I was so pumped with adrenaline I could have beaten Carl Lewis in the sprint of his choice, yet I forced myself to stroll—stroll, dammit!—back into my house. Once inside, I locked the door. Like that was going to keep me safe. Like the ordnance the Boyz packed couldn’t reduce my place to a box of toothpicks.
“Okay, okay. Relax. They came at you before and things worked out. So, relax, wouldja! Besides, they had plenty of chances to kill you already and they haven’t. Which means they have something else in mind. What would that be? How the hell should I know? I don’t even know why they wanted to kill me in the first place. Okay, relax. Think. You could ask them what they want. Sure. Just walk up and say, ‘Hi, guys.’ Where do you get these ideas, anyway? HBO? Think. What do they want? They want to watch me, follow me, find out where I go and who I talk to. Why? How the hell should I know why? Think …”
It’s a bad sign when you start talking out loud to yourself.
While I was talking, I went upstairs and took the Beretta from the table next to my bed. Gun in hand, I went through every room in my sparsely furnished house—including rooms I hadn’t entered in months—peeking through window blinds and around curtains, my CD player off so I could listen for any unusual noises. There were plenty of them in that old house. I found myself jumping at every creak. I really should renovate. Maybe put in bulletproof glass and armor plate.
“This is ridiculous,” I told myself as I descended the staircase for the third time. “Show a little backbone, geez.”
It’s easier to be calm when you have a plan, so I sat on my soft leather sofa and made one up. After a few deep breathing exercises—I think I might have cleansed my karma, too—I picked up the phone and punched 911.
“I need the police. Yes, it’s an emergency. There’s a van parked outside my house. A black van. And there’s a, a, a Negro sitting in it. Maybe a whole bunch of, of Negroes. They’ve been there for hours. Maybe all night. No, I don’t know who they are. I think they’re criminals, why else would Negroes be in a white neighborhood. I want protection. That’s what we’re paying you people for.” I gave the operator the street location but not the address. “My name? I don’t want to get involved.”
I hung up the phone, watched and waited. I felt kind of crummy about the Negro BS and declared to the ceiling that I wasn’t a racist, I only play one on the telephone. It didn’t help, but you have to admit, these days anything with racial connotations gets immediate action. Four minutes, count ’em, four minutes after I called, two squad cars painted navy blue and gray bracketed the van like parentheses, one front, one back.
I strolled—strolled, mind you—to my garage, started up the Jeep Cherokee and drove away, using a remote control to close the garage door behind me. The cops had two black men, one sporting a mustache, leaning on the hood of the van when I shot past, picking up speed, although I had nowhere important to go.
“Napoleon Cook is dead,” Bobby Dunston said.
“Someone killed him Friday night,” Clayton Rask added.
“Whoever it was threw him off the balcony of his apartment in downtown Minneapolis,” Bobby continued.
“Twenty-seven floors,” said Rask.
“Straight down,” Bobby added.
They were beginning to sound like a vaudeville team.
“Perhaps he jumped,” I offered.
“If he did, he cut off his genitals first and stuffed them in his mouth.”
So that’s why two homicide cops were standing in my living room on a Saturday evening. Uninvited. When their knock first sounded on my front door I jumped three feet, instantly flashing on the black van. I had searched carefully when I arrived home—trust me on this—only it was not to be found, neither the van nor any other out-of-place vehicles. Beretta in hand, I carefully made my way to the door. Some might have accused me of being paranoid.
“Can I offer you anything?” I asked them. “Coffee? A beer?”
They shook their heads. Rask glanced around the living room. It contained only two chairs and Bobby slumped into one of them. I had eight rooms excluding bathrooms, but only four were furnished—my bedroom, the room my father slept in, my kitchen and the “family room,” which contained my large-screen TV and about a hundred video tapes and DVDs, my CD player with over six hundred discs, and my PC. Months earlier Shelby had toured the place. “Congratulations, Mac,” she had told me then. “You’ve taken a three-hundred-thousand-dollar house and turned it into an efficiency apartment.”
“How ’bout a sno-cone?” I asked.
“Sno-cone?” said Bobby.
“Nobody wants a damn sno-cone,” Rask barked. He would have said more but he was distracted by the music on my speakers—I had at least two in every room.
“What is that?”
“The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos.”
“It’s the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Who asked you?”
“Have you done something that’s tugging on your conscience, McKenzie? Is that why you’re listening to this crap?”
“Do you think I killed Cook?” I asked.
“If I could prove it, you’d be in cuffs.”