“Thomas Christopher,” Merci said. “They call him TC.”
“TC might be able to donate his bone marrow. He might be able to save Stacy’s life.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Merci said. “Are you sure? He’s so small.”
“That’s what I’ve been told.”
“That bastard. Yeah, he cares about Stacy, but fuck everyone else.”
“He asked about you.”
“Sure he did.”
“He seemed genuinely pleased when I told him you were all right.”
“What else did you tell him about me?”
She hit the beer again, then said, “Yeah. Good.”
“You hooked up with Jamie after you were released from Shakopee,” I said.
“She let me stay at her place for a couple of weeks.”
“How did they seem to you, Jamie and David?”
“Fine. They were okay. We didn’t spend much time with David. Mostly he played with the kid while Jamie and I talked.”
“What did you talk about?”
“Jamie was trying to get me to change my ways. Like I haven’t tried. Only it seems every time I make an effort, there’s a man standing there with money in his hand.”
“Did you talk to Jamie after you met me?”
I remembered the message she left on Jamie’s answering machine.
“We’ll get along so much better if you don’t lie to me.”
“I’m not,” she began, stopped, thought about it. “After you found Jamie, Jamie called me. She said she was going to tell her husband everything, said she was going back to Grand Rapids to help little Stacy.”
“What was Bruder’s reaction, I wonder.”
“He said he was fine with it, said he was looking forward to meeting his in-laws.”
“Do you know where David Bruder is?” I asked again.
“No. How many times do I have to say it?”
I finished my Summit Ale and went for another bottle. When I returned I asked Merci to tell me about Jamie. “Start with when she left Grand Rapids.”
“Why should I?”
The average person is so unaccustomed to sudden pain that one quick, violent thrust is enough to leave them shaky, nauseous, and immensely cooperative for a week or more. Only Merci Cole had been hit before and she wasn’t afraid of being hit again. No threat was going to persuade her to do my bidding. So I gave Merci the truth. “It might help me find Jamie’s killer.”
“Like you care.”
“I do care. I care very much.”
Merci studied me over the mouth of her beer bottle for a moment. Then she began to talk.
Merci claimed she hadn’t encouraged Jamie to leave home, hadn’t invited her to her fleabag apartment on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. Yet one day there she was, suitcase in hand. Of course Merci took her in.
“Why did Jamie leave home?”
“What did she tell you?”
“She said she was tired of the lies.”
“Aren’t we all.”
“Something happened between her and Mr. Carlson?”
“What’s it they say? ‘It’s always something.’ I don’t want to talk about it.”
I did. But I was afraid I might lose her if I kept pushing, so I changed the subject.
“Her new ID. Jamie Kincaid? Did you manage it?”
“ID? Yeah. I knew a couple of guys that helped us out—for a price. We furnished Jamie with a new name, driver’s license, social security number, the works. We even forged some transcripts to get her into community college. She worked as a receptionist during the day, went to school to be a paralegal at night.”
“She worked for a law firm,” I added.
“In Arden Hills.”
“That’s where she met Bruder?”
“Uh huh. He took one look at her and, well, you saw how pretty she was.”
“She was beautiful.”
Merci nodded and bowed her head. This time the tears that formed in her eyes were as real as life and death. She brushed them away and took another swallow of beer.
“I tried to talk her out of it, the marriage I mean.” Merci’s voice was suddenly drenched in regret. “It was selfish of me. I was afraid of being alone again. You gotta know, when we went out together, it was pretty amazing the sensation we caused. Guys would line up three deep to buy us drinks, buy us dinner, buy us all kinds of things. Jamie didn’t like it, though. She thought by accepting gifts we were entering into some kinda—what did she call it—‘implied contract.’ I guess she learned that in school. She said the guys now had the right to expect something in return and she wasn’t willing to reciprocate, which is another legal word. You believe that? I told her to loosen up, only she never did. Then when David came around—Mr. Nice Suit, Nice Manners, Money-in-the-Bank—well, I guess that’s what she was looking for. Jamie earned her diploma but she didn’t use it long. They were married like three months later and that was that.”