-bye."

"All right," she said. Her voice had dropped with his. Now she was on the stranger's side. She'd be okay, she told herself, as long as Deon didn't do anything. But there was something too weird about this guy. I'll share this with you?- she'd never heard a serious asshole say anything like that.

They went up the stairs onto a back porch, then through the porch into a mudroom, then through another door into the kitchen. None of the doors was locked. Broderick was a small town, and it doesn't take long to pick up small-town habits. As they clunked into the kitchen, which smelled like microwave popcorn and week-old carrot peels, Deon Cash called from the living room, "Hey," and they heard his feet hit the floor. A second later he stepped into the kitchen, scowling about something, a thin, five-foot-ten-inch black man in an Indian-print fleece pullover and jeans, with a can of Budweiser in one hand.

He saw Warr, the big man behind her, and then, an instant later, registered the shotgun. By that time, the big man had shifted the barrel of the shotgun and it was pointing at Cash's head. "Don't even think about moving."

"Easy," Cash said. He put the can of Budweiser on a kitchen counter, freeing his hands.

"Call Joe."

Cash looked puzzled for a second, then said, "Joe ain't here."

"Call him," the big man said. He'd thought about this, about all the calling.

Cash shrugged. "HEY JOE," he shouted.

Nothing. After a long moment, the man with the shotgun said, "Goddamnit, where is he?"

"He went away last month. He ain't been back. We don't know where he is," Warr said. "Told you he wasn't here."

"Go stand next to Deon." Warr stepped over next to Cash, and the big man dipped his left hand into his parka pocket and pulled out a clump of chain. Handcuffs. He tossed them on the floor and looked at Warr. "Put them on Deon. Deon, turn around."

"Aw, man… "

"It's up to you," the big man said. "I don't want to hurt you two, but I will. We're gonna wait for him if it takes all night."

"He ain't here, " Warr said in exasperation. "He ain't coming back."

"Cuffs," the big man said. "I know what it sounds like when cuffs lock up."

"Aw man… "

"C'mon." The shotgun moved to Cash's head, and Warr bent over and picked up one set of cuffs and the big man said, "Turn around so I can see it," and Warr clicked the cuffs in place, pinning Cash's hands behind him.

The big man dipped his hand into his pocket again and came up with a roll of strapping tape. "Tape his feet together."

"Man, you startin' to piss me off," Cash said. Even with his hands cuffed, he managed to look stupidly fierce.

"Better'n being dead. Sit down and stick your feet out so she can tape you up."

Still grumbling, Cash sat down and Warr crouched beside him and said, "I'm pretty scared," and Cash said, "We gonna be all right. The masked man can go look at Joe's stuff, see he ain't here."

The big man made her take eight tight winds of tape around Cash's ankles. Then he ordered Warr to take off her parka and cuff her own hands. She got one cuff, but fumbled with the other, and the man with the shotgun told her to turn and back toward him, and when she did, clicked the second cuff in place. He then ordered both of them to lie on their stomachs, and with the shotgun pointed at them, he checked Cash's cuffs and then Warr's, just to make sure. When he was satisfied, he pulled on a pair of cotton gloves, knelt beside Warr, and taped her ankles, then moved over to Cash and put the rest of the roll of tape around his.

When he was done, Cash said, "So go look. Joe ain't here."

"I believe you," the big man said, standing up. They looked so helpless that he almost backed out. He steadied himself. "I know where Joe is."

After a moment's silence, Cash asked, "Where is he?"

"In a hole in the ground, a couple miles south of Terre-bonne. Don't think I could find it myself, anymore," the big man said. "I just asked you about him so you'd think that… " He shrugged. "That you had a chance."

Another moment's silence, and then Warr said, "Aw, God, Deon. Listen to his voice."

Cash put the pieces together, then said, loud, croaking, but not yet screaming, "We didn't do nothin', man. We didn't do nothin'."

"I know what you did," the big man said.

"Don't hurt us," Warr said. She flopped against the vinyl, tried to get over on her back. "Please don't hurt us. I'll tell the cops whatever you want."

"We get a trial," Cash said. He twisted around, the better to see the man's face, and to test the tape on his legs. "We innocent until we proved guilty."

"Innocent."The big man spat it out.

"We didn't do nothin'," Cash screamed at him.

"I know what you did." The crust on his wounds had broken, and the big man began kicking Cash in the back, in the kidneys, in the butt and the back of his head, and Cash rolled around the narrow kitchen floor trying to escape, screaming, the big man wailing like a man dying of a knife wound, like a man watching the blood running out of his neck, and he kicked and booted Cash in the back, and when Cash flopped over, in the face; Cash's nose broke with the sound of a saltine cracker being stepped on and he sputtered blood out over the floor. Across the kitchen, Warr struggled against the tape and the handcuffs and half-rolled under the kitchen table and got tangled up in the chairs, and their wooden legs clunked and pounded and clattered on the floor as she tried to inchworm through them, Cash screaming all the while, sputtering blood.

     

 

2011 - 2018