Storm Prey - By John Sandford


THREE OF THEM, hard men carrying nylon bags, wearing work jackets, Carhartts and Levi's, all of them with facial hair. They walked across the parking structure to the steel security door, heads swiveling, checking the corners and the overheads, steam flowing from their mouths, into the icy air, one of the men on a cell phone.

As they got to the door, it popped open, and a fourth man, who'd been on the other end of the cell-phone call, let them through. The fourth man was tall and thin, dark-complected, with a black brush mustache. He wore a knee-length black raincoat that he'd bought at a Goodwill store two days earlier, and black pants. He scanned the parking structure, saw nothing moving, pulled the door shut, made sure of the lock.

"This way," he snapped.

Inside, they moved fast, reducing their exposure, should someone unexpectedly come along. No one should, at the ass-end of the hospital, at fifteen minutes after five o'clock on a bitterly cold winter morning. They threaded through a maze of service corridors until the tall man said, "Here."

Here was a storage closet. He opened it with a key. Inside, a pile of blue, double-extra-large orderly uniforms sat on a medical cart.

The hard men dumped their coats on the floor and pulled the uniforms over their street clothes. Not a big disguise, but they weren't meant to be seen close-up--just enough to slip past a video camera. One of them, the biggest one, hopped up on the cart, lay down and said, "Look, I'm dead," and laughed at his joke. The tall man could smell the bourbon on the joker's breath.

"Shut the fuck up," said one of the others, but not in an unkindly way.

The tall man said, "Don't be stupid," and there was nothing kind in his voice. When they were ready, they looked at each other and the tall man pulled a white cotton blanket over the man on the cart, and one of the men said, "Let's do it."

"Check yourself ..."

"We don't hurt anyone," the tall man said. The sentiment reflected not compassion, but calculation: robbery got X amount of attention, injuries got X-cubed.

"Yeah, yeah ..." One of the men pulled a semiautomatic pistol from his belt, a heavy, blued, no-bullshit Beretta, stolen from the Army National Guard in Milwaukee, checked it, stuck it back in his belt. He said, "Okay? Everybody got his mask? Okay. Let's go."

They stuffed the ski masks into their belts and two hard men pushed the cart into the corridor. The tall man led them farther through the narrow, tiled hallways, then said, "Here's the camera."

The two men pushing the cart turned sideways, as the tall man told them to, and went through a cross-corridor. A security camera peered down the hall at them. If a guard happened to be looking at the monitor at that moment, he would have seen only the backs of two orderlies, and a lump on the cart. The tall man in the raincoat scrambled along, on his hands and knees, on the far side of the cart.

The big man on the cart, looking at the ceiling tiles go by, giggled, "It's like ridin' the Tilt-A-Whirl."

When they were out of the camera's sight line, the tall man stood up and led them deeper into the hospital--the three outsiders would never have found the way by themselves. After two minutes, the tall man handed one of the outsiders a key, indicated a yellow steel door, with no identification.

"This is it?" The leader of the three was skeptical--the door looked like nothing.

"Yes," said the tall man. "This is the side door. When you go in, you'll be right among them. One or two. The front door and service window is closed until six. I'll be around the corner until you call, watching."

He'd be around the corner where he could slip out of sight, if something went wrong.

The other man nodded, asked, "Everybody ready?" The other two muttered, "Yeah," tense now, pulled on the masks, took their pistols out. The leader put the key in the lock and yanked open the door.

WEATHER KARKINNEN had taken a half-pill at nine o'clock, knowing that she wouldn't sleep without it. Too much to do, too much to think about. The procedure had been researched, rehearsed, debated, and undoubtedly prayed over. Now the time had come.

Sleep came hard. She kept imagining that first moment, the first cut, the commitment, the parting of the flesh beneath the edge of her scalpel, on a nearly circular path Copyright 2016 - 2024