Authors: John Sandford
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller
“I’ve got a guy over there in Dinkytown,” Quill said. “About a month ago, I spent the night—you know, fuckin’ and suckin’—”
“Don’t tell me that,” Jerry said. “I’m getting nothing—”
Virgil held up a finger. “Something for all three of you? In June, I busted a young woman down in Worthington, for murder. She was a couple of years younger than you guys, seventeen. She got drunk and wasted on methamphetamine. She was on the bed naked with her boyfriend and his other girlfriend, taking turns with each other, and she freaked out and started brawling with her boyfriend and the other girl. She wound up stabbing the boyfriend to death with a kitchen knife. Stuck it right in his neck,
severed his carotid artery, and he spewed blood all over the trailer, coming out like a fire hose. The other girl was trying to help him, but then this first girl, the killer, went after her, too, and cut up the other girl’s face and hands and breasts. When I saw her, the other girl looked like she’d been shoved through a woodchipper. So neither your language nor your sex life is gonna shock me. The language is just sort of . . . tiresome. It makes me tired to hear it. If you wouldn’t mind, knock it the fuck off. I’m trying to stay alert. I don’t need to be dozing off.”
Brett laughed, a soft, rolling laugh that made Virgil again think he might be coming down off a high, but Quill snapped, “Tough shit . . . Fuck you.”
Virgil made a rolling motion with his index finger. “The friend. You spent the night with a friend . . .”
“Yeah. Suckin’ and fuckin’,” she said defiantly. She shook another cigarette out and twiddled it. “This was a month ago. About one o’clock in the morning we went out to see if we could get a slice at this bar, and I saw Barth go by in his sports car. This silver Bimmer with its top down, supposed to be some kind of rare ride. I thought he was cruising. You know, for women. I thought the car might be bait.”
“Was he with a woman?”
She shook her head. “No. Passenger seat was empty. He was crawling along at ten miles an hour like he was looking for people coming out of bars.”
“Young pussy,” Jerry said. “Can’t hold that against him.”
Quill had no more information about that, and Virgil moved along to other topics. She said that she and her father didn’t have
many issues, except that he thought she was lazy and she thought he was a rigid asshole, and he’d smelled some weed on her one morning and had given her a hard time. She didn’t use any other dope, she said, and could hardly wait until Minnesota legalized marijuana.
“Did your father use any drugs that you’re aware of? Illegal drugs?”
Her eyes narrowed, and she took a moment to light the cigarette. “Interesting you should ask,” she said. “I don’t do cocaine myself—can’t afford to—but it occurred to me once that he reminded me of a cokehead I used to know. This older real estate guy from Apple Valley who hung out at the bars by the U, trying to pick up the younger chicks. Talked about his deals and his coke, like anyone might give a . . . might care. I was at Barth’s house a couple of times, and he made me think of that. But I don’t know that he used anything. Like coke.”
She had little more. The night or morning that her father had been killed, she’d been there, in her apartment, with a half dozen friends coming and going, eating pizza and drinking beer and playing the old games in the closet, and Twister
the Twister, she implied, was played totally ironically.
“Not by me,” Jerry said. “I got in a couple of good gropes.”
The friends had started coming over about eight o’clock, and all but one had left around four o’clock in the morning. Another young woman, who lived at home in White Bear Lake, hadn’t wanted to drive all the way back and had stayed over. They’d both slept in until noon and then had gone out for bagels and coffee. The other girl hadn’t left her apartment until almost two o’clock in the afternoon.
Virgil asked if she knew anything else he ought to know about. She didn’t. Then, unexpectedly, she added, “You know, I didn’t hate Dad. Toward the end, I even started to like him a little bit. But he was so hard-assed, and he never let up.” She seemed about to tear up.
Virgil nodded, and told her he might be back. “I can’t ever tell in advance what might be relevant, when I talk to people.”
“Anytime . . . But call ahead. I’ll want to get my story straight,” Quill said, back to the sarcasm.
Brett said, “Hey. Tell him about that weird guy we met. On the sidewalk.”
Quill frowned, and said, “Oh, yeah.”
“What weird guy?” Virgil asked.
They told him about the neatly dressed man who they’d encountered on the street who’d asked questions about the investigation. They had no information about him other than a description, which Virgil took down in his notebook. “I thought afterward that he might be a cop, but he said he was a student. He was too old to be a student, though,” Quill said.
“He didn’t give you a name? Nothing at all?”
“No. We were standing there eating ice cream, and he started talking to us. Then he got in his car and drove off.”
