“You and the Family Boyz killed Jamie and tried to kill me,” I hissed through my teeth. “I’m going to get you for it.”
Cook shouldn’t have even known who I was, yet he was afraid of me. I had decided to use that, accuse him, muss him up some, then sit back and watch what he did. If he was completely honest and totally innocent, he’d scream bloody murder, maybe even call the cops. If he wasn’t, his outrage would be overshadowed by fear—a fear he might want to share with whoever else was involved. When he did, I would be there.
Napoleon Cook rubbed his wrist vigorously. “You’re making a big mistake,” he told me as I went through the door.
It wouldn’t be the first time.
I left the parking lot but didn’t go far, idling on Penn Avenue where I could get a clear view of the front door to the community center with my binoculars. Cook didn’t come out right away and I speculated that he was making a phone call. Despite the cool air, the sun beat hard through my windows and I began to feel sweat on my back.
At about six-thirty-five, Napoleon Cook left the building and walked to his own car, a black Porsche. The vanity license plate read IMCUKN. It took me a while to figure it out. I’m Cookin’? He paid an extra hundred bucks for that? Still, I admired the vehicle. I followed it onto I-494, staying eight lengths back and to his right as we went east toward St. Paul at ten miles above the speed limit. We followed I-494 until it became West 7th Street, continued east to Lexington, went north, turned east on Summit, then north again on Dale Street, stopping for a light at Selby Avenue, not far from a restaurant where August Wilson wrote some of his plays and a bar where Scott and Zelda used to party. We hung a right. Too many turns, I told myself. Cook should have made me long ago, but apparently he wasn’t paying attention.
Cook drove Selby until he reached the parking lot adjacent to Rickie’s, a jazz club that was developing a nice reputation for displaying gifted performers on their way up—Diana Krall had played there early in her career, but I had missed it. Minneapolis may have had the best rock, but by far St. Paul had the best jazz in the Twin Cities—Artists’ Quarter, Brilliant Corners, Blues Saloon, a new joint called Fhima’s. I had frequented them all, yet I had neglected Rickie’s because the name reminded me of Rick’s Café Americain in the movie Casablanca. I’m not a big fan of retro.
I gave Cook a two-minute head start and followed him inside. Rickie’s was lightly populated—I had caught the seam between the one-drink-before-I-go-home and the let’s-get-dressed-and-go-out-tonight crowds. When I didn’t see him downstairs, I went upstairs. A dozen steps past the door, a spiral staircase with red carpet and a shiny brass railing led to a comfortable second-floor dining and performance area. I peeked just above the landing. An elevated stage was set against the far wall, a baby grand and several microphone stands sitting unattended in the center. A couple dozen small, round tables were arranged immediately in front of the stage and a second ring of larger square tables covered with white linen and set for dinner were strategically placed beyond them. About a dozen booths and another bar lined the remaining three walls. Cook was leaning into a booth in the corner, bussing the cheek of a woman with raven hair. Even from a distance the woman looked expensive. I retreated downstairs.
To my delight, the decor was about as far away from Casablanca as it could get. In fact, the first floor of Rickie’s reminded me of a coffee house. A large number of comfortable sofas and stuffed chairs were mixed among the tables and booths. A small stage big enough for one or two performers was erected near a fireplace. There was even a large espresso machine behind the bar. The sound system played Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter. There wasn’t a TV in sight.
I made a quick pit stop at the men’s room—I didn’t know when I would have another opportunity. Afterward, I found a spot at the far end of the bar where I could watch the staircase and front door without seeming conspicuous. The bartender was busy serving a woman who ordered a champagne cocktail in a pleasant, somewhat aristocratic voice. The bartender refused to serve her. “Do you have an ID?”
“An ID? A driver’s license?”
“Are you kidding?” asked the woman. “I’m over twenty-one.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it before. C’mon, let’s see it.”
The woman tried to act indignant but couldn’t quite pull it off. She unfolded her wallet and flashed her license at the bartender. He studied the photograph on the license, glanced at the woman, went back to the photograph and said, “Yeah, right. Tell your big sister I said, ‘Hi.’” He made the drink and served the woman. The woman left a bill on the bar and drifted to the table where her friends sat. “You’re not going to believe this,” she told them, a happy grin on her face. The bartender pocketed the bill and came over to me. I ordered a Grain Belt and club sandwich.