When the first man woke up that morning, he wasn't thinking about killing anyone. He woke up with a head full of blues, a brain that was too big for his skull, and a bladder about to burst. He lay with his eyes closed, breathing across a tongue that tasted like burnt chicken feathers. The blues rolled in through the bedroom door.
Coming down hard.
He had been flying on cocaine for three days, getting everything done, everything. Then last night, coming down, he'd stopped at a liquor store for a bottle of Stolichnaya. His bleeding brain retained a picture of himself lifting the bottle off the shelf, and another picture of an argument with the counterman, who didn't want to break a hundred-dollar bill.
By that time, the coke high had become unsustainable; and the Stoli had been a bad idea. There was no smooth landing after a three-day toot, but the vodka turned a wheels-up belly landing into a full crash-and-burn. Now he'd pay. If you peeled open his skull and dumped it, he thought, his brain would look like a coagulated lump of Campbell's bean soup.
He cracked his eyes, lifted his head, and looked at the clock. A few minutes past seven. He'd gotten four hours of sleep. Par for the course with coke, and the Stoli hadn't helped. If he'd stayed down for ten hours, or twelve-he needed about sixteen to catch up-he might have been past the worst of it. Now he was just gonna have to suck it up.
He turned to his left, where a woman, a dishwater blonde, lay facedown in her pillow. He could only see about half of her head; the rest was buried by a red fleece blanket. She lay without moving, like a dead woman-but no such luck. He closed his eyes again, and there was nothing left in the world but the blues music bumping in from the next room, from the all-blues channel, nine-hundred-and-something on the TV dial. Must've left it on last night. . . .
Gotta move, he thought. Gotta pee. Gotta take twenty aspirins and go down to Country Kitchen and get some pancakes and link sausages. . . .
The man didn't wake up thinking about murder. He woke up thinking about his head and his bladder and a stack of pancakes. Funny how things work out.
That night, when he killed two people, he was a little shocked.
Green-eyed Alie'e Maison stood in the hulk of a rust-colored Mississippi River barge. She was wrapped in a designer dress that looked like froth over a reef in the Caribbean Sea-an ankle-length dress the exact faded-jade color of her eyes, low-cut and sheer, hugging her hips, flaring at her ankles. She was large-eyed, barefoot, elfin, fleeing down a pale yellow two-by-twelve-inch pine plank, which stretched like a line of fire out of the purple gloom of the barge's interior.
Behind her, a huge man in a sleeveless white T-shirt, filthy Sears, Roebuck work pants, and ten-inch work boots blew sparks off a piece of wrought iron with an acetylene torch. He was wearing a black dome-shaped welding helmet, and acrid gray smoke curled around his heavy, tense legs. The blank robotic faceplate, in combination with his hairy arms, the dirty shirt, the smoke, and the squat legs, gave him the grotesque crouching power of a gargoyle.
A fantasy at three thousand dollars an hour.
And not quite right.
"That's no fucking good. NO FUCKING GOOD!"
Amnon Plain moved through the bank of strobes, his thick black hair falling over his forehead, his narrow glasses glittering in the set lights, his voice cutting like a piece of broken glass: "Alie'e, you're freezing up at the line. I want you blowing out of the place. I want you moving faster when you come up to the line, not slower. You're slowing down. And I want you to look pissed. You look annoyed, you look petulant-"
"I am annoyed-I'm freezing," Alie'e snapped. "i've got goose bumps the size of oranges."
Reprinted from Easy Prey by John Sandford by permission of Putnam Pub. Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by John Sandford. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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