“We were acquainted. You?”

“Napoleon was primeval slime and I hope he rots in hell.” Strong words, yet delivered with a surprising lack of rancor.

“I take it you were close.”

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“He was my husband’s friend. Personally, I don’t know what Geno saw in him. Napoleon was a rutting pig, one of those guys who never leaves the house without a condom in his wallet because he always feels lucky. He tried so hard to get me into bed you’d think he sold mattresses. He and Lila were made for each other.”

“She doesn’t seem too distraught.”

“Who knows? Behind those big sunglasses she might be crying real tears—not!”

“Do you think her husband knows about her and Cook?”

“Warren?” She gestured toward the quartet backing up the preacher. “That’s him, third from the left, with the rest of the Entrepreneurs. What’s left of them anyway. Can you believe it? They’re dropping like flies. Poor Jamie. And Katherine. And Napoleon. And yesterday it was David’s turn. It’s getting kinda scary.”

While she spoke, I studied Warren Casselman. He was five-ten and looked like someone who played racquetball twice a month and figured that was enough. He had sandy hair cut short, thin features, and eyes of indeterminate color. While the rest of the mourners bowed their heads to receive the priest’s blessing, he kept his straight and level, staring at something over the priest’s shoulder.

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“Warren probably knows about Lila’s extracurriculars but pretends he doesn’t,” Charlotte continued. “If he ever admitted he knows, he’d have to do something about it, wouldn’t he? It’s not about love or honor or jealousy or even pride of possession. Somebody messes with your wife, you’re supposed to do something about it. It’s expected. Am I right?”

“A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do,” I told her.

“Precisely. So he pretends he doesn’t know so he doesn’t have to do anything. I guess I can understand. Him and Napoleon and the rest of the Entrepreneurs have been together since, God, since school. It’s tough to throw away that kind of friendship, even for your wife.”

“No, it’s not.”

Charlotte smiled broadly. The smile turned into laughter and drew even more disapproving stares.

“You’re cute,” she told me.

“Why? Because I don’t wink at adultery?”

“That, too. Who are you, anyway?”

I hesitated, remembering the effect my name had on Cook.

“I’m McKenzie.”

“Are you one of the associate members of the club?”

“No.”

“Another plus,” Charlotte said, padding my account.

“Tell me about the club.”

“The Northern Lights Entrepreneurs? Nothing much to tell. I think there’s like three hundred associate members now. The founders, all eight of them, went to college together, became successful in their various pursuits at about the same time, and then decided they were important.”

“But who are they?”

Charlotte sighed like it was a topic she had grown tired of long ago. “Do you really want to know these people?”

“I’d like to know about them. I might do some business with them.”

“Besides my husband, there’s Warren, of course. You know Warren.”

“No, I don’t.”

“You never heard of Warren Casselman? To hear him talk about it, you’d think he’s the most famous attorney in Minnesota.”

I shook my head.

“Well, first of all, he’s the attorney for all of the Entrepreneurs, the founders I mean—handles their personal legal stuff. But his big claim to fame is that he keeps suing all those corporations. You must have read about it. What he does, he waits until there’s bad news in the press about a company—an announcement over a big loss in earnings, something that causes their stock prices to fall. Then he sues the company on behalf of the shareholders. He says where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. So he sues the company, saying the corporation’s executive officers made misleading statements or failed to disclose important information and thereby defrauded investors. He uses the lawsuit to gain access to the company’s documents and he searches through them until he finds something he can use in court. Geno says the first few times Warren filed a suit, the companies fought him and lost big. Now when Warren files, the companies usually settle out of court and when they do he gets a third off the top. We’re talking millions of dollars here. Personally, I think it’s a lot like extortion.”

“An awful lot. How about the others?”

“Standing to Warren’s right is Brian Mellgren.”

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