Ocean Prey (A Prey Novel #31) by John Sandford

THE MUGGERS





Lucas Davenport used his phone’s flashlight to illuminate the cut through the knee-high wall, and from there, to the path that led down to Fort Lauderdale Beach. Early-morning traffic down Beach Boulevard was quiet, the subdued hum of small SUVs and sedans. The cars turning left off Sunrise Boulevard played their headlights across his back as he walked, throwing his shadow on the white sand.

            Out on the Atlantic, he could see a bare hint of the coming dawn. Lucas walked across the sand until he was a dozen feet from the water, where the smell of seaweed pressed against his face like a hand. He sat down, took off his shoes and socks. He sat there for a while, as the eastern horizon grew brighter. Not much was going through his head—the light, the smell of the seaweed, the sound of salt water breaking up the beach.

            A breeze sprang up with the dawn, but was barely strong enough to push the six-inch rollers ashore. After a while, he noticed that the world was beginning to light up. His phone rang. He dug it out of his jacket pocket and turned it off without answering, or even looking at it.

            At some point, the rim of the sun broke the edge of the horizon, a brilliant arc throwing rippling orange slashes across the water. A sportfishing boat went by, a half mile out.

            Then the muggers showed up.

            Two men, one Anglo, one Hispanic, both thin, dark-haired, wearing worn dark clothing, their faces weathered from life on the street, like driftwood boards. Lucas knew they were muggers by the way they approached, a certain crablike walk, a phony confidence, an attitude that could turn in a moment from friendliness to naked aggression and then possibly to retreat, if Lucas should turn out to be something unexpected.

            They checked him out, a guy in a sport coat barefoot on the sand, maybe shaking off a drunk? A gold watch on the left wrist, right hand in his lap. He looked at them and said, “Hey, guys.”

            The Anglo said, “Nice watch you got.”

            Lucas: “Got it from my wife for my birthday. A Patek Philippe. Twenty-eight thousand dollars, if you can believe that. I told her we should have sponsored some hungry kids somewhere. She said that we already did that and I should have some nice things.”

            The guy in back stopped and hooked his friend’s elbow to slow down his approach; the feral sense that something was not right.

            “You okay?” the lead mugger asked.

            Lucas said, “No.”

            He slipped his right hand out of his lap, and held it straight up in front of his nose; he was gripping a black Walther PPQ.

            One of the muggers said, “Whoa.”

            “Why were you guys going to mug me? Don’t bullshit me, tell me the truth,” Lucas said. “You gonna stick something in your arm? Stick something up your nose? Or what?”

            They stuttered around for a moment, looking like they might run, but there was no place to hide on the empty beach and running through the sand would be slow. Much slower than a bullet. The Anglo guy said, “Mostly looking for something to eat. Ain’t had nothing to eat since yesterday morning.”

            “Okay.” Lucas sat motionless for a few seconds, the muzzle of the gun straight up to the sky, between his hands, as though he were praying, and then he fished in his jacket pocket for his wallet, extracted a bill, folded it into quarters, and tossed it across the sand. “Pick it up,” he said.

            The Anglo looked at his friend, then eased carefully forward, stopped, and picked up the bill. “Fifty bucks.”

            “Fifty bucks,” Lucas said. “Go get something to eat.”

            They backed away, watching him, then turned and moved away more quickly. Before they were out of earshot, Lucas called, “Hey. Guys.”