The first machines on the site were the wreckers, like steel dinosaurs, plucking and pulling at the houses with jaws that ripped off chimneys, shingles, dormers and eaves, clapboard and brick and stone and masonry, beams and stairs and balconies and joists, headers and doorjambs. Old dreams, dead ambitions and lost lives, remembrance roses and spring lilacs, went in the dump trucks all together.
When the wrecking was done, the diggers came in, cutting a gash in the black-and-tan soil that stretched down a city block. A dozen pieces of heavy equipment crawled down its length, Bobcats and Caterpillar D6s and Mack trucks, and one orange Kubota, grunting and struggling through the raw earth.
Now gone silent as death.
The equipment operators gathered in two and threes, yellow helmets and deer-skin work gloves, jeans and rough shirts, to talk about the situation. Slabs of concrete lay around the trench, pieces of what once had been basement floors and walls. Electric wire was gathered in hoops, pushed into a corner of the hole, to await removal; survey stakes marked the lines where new concrete would go in.
None of it happening today.
At one end of the gash, twelve men and four women gathered around a bundle of plastic sheeting, once clear, now a pinkish-yellow with age. It was still set down in the earth, but the dirt on top of it had been swept away by hand. A few of the people were construction supervisors, marked by yellow, white and orange hardhats. The rest were cops. One of the cops, whose name was Hote, and who was Minneapolis' sole cold-case investigator, was kneeling at the end of the bundle with her face four inches from the plastic.
Two dead girls grinned back at her, through the plastic, their desiccated skin pulled tight over their cheek and jaw bones, their foreheads; their eyes were black pits, their lips were flattened scars, but their teeth were as white and shiny as the day they were murdered.
Hote looked up and said, "It's them. I'm pretty sure. Sealed in there."
The day was hot, hardly a cloud in the sky, the July sun burning down; but the soil was cool and damp, and smelled of rotted roots and a bit of sewage, from the torn-up sewer lines leading out of the hole. Another woman, who'd walked into the pit in low heels and two-hundred-dollar black wool slacks that were now flecked with the tan earth, asked, "Can you tell what happened? Were they dead when they were sealed in?"
Hote stood up and brushed the dirt from her jeans and said, "I think so. It looks to me like they were hanged."
"Hanged," Hote repeated. "There appears to be some upward displacement of the cervical spine in both girls – but that's looking through a lot of plastic. Their arms go behind them, instead of lying by their sides, so I think they'll be tied or cuffed. Anyway – let's get them over to the ME."
"Marcy..." Hote was always reluctant to commit herself without all the facts; a personal characteristic. Most cops were willing to bullshit endlessly about possibilities, including alien abduction and Satanic cults.
"There's a lot of tissue left," Hote said. "They're mummified Ð it's almost like they were freeze-dried inside the plastic."
"Will there be anything organic left by the killer?" The woman meant semen, but didn't use the word. If they could recover semen, they could get DNA.
"If there was anything to begin with, it's possible there are still traces," Hote said. "Since hardly anybody had heard of DNA back then, we might find the killer's hair on them... But, I'm no scientist. So who knows? Let's get them to the ME."
One of the cops in the back said, "Marcy? Davenport's coming down."
Marcy Sherrill, head of Minneapolis homicide, turned and looked over her shoulder. Lucas Davenport, a dark-haired, broad-shouldered man in black slacks, French-blue shirt, his suit jacket hung by a finger over his shoulder, was trudging down the earthen ramp toward the group around the plastic sepulcher. He looked as though he'd just stepped out of a Salvatore Ferragamo advertisement, his eyes, shirt and tie all entangled in a fashionable blue vibration.
She said, "Okay. This makes my day."
An older man said, "He worked on it. This." He gestured at the plastic.
"I don't think so," Sherrill said. "He'd have been too young."
"I remember," the old man said. "He was all over it. I think it was his first case in plainclothes."
Sherrill was the senior active Minneapolis cop on the scene, a solid, raven-haired woman in her late thirties, with a great slashing white smile and what an older generation of cops called a "good figure." She'd had a reputation as a cop not afraid of a fist-fight, and still carried a lead-weighted sap on a key ring. Sherrill had come on the police force at a time when women were still suspect, when it came to doing street work. She'd erased that attitude quickly enough, and now was accepted as a cop-cop, rather than as a woman cop, or, as they were still occasionally called, a Dickless Tracy. She'd hardly mellowed as she moved up through the ranks and would someday, most people thought, either be the Minneapolis chief or go into politics.
