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			 				Rules of Prey

				Shadow Prey

				Eyes of Prey

				Silent Prey

				Winter Prey

				Night Prey

				Mind Prey

				Sudden Prey

				Secret Prey

				Certain Prey

				Easy Prey

				Chosen Prey

				Mortal Prey

				Naked Prey

				Hidden Prey

				Broken Prey

				Invisible Prey

				Phantom Prey

				Wicked Prey

				Storm Prey

				Buried Prey

				Stolen Prey

				Silken Prey

				Field of Prey

				Gathering Prey

				Extreme Prey

				Golden Prey

				Twisted Prey

				Neon Prey


			 				The Fool’s Run

				The Empress File

				The Devil’s Code

				The Hanged Man’s Song


			 				Dark of the Moon

				Heat Lightning

				Rough Country

				Bad Blood

				Shock Wave

				Mad River

				Storm Front


				Escape Clause

				Deep Freeze

				Holy Ghost


			 				Saturn Run

				The Night Crew

				Dead Watch






			Publishers Since 1838

			An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

			Copyright © 2019 by John Sandford

			Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

			Ebook ISBN 9780525536628

			This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.



			 				 				Also by John Sandford

			 				 				Title Page


			 				Chapte; r One

			 				Chapter Two

			 				Chapter Three

			 				Chapter Four

			 				Chapter Five

			 				Chapter Six

			 				Chapter Seven

			 				Chapter Eight

			 				Chapter Nine

			 				Chapter Ten

			 				Chapter Eleven

			 				Chapter Twelve

			 				Chapter Thirteen

			 				Chapter Fourteen

			 				Chapter Fifteen

			 				Chapter Sixteen

			 				Chapter Seventeen

			 				Chapter Eighteen

			 				Chapter Nineteen

			 				Chapter Twenty

			 				Chapter Twenty-one

			 				Chapter Twenty-two

			 				Chapter Twenty-three

			 				Chapter Twenty-four

			 				Chapter Twenty-five

			 				Chapter Twenty-six

			 				Chapter Twenty-seven

			 				 				About the Author



			Barthelemy Quill led his companion through the murk and up the library stairs toward his personal study carrel. Though Quill was normally restrained to the point of rigor mortis, she could hear him breathing, quick breaths, excited. They’d been there before, and the woman found the experience both weird and interesting. She was a step behind him, and lower, and she reached out and stroked his thigh.

			But at the top of the stairs, Quill put out a hand, pressing it back against her chest, and whispered, “Shh. There’s a light.”

			The library was never entirely dark, not even in the middle of the night, but there’d never before been a moving light. She could see one now, no brighter than an iPhone, dancing like a ghost through the bookshelves.

			Not a security guard. It was an iPhone, she thought. Not the flashlight, but the much weaker screen light.

			Quill moved away from her and closer to the light—he was wearing gray dress slacks, a gray knit dress shirt, and a black sport coat, so he was basically invisible in the dark. The woman felt a chill crawl up her arms and she stepped sideways into the book stacks. She’d learned well the lesson of trusting her instincts about trouble. She turned a corner on one of the stacks and crouched, listening in the silence.

			Then Quill’s voice: “Hey! Hey! Where’d you get . . . I’m calling the police! You stay right where you’re at.”

			Then a wet Whack! And, after a second, another. Whack! The sound was heavy and violent, as if delivered with a crowbar. The whacks were followed by a couple of bumps. And not another word from Quill.

			The woman crunched herself up, made herself smaller, opened her mouth wide to silence her breathing, a trick she’d learned in another life while taking singing lessons. Like Quill, she’d dressed in dark clothing, as their entry into the library was unauthorized and possibly illegal. Before this moment, that had added another thrill to their clandestine meetings.

			Now . . .

			Something terrible had happened, she thought. After the whacks and subsequent bumps, there was a deep silence, as though the iPhone user were listening.

			That was followed by shuffling noises, more bumps, a door closed and a locked turned, and then the weak iPhone light reappeared. She never saw the person with the phone but kept her arms over her face and her head down: faces shine in the dark, and eyes are attracted to eyes. She heard light footsteps fading away, risked a look up and saw the iPhone light disappearing around the corner toward the stairs.

* * *


			 			The killer was just as stunned. Quill had come out of nowhere, as the killer stood by the open carrel door, laptop in hand. Quill’s face had been twisted with anger. He’d shouted, “Hey! Hey!” and something else, then, “I’m calling the police!”

			Quill’d turned away, and, without thinking, panicking, the killer had lifted the laptop computer and brought it down on Quill’s head.

			After the first blow, Quill had said, “Ah!” and gone down, and his forehead had hit the edge of the carrel desk and his head had turned. His gray eyes jerked to the assailant, but had already begun to dim, as he sank to his hands and knees. The killer swung the notebook again and this time Quill went flat on the floor.

			The DreamBook Power P87 made an excellent weapon, not because of its Intel Xeon i7 processor, or its 64 gigs of RAM, or its high-definition display, but because it weighed more than twelve pounds and had sharp corners.

			By comparison, an Irwin Tools fiberglass-handled general purpose claw hammer, an otherwise excellent weapon, weighs only sixteen ounces, a pound.

* * *


			When the killer sank the computer into the back of Quill’s head, the professor smacked the desk with his forehead, his head turned, and his eyes twisted toward his assailant, and he dropped to his hands and knees like a poleaxed ox, if oxen have hands and knees.

			A blow followed, a downward chop like that of a guillotine blade. The later autopsy suggested the first blow had been sufficient enough to kill, if the assailant had been willing to wait a minute. He hadn’t.

			The second impact certainly finished the job, and Quill lay sprawled across the floor and partially under the carrel desk, leaking both blood and cerebrospinal fluid. Quill never felt much pain, only an awareness of the blows and his beginning to fall. The lights went out, and he dropped into a darkness deeper than any sleep.

			The library carrel had been his own personal cubbyhole, renewed semester by semester over the years. Strictly speaking, that shouldn’t have been the case, but Quill was rich and handsome and famous for his research into innovative therapies for spinal nerve injuries. So he got by with it. And it had become a go-to place for his late-night sexual assignations, away from all eyes.

* * *


			The killer had a thousand thoughts raging through his head. Near the top, however, was: Get out! And: DNA! And: Fingerprints!

			The library was nearly silent, broken only by the vague clicks and hums of any building at night with heaters and fans. The killer stood listening, then looked down at the body, licked his lips once, thinking. The laptop came with a soft plastic cover. He used it to wrap one of his hands and then dragged Quill’s leg from the doorway into the carrel, where, with the door closed, the body couldn’t be easily seen through the narrow translucent window.

			His heart was pumping hard, he was breathing like a steam engine. He tried to calm himself, took a moment, stepped on something. The fob to Quill’s BMW lay on the floor where he’d dropped it, along with his cell phone. The killer picked up the cell, the keys, and the murder weapon, took another moment to listen. As expected, the library was empty and dead silent: it closed at six o’clock, and he’d murdered Quill at the stroke of midnight.

			The killer left the carrel at three minutes after midnight, pulled his black ball cap farther down over his eyes and tilted his head down to defeat any cameras. He locked the carrel door and started toward the stairs. The hair on the back of his neck suddenly bristled, like from the chill you’d get walking past a cemetery. He stopped. Was he alone? He listened, heard nothing. He walked slowly and quietly down the stairs to the first floor, creeping through it on his soft-soled running shoes, and out the door.

			The river was right there. He went to the walkway running alongside it, stopped under a light to separate the professor’s keys from their fob and threw the fob in the river. The keys went in his pocket; he might find a use for them.

			He continued across a bridge to the other side, saw no one. He stopped to put the computer and its soft cover in his backpack. The cell phone went into a “Mission Darkness” Faraday bag with a see-through window, along with his own. Quill had begun making a call to 911 when he was killed, so the killer had access to the phone’s operation and could keep it working with the occasional poke.

* * *


			Back inside the library, Quill’s companion waited, frozen in place, for what seemed like hours—maybe ten minutes. After the iPhone light disappeared, she had not heard another thing.

			Taking a chance, she dug silently in her purse and found the switchblade she’d purchased in Iowa, where they were legal, as personal protection. She wrapped the knife in the tail of her jacket and pushed the button that popped open the razor-sharp four-and-seven-eighths-inch serrated blade, the mechanical unlatching muffled by the cloth.

			She listened for another moment, then crawled down the aisle between the book stacks, got to her knees, then to her feet, and slipped over to the carrel. The door had a small, vertical-slit window, but with translucent glass.

			She muttered, “Shit,” and waited, and waited, listening, tried the door, but it was locked. She turned on her iPhone’s flashlight and directed it down through the window but couldn’t see anything at all through the cloudy pane. Nothing was moving inside.

			Quill, she thought, might be dead. He was probably badly hurt, at the least. She should call the police; but she wasn’t the type.

			The thought held her for a moment. She didn’t owe Quill. He’d brought her into this. If he was still alive, and survived, she could tell him that she ran away and never knew that he’d been hurt.

			The decision made, she turned off the light and slipped through the library, her lips moving in a prayer that wasn’t a prayer, because she didn’t know any, but simply a Please! Please! Please! addressed to any god who might be tuned in. She made it down the stairs and out into the river air, the Mississippi curling away beneath the bridge with anything but innocence: it had seen more murders than any single man or woman ever would.

			A half block from the library, the woman folded the knife but kept it in her hand, her thumb on the spring release. On the far side of the bridge, she was swallowed up by the night.

* * *


			Because he was murdered on a Friday night and had no firm appointments over the weekend, and missed only one day at the lab, Quill’s body wasn’t found until Tuesday, when an untoward odor began leaking under the carrel’s locked door.

			Definitely not coffee.

			Inquiries were made, a second key was found, the door was opened, the cops were called.

			Quill had lived alone since his third wife moved out. Neither of his first two wives, nor his estranged third, made any secret of the fact that they thoroughly disliked him.

			A two-week investigation produced baffled cops. The cops didn’t think they were baffled—not yet, anyway—but the Star Tribune and local television stations agreed that they were. And who do you believe, the cops or the mainstream media?

			When no suspect had been produced after two weeks, Quill’s well-connected sister, co-heir to their father’s wildly successful company, Quill Micro-Sprockets, called her old friend and a major political donee, the governor of Minnesota.

			The governor called the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety; the commissioner called the director of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension; the BCA director called one of his supervisory agents; the supervisory agent, after a comprehensive course of vulgarity, obscenity, and profanity, made a call of his own.

			At the end of the daisy chain was a Flowers.



			Virgil Flowers walked out of a café in Blue Earth, Minnesota, slightly bilious after a dinner of brown slices of beef and brown gravy over brown potatoes and dead green beans, coconut cream pie on the side, with a pointless Diet Coke. He had to quit all that; he knew it, but hadn’t yet done it. He burped and the burp tasted . . . brown.