Brett said, “He knows that Green person, the professor. He said he was in Anthropology and saw her around the building. I guess they’re in the same building.”
“Huh.” Virgil didn’t know exactly what to think about that. “I’ll ask around.”
As he turned to leave, Brett said, “Have a good day, man,” and he sounded sincere.
Jerry slapped his laptop, and said, “What a piece of shit. It’s like somebody’s gotta carry every fuckin’ byte up the fuckin’ stairs.”
Quill asked him, “Want a pussy shot to keep your blood pressure up?”
Quill turned her back on Virgil and pulled the robe wide. Jerry said, “Oh my God . . .”
Virgil left, muttering, “Jesus.”
“Fuck you!” Quill shouted after him.
Virgil had a text from Trane that said she’d be in the office. Virgil drove back across the river and found her eating lunch at her computer. When he walked in, she turned, and said, “Interesting interview with one of the lab technicians. Remember that I mentioned that Quill was involved in a lawsuit?”
“Yeah, I saw that in your notes.”
“I talked to the university’s lawyer, who’ll be defending the case if it goes to court, but I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it—I couldn’t see a connection. Now the lab guy tells me that a year or so ago a quadriplegic named Frank McDonald had nerve rerouting surgery that was planned and directed by Quill. Another surgeon, a microsurgeon, did the actual procedure. Beforehand, McDonald had some small amount of movement in his arm and fingers; afterward, he got more movement, but supposedly he also had a lot of pain. He had a month of physical therapy after the surgery, but when he returned home that care was reduced to three hours a day, in the morning, early afternoon, and evening.
The first day the reduced care started, after his wife went out to a supermarket, the guy used his new mobility to swallow a whole tube of painkillers. He was dead when the wife got back.”
“Yeah. His wife is suing the hospital and the doctors involved, saying they should have understood that McDonald needed intensive psychotherapy as well as physical therapy to deal with his new condition. Her main target was Quill, who she said talked McDonald into the surgery.”
“You think she might have gone after him?”
“We should talk to her anyway. The lab tech said Quill described her as a greedy nutjob who was living high on her husband’s insurance payments.”
“You know, it sounds like the tape—talking somebody into surgery,” Virgil said.
“It seems unlikely that she’d kill him, though,” Virgil said. “If she has a lawsuit going, it seems like she’s found an outlet for her anger . . . And how would she get up in the library in the middle of the night? And why would she be up there?”
“Don’t go dissing my lead. She was up there to grab the computer to see what Quill was saying about the operation . . .”
Virgil said nothing, but he raised his eyebrows.
“All right, all right,” Trane said. “You get anything from Megan?”
“She thinks it’s possible that Quill used cocaine. And a friend of hers said he had a girlfriend.”
She got up, rocking back and forth on her feet, listening, as Virgil told her about the possible girlfriend. When he finished,
Trane said, “A redheaded married woman in English riding outfit who has a German shepherd and goes to the Starbucks. Shouldn’t be impossible to find her.”
Virgil: “The question is, why didn’t anyone else know about her? Why didn’t she come forward? She’s gotta know that Quill was murdered. And, given that description, that we’d eventually hear about her.”
“Unless it really is all disconnected—that she and Quill brushed by each other at Starbucks and exchanged a couple of words, the German shepherd being off the wall, coming from somebody entirely different.”
“Or maybe it wasn’t actually Quill that this guy saw walking the dog. He wasn’t positive,” Virgil said. “He was pretty sure.”
“Look, if he had a girlfriend, we’re starting to develop a picture of a guy who actually did talk to people. That cocaine could have belonged to a friend,” Trane said.
“Jack Combes seemed to think that if you even mentioned it to him, he might cross you off his list of friends.”
“Unless he needed something from the cokehead. Like sex.”
Virgil agreed. “Okay.”
She looked at her watch. “The early shift at Starbucks will be getting off. If we ran over there right now . . .”
Trane drove. As she did, Virgil said, “Things are starting to pile up. There’s a computer and a phone and keys out there somewhere. If we could find any of them, that’d be big. Quill was fighting with Green, and Green supposedly has at least a couple of students who are capable of violence. He has an estranged wife who would greatly profit from his death. He might or might not
use cocaine, so he might or might not know drug dealers. He might or might not have a girlfriend with a dog who hasn’t made herself known, which is interesting. He was probably killed by somebody he somewhat trusted, since he was turned away from them in the carrel. He was selfish about giving his employees scientific credit. And Quill might have been involved—somehow—in an illegal medical procedure. The killer’s probably male, or a strong female, to be able to hit him with a heavy laptop. Anything else?”