There were five retired cops in the group around her, men who'd worked on the original investigation. As soon as the bodies had been discovered, the police had been called, and word of the find had begun leaking out. All over the metro area, aging cops and ex-cops got in their cars and headed downtown, to look for themselves, to see the girls, and to talk about those days: the hot summers, the cold winters, all the time on the sidewalks before high-tech came in, computers and cell phones and DNA.
Davenport came up, and the grey-hairs nodded at him – they all knew him, from his time in Minneapolis – and he shook hands with a couple of them, and a couple who didn't like him edged away, and Sherrill asked, "How'd you hear?"
"It's gone viral, at least in the cop shops," he said, peering at the plastic sheeting. He worked for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and, with his close relationship with the governor, was probably the most influential cop in the state. Minneapolis was technically within his jurisdiction, but he was polite. He flipped a thumb at the sheeting and asked, "Do you mind if I look?"
"Go ahead," Sherrill said.
Hote pointed and said, "They're face-up, heads at that end."
Lucas squatted in Hote's knee-prints at the end of the plastic, looked down at the withered faces for a full thirty seconds, then, paying no attention to the neat crease on his wool-blend slacks, got on his knees and crawled slowly down the length of the bundle, his face an inch from the plastic. After a moment, he grunted, stood up, brushed his knees, then said, "That's Nancy on the left, Mary on the right."
"Hard to know for sure," Hote said. "It likely is them – the size is right, the hair coloring..."
Lucas said, "It's them. Nancy was the taller one. Nancy was wearing a blouse with little red hearts on it, that she got from her father on Valentine's Day. It was the last gift he gave her. It's wadded up between her thighs. I can see the hearts."
Sherrill looked up at the sides of the trench and said, "I wonder what the address was here? We need to pull some aerials and figure out which one was which. I thought the guy who did it..."
"Terry Scrape," Lucas said. "He didn't do it."
She stared at him: "I thought that was settled. That he was killed..."
Lucas shook his head. "He was. I was there. I thought, back then, that there was a chance he was involved. But with this... I don't think so. There was somebody else. Somebody with a lot more energy than Scrape ever had. Somebody pretty smart. I could feel him, but I could never find him. Anyway, he hung it on Scrape like a hat on a witch, and we had us a witch hunt."
"I gotta look at the file," Sherrill said.
"Scrape lived way over by Uptown," Lucas said, remembering. "There's no way he killed these kids and buried them in the basement of a private house, under the concrete floor. He was only here for a few weeks, homeless most of the time. He lived in a hole under a tree, for part of the time, for Christ's sakes. He didn't even have a car."
"Gotta get the addresses, see who was living here," Sherrill said again.
Lucas looked up out of the hole at the surrounding neighborhood, as Sherrill had, and said, "I knocked on two hundred doors. Me and Sloan. We never got within two miles of this place. Never crossed the river."
"Mark Towne owned a bunch of these houses down here," said one of the older cops. "The Towne Houses. I don't know if these were his."
Lucas said, "That seems right to me. Before the kids came in, it was mostly elderly. Retired railroad workers, lots of them. Towne was buying them up for a few thousand bucks apiece."
Sherrill said, "We'll check."
"Towne got killed in a car crash, maybe ten, fifteen years ago," somebody offered.
Lucas nodded at the bodies: "How'd they come out clean like this? So flat?"
A guy in a yellow helmet said, "I was pulling up the pieces of the basement slab, to load Ôem up." He gestured at his Cat. "I got hold of that one block and tipped it up, and there they were."
"You could see them?" Lucas wasn't disbelieving, just curious.
"I could see the plastic and something in the plastic. I had to check in case..." He stopped and looked around the hole, searching for a place that didn't look back at him with bony eye sockets. "You know what? I got the creeps looking at it. I had a feeling it was something bad, before I ever got down to look."
Lucas nodded at him, said, "Bad day," and then turned back to Sherrill. "I'd keep the slabs around. He must've poured the concrete right over the top of them. You might find fingerprints, some kind of impressions. Something."
She nodded. "We'll do that."
"And you gotta find the Joneses, the parents, and let them know, right away. Before the news gets out. If you want, I've a got a researcher who can find them, and I can have her call you with the phone numbers. I heard they got divorced a couple years after the kids were killed... but I don't know that for sure."
"If you've got somebody who could do that... but have him call me."
"Her," Lucas said. And, "I will."
Sherrill and Davenport drifted away from the group, and Sherrill asked, "Haven't seen you for a while. How've you been?"
"Busy, but nothing crazy," Lucas said. He touched her on the shoulder, and added, "This Jones thing. It was amazing, if you worked it. Big news – cute little blond girls, vanishing like that. The way things are now, I doubt anybody will care. It was too long ago. But the guy who did it is still around. We can't let it slide."
"We won't let it slide," she said.