			He’d taken three steps out the door before he noticed a motley group of twenty people standing in the parking lot, staring up at the sky to the south. When he turned to look, he saw the UFO.

			There was no question about it, really.

			The alien craft was obviously far away, but still appeared to be more than half the size of a full moon. It was motionless, hovering over the countryside like a polished dime, brilliantly lit, alternating gold and white light, almost as bright as the setting sun, and hard to look at without squinting.

			A man dressed like a farmer, in mud-spattered jeans and muddier gum boots, said wisely, “It only appears to be motionless. It’s probably a jumbo jet headed into the Twin Cities, flying low and right toward us. The sun’s hitting it at just the right angle, and we’re getting a reflection.”

			A pale woman with orange-blond dreadlocks, and the voice of a high school teacher, said, “No, it’s not a jet. It’s not moving. Line it up with that phone pole and you see it’s not moving.”

			Virgil and the farmer edged sideways to line the UFO up with the telephone pole, and the woman was right; the UFO wasn’t moving. The farmer exhaled heavily, and said, “Okay. I got nothin’.”

			More people were coming out of the café, attracted by the crowd in the parking lot.

			A man in a plaid sport jacket said, “This could be the start of something big.”

			“Like an invasion,” the dreadlocks lady said. She mimed a shudder. “Like in Cloverfield. You don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s coming and it’s bad.”

			“Wouldn’t they invade Washington or someplace like that?” a thin man asked. “Why would they invade Iowa?”

			A jocko-looking guy said, “Not because they’re recruiting for a pro football team,” and he and a jocko friend, who was wearing a red University of Minnesota jacket, exchanged high fives.

			Somebody said, “I left my camera at home. Wouldn’t you know it? Probably see Bigfoot on the way back.”

			A short, fat mail carrier: “I saw a show where the aliens completely wasted LA, but it turned out everything was being controlled from one central bunker, and when the Army hit that, all the aliens’ tanks and shit quit working.”

			“Independence Day,” somebody said. “Where they nuked the mother ship, and then the fighters could get through the force fields?”

			“No, I saw that one, too, but this was a different movie,” the letter carrier said. “Ground troops in LA. Got the aliens with a bazooka or something.”

			A young man with black-rimmed glasses and slicked-back dark hair said, with the voice of authority, “Battle: Los Angeles. Thirty-five percent on the Tomatometer. The ground squad lit them up with a laser indicator so American fighters could target the alien HQ. Or maybe they called in the artillery, I don’t precisely recall.”

			A young woman in a jewel-blue nylon letter jacket that matched her eyes said, “I hope they don’t get us pregnant with those monster things like in Aliens. You know, that ate their way out of your womb when they hatched.”

			“I don’t think that was Aliens,” the authoritative young man said. “But just in case, maybe you oughta get a lotta good lovin’ before they arrive.”

			Jewel Blue, the voice of scorn: “Dream on, Poindexter.”

* * *


			Virgil scratched his chin, momentarily at a loss. He was a tall, thin, blue-eyed man, with blond hair curling well down over his ears. He was wearing a canvas sport coat over a “Moon Taxi” T-shirt and jeans, with cowboy boots and a blue ball cap. As an official law enforcement officer of the state of Minnesota—L’Étoile du Nord—he thought he should do something about an alien invasion but didn’t know exactly what. Call it in maybe?

			He watched the thing for another moment, the flickering light, then walked over to his truck and dug out a pair of Canon 10-power image-stabilizing binoculars for a closer look. He saw a teardrop-shaped research balloon, several stories high, probably made of translucent polyethylene film. The low-angle sunlight was refracting through it. Most likely flown out of Iowa State University in Ames, he thought, which was more or less directly to the south.

			“What do you see?” asked the woman with the dreadlocks.

			“Weather balloon,” Virgil said.

			“That’s what they always call it. A weather balloon. Next thing you know, you got an alien probe up your ass,” somebody said.

			Virgil passed the binoculars around, and they all looked. And then they all went home, disappointed. A UFO invasion would have been a hell of a lot more interesting than Spam ’n’ Eggs for dinner. He took the binoculars back to his truck, noticed that he hadn’t pulled the plug out of the boat, pulled it, and water started running down into the parking lot.

			On his way out of Blue Earth, Virgil saw more groups of people standing in parking lots, watching the UFO. If he wasn’t careful, he could wind up investigating a balloon.

* * *


			Jon Duncan, a supervising agent at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, called as Virgil crossed I-90, heading north on Highway 169. “We need you to investigate a murder.”

			“Where at?”

			“University of Minnesota,” Duncan said.

			“What happened?” Virgil asked. “And why me?”

			“A professor got murdered. Head bashed in,” Duncan said.



			“A professor got murdered there two weeks ago,” Virgil said. “Is this another one?”

			“No, no. Same one,” Duncan said. “Minneapolis Homicide is working it, but they got nothing. Turns out the professor was the brother of this rich woman—Boopsie, or Bunny, or Biffy, something like that, last name Quill—who gave a lot of money to the governor’s campaign. And you know what the governor thinks of you . . .”

			“Ah, Jesus, I hate that guy,” Virgil said. “Why doesn’t he leave me alone?”

			“Because you’re good at doing favors for people like him and he’s good at doing favors for rich people,” Duncan said. “You brought it on yourself, with that school board thing.”

			With Virgil investigating, the state attorney general (at the time) had managed to send most of a school board to prison for murder; the attorney general, who’d actually done nothing but look good on TV, had taken full credit for the investigation and subsequent prosecution and was now the governor. He did have broad shoulders, a baritone voice, and extra-white teeth.

			“You know it’ll piss off the Minneapolis cops,” Virgil said.

			“Does that bother you?”

			Virgil said, “Well, yeah, it does, as a matter of fact.”

			“Huh. Too bad. Doesn’t bother me at all, since I won’t be there,” Duncan said. “Anyway, I have a name for you: Margaret Trane. A sergeant with Minneapolis Homicide. Known as Maggie. She’s leading the investigation, coordinating with the campus cops.”

			“Don’t know her,” Virgil said. “She any good?”

			“Can’t say,” Duncan said. “I judge women by their looks and the size of their breasts, not whether they’re competent detectives.” After a moment of empty air, Duncan blurted, “For Christ’s sakes, don’t tell anybody I said that. I mean, I was joking, okay? Big joke. Maybe a little insensitive . . .”

			“I’m not recording you,” Virgil said.

			“Yeah, but somebody might be, you never know,” Duncan said. Virgil could imagine him looking over his shoulder. “We have the most amazing surveillance stuff now, right here at BCA. I’ve been messing with it all week. Anyway, get your ass up here tomorrow. The governor would like to see this solved by the end of the week.”

			“It’s already Thursday,” Virgil said.

			“Better get moving, then,” Duncan said.

			Virgil didn’t want to go to the Twin Cities to mess around in a Minneapolis murder investigation. The cops there handled more murders in a year than the BCA did. And they were good at it.

			Virgil tried to tap-dance. “You know, I’m supposed to be working that thing in Fulda . . . There are some pretty influential religious groups—”

			Duncan interrupted. “Are you towing a boat?”

			“A boat?” Virgil could see the Ranger Angler, riding high and still damp, in the rearview mirror.

			“Don’t bullshit me, Virgie. That thing in Fulda is weird, but it’s basically chasing chickens. And you’re towing your boat, which means you don’t care about Fulda any more than I do. Get your ass to Minneapolis. I got you a room at the Graduate, by the U. It’s your dream hotel—it’s got a beer joint, a Starbucks, and, the pièce de résistance, an Applebee’s. Mmm-mmm.”

			“Does sound good,” Virgil admitted.

			“The kind of place I’d stay. Any questions?”

			“All kinds of them, but you won’t have the answers,” Virgil said. “Talk to Trane before I get up there so she’ll know I’m coming and it’s not my fault.”

			“I can do that,” Duncan said. “I’ll blame it on the governor. Anything else I should know?”

			“There’s a UFO hovering over Iowa, due south of Blue Earth,” Virgil said.

			“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Duncan said. “So, I’ll email the media coverage of this killing. You’ll have it before you get home.”

			“I’ll be home in about five minutes.”

			“No you won’t—you just crossed I-90 heading north. We got a new toy, and I’m tracking your cell phone. Have been ever since you pulled your goddamn boat off the goddamn Mississippi.”

* * *


			The Fulda incident.

			A minister with the Universal Life Church—“Get Ordained Today!”—had married six people, three men and three women, to one another as a group, and they’d sent a nude photo off to The New York Times, which of course had published it on their “Vows” page, with the appropriate black rectangles covering the naughty bits, along with a narrative about the ceremony.

			“We believe there should be no barrier whatsoever to personal sexual expression, in whatever combination the voluntary participants feel to be genuinely authentic,” blah, blah, blah.

			If the group wedding had actually taken place, it violated Minnesota law. Various conservative ministerial associations had demanded action. Action required investigation to make sure that nobody in officialdom was getting his or her weenie pulled.

			Virgil was the designated hitter, but when he got the assignment, his eyes had rolled so far up into his head that he could see his scalp. He had not yet begun to investigate, despite increasing pressure. When asked why, by an attractive, if somewhat hefty, Rochester television reporter with whom he was sharing a bag of donuts in the Mankato Dunkin’ Donuts, he’d unwisely replied, “I had to wash my hair.”

* * *


			He took the opportunity to negotiate with Jon Duncan. “If I investigate up in Minneapolis, I won’t have time for Fulda.”

			“I understand that. If you’re out of pocket, I’ll pass the word to our new attorney general and get him to send one of his own dimwitted investigators out there.”

			“Man, you’re developing the righteous bureaucratic chops,” Virgil said, impressed.

			“I am, it’s true,” Duncan said. He’d once been a competent investigator. “I’ll call Trane and tell her you’ll be there by noon tomorrow.”

* * *


			Virgil pulled into the farm an hour later, backed the boat into the barn next to the new used compact John Deere tractor they’d bought the previous autumn. They’d rigged it for plowing snow, as well as general farm utility use, and a good thing, too: the past winter had started off easy, but turned ugly in late January and stayed that way. By early March, they’d had a snowdrift in the side yard that reached up to the lowest wire on the clothesline. Then came April and thundersnow. Now, in early September, the snow was gone, barely, and the tractor was hooked up to an aging hay baler.

			The farm belonged to Virgil’s pregnant girlfriend, Frankie, who was expecting twins sometime in the next couple of months. An ultrasound said they were getting one of each. Frankie, her blond hair done in a pigtail, waddled across the barnyard to meet him.

			“Catch anything good?”

			“Walleyes. Johnson Johnson’s going to clean and freeze them; we’ll have a fish fry the next time we go over.”

			“Good. Listen, Rolf is baling tomorrow—it looks like it could rain Monday, so we got to get it in,” she said, squinting up into the UFO-free sky.

			She was talking about hay, which was already cut and laying in windrows in the alfalfa field. Rolf was the oldest of her five sons.

