The devils bed, p.1
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       The Devil's Bed, p.1
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           William Kent Krueger
The Devil's Bed


  For my brothers, David and Mark, and my sister, Margaret, playmates still; and for Gary Peterson, a brother in all respects except birth.

  La Cama del Diablo

  Randall Coates turned off the Virginia highway and one last time took the narrow drive that curled through the dogwood trees toward his house. Halfway up the hill, he killed the headlights and navigated by the glow of the moon. Before he broke from the trees, he stopped the car, grabbed the night-vision binoculars from the seat beside him, and got out. For several minutes, he studied his house. From a distance, everything looked the same as it had that morning when he’d left.

  But Randall Coates knew that appearances could no longer be trusted.

  Keeping to the trees, he circled, reconnoitering the whole of his property. With the moon at his back, he approached the house from the east and slipped along the rear wall, peering in at the windows. He leaned against his shadow on the siding and listened. Finally he slid the key into the back lock and let himself in. He left the lights off and reset the alarm. Laying the binoculars on the kitchen table, he pulled the Glock from his shoulder holster and moved through the house, securing it room by room.

  When he stood again at the back door, he turned the lights on and let himself relax. “Fuck this,” he said. “Tomorrow I get motion sensors.”

  He retrieved his car, then strolled the lazy curve of flagstones toward his front door. One last time he paused on the porch steps to study the night sky. The pale yellow eye that was the moon, one last time, studied him right back.

  Inside, he shrugged off his jacket, but he continued to wear the shoulder holster and the nine millimeter that were underneath. The jacket he hung in the hallway closet.

  At the bar, he poured enough Johnnie Walker Black for four or five long swallows. He carried the glass to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator to see what he might have on hand for dinner. It didn’t matter. Although Randall Coates was unaware of it, he’d already eaten his last meal.

  He was thinking at that moment about fear, something he knew well. He’d seen fear destroy men, turn them into blubbering idiots. He believed that if you had half a spine and kept your head, you’d be fine. If you truly had cojones, you used the fear, turned it to your advantage. Fear sharpened you. Fear made you ready.

  As he reached for a plate of cold cuts covered in Saran Wrap he said to himself, The hell with Moses. The asshole wants me, let him try something.

  In the next moment, when the kitchen lights died and he heard behind him the voice of Moses speak his name, he wet his pants. The reaction was as involuntary as the quick suck of his breath or his desperate turning.

  He spun. The whole house was dark, and his brain stumbled over the details that he’d noted in the light but had inexplicably failed to register as significant. The countertop, for example, on which that morning the electric toaster had sat was now empty. Or the faint, out-of-place odor in the kitchen, an oily smell that reminded him of a garage.

  He’d come around less than ninety degrees when Moses pulverized the cartilage in his nose. For a while, Coates went into a black nowhere.

  He came to lying on his back on the hard oak rectangle of the kitchen tabletop. He was naked and spread-eagled. The middle of his face hurt like hell, but when he tried to lift his hands to assess the damage there, he discovered that each wrist had been bound with duct tape and secured to a table leg. Ankles, too. A strip of tape sealed his mouth. His shattered nose was plugged with coagulated blood, and he breathed through a straw that had been inserted through the tape and wedged between his lips.

  “Comfortable?” Moses said.

  Coates rolled his head to the left, where the voice spoke out of the dark. He didn’t see Moses, only the LED time readout on the microwave. 10:15 P.M. He’d been out nearly two hours.

  “How does it feel? Your own little Cama del Diablo?”

  Moses tapped the wood next to Coates’s head. Coates looked there quickly, but Moses had already moved.

  Cama del Diablo. Coates didn’t need to translate. He understood exactly what Moses meant.

  “Of course it lacks the defining finish, that unrivaled lacquer, equal parts puke and shit and blood. And you’re missing the ineffable stink of course. But we’ll do something about that in a bit.”

  Coates tried to speak, to reason, but the duct tape over his mouth prevented it. All that came out was a whining mumble, pathetic even to him.

