They are moving quicker than I thought they would.
I dove into the river, trying to fight the current, working my way down the stairs. Merci was at the door now. I pushed harder, flailing guests with my hands and elbows and lame excuse-me’s. They were dragging Merci out the door when I heard my name.
I pivoted and looked back up the staircase. Mellgren was standing at the top. His right hand was inside his jacket.
“Stop where you are, McKenzie,” he called to me.
I ignored him. What was he going to do? Shoot me in front of a thousand witnesses?
“Stop, I said!” He started down the steps quickly but something happened. Suddenly, Mellgren’s empty hand swept out from under his coat and over his head, his body spun in a half circle, and he seemed to dive, head first, down the staircase, crashing against this body and that, knocking over at least four guests, finally slamming into a woman in an ivory dress, landing and rolling on top of her. Screams followed.
Mellgren’s unexpected tumble caused me to look past him. At the top of the steps stood Nina, her palms turned upward in innocence, her eyes wide, and a most delightful “who, me?” expression on her face.
She had tripped him.
I blew Nina a kiss and moved on.
The swirling tide grew increasingly stronger as people stopped to see what the commotion on the stairs was all about. It took me a long time to get to the door—too long—and when I did, Merci Cole was nowhere in sight. I pushed past the protesters and searched the street, noting that Devanter and Casselman’s limo were gone. I had a very bad feeling about that. I reclimbed the concrete steps of the Minnesota Club, stopping at the top. There. On the other side of the public library building. Three men dressed in tuxedos were pushing Merci Cole into the back of a limousine—not Casselman’s, someone else’s.
I felt like the guy who got his fingers caught in the mousetrap while setting the cheese.
Ass. Bastard. Creep. I called myself every name in the book in alphabetical order as I rushed to my car. Dimwit. Excrement. Fool. Fortunately, every time the luxury car rounded a corner it was slowed by a traffic light. That gave me enough time to muscle the Jeep Cherokee between and around the traffic, speed through the signals and sneak behind the limo as it entered I-35E below the St. Paul Cathedral, going south. Geek. Halfwit. Imbecile.
I-35E in that part of town is only two lanes wide and lightly traveled. It was easy to tail the black limousine while hanging way back. We drove past old suburbs and new suburbs and soon-to-be suburbs, putting over thirty miles between us and the city, speeding south into farm country. The temperature had dropped to fifty-three degrees and I was worried that dressed only in lace Merci would be cold. Like that was her most urgent problem. Meanwhile, I was sweating.
Finally, the limo caught an exit and hung a left, traveling east on a county road just below Lakeville. I chased the limo’s red tail-lights, hanging back as far as I dared. The car went three miles east before turning off onto a dirt road that led into the forest. I followed. I lost the limo’s lights in the road’s twists and turns but that was all right—there didn’t seem to be any turnoffs. I continued to hang back, following the road—and the limo’s dust—for several miles. I ignored a spur that jutted off in a right angle from the road, then realized when the dust cleared and I was forced to stop for a fallen tree about a half mile beyond it that the limo must have taken the spur. I drove backwards until I discovered a place to turn the Cherokee around near the spur. It was there that I abandoned it—I thought it was safer to investigate the spur on foot.
At first you notice the quiet. Then your ears adjust and you realize that it’s not quiet at all. You begin to hear sounds that rarely register in the city—birds and insects and wind blowing through the leaves. I waited next to the Cherokee until my eyes adjusted to the moonlight. When finally I moved, I moved slowly, carefully, holding the collar of my black jacket closed over the white shirt. I tried to remember the lessons my father taught me as a child, the “hunter’s rules” about surviving in the forest. I could recall only one. Stay the hell out of the woods after dark. A man could disappear in the woods at night, Dad had warned.