			“Aw, jeez, honey, Jon Duncan called—”

			Fists on her hips. “You’re trying to slide out of it again?”

			“Hey, c’mon, it’s work. That professor who got killed up in Minneapolis. Jon wants me up there by noon tomorrow . . .” He was tap-dancing like crazy.

			“If you leave here at ten o’clock, you’ll get there in plenty of time. And if you get up at five, you could throw for four hours before you have to clean up.”

			“Five o’clock? Mother of God, Frankie . . .”

			“Well, I can’t do it. Goodyear called and offered me a hundred dollars to paint their logo on my stomach.” She was blimp-like. She’d started out short, slender, and busty but now sometimes seemed to Virgil to be wider than she was tall.

			“Ah, well. Another couple of months, babe.”

			She rubbed her stomach. “I don’t know. I’ve been through this a few times and I think it could be sooner. Hope so. This is getting to be a load.”

* * *


			Virgil rolled out the driveway the next morning at ten-fifteen, having kissed both Frankie and his yellow dog, Honus, good-bye. He took two days’ worth of clothes, figuring he wouldn’t be working on Sunday and would be back home. On the way out the door, Frankie called, “You wanna know what was the last thing Honus licked before he kissed you good-bye?”

			Well, no, he didn’t, but he wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, thinking, Probably his balls. I hope his balls.

			Though the morning had been cool, Virgil’s aching arms and neck were covered with thin red scratches from the bales of dried alfalfa he’d been throwing; it would have been much worse if it’d been hot and he’d had to work in a T-shirt. They still hadn’t gotten in more than half the field, but Frankie’s second- and third-oldest boys, Tall Bear and Moses, would be throwing that afternoon.

* * *


			Virgil liked all the aspects of living on a farm, except for the farmwork. His parents always had a garden, and the teenage Virgil was expected to put in time picking and pulling and shucking, not because they needed the food, but because it was good for him. Later, as a teenager, he’d detassled corn in the summer to make money.

			He hated it all. He was a rocker, not a horticulturalist.

			Frankie kept an oversized vegetable garden—potatoes, tomatoes, sweet corn, squash, cucumbers, radishes, carrots, green beans, like that—out behind the barn in what had been, decades earlier, a pigsty. A variety of annual flower and herb beds sprawled along the driveway and the front of the house, and all had to be prepped, planted, watered, and harvested.

			A month earlier, Virgil had yanked a stunted orange, dirt-smelling carrot out of the ground, had flicked an earthworm off it, and said, “All of that fuckin’ work for this? Are you kiddin’ me?”

			Frankie’d laughed. She’d thought he was joking. He wasn’t.

			And she had that clothesline in the side yard, left over from the seventeenth century or something. She had a perfectly good clothes dryer, but she made Virgil tote the wet bedsheets and blankets out to the line in the summer because, she said, they smelled like sunshine when they were dry. Virgil had to admit she was right about that.

			But carrots? You could get a perfectly good bag of peeled carrots at the supermarket for, what, a couple of bucks?

			And that was more carrots than he’d eat in a month . . .

* * *


			He cut 169 at St. Peter, headed north, rolled past the farm fields and suburbs and then up the interstate highway, I-35W, toward the glass towers of downtown Minneapolis, Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore on the satellite radio singing “Downey to Lubbock.” If he could play guitar like Alvin, or the harp like Gilmore, he’d now be famous in Texas, Virgil thought. Part of Texas anyway. Okay, maybe only in Cut and Shoot, but somewhere in Texas.

			He parked outside the Minneapolis City Hall in one of the spots reserved for cops, put a BCA card on the dashboard, sighed, and went inside.

* * *


			The Minneapolis City Hall was not a pretty place, inside or out, and was the most barren public building Virgil had ever been in. Narrow, empty hallways were punctured by closed doors that rarely seemed to open at all. Hard benches that resembled church pews were spotted along the hallways, but he’d never seen anyone sitting on one. Strange things were undoubtedly happening behind all those doors, but he couldn’t imagine what they might be.

* * *


			 			Minneapolis Homicide was part of a broader department that included other violent-crime units. Entry was through a tiny, dark anteroom, where a young woman sat behind a window through which she could check visitors. She looked at Virgil’s ID, said, “Let me get somebody.”

			The door to the interior popped open a minute later, and a balding cop with a smile and a coffee cup said, “C’mon . . . I’m gonna want to listen to this.”

			Virgil said, “Aw, man . . .”

			The office consisted of an L-shaped room, its two long, narrow wings wrapping around the corner of an exterior wall of the building. Working cubicles were backed up against the wall, each with two desks on opposite sides. Large windows let light into the space.

			The cubicles were not overly tidy; sport coats and jackets were hung over partition walls and paper was everywhere. The cop led Virgil down the hall past a half dozen cubicles, most empty, others with cops looking at computers. He stopped halfway down the left wing of the office, pointed at a cubicle two down from where they were standing, and half whispered, “She’s in there,” as if she were a dragon.

* * *


			Margaret Trane was a sturdy, fortyish cop with twenty years on the force. She had short brown hair, brown eyes, and was dressed in blue nylon slacks with leg pockets, a white shirt, and a blue jacket. Virgil peeked into her cubicle, where she was peering nearsightedly at a computer screen. She became aware of his presence, turned, frowned, checked his cowboy boots and T-shirt, and asked, “Yes?”

			“Okay. I’m Virgil Flowers . . . I was—”

			“I know who you are, Flowers,” she snapped, leaning back in her chair, not bothering to hide her anger. “What do you want from me?”

			“A little less hostility would help,” Virgil said. “I don’t want to be here any more than you want me here. If I can figure a way to get out of this job, I’ll be gone.”

			“You’re pals with the governor.”

			“No. I don’t like the governor. He’s a weasel,” Virgil said. “I once did something that helped him get elected—”

			“I know about the school board thing,” Trane said. Her voice was still cold, her eyes as frosty as her voice, and skeptical. “What do you want?”

			Virgil shrugged. “Here I am. I thought if I could review what you’ve already done—”

			“Everything we’ve done so far has been useless, so there’s not much point,” she said.

			Virgil took a breath. “Look. I can start all over, by myself, get everybody confused about who’s doing what, and you won’t see me again. Be a big waste of my time, probably irritate the hell out of a lot of people, including you, but I can do it. Or, I could look at your reports and start from there.”

			She opened her mouth to reply, but before she got a word out, a man who’d walked up behind Virgil said, “Margaret, could I speak to you for a moment?”

			Trane said, “I’m—”

			“I know what you’re doing, Margaret. Step in here.” He pointed to an interview room across the hall. “Right now.”

			The man was tall, thin, balding, and black; he wore rumpled gray suit pants, a white shirt, and gold-rimmed glasses. He had an empty holster on one hip. He was a cop who could have done advertisements for an accounting firm. He nodded at Virgil as Trane got up and brushed by him into the interview room. He said, “We’ll be just a moment,” and closed the door.

* * *


			The cop who’d pointed out Trane had been eavesdropping from the next cubicle. He stepped out with a grin, and said, “That’s Lieutenant Knox. Nothing like getting off on the right foot, huh? Trane’s now getting her ass handed to her by the lieutenant, which will make her even happier than she already is.”

			Virgil said, “I can understand why she’s pissed. I would be, too, in her shoes.”

			“Yeah, but here you are, a cowboy with actual cowboy boots, likely with horse manure on the insteps, and wearing a band shirt, so you probably enjoy standing around on street corners bullshitting with people. Maggie, on the other hand, does not do bullshit. At all.”

			“What’s wrong with my shirt?” Virgil was wearing a vintage Otis Taylor “Trance Blues” T-shirt available only on select internet sites.

			“It’s not that often that you see a cop wearing one, unless maybe he’s undercover,” the cop said.

			“I’m trying to elevate fashion standards among law enforcement personnel,” Virgil said. “So . . . Trane . . . She smart?”

			“Yeah, she’s smart. Smart as she is, the Star Tribune says she’s baffled. What pisses her off is, she actually is. Baffled. She’s got no clue of what happened over at the U. No suspects, no prints, no DNA, no murder weapon, no time of death even. She doesn’t even know for sure why the dead guy was where he was. Or how he got there.”

			The door to the interview room opened, and Trane scooted out, almost as if she’d been kicked in the ass. She scowled at Virgil as Lieutenant Knox disappeared down the hall, pointed at an empty desk, and said, “That desk belongs to a guy on vacation. You can use it until he gets back. He’ll be back in two weeks, but a highly qualified investigator like yourself probably won’t need more time than that. All the drawers are locked, but you can use the computer. I’ll open my files for you. Let me know when you’re done and I’ll close them.”

			Virgil said, “I appreciate it. While you’re doing that, if you could point me to a men’s room . . .”

			“I’ll show you,” the other cop said. “I’ll walk you across the street to the cafeteria, give you the lay of the land.” To Trane he said, “We’ll be a few minutes. You should go lie down in the ladies’ room and put a cool, damp hankie on your forehead.”

			“Fuck you,” Trane said, but not in the mean voice she’d used on Virgil. She was already settling back in front of her computer.

* * *


			Virgil had been to the Minneapolis cop shop a few times, but the man, whose name was Ansel Neumann and who was a detective sergeant, gave him the full two-dollar tour. They wound up in a cafeteria in the government building across the street from City Hall. The two buildings were connected by an underground tunnel, the government center tall and now, after a few decades of being modern, a little shabby; the City Hall was old and squat and ugly, with dim, empty hallways with ranks of closed doors and stone floors that kicked echoes out from your feet when you walked across them.

			They ordered some kind of pie, which was yellow and might have been custard, or possibly banana, and Neumann briefed Virgil on the computer system, and what he could expect in Trane’s files, as well as a review of what the media was doing.

			“They’ve been all over Trane’s ass—a Channel Three crew ambushed her out at her house during dinner and they spent some time yelling at each other. She’s got a problem.”

			“Why take it out on me? I understand not wanting an outsider, but . . .”

			Neumann: “Because it suggests she can’t handle the case?”

			“I’m not doing that.”

			“No, but guess what happens when the governor’s fair-haired boy shows up here and the case gets solved? Who gets the credit? Who’s the village idiot? Trane figures she’s going to wind up sitting in the corner with a pointy hat on her head.”

			“Ah, shit.”

* * *


			When Virgil and Neumann got back to the Homicide office, another cop had shown up and was eating a tuna salad sandwich at the desk on the other side of the cubicle wall from Trane. Trane was again nearsightedly peering at her computer screen. Virgil said, “Margaret?”


			He tipped his head toward the interview room. “Step in here for a minute. We need to talk.”

			She launched herself from her chair, followed Virgil into the room, closed the door, and crossed her arms. “What?”