  “Remember what you said to me in Agua Negra? You said, ‘David, when you die you’ll think hell is a vacation.’ Christ, where did you get that line? A Bruce Willis movie?”

  In the dark, sparks suddenly exploded between Coates’s widespread legs. The flash illuminated Moses for an instant and also the countertop behind him. In the place where the toaster had been an old car battery now sat, covered with a film of grime and oil. Coates recognized that it had come from his own garage. In his gloved hands, Moses held two cables that were connected to the battery terminals. He brought the cable ends together once again, and their kiss produced another explosion of sparks.

  “You always enjoyed this,” Moses said. “But then, you were never on that side of the experience.”

  Coates heard water running in the sink, then the filling of a glass tumbler.

  “I’ve been thinking,” Moses said. “Jesus had it easy. He had only one Judas to contend with. After you I still have two more.”

  Although he knew it was coming, Coates still winced when he felt the cold water splash over his testicles. He tensed when he heard the cables snaking toward him across the tiles of the kitchen floor.

  “Let’s get started,” Moses said.

  Coates screamed, a sound that died in the sealed hollow of his mouth.

  The last of almost everything in his life was behind him.

  But the worst was just about to begin.

  chapter

  one

  Nightmare used a combat knife, a Busse Steel Heart E with a seven-and-a-half-inch blade. He made two cuts, a long arc that half-circled his nipple, then another arc beneath the first, smaller but carved with equal care. The effect was a rainbow with only two bands and a single color. When he lifted the blade, he could feel the blood on his chest, black worms crawling down his skin in the dark of his motel room.

  From the warehouse across the old highway came the long hiss of air brakes and the rattle of heavy suspension as a rig and trailer pulled out onto the potholed asphalt and geared away into the evening. There was an air-conditioning unit under the window, but Nightmare never used it. Even in the worst heat, he preferred to keep the drapes pulled and the windows open in order to track the sounds outside his room.

  In the dark, he reached to a wooden bowl on the stand beside the bed. He filled his hand with ash from the bowl, and he rubbed the ash into the wounds to raise and set them. It was painful, this ritual, but pain was part of who he was, part of being Nightmare. He performed the ritual in the dark because that was also elemental to his being. He loved the dark, as a man will love anything that has taken him into itself and made him a part of it.

  It was past time, he knew, but there was no hurry. He put on his sunglasses, then took the remote from beside the bowl on the stand and turned on the television. The set was old, and the signal flowed through a faulty connection. The picture bloomed, vibrated, then settled down.

  Barbara Walters was on the screen. She sat in a wing chair upholstered in a red floral design. She wore a blue dress, a gold scarf draped over her left shoulder, pinned with a sapphire brooch. From a portrait above the mantel beyond her right shoulder, George Washington seemed to look down on her sternly. The broadcast was live from the Library of the White House. Barbara leaned forward, her face a study of deep concentration as she listened.
She nodded, then she spoke, but soundlessly because Nightmare had muted the volume to nothing. Finally she smiled, totally unaware that on the television screen, dead center on her forehead, was a red dot from the laser sight on Nightmare’s Beretta.

  A different camera angle. The eyes of the man whose face now filled the screen were like two copper pennies, solid and dependable. Every hair of his reddish brown mane was under perfect control. He wore a beautifully tailored blue suit, a crisp white shirt, a red tie knotted in a tight Windsor and dimpled in a way that mirrored the dimple in his chin. Daniel Clay Dixon, president of the United States, faced the camera and the nation. When his lips moved, Nightmare could imagine that voice, the soft accent that whispered from the western plains, not so pronounced that it might prejudice a listener into thinking of an ignorant cowpoke, but enough to suggest a common man, a man of the people, the kind of man whose example encouraged children to believe they could grow up to be anything they wanted, that nothing in this great land of opportunity was beyond anyone’s reach.

  Nightmare had no interest in the words the silent voice spoke. They would be lies, he knew. Anyone who rose to the top in a government always rose on a bubble inflated by lies. He concentrated on keeping the red laser dot steady on the black pupil of the president’s left eye.

