Merci Cole was waiting for me on the porch of my house, standing exactly where Bradley Young stood before I killed him. I was still jazzed from my encounter with Benjamn and my first impulse was to reach for the Beretta, only Lieutenant Rask had confiscated it—I was running out of guns, probably for the best. I parked the Cherokee at the curb and walked to the front door like I owned the place.
“I’m glad you’re here,” I told her. “It saves me the trouble of finding you.”
Merci responded by taking a small automatic from her purse and pointing it at my heart. I stopped and stared at the gun. It was too far away to do much about, so I took a chance and ignored it. I stepped past her. She held the gun steady. I unlocked the front door.
“Want a sno-cone?” I asked, stepping inside. She followed. I snapped on a light.
“Yeah. Before you shoot me. You are going to shoot me, aren’t you?”
She moved forward, her arm extended, until the muzzle of the gun was six inches from my face and pointed between my eyes.
“Yes,” she said.
It was a mistake moving that close. To prove it, I shifted my head out of the line of fire, knocked the gun up and away with my left hand. I held tight to her wrist as I cocked my right and punched her in the stomach just as hard as I could. She dropped the gun and crumpled to the hardwood floor, rasping for breath. I retrieved the handgun and unloaded it. It was a Ruger .22 with nine rounds in the magazine and a live one in the chamber. The bullet bounced and rolled across the floor when I ejected it. I lost sight of it, decided to forget it.
Merci was in pretty rough shape on the floor, still doubled over, holding her stomach, coughing to regain her breath.
“Forget the sno-cone,” I told her. “How ’bout a beer?”
I went into the kitchen and leaned against the refrigerator door while I tried to steady my nerves.
A few minutes later, Merci Cole stumbled into the kitchen and sat at the table. I left an open bottle of Summit Ale for her—good, old-fashioned sipping beer brewed in St. Paul, my hometown.
“I didn’t kill Jamie,” I told her. When she didn’t reply, I added, “Isn’t that what you came here to find out?”
Merci picked up the beer. “I guess,” she said, and chugged half of it.
“I found her body. It wasn’t pleasant. I want to do something about it if I can.”
After a few moments of reflection, she took the beer by the throat, killing it.
I perched on the chair across the table from her, setting the Ruger in front of me. Suddenly, Merci bowed her head, covered her face with her hands and wept. Her shoulders shuddered and her chest heaved with every sob. I leaned back in the chair and sipped my beer. A woman cries and most men become uncomfortable. A man cries and they become downright claustrophobic. Not me. I don’t trust tears. I know people who can cry at Laurel and Hardy shorts and Merci’s grief noises didn’t sound even remotely genuine. In any case, she didn’t grieve long.
“I’m all right,” she told me, dabbing at her eyes with a balled-up paper napkin she took from the dispenser on the table. I had no reason to doubt her.
“Want another beer?”
She nodded too quickly, like a saleswoman anticipating a big commission.
I went to the refrigerator.
She went for the Ruger.
I took the Summit from the refrigerator and returned to the table, once again ignoring the gun. I couldn’t believe I was wasting my good beer on her.
She snarled and pointed the Ruger at my chest.
“It requires these.” I fished nine bullets from my pocket and held them out to her.
She slammed the Ruger down on the table and I dropped the .22s back into my pocket. Merci grabbed the beer from my hand and took another long swallow.
“I didn’t kill Jamie,” I repeated.
“I only know what I read in the papers.”
“No,” she repeated, adding a head shake.
“What makes you so sure? Have you seen him? Do you know where he is?”
“If I did, I sure as hell wouldn’t tell you.”
“Not even if he killed Jamie?”
“Well, if he did, he’s going down for it. It’s not easy to hide these days, especially with a baby, especially if you’re Good Deal Dave and your face is plastered all over billboards. On the other hand, if he didn’t do it, maybe I can find out who did. You can help. You did come here to avenge your friend, right?”
“Something like that.”
“Not very smart,” I told her. “There’s no such thing as getting even—trust me on this. Besides, think how bad you would have felt when you discovered I was innocent.”
“I would have gotten over it.”
In about thirty seconds, I figured. I swallowed some more Summit Ale.
“There’s something else. Jamie’s child.”