			Virgil held up his hands in a placating gesture. “I don’t think you need my help. I’m not here voluntarily. I’d be pissed if I were in your shoes, and I told Ansel that. I understand. But we’re stuck with it. If we figure this thing out, I’ll disappear. Nobody from the media will ever hear my name. And if anybody asks me, I’ll tell them you ran the show. Because, honest to God, I don’t need this.”

			She unfolded her arms. “It’s just . . . insulting, you know?”

			“I know how you feel about it. You know Lucas Davenport, right? You must have overlapped.” Davenport had been a Minneapolis Homicide cop before he’d gone on to the BCA, and then to the U.S. Marshals Service.

			“Yeah, he’s a friend,” she said.

			“He’s a friend of mine, too. We’re almost best friends, in an odd way,” Virgil said. “Give him a call. See what he thinks.”

			She agreed, if still a bit grudgingly. “Okay. Let me open the files for you. And I will give Lucas a ring.”



			Virgil spent the afternoon reviewing Trane’s work; the room was cool and damp and smelled like paper and floor wax. He got up a few times, to walk and think, wandering over to the government building. A few people stopped to peer into the office, checking the guy with the blues T-shirt.

			Trane asked, “How are you doing?” a couple of times, and he said, “Good. You’re a good reporter,” and she was, and she went away, possibly mollified, possibly to pee.

			Her reports were chronological, rather than ordered by subject matter, so Virgil made notes on a yellow legal pad, organized by subject.

* * *


			There was one picture of the murder victim, Professor Barthelemy Quill, when he was alive, an informal portrait in his laboratory that looked like it might have been taken by a newspaper reporter—it had a newsy look.

			Judging from a door behind Quill’s shoulder, he was a tall man, over six feet. He had neatly trimmed hair—originally light brown or blond, now shot through with gray—and a full head of it. The short hair framed a sober oval face punctuated with thin blond eyebrows and sharp blue-gray eyes that said “I went to a private boys’ school and then off to the Ivy League”—the face of a high-level federal prosecutor or Naval officer.

			The file also included a couple of dozen digital prints of the body as it was found, as well as close-ups of the entire carrel and the area around it.

			The blood from the head wound appeared black against the fair hair both at the site and where it trickled down Quill’s skull and left a stain on the stone-tiled floor beneath his chin. He was wearing gray slacks, a gray shirt, and a black sport coat. The ensemble lent him the aspect of a vampire, especially since his lips were pulled back in a death grimace, revealing a long eyetooth.

			Trane had interviewed more than fifty persons who’d known Quill, including his estranged current wife, two ex-wives, two ex-lovers, all the lab employees, colleagues at the university and the neighbors, and a group of academics with whom he was feuding. She’d extracted from them narratives of their relationships to the dead man and accountings of their whereabouts on Friday and Saturday.

			The academic feud had taken quite a bit of Trane’s time: she’d conducted interviews with both Quill supporters and Quill haters, and there had been some violence involved.

			Trane had had trouble determining the victim’s exact time of death because he’d been known to take solitary walks around campus. Quill left his lab, alone, at one o’clock Friday afternoon, and hadn’t returned. He hadn’t shown up on Monday, either, which was unusual but not unprecedented. His laboratory director had tried to call him twice on Monday, but Quill’s phone had apparently been turned off. That also was not unusual—famously, he hated being interrupted “by any idiot who can poke a number into a keypad.”

			Because Trane hadn’t a time of death—the medical examiner pegged it as being between Friday evening and noon Saturday—she’d been unable to eliminate alibis of the people closest to Quill or those who’d been involved with Quill in the feud, a vicious campus controversy concerning the relationship of medicine to culture.

* * *


			Quill had an office and lab in Moos Tower, a research center on campus. He would spend mornings there, arriving around eight o’clock after a stop at a Starbucks, where he picked up coffee and a slice of banana or pumpkin bread, which he ate at his desk.

			The next few hours were spent conferring with his senior lab assistants and reviewing ongoing work. In the afternoons, he often left the lab to walk and think, sometimes returning to work on into the evening on scientific papers. The lab’s work had been published in all the major medical journals concerned with spinal injuries.

			Trane noted that Quill’s assistants called him either Barth—not Bart—or Dr. Quill. He had a medical degree, but had never used it to practice; he also had a Ph.D. in biomedicine and had done advanced work in biorobotics.

			After leaving the lab on Friday, Quill had met with a professor of microsurgery and a professor of radiology at the university medical center. That meeting had lasted until about three o’clock.

			He’d been sighted by two medical students at Coffman Memorial Union around three o’clock, at the coffee bar; and may have been sighted by two neighbors, walking near his home, around five o’clock, but that was uncertain.

			According to Trane’s reports, Quill lived alone in a large redbrick house on East River Parkway, within long walking distance of his lab. In good weather, he often walked, and occasionally biked, to the university. If he’d actually been spotted by the neighbors, that was the last time he’d been seen alive by any witnesses Trane had been able to locate.

* * *


			Quill’s estranged wife lived in a condo, owned by Quill, east of the university. At the time of his death, they were negotiating the terms of a divorce. There was a severe prenuptial agreement. Interestingly, the estranged wife would get little of Quill’s money, and no alimony at all, if they divorced while he was alive, but would inherit a substantial fortune if he “predeceased” her.

			Virgil said, “Huh,” but noted that the wife had an ironclad alibi—she was also an academic and had been in Cleveland attending a conference on the structure of natural languages. That didn’t mean she couldn’t have had an accomplice to do the killing.

			The will—actually, a revocable trust—dictated precisely what would happen with Quill’s estate when he died. Other than his estranged wife, nobody would get more or less if Quill were killed yesterday or thirty years later; but most would get it sooner if he were killed yesterday.

			His daughter was an exception. Under the terms of the trust, she was to be paid sixty thousand dollars a year until she was thirty, the money intended to cover her education. After age thirty, she wouldn’t get another nickel—ever. Since she was already getting the payments from the trust, it made no financial difference to her when or whether Quill died.

* * *


			Trane had gone to Verizon, Quill’s phone service provider, and had extracted a record of where the phone had been. The phone had been turned off around six o’clock on Friday night, but Verizon’s automated system had continued to track it until midnight. Quill had been around his house and neighborhood until about nine-thirty, when he’d driven to an area known as Dinkytown. He’d left his car in a private parking lot and never gone back to it.

			After leaving the car, he’d wandered around on foot, with no protracted stops. Then the phone traced a walk across the campus and then across a footbridge over the Mississippi.

			At midnight, the phone had been turned back on, in the library—but then, ten minutes later, again outside the library, it had disappeared altogether. At six o’clock the next morning, it popped up again, on the footbridge between the east and west banks of the river. A Google search had been made of Starbucks, perhaps to check opening times. The phone then was carried to the library, which didn’t open until eight, had been turned off again there, was tracked for a few more minutes, then disappeared again. It hadn’t yet reappeared on Verizon’s records. Or been found.

			“You’re telling me that he was killed Saturday morning, before the library opened. He must’ve had a key to an outside door to get up to his carrel,” Virgil said to Trane.

			She turned from her computer. “He had a key, no question about that,” Trane said. “We don’t know who gave it to him. Of course, it’s possible that somebody with a key let him in. I talked to an assistant at the library, who said she saw him once very shortly after the library opened coming out of his carrel. Not to say that he couldn’t have been waiting outside and got in the minute it opened, but she had the impression that he might have slept in the library. Doesn’t know for sure. I originally thought he must’ve been killed after six-fifteen, the last time we can locate his phone, but now . . .”

			She pressed a hand to the side of her face, thinking about it, and Vigil asked, “What?”

			“I keep reminding myself, I know where the cell phone was,” Trane said. “I’m not a hundred percent sure where Quill was—that he was with the phone. The cell wasn’t with the body, and neither were the computer nor his keys. We know he kept his house and office keys on his car fob. He was driving a BMW that night—the BMW that we found in the parking lot.”

			“If Verizon can track phones when they’re turned off—”

			“They can, if the battery isn’t pulled.”

			“—then what happened when it disappeared? He took the battery out?”

			“That would be one way, but there are a couple of others. You can buy cases that shield phones from electromagnetic radiation. Maybe he had one.”

			“Or the killer did,” Virgil said.

			“Yup—or the killer did. It’s possible he was killed at midnight, and the subsequent tracks were the killer’s. It’s also possible that Quill had a phone shield case. Met somebody at the library, dropped his phone in the case so he couldn’t be tracked, spent the night somewhere—maybe with a woman?—then went back to the library the next morning and was killed there. None of his lab associates ever saw such a case. If he was deliberately blocking his phone at times, he might have kept it a secret. The Verizon records don’t show any previous instances, though.”

			“Then if the phone was shielded, it was most likely the killer who did it,” Virgil said.

			“You could make that argument. If that’s right, Quill was most likely killed at midnight. But then the killer would have to have had Quill’s access code, because it popped up again the next morning.”

			“All this only applies if Quill’s phone had a keypad code. Or maybe a fingerprint code . . .”

			“He did have a code and he kept it secret,” Trane said. “We know that from his wives . . . And he hadn’t changed phones since the second divorce.”

			“If he kept it secret from his wives, is it possible he was having affairs?” Virgil asked. “Patronizing hookers?”

			“It’s possible, and I’ve already asked that question,” Trane said. “Nobody knows of such a history. He apparently was sexually straight, his wives agreed that he was always sexually active, and even a little rough, but he wasn’t driven by sex. He was driven by his research.”

			“Rough? How rough?” Virgil asked. “Violent?”

			She shook her head. “Nothing like that. Muscly. He manipulated them enough that they sometimes had bruises, but none of them said they didn’t like it.”

			“He was a strong guy, then?”

			“Not a bodybuilder or a weight lifter, but three times a week at the gym, doing a full circuit, working hard at it. He owned a Peloton bike, it’s at his house, and Peloton records show he worked out almost every day, for exactly half an hour, but heavily. He was in good shape. No, he was in great shape.”

			“Yet no signs that he resisted the killer?”

			“The killer hit him from behind,” Trane said. “He never saw it coming.”

* * *


			The murder weapon was unknown. People who’d spoken to Quill at his library carrel said Quill kept a large and powerful laptop computer there. The computer was missing, but Trane had learned from credit card records that Quill had spent more than twelve thousand dollars on a high-end laptop, a DreamBook Power P87, the year before.

			She’d found a similar computer, with an identical case, and the medical examiner had confirmed that a corner of it could have done the damage to Quill’s skull, but Trane didn’t have the actual laptop, so that was also uncertain.

			Virgil asked Trane, “Is it possible that there was something on his computer or phone that somebody was desperate to get?”

			She shrugged. “Who knows? I’ve asked the question, and nobody can think of what it might be. He was a research scientist, but not a loner. There are extensive notes on everything done in the lab. This laptop . . . We know Quill wasn’t a gamer, he didn’t play video games. This thing had fast processors and a lot of storage, and would work well with virtual reality. His top assistant said you might use it to display and manipulate MRI images, yet he didn’t know why Quill would try to hide that, what he’d be doing with it in a study carrel. They have plenty of computer power in the lab. Still . . . he had a huge amount of power there. He must’ve been using it for something.”