  After Clay Dixon talked awhile, he glanced at something to his right, off-camera at the moment, but obviously of tremendous importance to him.

  And then it happened. What Nightmare had been patiently waiting for all week, had been considering in almost every moment of his thinking.

  The First Lady appeared.

  In the soft dark, Nightmare wrapped himself around a hard vengeance.

  Kathleen Jorgenson Dixon’s eyes were pale gray-blue. Although she looked composed, there was something immeasurably sad about those eyes. To Nightmare they seemed like two unhealed wounds. She’d been hurt, he could tell. But that didn’t matter. Her suffering was nothing compared to the suffering she’d caused. He was glad for the ritual of the blood and the ash and the pain, because it kept him strong.

  “For the murder of David Moses,” Nightmare pronounced, “your sentence is death.”

  He sighted the Beretta. The laser dot settled in the dark at the back of the First Lady’s throat. Slowly he squeezed the trigger, and grimly he whispered, “Bang.”

  chapter

  two

  As Daniel Clay Dixon strode into the Oval Office, the members of his senior staff who waited there stood up.

  “Great job, Mr. President.” Communications Director Edward McGill stepped forward and shook Dixon’s hand.

  “You think so, Ed?” Clay Dixon grinned back at him. “Did we play well in Peoria?”

  “Peoria, Poughkeepsie, Patagonia. That was a telecast for the world.”

  “They can’t vote for me in Patagonia, Ed.”

  “I’d guess the polls will continue their swing this week,” Patricia Gomez, Dixon’s press secretary, said.

  “Let’s not guess. Do what you can, okay? Work that hoodoo you do so well.” Dixon looked to his chief of staff, John Llewellyn. “What do you think?”

  Llewellyn was a tall, gray-haired man in a gray suit. He had a long face where deep lines like empty gullies ran. The irises of his eyes were so dark they ate his pupils. “I remember a game you played against Tampa Bay a couple of years before you retired. At halftime you were down twenty-four points.”

  “Twenty-seven,” Dixon said.

  “Second half you engineered four unanswered touchdowns. Went into the locker room on top. Mr. President, you’re going into the locker room tonight a winner.” Although he smiled, nothing but that hard darkness showed in his eyes.

  “Thanks, John.”

  “You want me to contact Wayne White? See if he’s ready to concede?” McGill asked, grinning.

  “That poor son of a bitch,” Dixon said. “You know, I feel genuinely sorry for him.”

  Wayne White was a third-term congressman from Ohio. A war hero and a widower. He was well respected in Washington and had been his party’s choice to run for the presidency. No sooner was he out of the starting blocks, however, than a scandal sheet got hold of the record of a domestic abuse charge that had been lodged against him twenty years earlier. Before the information became public, Wayne White had held a significant lead in the polls. Clay Dixon resolutely declined to use the opportunity against his opponent, and Americans seemed to appreciate that kind of decency. The polls had begun to reflect it.

  “Your father sends his congratulations.”

  “I guess that’s the icing on the cake, isn’t it?” Dixon laughed. “Has Lorna finished her report yet?”

  “Any minute now,” Llewellyn said. “We’ll all have copies first thing in the morning.”

  “Will you have her call me when it’s ready. I want to see it as soon as possible.”

  “We won’t be meeting with the legislative staff until Wednesday.”

  “I want Kate to have a look at it.” Dixon glanced at his watch. “Well, folks, it’s been a long day. I don’t know about you, but I intend to relax with a glass of sherry. I’ll see you in the morning.”

  As his staff began to leave, Dixon said, “Bobby, would you stay for a minute.”

  Robert Lee held back.

  “Close the door,” Dixon said. When they were alone, he asked, “So, Bobby, what’s on your mind?”

  Officially, Robert Lee was the White House chief counsel. More than that, he was Clay Dixon’s oldest friend. He had a face the press perennially and unimaginatively characterized as boyish, and a smile the cameras loved, all dimples. Because he had a relaxed feel about him and because his eyes were soft brown and a little lazy-looking, people sometimes thought the mind behind them was simple. That was a mistake, for Bobby Lee was a man of immense intelligence and could be a formidable opponent when he had to be. But he was also a careful man, a considerate man, a gentleman.

