Excerpt from Mortal Prey by John Sandford, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Mortal Prey

by John Sandford

Mortal Prey
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  • First Published:
    May 2002, 416 pages
    May 2003, 400 pages

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Chapter 1

THE THOUGHT POPPED INTO HER HEAD as she lay in the soft-washed yellowed sheets in the hospital bed. The thought popped in between the gas pains and muscle spasms, through the pungent odor of alcohol swabs, and if she'd read the thought in a book, she might have smiled at it.

She wasn't smiling at anything now.

She stared past the IV drip bag at the whitewashed plaster ceiling and tried not to groan when the pains came, knowing that they would end; tried not to look at the hard-eyed Mexicano at the end of the bed, his hand never far from the pistol that lay under the newspaper on the arm of his chair. Tried not to think about Paulo.

Tried not to think about anything, but sometimes the thoughts popped up: tall, wiry Paulo in his ruffled tuxedo shirt, his jacket on the chair, a glass of red wine in one hand, his other hand, balled in a fist, on his hip, looking at himself in the full-length mirror on the back of his bedroom door, pretending to be a matador. Paulo with the children's book Father Christmas, sitting naked at her kitchen table with a glass of milk and a milk mustache, delighted by the grumpy Santa Claus. Paulo asleep next to her, his face pale and trusting in the day's first light, the soft light that came in over the gulf just before sunrise.

But the thought that might have made her smile, if it was in a book, was:

Just like the fuckin' Godfather.

LIKE THIS: AN Italian restaurant called Gino's, with the full Italian-cliché stage setting--sienna orange walls, bottles of Chianti with straw wrappers, red-and-white checked tablecloths, baskets of hot crusty bread as soon as you sat down, the room smelling of sugar and wheat, olives and peppers, and black oily coffee. A few rickety tables outside faced the Plaza de Arboles and the fifties tourist-coordinated stucco church across the way, San Fernando de Something-or-Other. The church belfry contained a loudspeaker that played a full, slow bell version of the Singing Nun's "Dominique," more or less at noon, depending on whose turn it was to drop the needle on the aging vinyl bell-record.

Paulo took her to lunch almost every day, picking her up at the hotel where she worked as a bookkeeper. They'd eat Mexican one day, California or French the next, Italian twice a week. He picked her up about noon, so on most days she could hear, near or far, the recorded bells of San Fernando's.

Gino's was the favored spot. Despite the clichéd Italian stage-setting, there was an actual Gino cooking at Gino's, and the food was terrific. Paulo would pick her up in a black BMW 740iL, his business car, with his smooth-faced business driver. They'd hook up with friends, eat a long Caribbean lunch and laugh and argue and talk politics and cars and boats and sex, and at two o'clock or so, they'd all head back to work.

A pattern: not predictable to the minute, but predictable enough.

ISRAEL COEN SAT up in the choir loft at the back of the church with his rifle, a scoped Remington Model 700 in .30-06. He'd sighted it in along a dirt track west of town, zeroed at exactly sixty yards, the distance he'd be shooting across the Plaza de Arboles. There was no problem making the shot. If all you wanted was that Izzy Coen make a sixty-yard shot with a scoped Remington 700, you could specify which shirt button you wanted the slug to punch through.

Not that everything was perfect. The moron who'd bought the gun apparently thought that bigger was better, so Izzy would be shooting at sixty yards through an eight-power scope, and about all he could see was a shirt button. He would have preferred no magnification at all, or an adjustable two- to six-power scope, to give him a little room around the crosshairs. But he didn't have that, and would have to make do.

The problem with the scope was exacerbated by the humidity in the loft. Not only was the temperature somewhere in the 120s, he thought, but the humidity must have been 95 percent. He'd sweated through his shirt at his armpits and across his chest, and the sweat beaded on his cheeks and forehead and arms. When he put the rifle to his cheek, the scope fogged over in a matter of seconds. He had a bottle of spring water with him, and that helped keep his body cool enough to function, but there was nothing he could do about the fogging eyepiece. The shot would have to be a quick one.

Reprinted from Mortal Prey by John Sandford by permission of G. P. Putnams Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © May 2002, John Sandford. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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