“I’m going to get those sonsuvbitches. Are you in?”
“I need to make a phone call first.”
“Call whoever you like.”
Merci went quickly to the pay phone attached to the wall between the two rest rooms. She returned five minutes later.
“I have my own gown,” she told me. “With matching shoes and bag. It used to belong to Jamie. She gave it to me after TC was born.”
Merci shouted at me through the door of what used to be my father’s bedroom.
“Why are we doing this?”
“You’ll see,” I told her as I fumbled with my black bow tie. What was I going to say? I’m using you for bait?
“You know, I never wore this dress before,” she called out. I could relate. I had worn my double-breasted tuxedo only a half dozen times in the past five years—most of those times with Kirsten. I had never learned how to tie a bow tie and instead used one of those pre-tied jobs with a strap that winds around your collar and hooks under your throat.
I shoved the Beretta .380 into the holster under my left arm then slipped the tuxedo jacket over it.
“What time do we need to be there?”
Ahh, damn. This was no good. I couldn’t use her, hooker or no, not like this. I went to the door. Rapped on it gently with a knuckle.
I rested my head on the closed door while I explained what I thought I knew and why we were going to the party. I concluded by telling Merci, “It could be dangerous. Probably will be. Eight people have been killed already. If you want out, I’ll pay the grand I owe you and we’ll call it a night.”
Merci didn’t answer. I called her name.
I opened the door cautiously. Merci was on the far side of the room, staring at a woman in the full-length mirror. The woman staring back was modeling a long gown of iridescent raspberry lace that hugged her curves from shoulders to ankles. Long sleeves, scoop neckline, a thigh-high side slit that caused my heart to skip several beats. Merci tugged gently at the fabric.
“It’s a little snug,” she said.
“Works for me,” I admitted.
“I’m pretty, aren’t I? I’m a pretty girl.”
“More than pretty.”
“I’m as pretty as Jamie was.”
I saw it then. And wondered why I hadn’t seen it before.
She spun around to face me. “My life should have been so different than the one I’m living. Jamie understood that. Better than anyone. She wanted me to have the life I had been cheated out of but it wasn’t hers to give.” Her voice cracked and a sob escaped her throat. Merci turned away from me, but only for a few moments. When she turned back her voice was steady and her eyes were clear.
I thought of Stacy and said, “Let’s rethink this.”
“No, let’s not.” In case I wanted to argue, she added, “When do we leave?”
“I thought we’d have dinner first and arrive fashionably late.”
Animal rights activists were chanting slogans outside the entrance to the Minnesota Club in downtown St. Paul where the region’s best and brightest entrepreneurs had gone to celebrate themselves. It was an interesting performance. Minnesota protesters are way too nice to attack fur wearers with spray paint and plastic bags filled with blood. Here they’re usually content with polite heckling. “Get a flea collar.”
The entrepreneurs taunted back. “Get a life.”
“Do you know how many animals died to make your coat?”
“Do you know how many animals died to make your lunch?”
All in all, everyone was having a wonderful time.
Beyond the protesters was a long line of limousines, some white, some silver, most black—a few of them actually parked legally. Devanter was leaning against the fender of one, cupping an unfiltered cigarette in his left hand, shaking his head at the southeast-Asian drivers who congregated around a limo identical to his half a block up. He was muttering loudly to himself.
“You believe it? The gooks in this state. You’d think a good Minnesota winter’d send ’em back to the paddies.”
When he saw us he dropped the smoke and took a step backward. Only it wasn’t me who startled him. He was staring at Merci.
Merci turned her head to look at him as we passed by. Devanter tried to say something but nothing came out. We left him standing there, his mouth hanging open.