"Grabs you by the shirt from the start." (Chicago Tribune)
Davenport falls prey to the purest-and deadliest-criminal motivation: revenge.
The title tells it true, and applies not only to myriad characters in Sandford's electrifying eighth "Prey" thriller, but also to the novel's readers. From the opening scene, in which series hero, Minneapolis cop Lucas Davenport, and his team stalk and kill a female bank robber, the story will clamp down like a bear trap on all who open its covers. That robber is Davenport's prey, but those beloved by the cop and his men become prey in turn when the slain thief's husband, Dick LaChaise, and his two sidekicks, all ex-bikers with militia mentalities, vow revenge unto death. Davenport, who in his spare time designs computer games that have made him wealthy, soon learns two disturbing facts: that suicidal enemies are close to unstoppable, and that his addiction to this real-life "game" is powerful enough to put even his loved ones at risk. Further problems ensue from the dangerous presence of a crooked cop, and from the refusal by Davenport's lover, a dedicated surgeon, to take up Davenport's offer to seclude her safely. The stakes are high, the characters rich, the action relentless-here's a thriller that will make your hair stand on end. Major ad/promo; Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club, and Mystery Guild main selections; author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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April 29, 1997
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Excerpt from Sudden Prey by John Sandford
Through the speakers above his head, little children sang in sweet voices, O holy night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of the dear Savior's birth...
The man who might kill Candy LaChaise stood in the cold and watched her through the glass doors. Sometimes he could see only the top of her head, and sometimes not even that, but he never lost track of her.
Candy, unaware, browsed through the lingerie, moving slowly from rack to rack. She wasn't really interested in underwear: her attention was fixed on the back of the store, the appliance department. She stopped, pulled out a black bustier, held it up, cocked her head like women do. Put it back, turned toward the doors.
The man who might kill her stepped back, out of sight.
A minivan pulled to the curb and a chunky woman in an orange parka hopped out and pushed back the van's side door. An avalanche of dumpling-like children spilled onto the sidewalk. They were of both sexes, all blond, and of annual sizes: maybe four, five, six, seven, eight and nine years old. The van headed for a parking space, while the woman herded the kids toward the doors.
The man took a bottle from his pocket, stuck his tongue into the neck, tipped it up and faked a swallow or two. The woman hustled the kids past him, shielding them with her body, into the store and out of sight. That was what he wanted; he put the bottle away, and looked back through the doors.
There she was, still in lingerie. He looked around, and cursed the season: the Christmas decorations, the dirty piles of hard, frozen snow along the streets, the wind that cut through his woolen gloves. His face was thin, unshaven, the skin stretched like parchment on a tambourine. Nicotine had stained his teeth as yellow as old ivory. He lit a Camel, and when he put the cigarette to his lips, his hands trembled with the cold. When he exhaled, the wind snatched away the smoke and the steam of his breath, and made him feel even colder than he was.
An oily baritone, a man who'd never be Bing Crosby:...Let nothing you dismaaay, Remember Christ our Sa-ay-vior was born on Christmas Day...
He thought, "Christ, if I could only stop the music..."
From where he stood, he could see the golden spire atop the state capitol; under the December overcast it looked like a bad piece of brass. Fucking Minnesota. He put the bottle to his lips, and this time let a little of the wine trickle down his throat. The harsh grape-juice taste cut into his tongue, but there was no warmth in the alcohol.
What in the hell was she doing?
She'd cruised Sears Brand Central, taking her time, looking at refrigerators, buying nothing. Then she strolled through the ladies' wear department, where she'd looked at blouses. Then she walked back through Brand Central, checking the cellular telephones.
Again she walked away: he'd been inside at the time, and she'd almost trapped him in the television display. He hit the doors, went through, outside into the wind...but she'd swerved toward the lingerie. Had she spotted him? A TV salesman had. Picking up his ragged coat and rotten shoes, the salesman had posted himself near the Toshiba wide-
screens, and was watching him like a hawk. Maybe she...
There. She was on her way out.
When Candy walked out of Sears, he didn't look at her. He saw her, but he didn't move his head. He simply stood against the outside wall, rocked on his heels, mumbled into his parka and took another nip of the MD 20-20.