"But you've got other things to do, just like I do. And the girls are dead."
"You sound like you've got a special interest," Sherrill said.
Lucas looked over to the plastic-wrapped bodies: "You know, all those years ago... I kinda messed up. I've always thought that, and now... here it is, back in my face. "
A Channel Three TV truck slowed on the open street at the far end of the gash. One of the older cops called, "We got media."
Lucas said to Sherrill, as they stepped back to the group around the grave, "You got my number if you need anything. I'll get you that information on the Joneses."
She said, "I'm still a little pissed about the last time."
The winter before, Lucas had trampled all over a Minneapolis investigation of a series of murders that started in a Minneapolis hospital. It had all ended with a shootout in a snowstorm, to which Sherrill felt she had not been properly invited. Grenades had been involved.
Lucas grinned and said, "Yeah, well, tough shit, sweetheart. Listen, I remember a lot about this thing. If you need me, call. Really."
She softened, but just half an inch – she and Lucas had once spent a month or so in bed; and that month had been as contentious as their hands-off relationship since then. "I will." And "How's Weather feeling?"
"Getting better; she was pretty cranky last month."
"Say hello for me..."
Lucas said he would, looked a last time at the hole with the plastic-wrapped bodies: "Man, it seems like it was a month ago. That was the year of Madonna. Everybody listening to Madonna. And Prince was huge. Soul Asylum was coming up. I used to go to the Soul Asylum concerts every time they played Seventh Street Entry. And we'd ride around at night, look at the crack whores, listen to "Like a Virgin" and "Crazy for You" and "Little Red Corvette." Hot that summer. And I mean, Madonna was young, way back then."
"So were we," said one of the old cops. "I used to dance."
Another asked, "What're you gonna do about this?"
"We've got one more guy to catch," Lucas said. "I hate to think what this cocksucker's done between now and then. Excuse the French."
Lucas went back to his office, in the BCA building on the north side of St. Paul. It was a solid, modern building, which felt more like a suburban office complex than a police headquarters. He climbed the stairs to his second-floor office, with a quick flash of a hand at a friend down a hallway. His secretary said, "Hi, I need to..." and he said, "Later," and went into his office and closed the door.
The image of the dead girls hung in his eyes, the stony smiles asking, "What'll you do about this?"
Lucas pulled a wastebasket over beside his desk and propped his feet on it, tilted his chair back and closed his eyes, and let himself slip back to the first days of the Jones case. He took the investigation a day at a time, as best as he could remember it, and there wasn't much that he'd forgotten.
And when he got to the end of the review, he decided that right at the beginning, he'd done something worse than anything else he'd done in his entire career since then – even though some of the things he'd done since then were technically criminal. Criminal, but not immoral. What he'd done back then was immoral: He'd caved.
He'd been a still-impressionable kid eager to get into plainclothes, and a path had been laid out for him. That path meant putting the early days of his career in the hands of Quentin Daniel, a very smart and occasionally quite a bad man. Daniel wanted to be chief of police, and maybe mayor.
The Jones case was an ugly one, with all kinds of frightening undertones, and as the head of violent crimes – homicide – Daniel was on the hot seat. He'd pushed a strong and legitimate investigation, but when a suspect popped up, somebody who was essentially unable to defend himself, and against whom there was substantial evidence, Daniel had grabbed him and held on tight.
Then the suspect got himself killed, and once you kill a guy, you own him, for good or evil. If he's innocent, and you kill him, your career may be over; if he's guilty, well, then, no harm done.
Scrape, Lucas thought, had seemed to him innocent even at the time; and now, almost certainly so. He could have pushed harder, he could have slipped more information to the Star-Tribune, he could have publicly challenged the verdict on Scrape... but he hadn't.
He'd done some poking around, but then, as the youngest member of Daniel's team, he hadn't rocked the boat. Daniel hadn't been dumb enough to forbid him from continuing an investigation, but had simply joked about his efforts – and kept him on the hop with daily investigative chores in the middle of the crack explosion – and Lucas had eventually let the Jones case go.
Had caved, had given up. Had put the Jones girls in his personal out-basket.
God only knew what the killer had done after that. In the best of all worlds, he might have frightened himself so badly that he never again committed a crime. But in the real world, Lucas feared, his own... negligence... had allowed the killer to continue to kidnap and murder kids. That's what these guys usually did, after they started.
A thin cold blanket of depression fell over Lucas' thoughts. He ran his hand through his hair, once, twice, again and again, trying to make the train of thought go elsewhere.
The Jones girls, back for their summer reunion tour.
Excerpted from BURIED PREY © Copyright 2011 by John Sandford. Reprinted with permission by Putnam Adult. All rights reserved.