“I’ll think of something else later. Right now, that seems to be the list. I don’t see any connections.”
“Neither do I. Maybe we’ll get some from the horsewoman.”
“There’s a word you don’t often hear: ‘horsewoman.’”
“But you hear it more often than you do ‘horseman,’” Virgil said.
They spoke to the staff at Starbucks. Nobody could remember seeing a redheaded horsewoman. They had a number of redheads, though, and a horsewoman in English riding gear who was a frequent customer, but the woman was black. Another frequent customer came in with a German shepherd guide dog, but was seeing-impaired and male, and the dog was mostly tan with some black markings.
Several members of the weekday staff weren’t working. Trane got a Venti cappuccino, and Virgil a hot chocolate, and they walked back to her car. “I’ll check with the staff on Monday. You’re going home tonight?” she asked.
“Yeah. I’ll take a printout of your files with me, read them again,” Virgil said. “The rest of the day, I got the names of these
two Green grad students who she thought might be capable of violence. I’ll look them up before I leave town. I’ll call if that turns into anything.”
“I’m interested in this girlfriend. I’ll check everybody on that, and I’ll see if I can wake up a narc and ask about dealers who sell coke to faculty over here . . . if they know anybody like that.”
“One hand on your gun if you find the dealer.”
Virgil had gotten two names from Katherine Green, the Cultural Science professor. They were Clete May, the man who might have macho problems but was useful for carrying heavy stuff; and Terry Foster, an Army veteran who’d apparently fought in Iraq or Syria.
May lived in Dinkytown, which was closest, so Virgil went there first. He always preferred not to call ahead, when he could avoid it, but to surprise the subject. May’s address turned out to be an old, blue two-story clapboard house, cut up into four apartments, much like the house Megan Quill lived in.
May lived in apartment A, at the front of the house on the first floor. When Virgil rang the bell, he heard footfalls, and then a barefoot young woman with dark brown hair and dark brown eyes, carrying a bagel with cream cheese, opened the door, and asked, “Yes? Who are you?”
Virgil identified himself, showed his ID, and asked for May.
The woman said, “He’s around the side of the house, shooting his bow.”
“He won’t shoot me, will he?”
“Not on purpose. But he’s not very good with it yet, so I can’t make any promises. You know, like, ricochets.” She smiled and pointed him around to the side of the house, and he walked back outside and around and found May lying on his back on the concrete driveway, shooting extraordinarily long wooden arrows from an extraordinarily long wooden bow at a straw target the size of a dinner plate backed with a sheet of plywood.
As Virgil watched, May released an arrow, which missed the target but hit the plywood sheet and bounced off. Two other arrows were already sticking out of the target, and two more lay in front of the backing.
When the arrow bounced, Virgil asked, “What happens if you miss the plywood?”
May craned his neck around, took in Virgil, and said, “I don’t do that anymore. When I did do it, they’d skid down the driveway until they stopped. It’s not a heavy bow; they don’t go far. Fucks up the arrow feathers, though.”
Virgil identified himself again, and May stood up. He was an inch taller than Virgil, a bit overweight but with solid biceps and triceps, and he appeared to be in his mid-twenties. He had black hair that fell over his brown eyes, a scruffy beard, and a fleshy nose. He said, “I already talked to the lady detective. Who sicced you on me?”
“She did. She thought maybe you’d figured something out since she talked to you. And she told me about you being arrested for hitting a guy with a chair.”
“I pled not guilty. The other guy was a serious asswipe,” May
said. “The county attorney is already talking to my dad—my dad’s a lawyer—about me taking a plea on a lesser charge, but we declined. I didn’t hit the guy with the chair, I defended myself with it. The video proves it. I was keeping him off me.”
Virgil bobbed his head, but said, “That’s not quite the reputation you have around Cultural Science. They say you can be a little overaggressive. Into martial arts and so on.”
“Well, that’s true,” May said. “But I didn’t kill Quill. I wasn’t even pissed off at him. I sorta like Cultural Science because you don’t have to work too hard at it, and if you’ve got the cash, you can make interesting trips to places you don’t usually see. I’ve been to Egypt, Madagascar, Japan, made a couple trips to India. I’ll get my Ph.D. and go teach someplace that’s got a ski mountain and no restrictions on screwing your students. Utah, Colorado, Vermont. Like that.”
“Did you know Quill?”
“Not really. I mean, he showed up at Katherine’s lecture with a bunch of his apostles and started screaming at her,” May said. “Called her a twat. If you didn’t take it too seriously, it was pretty funny.”