			“Maybe he screwed something up, with a patient, and wanted to keep the images where only he could see them.”

			“That had occurred to me, too. While there is a lawsuit involving one of his patients, a suicide, I don’t see anything there. Virgil, this is something I’ve been struggling with, thinking he might have a secret life of some kind—but all of his work is very public. I mean, it’s all done as a team. When surgery is involved, he doesn’t do it, a team of surgeons does. I cannot, for the life of me, find anything in his professional life that he’d want to hide.”


			“One other thing: that computer is fairly rare. I’ve been watching the local Craigslist and eBay and Googling laptops for sale, and it hasn’t shown up on any of that. It could be in the river.”

* * *


			Virgil finished taking notes at three o’clock. Trane had been coming and going while he worked, and when he kicked back from the computer, she was coming through the doorway with a paper cup full of coffee.


			“Not really. I need to think about it all. You get any . . . vibrations . . . from anyone?”

			“I got vibrations from a lot of people. Quill was highly respected, but not much liked,” Trane said. “A couple of people hinted that he wasn’t particularly generous with giving others credit for scientific papers. That’s a big deal for young job-hunting scientists. His ex-wives didn’t like him, either. I asked them why and they said he was arrogant, cold, mean. Everything but violent. He had a child with his first wife, a daughter, who also didn’t like him much, although he supported her and his first wife quite adequately for more than twenty years until his death. His daughter goes to St. Thomas. She’s pretty much a slacker . . . a C to B student, though her mother says she’s bright enough. She doesn’t want to work, that’s all. Doesn’t want to work—ever.”

			“Does she inherit anything? Outside that trust?”

			“Nope. She gets a trust fund payout until she’s thirty, enough to pay college tuition through to a Ph.D., if that’s what she wants, and to live in a decent apartment and eat. Then it ends. She gets nothing more in the will. Of course, if he’d lived, he could have changed that.”

			“How old is she now?” Virgil asked.

			“Nineteen. I interviewed her. She wasn’t too upset about him getting killed,” Trane said. “He wasn’t present as a father—only his money was. I gotta say, my impression was that she’s way too lazy to actually kill somebody. And she’s got a solid alibi for the whole time span when Quill was killed.”

			“Quill, on some level, seems to have been successful with women? Maybe girlfriends? Jealousy?”

			“Not finding it. Hasn’t dated recently, as far as I’ve been able to determine, but . . . maybe. I’m still looking. Nobody’s come forward. His wife and his exes say he was incredibly smart, which was why they were attracted . . . And, of course, he had family money. Quite a bit of it. Money’s often attractive in a man.”

			“I wouldn’t know. I’ve had to rely on my good looks and personal charm,” Virgil said.

			She gave him the stink eye, unsure whether he was joking or not, and Virgil said, “You’ve got to get used to my sense of humor.”

			She said, “I talked to Lucas. He said you weren’t a terrible guy. Most of the time. Nothing like Hitler anyway. I was supposed to remind you to keep your hands off his daughter.”

			“That’s a Davenport joke,” Virgil said.

			“I got the impression that it was ninety percent joke and ten percent death threat,” Trane said.

			“Yeah, that’s about right,” Virgil said. “So. In five hundred words or less, tell me what you’ve figured out.”

			“Won’t take five hundred words. He was killed in the carrel. He must’ve trusted the killer because he’d turned his back to him in a close space—the killer almost had to be inside the carrel with him. If it was a him. It might not have been because the carrel would be crowded with two men in it. If the killer is a her, she’s strong. I’ve tried lifting a similar laptop over my head quickly and then swinging it down hard enough to kill. I can do it, but twelve pounds, overhead, chopping down, accelerating, doing it fast enough that Quill wouldn’t see it coming . . . It’s harder than you’d think.”


			“The autopsy gave me nothing more than the cause of death. He had no alcohol or any trace of drugs in his system. Nothing under the fingernails or on his clothes—and no reason there should be, he obviously didn’t resist—and no DNA.”

* * *


			“Okay.” Virgil scrolled down the computer screen, tapped the screen. “You’ve got all these NCIC files on a guy named Boyd Nash. What’s that about?”

			“Nash is a . . . I guess a scientist would say he’s a dirtbag. I don’t understand all the details, but he’s some kind of scientific predator and he had some contact with Quill.”


			“Yeah. He looks for new research that he can get some details on, then he goes to this law firm that cooperates with him . . . Conspires with him, I’d say . . . Anyway, give me some rope here because I don’t entirely understand it . . . They find a graduate student or low-level technician who knows something about the field that the research involves and they write up a description of the work and then they file for a patent. When the original company or laboratory tries to use their own research, the law firm files for a patent violation. It’s technical and complicated enough that the courts don’t usually understand what’s going on. Sometimes Nash wins, sometimes he loses, but if he wins, he can get a substantial settlement because fighting the court’s judgment can cost more than the settlement. The law firm gets a third, of course, but Nash can still get out with tens of thousands of dollars.”

			“In other words, he steals research, pretends it’s his, or belongs to somebody he’s working with, and uses a court decision to extort a settlement from the good guys.”

			“That’s about it,” Trane said.

			“You eliminated Nash as a suspect?”

			“Not completely, but there seemed to be better leads,” Trane said. “The night that Quill disappeared, Nash was in Rochester. He checked into the DoubleTree hotel for a convention . . . It’s in the notes, something like the American Institute for Medical Technology. I talked to him, he gave me names of people he spoke to there, both that night and on Saturday, and on Sunday, when the convention ended. I called those people and it all checked out. He had American Express receipts for the hotel for both nights, Friday and Saturday.”

			“It’s only about an hour and a half each way. He could have been down there until ten o’clock . . .”

			“I know. I worked through all that,” Trane said. “It seems unlikely—it’s the kind of convention he’d go to, for the contacts he needs, and why would he think he’d need an elaborate alibi? He couldn’t have known Quill would be at the library at midnight. And how would he have gotten in the library? Lot of moving parts there.”

			“All right. Now, tell me about this big feud that Quill was involved in.”

			“Oh my God,” Trane said. “You ever get in one of those situations where somebody’s yelling at you and you feel like your sinuses are getting jammed up by the sheer bullshit?”

			“All the time. That’s my life story,” Virgil said. “What’s going on?”

* * *


			A woman named Katherine Green, Trane said, a newly tenured professor in the university’s Department of Cultural Science, had written a well-received book entitled Cultural Medicine, which argued that medicine which worked well in the West might not work so well in other cultures, or what she called microcultures.

			In a particularly controversial passage, she’d suggested that families in Marin County, California, and Clark County, Washington, had developed their own microcultures that rejected the Western imperative of childhood vaccination. The Marin and Clark microcultures’ emphasis on a naturally robust lifestyle would likely prove as effective as vaccination, Green said, possibly more so.

			“That started people screaming,” Trane said. “Because it seemed to offer support for the anti-vaccination movement, which mostly consists of uncertified crazies.”

			The book made it onto The New York Times’s bestseller list, and Green, after making a three-week tour in support of sales, returned to home ground at the university, where she was invited to give a lecture at the Coffman Memorial Union.

			“I’ve seen a video,” Trane said. “About halfway through, several people started booing. That started a bunch of arguments, and people in the audience started pushing one another around. There were a couple of campus cops there and they got everybody back in their seats, and Green managed to finish the lecture.

			“Then Quill got up and said her book was ignorant, unscholarly, uninformed, and a bunch of other stuff. Green has a reputation herself—she likes to fight. It seems like she lives for controversy. She called him rude, culturally illiterate, a racist, and a few other things, and he called her a silly twat. Yelled it, actually,” Trane said. “That set things off again, and they had to call more cops because it got out of hand—a small riot. A graduate student got hauled off to jail and was charged with assault because he hit another guy with a chair.”

			“Did it break like they do on TV?” Virgil asked.

			“No,” Trane said, a trifle impatiently. “Anyway, Green tried to get Quill fired for sexism, filed against him with the Title IX committee—the word ‘twat.’ Quill insisted that he’d called her a silly twit, not twat. He was lying because he did call her a twat. It was plain as day on the video, but there was no way the U was going to fire or even censure Quill. He was way too important.”

			A week or so after Green’s lecture, Quill and three professors from the medical school held an open seminar at the Mayo Auditorium to discuss the wrong-headedness of Green’s book and to question the very existence of the Department of Cultural Science, which, according to flyers posted in the medical school, advocated “Witchcraft vs. Medicine.”

			“Well, you can guess what happened. Green showed up with staff and students from Cultural Science, and they had another riot on their hands,” Trane said. “It’s been pretty much open warfare since then. Quill proposed eliminating the Cultural Science Department entirely—it’s hard to get rid of tenured professors, but if their department is abolished, well, they don’t have jobs.”

			“Then everybody in Cultural Science is a suspect.”

			“Yeah,” Trane said. “That would be eighteen faculty and graduate assistants and support staff, and a large but unknown number of students.”

			“Sounds like you’ve come down on Quill’s side of this thing,” Virgil ventured. “You know, intellectually.”

			“Of course I have,” Trane said. “I wouldn’t say it on television, but the Green people, the Cultural Science people, are a bunch of Froot Loops.”

			Virgil leaned back in his chair, put his boots up on the desk, and said, “I don’t know. I feel the great karmic twang might favor Greenites. I’ll start there, find this Katherine Green.”

			Trane rubbed her face with both hands. “Karmic twang? Oh my God, he said ‘karmic twang.’ You could probably go undercover with Cultural Science. They’d love that T-shirt.”

			From the other side of the cubicle wall the cop, who’d by now finished his tuna fish sandwich, said, “I thought he said ‘karmic wang.’”

			Trane said, “Shut up,” then said to Virgil, “I’ll get you a phone number.”

			“I’d like to go through Quill’s house this evening, if it’s not sealed up,” Virgil said.

			“I’ve got the key, I can meet you there after dinner . . . like, seven o’clock?”

			“That’s good.”

			Tuna Fish said, “You oughta tell Karmic Wang that Green is quite the hottie.”

			Trane again said, “Shut up,” and to Virgil said, “I guess she is, but that’s irrelevant.”

			Tuna Fish said, “No, it’s not. The hottest sex is always between two people who don’t like each other. That’s why feminists date drug dealers or drummers at some point in their lives. In your situation, you got the handsome, brilliant, rich, and probably horny divorcing professor on one side and the best-selling academic, unmarried hottie on the other. Did you even look at her boobies? Think there might be sparks?”

			“Thank you, Dr. Freud.”

			“You’re welcome. It’s better than anything you’ve come up with,” Tuna Fish said.

			Virgil: “Give me the number for Green.”

			Trane gave him the number, and asked, “How are we going to do this? You and me?”