Candy never really saw him, not then. She half-turned in his direction as she left the store, but her eyes skipped over him, like they might skip over a trash barrel or a fire hydrant. She bopped down the parking lot, not quite in a hurry, but not dawdling, either. Her step was light, athletic, confident, the step of a cheerful woman. She was pretty, in a thirty-something high-school cheerleader way, with natural blond hair, a round Wisconsin face and a clear Wisconsin complexion.
She walked halfway down the lot before she spotted the Chevy van and started toward it.
The man who might kill her, who still stood by the doors, said, "She just walked past her car."
A Republican state legislator in a wool Brooks Brothers overcoat heard the words and hurried into the store. No time for dialogue with a street schizo: you see them everywhere, mumbling into their wine-stained parkas.
"I think she's going for that van, dude."
Candy liked country music and shirt pockets that had arrows at the corners. She liked line-dancing and drinking Grain Belt. She liked roadhouses on country blacktop, pickup trucks and cowboy boots and small blue-eyed children and guns. When she got to the Chevy van, she took out a two-inch key ring filled with keys and began running them through the lock. She hit it on the twelfth one, and popped the door.
The van belonged to a slightly ragged Sears washing machine salesman named Larry. The last time she'd seen Larry, he was standing next to a seven-hundred-dollar Kenmore washer with Quiet Pak and Automatic Temperature Control, repinning his name tag. He was about ten minutes late--late enough that she'd started to worry, as she browsed the blouses and underwear. Had the van broken down? That would be a major problem...
But then, there he was, breathing hard, face pink from the cold, leaning against the Kenmore. Larry was a wise guy, she knew, and she didn't care for wise guys. She knew he was a wise guy because a bumper sticker on the back of his van said, in large letters, AGAINST ABORTION? And below that, in smaller letters, Then Don't Have One. Abortion was not a topic for bumper-sticker humor.
The man who might kill her mumbled into his parka: "She's in the van, she's moving."
The voice that spoke back to him was not God: "I got her."
Great thing about parkas: nobody could see the commo gear, the microphones and earplugs. "She's gonna do it," Del said. He put the bottle of Mogen David on the ground, carefully, so it wouldn't spill. He wouldn't need it again, but somebody might.
"Franklin says LaChaise and Cale just went into that pizza joint behind the parking ramp," said the voice in his ear. "They went out the back of the ramp, through a hole in a hedge."
"Scoping it out, one last time. That's where they'll dump the van," Del said. "Get Davenport on the road."
"Franklin called him. He's on the way. He's got Sloan and Sherrill with him."
"All right," Del said, noncommittally. Not all right, he thought. Sherrill had been shot a little more than four months earlier. The slug had nicked an artery and she'd almost bled out before they got her to the hospital. Del had pinched the artery so hard that Sherrill had later joked that she felt fine, except for the massive bruise where Del had pinched her leg.
Putting Sherrill's face into this, so soon, might be too heavy, Del thought. Sometimes Davenport showed all the common sense of a...Del couldn't think of anything. A trout, maybe.
"There she goes," said the voice in his ear.
The salesman's van stank of cigar smoke. Candy's nose wrinkled at the smell, but she wouldn't have to tolerate it for long. She eased the van out of the parking space, and checked the gas: half a tank, more than enough. She drove slowly up the block, to Dale, down Dale and onto I-94 toward Minneapolis. Georgie and Duane would be waiting at Ham's Pizza.
She looked at the speedometer: fifty-four. Perfect. Crooks mostly drove too fast. Dick said they didn't give a shit about the traffic laws or the other small stuff, and half the time they'd hit a bank, get away clean, then get caught because they were doing sixty-five in a fifty-five. She wouldn't make that mistake.
She tried to relax, checked all the mirrors. Nothing unusual. She took the P7 out of her coat pocket, slipped the magazine, pushed on the top shell with her thumb. She could tell by the pressure that she had a full clip.
Dick always made fun of the little bitty nine-millimeter shells, but she'd stick with them. The small gun felt right in her hand and the muzzle blast was easy to manage. The P7 held thirteen rounds. She could put nine or ten of the thirteen shots into the top of a Campbell's soup can at twenty-five feet, in less than seven seconds. A couple of times, she'd put all thirteen in.