“Until you hit the guy with the chair,” Virgil said.
“Like I said, that asswipe came for me,” May said. “I didn’t hurt him or anything; he had a bruise on his arm, the little fuckin’ snowflake.”
“But then you invaded their territory . . .”
“Yeah. Katherine asked me to go along. She likes to stir up shit, but she also likes to have me between her and the shit she’s stirred up.”
“You’re a bodyguard.”
“Sorta. I mean, we went to India, and she was talking women’s
rights to these unemployed guys who looked like they’d carve out your kidneys for two dollars and a bottle of beer,” May said. “Stirring up some serious shit.”
“If she’s always stirring stuff up, why do you . . . go along with it?”
“Makes the Ph.D. easier. I’m good with Spanish, but my French sorta sucks,” May said. “Japanese? Forget about it. The other thing is, after I get my degree, I’d like to turn her upside down, if you know what I mean. Have you seen her?”
“Yes, but . . .” He looked back at the house. “Aren’t you married or something?”
“No, no, not me. That’s a friend in there,” May said. “I’m not even romantic with her. Not yet anyway. She comes over to watch my TV and wash her clothes. I have a washer and dryer in there. They’re kind of a chick magnet. Better than a dog.”
“Then you’ve got a few bucks . . . nice apartment, washer-dryer.”
“My old man does. Has a few bucks. He’s a good guy. With me he’s hoping for the best, you know? Get a credential, get a job. Willing to pay for school.”
May was beginning to seem unlikely as a suspect. Virgil couldn’t even think of a reason why Quill would be in a carrel with him, and, if he was, why Quill would turn his back on him. And May seemed to be considerably less than the Cultural Science warrior Virgil had imagined, more interested in getting into the professor’s shorts than actually becoming a cultural scientist.
Which Virgil could understand.
He asked May about the bow.
“Japanese,” May said. “I like it because it’s hard and weird.”
“I read a Zen archery book when I was going to school . . .”
Zen in the Art of Archery.
Eugen Herrigel. You must have been a hippie—all the hippies read that. It’s mostly bullshit,” May said. “This Japanese guy told me that Herrigel didn’t know enough Japanese to understand what his teacher was talking about, and his teacher wasn’t a Zen guy anyway. In fact, he was sort of a crank. This archery I’m doing isn’t
that’s what Herrigel was writing about. Mine is the Japanese combat form,
“You’re teaching yourself to kill people?”
May snorted. “If I was gonna kill somebody, I’d use a fuckin’ gun. If I had a gun.”
“Okay. I’m told you study Zen.”
“I do. That’s another thing women kinda like, you know? Seems all mystical and so on, like you’re spiritual. What I picked up in Japan was, Zen is about as mystical as dirt. But, it’s still cool.”
“‘Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills,’” Virgil said, quoting
“That movie was about my life: guys with skills,” May said. “I got skills, but no girls—not right now anyway.”
“How about ever?” Virgil asked.
May scratched his neck. “Oh, yeah. They come, but then they go. Know what I mean? One day they’re sitting on your couch, the next day the couch is empty.”
He made Virgil laugh.
Virgil asked May if he might have any idea of who had killed Quill. He didn’t, and he didn’t think it would be anyone in
Cultural Science. “The people in the department would talk about it for eight years before they could do anything like that. They’re not people who act on impulse. If they saw somebody coming after them with an ax, they’d try to get the guy to discuss it rationally instead of running away.”
He didn’t have a suspect, but he did have a thought.
“It was a big deal when Quill got killed, even around Cultural Science,” May said. “We wondered if the cops would come after us. A couple days later, Sergeant Trane showed up. After she talked to me, I got to thinking. Why did Quill have a carrel at the Wilson Library, on the west bank, and why did he keep a huge, heavy computer there?”
“I’m listening,” Virgil said. “Why did he?”
May said, “I don’t know, but it might help if you figured it out. Listen, he’s a medical guy. We have a medical library here on the east bank. As far as I know, there are no medical books in the Wilson Library. He supposedly did some engineering work, too, in robotics, and the engineering library is over here. The university hospitals are here on the east bank, and he probably had an office there. I’m sure he had a private office at his lab—all those guys do. I understand his house is on the east bank. He has all kinds of private places and study possibilities over here, why did he go over there? You ever walk across the Mississippi footbridge in the winter? You can freeze your nuts off. Why did he have a little tiny carrel?”
“I don’t know, but I’ll think about it.”