			“How about if I work it as kind of, like, an assistant or intern,” Virgil suggested. “On my own, because there’s no point in both of us standing around looking at the same guy. You do your thing, I do mine, and we meet every morning and again every night until we get the killer.”

			“I’m happy you’re so . . . sanguine . . . about getting him. We had a fifty percent clearance rate on murders last year. If we don’t do better, Knox’s going to be the new lieutenant guarding the landfill. I’ll be the sergeant in charge of the sloppy diaper dump.”

			“Aw, we’ll get him,” Virgil said. “If we don’t, I’ve got an extra pair of barn boots I can give you. You know, for the diapers.”



			Virgil called Green, who rejected the call. He called again, was rejected again. The third time a woman answered, a low-pitched growl. “What? Who is this?”

			Virgil introduced himself, and Green said, “I’ve spoken to the police several times, Margaret Trane—”

			“Yes, but I’ve been appointed to be Sergeant Trane’s assistant on the case and she suggested I start by talking with you,” Virgil said. Trane rolled her eyes. “I need to get a feel for all the various . . . personalities . . . who knew Dr. Quill.”

			“I didn’t know Quill, I only knew who he was. And I certainly didn’t murder him, though I should have for calling me a twat. I think it would have been ruled justifiable homicide.”

			“Still . . .”

* * *


			She agreed to meet him at four-thirty, at her office in the Humphrey Center. When Virgil got off the call, he and Trane talked about the case for another ten minutes, then he asked her for a few of her business cards to give to interviewees. She said, “Take a whole stack,” and pushed them across her desk.

			Back on the street, Virgil drove across the Mississippi to check into his hotel, which indeed did have an Applebee’s, a Starbucks, and a beer joint. The room was small and decorated in tints of sage, which made him look sickly pale in the bathroom mirror, but was nothing to complain about after years of Motel 6’s. He dumped his bag, went back down to the street, got his car, drove back across the river to the Humphrey Center, a boring brick bunker that any SS dead-ender might have approved of.

			Hubert Humphrey, the former vice president and onetime Democratic presidential candidate, had a lot of stuff named after him around the Twin Cities, including an airport, a domed stadium—later torn down—and the building where Virgil was parking.

* * *


			Minnesota, for some unknown reason, had chosen the thirteen-lined ground squirrel as its mascot, although they called it a golden gopher, and, in a stroke of literary brilliance, had named it Goldy Gopher. The university’s colors were red and gold, and red was splashed everywhere on buildings, including the Humphrey Center.

			The center housed the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and both the Cultural Science and Anthropology departments, all of which had gopher-red carpets. Above the atrium were hung the flags of all the nations of the world, Virgil thought as he walked in, though he didn’t count them.

			Green’s office was on the third floor, and Virgil took the stairs, cruised by the Cultural Science office once, checked a bulletin board in the hallway, saw nothing of interest except for a homemade “Pretty Kittens” poster with pull-off phone number tabs and with a photograph of two attractive, decidedly non-collegiate-looking blondes holding kitties in their laps. Virgil spent a moment considering the ambiguity of the poster, then ambled back to the office, a few minutes early for the appointment.

			The bird-like, gum-chewing secretary gave him a puzzled look: he didn’t fit into any of the niches with which she was familiar. “Yes?”

			“I’m Virgil Flowers, BCA agent. I have an appointment to speak with Professor Green at four-thirty.”

			“Really? Where’s your gun? You don’t look like a police officer,” she said. She gave her gum a few rapid chews with a snap at the end for emphasis.

			“My gun’s locked in my truck. I don’t usually carry it,” Virgil said.

			“Really? Is that a new trend with police officers?”

			“I’m trying to start one. Anyway, when I need to kill someone, I use a shotgun,” Virgil said. “They’re awkward to carry in offices.”

			“Oh . . . Okay . . . Well, that makes sense . . . I guess,” she said. “We were expecting you. Let me check that Dr. Green is off the phone.”

			She turned away, made a call, mumbled for a moment, hung up, and said, “This way.”

			Virgil followed her to a modest office done in blond wood with a blond wooden desk and gopher-red carpet and a blond occupant. A large built-in bookcase dominated an interior wall and was stuffed with academic awards, appreciation plaques, ethnic pottery, and doodads. A vase of pale yellow silk flowers sat on a windowsill, which looked out over an atrium.

			As Tuna Fish had said, Green was a hottie, one of those attractive, smart, professional women with wire-rimmed glasses and a nice haircut and tidy breasts under a pale blue blouse who’d look great with her head on a pillow and her legs wrapped around his neck, in Virgil’s humble opinion. He didn’t mention his opinion but looked steadily into her eyes and extended a hand to be shaken, which she did.

			She pointed at the visitor’s chair, sat down herself, and asked, “Have you really killed someone with your shotgun?”

			“Yes,” Virgil said. “He was trying to kill me at the time. I tried to talk him out of it, but he was recalcitrant and continued trying to kill me. So, I shot him. I feel bad about it. But not too bad. The memory isn’t incapacitating or anything.”

			“That would be an interesting study . . . people who have killed other people and how they feel about it,” Green said. “Has modern American gun society so deadened our reactions to killing that we don’t even experience an emotional toll when we ourselves kill someone? A longitudinal study, going back after a month, six months, a year, two years, and so on, would be interesting. Does the memory fade? Does the shooter avoid negative psychological consequences because of cultural conditioning through social media? How do American reactions to killing compare with non-gun societies? England, perhaps. Or Denmark.”

			Virgil crossed his legs, settling into his chair, and said, “I personally know several guys—actually, I know a woman as well—who’ve killed other people and their reactions are all over the place. Some of them, it doesn’t seem to affect, but others are screwed up about it. Still others seem screwed up, but only to the extent that it gets them time off or disability pay or job preferences.”

			“Interesting,” she said. She made a note on a desk pad. “Now, what can I do for you? On this Quill murder? I’ve told the police—”

			Virgil held up a hand. “I know, I read Sergeant Trane’s account of your testimony. I just wanted to push it around the plate.”

			“I don’t believe I’ve encountered that idiom before, ‘push it around the plate,’” Green said. She scribbled another note. “Where’d you hear it?”

			“My mother used it,” Virgil said. “So. What was your personal relationship to Dr. Quill?”

			She recoiled. “None. I never . . . Are you suggesting—”

			“No, no, no.” Virgil smiled. “I’m not talking about sex, heaven forbid. I’m asking if you talked, outside of these conflicts you had recently, about the t-word thing?”

			“‘T-word’? You mean ‘twat’?’”

			“Yes. Did you talk—”

			“I don’t believe I ever said a word to him in my entire life before he came to my lecture and began yelling at me,” Green said. “Then I went to his seminar, and, well, we didn’t actually speak, we shouted at each other.”

			“And you didn’t kill him?”

			“Of course not! I mean—”

			“I had to ask,” Virgil said, holding up his hands, flashing another smile. “How about other people from Cultural Science? Is there anyone involved with your department that you might think capable of murder? Even if the murder was impulsive, as opposed to planned?”

			She stared at him for a moment, then said, “I suppose you do have to ask.” She turned away, looking out a window at the brick wall of another building, then turned back and said, “Do you know about Clete?”

			“Clete? Was he the guy charged with assault after your speech?”

			“Yes. Clete May. He has what I’d call a machismo thing—sometimes a problem, sometimes not. That can be quite useful when doing cultural research. You know, he’s happy to carry heavy things for us women, pick up the check more often than he has to, possibly defend us in the more misogynistic cultures. That kind of thing. He also has a tendency to lean into our female students and staff.”

			“‘Lean into’? You mean ‘grab’? ‘Pressure’? ‘Assault’?” Virgil asked.

			“No, I meant what I said: lean. He leans into them. He moves into their spaces, whether he’s welcome or not. Somehow, I feel that you might be familiar with the concept.”

			“I would never lean into anyone’s space if I weren’t welcome,” Virgil said.

			“How can you tell without trying?” Green asked.

			“You’d have to be a moron not to know,” Virgil said.



			“Interesting. Differing levels of empathy among males. Does it begin in childhood? Is a dominant mother involved?” She made another note, then asked, “Would you consider your mother to hold the dominant role in your kinship group?”


			“Your nuclear family?”

			“Well, I never thought about it. Now that you ask, no, not especially. We were all pretty equal.”

			“Interesting,” she said. “Did your family group hold any extensive moral attitudes?”

			Virgil shrugged. “My father’s a Lutheran minister. I went to church every Sunday and Wednesday night until I was eighteen.”

			“Interesting,” she said, and she made another note.

* * *


			Virgil tried to regain control of the interview. “This Clete May. Do you think—”

			“He might be capable of violence, but he’s not a stupid person, a thug, by any means. I know that he’s studied martial arts, but also that he’s deeply interested in Zen Buddhism. He makes friends easily enough, yet I sense a certain . . . calculation . . . in all of it. I’ve heard him talk about fighting—street fighting—but I’m not sure he’s done it, but he sure talks about it. Maybe he gets it from movies, I don’t know.”

			“I’ll speak to him,” Virgil said. “You won’t come into it.”

			“I appreciate that,” Green said. “There’s another man, Terry Foster, who served in the military in the Middle East. He’s quite mild-mannered. I’ve never seen anything that would suggest that he could become violent, but I’ve been told that he was wounded in action over there. I’ve never heard him speak about it and I never asked.”

			Virgil noted the names, and Green said he could get contact information from the secretary. He pushed her on her relationship with Quill, and if she was telling the truth, there was nothing there but an academic conflict.

			“Quill was trying to get your department abolished. If that happened, who’d be hurt worst?”

			“Well, me,” she said. “I’m the head of the department. If the university abolished the department, I might be able to move to Anthropology, but it would certainly be a step backwards. Most of the students could probably transfer their credits there, but we have two Ph.D. candidates who’d be badly damaged by such a thing. They are deep into their thesis work and might have to start over.”

			Virgil took their names. They were both women, and Virgil said, “Women are less inclined to this kind of violence. A heavy physical attack. When women kill, it’s usually a last resort to fend off what they see as a life-threatening situation. They use a gun or a knife, but they don’t bludgeon somebody, because they recognize that men are larger and stronger. If they feel desperate and cornered, they go for a real kill, with a real weapon. And they’re often older than student age. Not always, but usually.”

			“Then you think the killer is male?”

			“Oh, probably. Not a sure thing, but probably,” Virgil said. “Women do bludgeon people to death, but it’s usually a child. Usually their own.”

			Green winced, then asked, “Anything else?”

			Virgil shook his head. “No, not at the moment. I might come back to consult with you if anything suggests that one of your students or staff was involved . . .”

			She smiled for the first time, but her smile reminded Virgil of Lucas Davenport’s smile, which could turn predatory and even downright mean. “Do that.”

* * *


			In the outer office, Virgil got contact information for the people mentioned by Green. He asked the secretary, “The Wilson Library is around here, isn’t it? I went to school here, but it was quite a while ago.”