Good shooting. Of course, soup-can lids didn't move. But on the two occasions when she'd been shooting for real, she felt no more pressure than when she'd been outside Dick's double-wide, banging away at soup-can lids. You didn't really line anything up, you kept both eyes open and looked across the front sights, tracking, and just at that little corner of time when the sight crossed a shirt pocket or a button or another good aim point, you'd take up the last sixteenth of an inch and...
Pop. Pop, pop.
Candy got a little hot just thinking about it.
Danny Kupicek had long black hair that his wife cut at home, and it fell over his eyes and his oversized glasses so that he looked like a confused shoe clerk. That helped when he was working the dopers: dopers were afraid of anyone too hip. They trusted shoe clerks and insurance salesmen and guys wearing McDonald's hats. Danny looked like all of those. He pulled the city Dodge to the curb and Del climbed in and Kupicek took off, three hundred yards behind the Chevy van. Del put his hands over the heat vent.
"I gotta come up with a new persona for the wintertime," Del said. "Somebody who's got a warm coat."
"State legislator," Kupicek said. He'd been sitting in the car off the capitol grounds, keeping an eye on Candy's car. He'd watched the politicians coming and going, and noticed how prosperous they seemed.
"Nah," Del said, shaking his head. "I wanna try somebody legit."
"Whatever, you gotta keep your head covered," said Kupicek. He wore heavy corduroy pants, a sweater over a button-down shirt, a wool watch cap and an open parka. "Fifty percent of all heat loss comes from the head."
"What do you think the hood is for?" Del asked, pointing over his shoulder.
"Too loose," Kupicek said, like he knew what he was talking about. He was nine cars behind Candy when they entered I-94, in the slow lane and two lanes to the right. "You need a stocking cap under there."
"Fuck a bunch of stocking caps. I need a desk job is what I need. Maybe I'll apply for a grant."
Kupicek looked at him, the yellow teeth and two-day stubble. "You ain't grant material," he said, frankly. "I'm grant material. Sherrill's grant material. Even Franklin is grant material. You, you ain't grant material."
"Fuck you and your wife and all your little children," Del said. He picked up Kupicek's handset. "Lucas, you there?"
Davenport came back instantly: "We're setting up in the Swann parking lot. Where is she?"
"Just passing Lexington," Del said.
"Stay with her. When she gets off at 280, let me know as soon as she's at the top of the ramp."
"Do that," Del said.
Kupicek was watching the van: "She's got some discipline. I don't think we touched fifty-six since we got on the road."
"She's a pro," Dell said.
"If it was me, I'd be so freaked, I'd be doing ninety. Course, maybe they're not gonna do it."
"They're gonna do it," Del said. He could feel it: they were gonna do it.
Georgie LaChaise was a dark woman with blue eyes that looked out from under too-long, too-thick eyebrows. She had a fleshy French nose, full lips with the corners downturned. She locked Duane Cale's eyes across the table and said, "Duane, you motherfucker, if you drive off, I'll find you and I'll shoot you in the fuckin' back. I promise you."
Duane leaned forward over the yellow Formica table, both hands wrapped around an oversized cup of Coke Classic. He had an unformed face, and hair that had never picked a color: one eyewitness might say he was blond, another would swear that he had brown hair. One would say apple-cheeked, another would say fox-faced. He seemed to change, even as you looked at him. He wore a camouflage army jacket over jeans and boots, with the collar turned up, and a Saints baseball hat.
"Oh, I'll do it," he said, "but it don't feel right. It just don't feel right. I mean, we did that one in Rice Lake, I was good there."
"You were perfect in Rice Lake," Georgie said. She thought, You were so scared I thought we'd have to carry you out. "This time, all you gotta do is drive."
"Okay, you see right there?" asked Duane, tapping the tabletop with the cup. "You said it your own self: I was perfect. This don't feel perfect, today. No sir. I mean, I'll do it if you say so, but I..."
Georgie cut him off. "I say so," she said bluntly. She glanced at her watch. "Candy'll be here in a minute. You get your asshole puckered up and get behind the wheel and everything'll go smooth. You know what to do. You only gotta drive two blocks. You'll be perfect."
"Well, okay..." His Adam's apple bobbed. Duane Cale was too scared to spit and the Coca-Cola didn't seem to make a difference.
Lucas Davenport peeled off his topcoat and the gray Icelandic sweater. Sloan handed him the vest and Lucas shrugged into it, slapping the Velcro tabs into place, everything nice and snug, except if you took a shot in the armpit it'd go right through your heart and both lungs on the way out the opposite 'pit...Never turn sideways.