“Here’s what I’m thinking. He went there because it was quiet and he was away from everybody else. Like, you know, where you want to think. This little Zen space is not your house. It’s not your lab, you don’t need to talk to anybody, you’ve got no TV to
interrupt you. You want a clear, calm mind to digest it all. Then somebody . . . I’m thinking Russians or Chinese . . . Could be a big American corporation . . .”
Virgil: “Russians? Or Chinese?”
“Sure. You must have read about it. They’ve got all these guys out there stealing American technology, and what’s more high-tech than medicine? Especially the kind that Quill was doing? Quill’s over there generating ideas, and tech, and somebody finds out about it, Russians or Chinese, computer experts. They start going over there to monitor that computer—maybe they have the computer secretly spooling up all of Quill’s input. Now he finds out that somebody is messing with his computer and knows they do it late at night because they need to do it when nobody’s there. He thinks it’s somebody from his lab, or a student, and he goes over to surprise the guy. And he gets the surprise instead.”
“That does sort of hold together,” Virgil admitted.
“Yeah, it does,” May said. “It has the massive disadvantage of being too complicated. It fucks over Occam and his razor. It’s possible that Quill was doing something online that he didn’t want to risk any chance of being traced to him. You know, watching porn and yanking the crank. Maybe buying dope on the dark net. Here’s a big question: was the guy who killed him in on whatever he was doing?”
They spent a couple of minutes speculating, came up with nothing solid. Virgil thanked him, gave him a card, walked back to his car, and then called Trane to tell her about May’s thought—not about the Russians and Chinese, or Quill yanking his crank, but the question of why he’d even have an office at the Wilson Library.
“A good question,” she conceded. “I wondered about that, too,
but he was such a hotshot that I figured he could get an office anywhere he wanted one. So he got one there, maybe on a whim. Maybe his work took him across the river sometimes and he wanted a private place to rest his feet. I dunno.”
Virgil rang off and went to find Terry Foster, the military veteran. Foster lived across the city line in St. Paul.
As he drove, he thought about what both May and Trane had said and decided that Trane’s assumption was weak. If it was simply the casual exercise of academic power by Quill to get an extra office, what about the fact he probably had a library key? That would have taken more than clout: he’d have to have an illegal source for it. He’d probably have to evade janitors and other night workers if he didn’t want to be seen. There was more to the carrel than met the eye . . .
But Russians and Chinese? Unlikely.
Terry Foster lived in a tiny, stuccoed rental house in the area of St. Paul called Frogtown. A couple of aging birch trees shaded the neatly kept front yard, where a sidewalk of cracked concrete blocks led to an enclosed front porch. Virgil parked, knocked on the front door. There was no reaction from inside, but, as he was standing there, a man came out on the porch of the house next door, and said, “There’s nobody home.”
“Do you know when Mr. Foster will be back?”
The man said, “No. He’s in the hospital.”
Virgil walked over—a matter of twenty feet—identified himself, and asked, “He’s sick?”
“He got mugged, right in our own alley,” the man said. “Somebody beat the sweet livin’ bejesus out of him the night before last.”
According to the neighbor, Foster’s house had a single-car garage in the back, which wasn’t part of his rental deal. He had, instead, a parking space in the yard next to the garage. “When he got out of his car, some guy was waiting for him. Jumped out from behind the garage and beat him up. Terry was yelling for help, and the neighbor in back, Joe Lee, heard him and ran out and started yelling at the guy, who run off. Joe run out there and found Terry and called the cops. I didn’t hear him yelling, but I heard the ambulance, and I run out there and saw them put him in the ambulance. And he was a mess. He looked like he’d been blown up.”
“How do you know that part about the guy jumping out from behind the garage?”
“It was in the
. I guess they got it from the cops,” the man said.
Foster had been taken to Regions Hospital, the neighbor said. When Virgil asked, he said that Foster lived alone, as far as he knew. “He did drink a little. There’s a street guy who goes around and takes aluminum cans out of the garbage and he told me once that Terry’s was good for thirty or forty cans. I guess he was drinking a six-pack a day.”
When the neighbor ran out of information, Virgil walked around behind the house to look at the garage. The thing had probably been designed and built before World War II and would be a tight fit for any modern car. There was an overhead door facing the alley and a door on the end closest to the house for access, with a graveled parking spot to one side. Two tall, aging arborvitae stood on either side of the access door, a good spot to
hide if you were planning to ambush whoever parked on the graveled spot.
But no self-respecting mugger would have done that. If you got behind or between the arborvitae, you wouldn’t be seen from anywhere but the back window of the house. But if anyone saw you sneak in there, there’d be no excuse, either. And if they called the cops, you’d never see them coming.