			“It’s right next door,” she said. “You gonna go look at the murder scene?”

			“I guess,” Virgil said, “since I’m right here.”

			The secretary dropped her voice. “It was pretty gory. The blood soaked into the floor, and I’m told there’s no way to get the stain out. They’ll probably cover it with carpet, but it’ll be there forever.”

			“That would be a little grim for the next occupant of the room,” Virgil allowed.

			The secretary shivered. “I wouldn’t take it.” She leaned forward in her chair to look down the hall to Green’s office, then sat upright again and asked, quietly, “If I tell you something, would you promise not to tell anyone?”

			“Sure, unless it’s awful and illegal.”

			“It’s not, though some people”—she tilted her head toward Green’s office—“would probably think so. Things are so dangerous in the world now that my husband made me get a carry permit. I have a Sig 938 and a carry purse. If I get attacked, somebody’s gonna get three Speer Gold Dots right in the breadbasket.” She snapped her gum.

			“Be careful,” Virgil said. “Really, really careful.”

			“I am careful,” she said solemnly.

			Virgil moved closer, and asked, “You think Professor Green is clear on this thing, right?”

			“Oh, sure. She likes to create a lot of commotion, but she wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

			“Do you think that there are any males—you know, who have attachments to her or fantasies about her—who might be thinking they’re protecting her? By killing Quill?

			“In the department?” She thought for a moment. “People will tell you Clete May, but he’s a big cream puff. No, I can’t think of anybody.”

* * *


			 			Virgil left the truck where it was and walked around to the Wilson Library. The director, who looked like a library lady should, with horn-rimmed glasses and a doughy oval face, reacted as Green’s secretary had. “You’re sure you’re a police officer?”

			“I wouldn’t want you to worry about it, so”—Virgil dug Trane’s card out of his ID case and handed it to her—“call Sergeant Trane and ask.”

			“No, no . . .”

			“If you don’t, you’ll worry about it,” Virgil said.

			She called Margaret Trane, identified herself, asked the question, smiled, said, “Yes, he is wearing an Otis Taylor T-shirt. I think he looks quite handsome in it.” She listened some more, then exclaimed, “Shut up! Three times?” She looked at Virgil, reevaluating. “He doesn’t look old enough.”

			When she got off the phone, she led him up a flight of steps to Quill’s carrel, which was on an outer wall, behind deep stacks of floor-to-ceiling bookcases. The carrel had crime scene tape across the door. Virgil pulled the tape loose and unlocked the door with a key he’d gotten from Trane.

			As he stepped inside, the library lady asked, “You’ve really been married and divorced three times already?”

			“Yes, but I was only fourteen the first time, so nobody expected that one to last,” Virgil said.

			The library lady said, “Oh,” and vanished, and Virgil smothered the impulse to run after her and tell her he was joking. So much for his awkward sense of humor.

* * *


			 			The carrel was a small room, narrow, maybe ten feet long. There was indeed the shadow of a stain on the tile floor, no doubt Quill’s blood. Traces of black fingerprint powder were everywhere. He tried to avoid it as best he could. The stuff was like slime mold: it would stick to anything and spread like chicken pox.

			The carrel had a built-in desk, with a shelf above it, and an expensive-looking leather office chair. A half dozen heavy-looking texts rested in the bookcase, all of which looked as though they’d been roughly handled by investigators. A rolled-up yoga mat sat behind the books on the shelf. The silver metal wastebasket was empty.

			The place smelled like . . . nothing. Not smoke, not sweat, not even like the cleaner that would have been used to get rid of the blood. Not much to see, with plenty of room to swing a laptop—if a laptop, in fact, had been used to murder.

			He was about to leave when he noticed the yoga mat again. He reached over the chair, pushed a couple of books aside, and took it down off the shelf. It was a thicker than normal mat made of a soft, nubby light blue plastic. Why would anyone be doing yoga in such a confined space and often enough to bring a mat?

			He thought about that for a moment and flashed back to his junior year: a hasty relationship with a young woman named what? Jean? Under a library table on the third floor, just before closing. Was it Jean? His mind was going, he thought.

			He unrolled the mat on the floor, got down on his knees. As he did, the library lady returned, opened the carrel door, gasped, and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry! Are you praying?”

			“No. I’m looking at Dr. Quill’s yoga mat,” Virgil said. “If you could step back, you’re in my light.”

			She stepped back, and he scanned the mat from one end to the other, flipped it over, did the same thing with the back. Halfway down, he stopped, squinted. The library lady was peering over his shoulder. Virgil stood up, stepped back, and said, pointing, “I want you to get down and look right there.” He took a pencil from his pocket, bent over, and laid it on the mat.

			“Well . . .” She got down on her knees anyway, looked where the pencil tip pointed, and after a moment said, “Oh.”

			“You think that’s an eyelash?” Virgil asked.

			“No, I—”

			“Mustache hair?”

			“No, I—”

			“What, then?”

			“I think it might be a . . . You know . . .”

			“Dr. Quill was blond. Do you think his pubic hair would be that color? Dark brown, almost black?”

			“Well, I don’t—”

			“Neither do I,” Virgil said. He got on his phone to Trane. “There’s a yoga mat in Trane’s carrel.”

			“Yes, I saw it,” she said.

			“Did you unroll it?”

			“Yes, just to make sure nothing was rolled up inside. Why?”

			“I unrolled it and found what a pubic hair expert here at the library thinks just might be one. In her preliminary opinion, she doesn’t think it came from Dr. Quill since he’s a blond and this hair is not.”

			“Shit! Shit! We missed it,” Trane said. “I knew you were gonna be trouble, Flowers. I’ll call the lab, see how closely they scanned the mat. If they really missed it, I’ll get somebody over there to collect it.”

			“Okay. Tell the lab guys to bring new crime scene tape. I’ll wait until they get here.”

			“Shit! Shit! Listen, I’m coming, too. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”

			When Virgil got off the phone, the library lady said, “I’m not a . . . hair . . . expert . . .”

			“I must have misunderstood,” Virgil said.

* * *


			Virgil left the yoga mat unrolled on the floor, stepped out of the carrel, and closed the door as the library lady hurried away, glancing back over her shoulder only once. As Virgil was picking up the clump of crime scene tape, two uniformed campus cops walked past the far end of the book stacks, hesitated when they saw Virgil at the carrel door with the tangle of tape. They walked over, and the older one asked, “What were you doing here, sir?”

			Virgil said, “I’m with the BCA. I’m working with Margaret Trane on the murder of Dr. Quill.”

			He slipped his ID out of his jacket pocket and handed it to the ranking cop, a sergeant. The cop glanced at it and handed it back. “Figure out anything?”

			“Couple of things. Like, maybe I ought to be wearing a shirt and tie. Nobody seems to believe I’m a cop. Anyway, Margaret’s on her way over right now, to take another look at the carrel.”

			“Kinda stuck?”

			“Ah, we’ll get there,” Virgil said. “What’s up with you guys? Anything to do with Quill?”

			“Nah. You know the Andersen Library, across the street?” the sergeant asked.

			“They were building it when I was a student here. I was never inside.”

			“Well, it’s where they keep the rare book collections and other valuable stuff. Most of it’s underground. Anyway, they’re missing maps. At least several. They’re doing an inventory now, but there are a hell of a lot of maps. We were looking at the cleaning staff because they’ve got keys to most things and could probably get keys to everything if they set their minds to it. One of the janitors told us he thought he saw a woman over there, well after hours, who actually works over here. She used to work over there. She denies it, said she never goes over there anymore except during the day. She does know the janitor by sight. She says she sees him over here, late in the day, out back. She says he’s toking up before he goes to work. So, you know, stoned, confused, familiar with her face . . .”

			He shrugged.

			Virgil asked, “How much are the maps worth?”

			“Several thousand dollars each, maybe more . . . The library hasn’t tried to market them, so they don’t know for sure. The thing is, the missing ones are all old European maps and would probably get the biggest bucks if they were sold in Germany or France. And if they’re sold there, through a private dealer, we’d never hear about it.”

			“The woman here . . . What’s her name?”

			“Genevieve O’Hara. First name is pronounced the French way: Jzhan-vee-EHV.”

			“And what do you think?”

			“Well, the janitor wasn’t sure that it was her he saw. If he was stoned . . . and knew her face . . . that’s a problem. Whoever took the maps knew what they were doing—they’re valuable, but not the most valuable; they weren’t often referenced; and they’re not so uncommon that their sale would get special attention. So there’s all that.”

			“Huh. Is this woman French?”

			“No. Not Irish, either. Born right here in Minnesota.”

* * *


			They were still talking about the map thefts and the Quill murder when Trane came up the stairs, looking harassed. She blew a stray hank of hair from her face, and said, “Okay, let’s see it.”

			The two campus cops followed them to Quill’s carrel. Virgil unlocked the door, and said, “The pencil point is an inch away from it.”

			“What is it?” the shorter of the two cops asked.

			Trane didn’t answer. She got down on her knees, pushed her glasses back on her nose, looked, and said, “Okay.”

			She stood up, and said, “Lock the door.”

			Virgil did, and said, “We’ve got to go somewhere and talk about it.”

			“There are a couple of study rooms here . . .”

* * *


			The campus cops would have been happy to hear their conversation, but Virgil waved them off with a cheerful “See you later, guys” as he followed Trane to an empty room.

			“Crime Scene ought to be here pretty quick, given what I told them and how their asses are now up around their ears,” Trane said. “If Quill was screwing somebody in there, it’d have to be after hours. And we know he was there after hours.”

			“You had no hint that he was dating anybody?”

			“Haven’t been able to find anyone,” she said. “There’ve been two weeks of publicity, and nobody’s come forward. Why would he be nailing somebody in the library? His house is a five-minute drive from here.”

* * *


			“There’s something else,” Virgil said, and Trane’s eyebrows went up.

			He told her about the campus cops investigating the maps theft and that a woman who worked in the library, apparently on the next floor up, had been questioned.

			“A janitor, who may have been stoned at the time, thought he saw the woman over there late at night. In the map collection,” Virgil said. “She used to work there and might have had keys for both buildings. Suppose he spooked her and she wanted to get out of sight, so she came over here . . .”

			“. . . and ran into Quill. But would she kill him? If she’s a librarian, wouldn’t she make an excuse and then ask him what the heck he was doing there?”

			“That sounds reasonable, depending on how spooked she was. Whoever took the maps took at least thousands of dollars’ worth. From what those cops told me, they could be missing even more.”

			“We need to dig into this,” Trane said.

			“I’ll tell you what, Margaret, I think you need to dig into it. I’ve talked to two campus cops and a librarian here, and a secretary over at the Humphrey Center, and there have been all kinds of people walking around here since I reopened the carrel—so word could get out that some new guy is investigating. It’d be better for all of us if you were running this part of it.”