"Fuckin' cold," Sloan said. He was a narrow, sideways-looking man who today wore a rabbit-fur hat. "We live in fuckin' Russia. The Soviet fuckin' Union."
"Is no Soviet Union," Lucas said. They were in a drugstore parking lot, Lucas and Sloan and Sherrill, and had gotten out of the slightly warm car to put on the vests. A loitering civilian watched them as his dog, wearing a blue jacket, sniffed up an ice-bound curb.
"I know," Sloan said. "It moved here."
Lucas pulled the sweater back over his head, then slipped back into his topcoat. He was a tall man, dark-haired, dark-complected with ice-blue eyes. A scar trailed through one brow ridge and expired on his cheek, a white line like a scratch across his face. As his head popped through the sweater's neck hole, he was grinning at Sloan, an old friend: "Who was trying to start a departmental ski team?"
"Hey, you gotta do something in the middle of the..."
The radio broke in: "Lucas?"
Lucas picked up the handset: "Yeah."
"On the 280 ramp," Del said.
"Got it...you get that, Franklin?"
Franklin came back, his voice chilled. "I got it. I can see LaChaise and Cale, they're still sitting there. They look like they're arguing."
"Keep moving," Lucas said.
"I'm moving. I'm so fuckin' cold I'm afraid to stop."
"On University..." Del said.
"We better go," Sherrill said. Her face was pink with the cold, and nicely framed by her kinky black hair. She wore a black leather jacket with tight jeans and gym shoes, and furry white mittens that she'd bought in a sale from a cop catalog. The mittens were something a high school kid might wear, but had a trigger-finger slit, like hunting gloves. "She'll be picking them up."
"Yeah." Lucas nodded, and they climbed into the city car, Sloan in the driver's seat, Sherrill next to him, Lucas sprawled in the back.
"Here she comes," said Franklin, calling on the radio.
"Check your piece," Lucas said over the seat to Sherrill. He wasn't quite sure of her, what she'd do. He wanted to see. He slipped his own .45 out of his coat pocket, punched out the magazine, racked the shell out of the chamber, then went through the ritual of reloading. In the front seat, Sherrill was spinning the wheel on her .357.
As Sloan took the car through an easy U-turn and the three blocks toward the Midland Steel Federal Credit Union, Lucas looked out the window at the street, and felt the world begin to shift.
The shift always happened before a fight, a suddenly needle-sharp appreciation of image and texture, of the smell of other bodies, of cigarette tar and Juicy Fruit, gun oil, wet leather. If your mind could always work like this, he thought, if it could always operate on this level of realization, you would be a genius. Or mad. Or both.
Lucas remembered a stray thought from earlier in the day, picked up the handset and called dispatch.
"We need two squads on University," he said. "We're tracking a stolen Chevy van and we want a uniform stop as soon as possible."
He recited the tag number and license and the dispatcher confirmed it. "We've got a car on Riverside," the dispatcher said. "We'll start them that way."
Candy pulled the van to the curb outside Ham's Pizza. Georgie and Duane were waiting, and she slid over to the passenger seat, and popped the back door for Georgie as Duane got in the driver's seat.
"Everything okay?" Duane asked.
"Great, Duane," Candy said. She gave him her cheerleader smile.
Duane hungered for her, in his Duane-like way. They'd gone to school together, elementary through high school. They'd played on a jungle gym, smart Candy and not-so-
smart Duane. She'd let him see her tits a couple of times--once down by Meyer's Creek, skinny-dipping with Dick, when Dick hadn't seen Duane coming, but Candy had. She was Dick's woman, all right, but wasn't above building extracurricular loyalty for a time when it might be needed.
"Drive," Georgie said from the back. And to Candy: "You set?"
"This should be a good one," Georgie said.
"Should be great," Candy said. Ten o'clock on a payday morning. The paychecks were issued at eleven. The first employees would be sneaking out to cash their checks by eleven-oh-one. That'd be an hour too late.
"There's the nigger again," Duane said, distractedly.
A giant black man had come into Ham's before Candy had gotten there, ordered a slice, asked if he could pay with food stamps. When told that he couldn't, he'd reluctantly taken two crumpled dollar bills out of his pocket and pushed them across the counter.
