“Your knees then.”
I didn’t mean to be insulting. The remark had just slipped out—blame the beer. Merci took it like she had heard it before. She smiled a joyless smile and said, “All we need is a blackboard and some chalk. I’ll write down my personal history and you can tell me where I went bad. Then I pay you a hundred bucks and we schedule another session for next week.”
“You don’t have to be a prostitute.”
“You don’t have to be a sanctimonious sonuvabitch.”
Merci finished her beer and gathered up her belongings. She reached for her Ruger, but I pulled it away.
“Can I have my gun, please?”
“You might hurt somebody.”
Merci made a face, a little girl’s face with her tongue protruding between her lips, and I found myself chuckling. Still, I kept the gun. She went to the front door. I followed her. She opened the door and stood gazing into the night. Without turning around, she asked, “What are you going to do now?”
“Damned if I know.”
It was cold Friday morning. Not heroic cold, not national news cold, not even local news cold, just plain middle of September in Minnesota winter’s coming cold, which is nothing to complain about, only something to get through. I powered up the windows on my Cherokee, closed the sun roof and actually flirted with the idea of activating the heater, but declined. In Minnesota, the longer you can go without heat, the more manly you are. Ask anyone.
The traffic was heavy as I caught I-35W south. Used to be “rush hour” was confined to seven to nine a.m. and four to six p.m., only that changed dramatically in just the past few years. A growing population and subsequent urban sprawl—and our ponderous mass transit system—have given the Twin Cities rush hour traffic around the clock. The worst of it probably can be found at the bottleneck known as the 35W-Crosstown Interchange, where a four-lane freeway suddenly narrows to three lanes and then splits off in three separate directions. Traffic heading into it began to slow at 38th Street. By 48th it was stop and go.
As I drove I listened to Minnesota Public Radio. “In local news, the massive manhunt for suspected killer David C. Bruder and his infant son continues … Elsewhere, authorities believe that the shooting in the Uptown area of Minneapolis late Thursday afternoon that left one man dead, is indicative of the escalating gang violence in the city …” Unlike the newspapers, MPR didn’t mention my name and I made a silent vow to increase my contribution during its next membership drive. Yet when it segued into a liberal discussion about the appropriateness of making inmates in the county jail pay for their keep, I put Bonnie Tyler on my CD system and cranked the volume.
I drove east on Highway 62, leaving the bottleneck behind and increasing my speed to a brisk forty miles per hour—don’t you just adore freeway driving—until I caught the Portland Avenue exit. I went south, east, south, then east again, driving deep into the suburb of Richfield, until I reached the address Chopper had given me.
It was a three-story, white-brick apartment building set a respectful distance from the look-alike split-levels located on either side and across the street. I guessed six units to each floor, maybe another six in the basement. On the left side of the building was a parking lot filled with a half dozen older vehicles and two identical, brand-spanking-new black Chevy vans. Behind it there was an empty, unkempt field that extended a good hundred yards before butting up against a cyclone fence. There was a hole cut into the fence. A narrow path beaten into the ground ran the distance from the fence to the street.
The apartment building seemed to be in direct line with one of the runways at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport about a mile to the east. Planes flew so low over the neighborhood you could smell the fumes from their exhaust. They took off at thirty-second intervals. You could set your watch by them. The noise was so loud you felt it in your teeth and I wondered what fool would build an apartment building there and what moron would live in it.