			“You’re right,” Trane said, looking around. A student seemed to be watching them through the study room window. “I’ll take it. Thank you. What are you going to do?”

			“I’m going to give you the name of the woman the cops talked to . . .”

			“I’ll check her hair color, too . . .” Trane said.

			Virgil: “Yeah, do that, although—”

			“I know. Would Quill be screwing a map thief? And why? That doesn’t sound right. But if that’s a pubic hair, it didn’t drift down from heaven.”

			“We don’t know how long it’s been there,” Virgil said. “He might have been having an affair, bringing someone here, before he and his last wife broke up.”

			“I don’t think so.” Trane shook her head. “He was an aristocratic kind of guy. If he was sleeping with someone, an equal, it would have been in a hotel. Someplace with a handy bathroom. It wouldn’t have been like this . . . in a library . . . on a yoga mat . . . after hours.”

			“Margaret, there’s a pubic hair on the yoga mat and it ain’t his. There’s a bathroom fifty feet from here.”

			“I’ll figure it out,” she said. She chewed on her lower lip, then said, “What if it was somebody young who he wouldn’t want to be seen in public with? A student?”

			“Could be. But if he was the aristocratic sort, he might not care as long as she wasn’t thirteen or something.”

			“Yeah . . . Okay . . . Now, what are you going to do?”

			“I was going to meet you over at his house. That was next. Give me the key, come over when you’re done here. I’ll be a while.”

			She nodded. “Be aware that his house has been lived in by several different women—his mother, for one, at least for a while before she died, plus three wives, and probably a couple of girlfriends. It’s full of about eighty years’ worth of family junk, including a stuffed pelican and several stuffed fish. We went through it all. Maybe you’ll find something. But I won’t be holding my breath.”



			One of the things that Virgil liked best about the farm was the way it smelled. They had no animals, other than the dog and a chicken that had apparently escaped from a neighboring henhouse, so they didn’t have a barnyard stench. They did have fresh-cut hay, one of the best odors in the world, and hot summer flowers, which smelled as good as the hay. In Virgil’s opinion, August and September on the rural back roads of Minnesota made one of the prettiest landscapes imaginable, the roadside weeds and grasses and flowers going gold with the approaching autumn . . .

			Not so much in the city, though. He walked out to his truck through the smell of asphalt and motor exhaust and what always struck him as spoiled Juicy Fruit gum and rotting bananas.

			That changed as he crossed the river again, giving him a shot of dead carp and river weeds. He followed his GPS downstream to Quill’s redbrick mansion on the bluff above the Mississippi. Quill had lived in one of the best spots in the Cities, he thought, green with overhanging trees, and quiet, pleasant streets, with the river right there.

			But it wasn’t the farm.

* * *


			Quill’s house was two stories high, plus an attic, under a complicated roof, and a basement. A detached three-car garage had a storage room above the parking pad. Both house and garage were built of deep red brick pierced by white-framed windows. Trane had told Virgil to park by the garage. Both its access door and the house could be unlocked with the same high-security digital key; and inside each door was an alarm keypad, security code 388783873.

			When Trane gave him the code, Virgil said he’d never seen a nine-digit one. He wondered if the repetition of 3, 8, and 7 had some meaning, but Trane said one of Quill’s wives told her that Quill used a random-number generator to create his codes. “Besides, how could the numbers have anything to do with our problem?”

			“Maybe he had a security situation?” Virgil said.

			“Uh, weak.”

* * *


			Virgil parked, looked through the garage window, saw two cars inside, used the key, and punched the alarm deactivation code into the pad. As he did, a clutch of sparrows flew overhead, their wings whirring in the stolid interior air. They disappeared through a hatch to the loft above.

			The closest of the cars was an unlocked black Mercedes-Benz SUV, and, on the other side of it, was a silver BMW Z8. The third parking space was empty: the second BMW had been towed away to a police impound lot as possible evidence.

			Virgil got vinyl gloves from his truck, went through both cars, and found nothing at all—it appeared that both had been cleaned out, probably by a Crime Scene crew. He climbed the ladder that led to the loft, stuck his head through the hatch, and saw a jumble of old furniture and worn carpets spotted with sparrow droppings. He couldn’t imagine that any of it could have any bearing on an attack at the university library, so he went back out and locked the garage.

			The house was surrounded by a wrought-iron fence lined with annual flowers, which also edged the cracked concrete sidewalk between the garage and the back door of the house. Instead of going in the door, he walked around the house, looking it over. At the front door, he peered through its window, saw nothing in particular, turned the key, and stepped inside.

			The door opened into a generous reception area, the dark oak floor mostly covered with a red-and-blue oriental carpet. A circular staircase wound around and up to a balcony overhead, looking down at the door. A central hallway separated a living room from a library/music room.

			The living room was arranged for entertaining, with three couches around a center carpet, a sideboard for drinks and food; a mahogany grandfather clock stood in a corner, its hands stopped at four forty-four because its winder had been murdered. The library had a wall of books interspersed with a variety of keepsakes, including a collection of chipped Hummels that appeared to be very old and a shelf of aging stereo equipment, including a turntable, with speakers on shelves at opposite ends of the bookcase.

			A walnut-cased Steinway baby grand sat in one corner, a stack of sheet music on it. He looked at the music for a moment. Half classical, in the full piano forms—somebody was a good pianist—and half romantic stuff from the swing era pre–World War II—Cole Porter, George Gershwin, like that. Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” was open on the music stand.

			Farther back down the hall was a formal dining room with a rectangular walnut table and ten matching bentwood chairs, and, on the other side of the hall, a breakfast room with a table and two chairs and a door leading to the kitchen. A powder room was built in near the kitchen.

			The house was silent as a coffin.

* * *


			Virgil took the stairs, found Quill’s bedroom, plus a home office with more books, three more bedrooms, and a door leading up to the attic. The bathroom was expansive and modern.

			A rich guy for sure. Everything was notably tidy except the home office, which had the look of a working space, with papers and books and journals and pens and transparent highlighters spread around all the flat surfaces. Everything else in the house had the feel of professional maintenance: a maid, at least, and possibly a gardener.

			Virgil worked his way slowly through the entire house with the exception of the cellar and the attic, which he checked briefly and then dismissed. Again, he couldn’t imagine how either might factor in a murder that had taken place a mile away. He was looking for words—in letters, texts, or printouts—or personal possessions that weren’t Quill’s. Something that would suggest or reveal an inimical relationship.

			The bed was neatly made, king-sized and covered with a huge old shoofly quilt. He carefully peeled it back until the bottom sheet was exposed, then went over the quilt looking for more dark pubic hairs. And found none.

			He saved the office for last. The centerpiece was an ancient oak desk, fully eight feet long and four feet across, the old wood polished to a high sheen, with ranks of drawers on both sides of the kneehole. The desk had been carefully updated with a keyboard where there’d once been a center drawer, with a rank of electric sockets installed along the back edge of the desktop. There was an empty spot there where a computer had been, its Canon printer still sitting to one side, its computer hookup cable curled next to it. Trane had taken the computer to research emails.

			A bookshelf was stacked with academic journals, several medical books, and more academic detritus, all of it printed, none of it annotated, nothing that would help with a murder. There was another stereo, with two bookshelf speakers. Virgil noticed an LED light on a CD player, opened it, and found an unmarked disc sitting in the tray. He took it out: no markings whatever. He put it back, pressed the play button, and a minute later an unfamiliar singer pushed the uncomplicated lyrics of “Home on the Range” through his nose through the speakers.

			He turned the CD player off with an involuntary shudder. He sorta lived on the range, but that didn’t mean the song didn’t suck.

			The bookshelves also contained a collection of antique wooden boxes, and inside them he found important but routine papers—a checkbook, check stubs from his university paycheck, investment reports from U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo, tax records, insurance policies, titles to automobiles, a stack of last year’s Christmas cards. He spent a half hour going through the papers and journals on the desk and on two side filing cabinets, looking for anything handwritten, anything out of place. He found nothing that looked important.

* * *


			Virgil was lying under the desk, in the kneehole, when Trane asked, unexpectedly, “What are you doing?”

			Virgil, startled, jerked half upright and banged his head against the bottom of the keyboard drawer. He dropped back on his elbows and saw Trane’s shoes and cuffs of her pants. “Ouch. Jesus Christ, give me a little warning, will you?”

			“Sorry. What are you doing?” She stooped and peered under the desk.

			“My grandpa had a desk like this. Smaller, but old like this one, with a million drawers,” Virgil said. He was digging around in a narrow space behind the drawers. “Pull the top left drawer out, would you?”

			She pulled the drawer out, and Virgil asked, “Anything interesting?”

			“Not that we haven’t looked at . . .”

			“Can you pull the drawer all the way out? So it comes loose?” Virgil asked.

			She tried. “No. It’s not made to come out. I can feel it hit some stops.”

			Virgil said, “Hmm.” And, “Get anything good at the library?”

			“Everybody agrees it’s a pubic hair. Actually, three pubic hairs; you missed some. I was at the autopsy and I can tell you they’re not Quill’s. He was a real blond.”

			“Three pubic hairs . . . Unless the owner was shedding, they might have used it more than once.”

			Virgil crawled out of the kneehole and stood up.

			“What are you looking for?” Trane asked.

			“The case housing the drawer is about eight or ten inches deeper than the drawer itself. No good reason for it, but it’s entirely enclosed,” he said.

			“Maybe if we pushed the desk away from the wall, we could look in from the back?”

			“No. If there’s a space there, you’d want to be able to access it without taking the room apart. My grandpa’s . . .”

			Virgil pushed down on the left edge of the top: nothing.

			He pulled up: nothing. Looked under the edge, couldn’t see anything except a scratch.

			“There’s a scratch . . .” he said, going down to his knees.

			“So what?”

			“Well, it’d be a hard place to scratch,” Virgil said. “There’s, ah, a hole here . . . by the scratch . . . That’ll be it.”

			“For a secret door? You gotta be joking,” Trane said.

			“Everybody knew about my grandpa’s hidey-hole, including me,” Virgil said. “Wasn’t a secret. A lot of these old desks had them. They weren’t safes. You might put confidential stuff in there, maybe tax stuff and so on, but not money. Like I said, the drawers weren’t all that secret at the time.”

			He stood up again, opened the top right drawer. A plastic tray held pencils, ballpoint pens, paper clips, fingernail clippers, scissors . . . and a single, right-angled Allen wrench. He took it out, carried it around to the side of the desk, fit it in the hole, and pushed.

			A side panel clicked loose and out, then folded down. Inside was a vertical stack of small drawers, almost like trays.

			“Agatha Fuckin’ Christie,” Trane said, amazed. “Open the drawers.”

			Virgil did. They were all empty. He crawled around to the other side of the desk, found an identical hole, popped the side panel, revealing another stack of drawers. He pulled open the top drawer, and they both peered inside.

			Trane said, “Oh, no. Nope. Nope. Nope. Shut the drawer, I don’t want to se