  “Kate,” Lee said.

  The president sat in one of the armchairs, crossed his legs, and looked up at Lee. “She’s fine, Bobby.”

  Lee sat down, too. “She doesn’t look fine.”

  “She’s tired, that’s all. Under a lot of strain. She’s facing a long political campaign. That’s enough to make anyone want to cry.”

  Lee didn’t look convinced, but he didn’t push the issue. He folded his hands on his lap. “I got an early look at Lorna’s report. Llewellyn’s not going to like it.”

  “I didn’t ask for the report in order to please him.”

  “Will you go ahead with a legislative proposal?”

  “Not until after the election.”

  “I think delaying would be a mistake. In this campaign, you need to take the initiative.”

  “We all discussed this at length. You were the only one who disagreed.”

  “That doesn’t mean I was wrong.”

  There was truth in that, and there was a gentle barb in the way the truth was spoken.

  “I still think the advice is sound, Bobby. I don’t want to launch anything controversial at this juncture.” The president loosened his tie and undid his shirt collar. “I can tell there’s more on your mind. Spit it out.”

  “I’m wondering more and more what I’m doing here. There was a time I thought you relied on me, for more than just legal counsel. Lately I’m feeling like I’m moving my lips but not much is getting through to you.”

  “That’s not true.”

  “Ever since Carpathian died, it’s Llewellyn who has your ear, Clay. And more often than not Llewellyn is just an echo of your old man.”

  “John Llewellyn knows politics better than anyone on Capitol Hill. I’m heading into a tough battle to hold on to this presidency, and goddamn it, I want to win. Llewellyn’s the man who knows how to make that happen.”

  “I don’t like his tactics.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Come on, Clay. I can see his hand all over the Wayne White thing.”

  “That
s politics, Bobby.”

  “Alan Carpathian wouldn’t call it politics. He’d call it character assassination.”

  “Carpathian’s dead,” Dixon snapped. He took a moment, then forced a grin. “Remember the Michigan game?” He was talking about their days together at Stanford, when they’d both played on the team that won the Rose Bowl in their senior year. “I called a post pattern. You argued for a hook.”

  “I know. That pass won the game.”

  “The post pattern.” Dixon stood up, walked to his old friend, and put a hand on his shoulder. “I know what I’m doing, Bobby. I can handle Llewellyn and my father. And don’t worry about Kate. She’ll be fine. Look, it’s been a long day. How about we call it quits for this evening?”

  “Sure, Clay.” Lee got to his feet and headed for the door.

  After Robert Lee left, Dixon wandered to the window behind his desk and looked out. It was a hot, humid August night. He knew if he were able to slide open the pane, the air would hit him like warm water. Even after nearly four years in the White House, he wasn’t used to summer on the eastern seaboard. He thought about August along the high plains near the Rockies in his home state of Colorado. He missed the clear, dry air, the smell of sage. He missed the million stars that were the gift of the night. In D.C., the ever present haze and the city lights generally made the night sky a murky, impenetrable darkness.

  He glanced at his watch and realized it was his daughter’s bedtime.

  Dixon left the West Wing, accompanied by two Secret Service agents on POTUS detail. At the private stairs to the Executive Residence, he bid the agents a cordial good night. Unless called upon by the First Family, or summoned by an alarm, the Secret Service kept away from the second and third floors of the White House. As much as possible, the Residence was maintained as a sanctuary of normal life. At the top of the stairs, Dixon turned left down the center hall toward the west bedroom, where Willie Lincoln and John-John Kennedy had slept and Amy Carter had played with her dolls. He found his daughter Stephanie already under the covers. Kate sat in a chair next to the bed, reading from a Harry Potter book. Stephanie was so engrossed in listening to the story that she didn’t notice her father come into the room. He stood inside the doorway, watching silently.

 
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