“Don’t be sorry. You did the right thing. I would have done the same.”
“I’m sorry anyway. I wanted you to know in case this goes any further.”
“Since we’re being honest here, I should tell you that I’m coming off a relationship and I don’t know how I feel about that yet.”
“You’re afraid of getting involved again?”
“I’m afraid of getting involved with the wrong woman again.”
Nina cupped her chin in her hand and leaned toward me. I cupped my chin in my hand and leaned toward her. We were close enough to kiss. I should have kissed her. I don’t know why I didn’t. Instead, I told her, “I need a favor.”
“Oh.” She sounded disappointed.
“I want you to call me the next time Hester comes in. I need to find out about her.”
Nina pushed herself off the bar. “I can do that. But I also promised I’d call the cops.”
“Who?” I was thinking it was Bobby.
“Policewoman named Jean Something.”
“I’m told she’s young, beautiful, and smart as hell.”
She wagged her hand like she wasn’t sure she agreed.
“I don’t want to get you into trouble, Nina.” She opened both eyes wide in feigned shock. “I mean with the cops.”
“I promised to call when Hester came in. I didn’t promise I wouldn’t call you, too.”
“Don’t mention it.”
I slid off the stool.
“But what if she doesn’t come in again?” Nina asked.
“Then I’ll call you.”
Nina smiled bright and beautiful. “What does the telephone company say? ‘Reach out and touch someone’?”
I went home, checked my mail, checked my telephone messages, and made a pot of coffee—hazelnut, ground from fresh beans purchased from the Cameron Coffee Company of Hayward, Wisconsin. While it brewed I stretched out on my sofa, Fleetwood Mac on the CD player singing “Then Play On.” I didn’t know which was more exhausting, my encounter with the Boyz or all that heavy flirting with Nina Truhler. I closed my eyes, which was a mistake. I didn’t open them again until the ringing telephone woke me about an hour later. I debated not answering it, coming up with five, six, seven good reasons to pretend I wasn’t home. Only the challenge of the unknown was too great. After all, it could be Dick Clark and Ed McMahon arranging to give me a cardboard check the size of my mattress.
“Mr. McKenzie, I need your help,” a voice told me instead of “Hello.”
“Who are you?”
Bruder wanted to call the shots. I let him. That was my first mistake. But all I could think about was the look on Bobby’s face when I brought him in—the look on his face and Tommy Thompson’s.
Bruder wanted to come in, too—he was tired of running, of hiding. Only he was frightened.
“I need protection.”
“This isn’t East L.A., pal,” I told him. “The St. Paul cops aren’t going to beat on you with sticks.”
“It’s not just them.”
“Who else? The Family Boyz?”
Who could blame him?
“Why are you calling me?”
“I’m told you can be trusted.”
“Whoever gave you that idea?”
“Will you help me?”
I thought about it for maybe, oh, three seconds.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Meet me. Come with me to the police station.”
I could do that.
“Do you promise not to call the police?”
That was my second mistake.
A half hour later I was sitting at a small table hard against the railing of the third floor food court of the City Center, looking down into the courtyard below. The City Center is a combination shopping mall and office building in downtown Minneapolis. Bruder insisted on meeting in Minneapolis. He figured the cops weren’t looking for him there. I should have set him straight, but I didn’t.
I watched him ride the escalator up. He was wearing a Pierre Cardin suit with sharp creases, black wing tips shined to a high gloss, a freshly pressed white cotton dress shirt and a perfectly knotted power tie. His face was clean shaven, his hair neatly parted. I didn’t know where he had been the past week, but he had taken good care of himself. He stopped in the center of the food court and glanced about. I recognized him, but he didn’t know me from the kid at the Orange Julius stand. I gave him a little wave and he came over.
“So, Mr. Bruder. Where have you been keeping yourself?”
He hushed me—“Don’t use my name”—and glanced around nervously before sitting.
“Seriously,” I told him. “You look nice. Why is that?”
He had no idea what I was talking about.
“I didn’t kill my wife,” he announced.
You sure look good for it, I thought but didn’t say.
“I didn’t,” Bruder insisted, as if he had read my mind.
“Everyone thinks I did.”
“Do you blame them?”
He didn’t say if he did or didn’t.
“Mr. Bruder, where’s your son?”