"Food stamps," Georgia said in disgust. "He's one of those screwballs. Look at him talk to himself."
Franklin, shambling along the street, said, "One block, fifteen seconds."
Duane said, "There it is," and his voice may have trembled when he said it. Georgie and Candy turned away from the black man and looked down the street at the yellow brick building with the plastic sign, and the short stoop out front.
"Remember what I said, Duane. We'll be in there for one minute," Georgie said. She leaned forward and spoke softly into his ear, and when Duane tried to turn his head away, she caught his earlobe and tugged it back, pinched it between her nails. Duane flinched, and she said, "If you drive away, one of us will hunt you down and kill you. If you drive, Duane, you're dead. Isn't that right, Candy?"
"That's right," Candy said, looking at him. She let some ice show, then switched to her God-Duane-I'd-Love-to-Fuck-You-But-I-Gotta-Be-True-to-Dickie look. "But he won't drive. Duane's okay." She patted his thigh.
"Oh, I'll do it," Duane said. He looked like a trapped rat. "I mean, I'll do it. I did it in Rice Lake, didn't I?"
He pulled the van to the curb and Georgie gave him a look, then the two women pulled nude nylon stockings over their faces and took the pistols out of their coat pockets.
"Let's go," Georgie said. She climbed out, and Candy followed a step behind; it passed through Georgie's mind that Candy looked radiant.
"I feel like I might pop one," Candy said to Georgie, as they climbed the four steps to the Credit Union door.
Franklin was halfway down the block when they went inside and he said, "The two women are inside. Pulled the nylons over their heads. It's going down."
Five seconds later, Del and Kupicek stopped at the corner behind him, then eased forward so they could see the back of the Chevy van and Cale's head. They were forty yards away.
Sloan stopped at the next corner up, and eased forward until he could see the front of the truck. "You set?" Lucas asked. He cracked the back door.
"Yeah." Sloan nodded, looked almost sleepy and yawned. Tension.
"Let's go," Lucas said. And in the handset he said, "Go."
Georgie and Candy went in hard, very large, very loud, screaming, masks, guns, Georgie first:
"On the wall," she screamed, "on the wall," and Candy behind her, vaulting to the top of the cash counter, screaming, the gun big in her hand, the hole at the muzzle looking for eyes. "On the wall..."
Four women employees and a single customer, a man in a black ski jacket and tinted eyeglasses, were inside the credit union. The woman closest to Candy looked like a carp, her mouth opening and closing, opening and closing, hands coming up, then waving, as though she could wave away a bullet. She wore a pink sweater with hand-darned blue flax blossoms in a line across the chest. Another woman curled up and turned away, looking back at them over her shoulder, and stepped against the back wall, next to a filing cabinet. She wouldn't look at Candy. A younger woman, a cashier, jumped back, yelped once, put her hands over her mouth, backed away, knocked a phone off a table, jumped again, froze. The fourth woman simply backed away, her hands at her shoulders.
Georgie said, rapid-fire, a vocal machine gun: "Easy, easy, everybody take it easy. Everybody shut up, shut up, shut up, and stand still. Stand still, everybody shut up...This is a holdup, shut up."
They'd been inside for ten seconds. Candy dropped behind the counter and pulled a pillowcase out of her waistband and started dumping cash drawers.
"Not enough," she shouted over Georgie's chant. "Not enough, there's more somewhere."
Georgie picked out the woman with the best clothes, the woman with the flax blossoms, pointed her finger at her and shouted, "Where is it, where's the rest of it?"
The woman said, "No-no-no..."
Georgie pointed her pistol at the man in the ski jacket and said, "If you don't say, in one second I'm gonna blow his fuckin' head off, his fuckin' head."
Georgie was posed in a two-handed TV-cop position, the pistol pointing at jacket-man's head, never wavering. The flax-blossom woman looked around for somebody to help her, somebody to direct her, but there wasn't anybody. She sagged and said, "There's a box in the office."
Candy grabbed her, roughed her, shoved her toward the tiny cubicle in the back. The woman, scuttling ahead, pointed at a box on the floor in the footwell of the desk. Candy shoved her back toward the door, picked up the box, put it on the desk, and popped the top: stacks of currency, tens, twenties, fifties, hundreds.