G. K. said that last part very slowly and very carefully, then sat back in her chair and waited while Merodie worked it over in her head.

It took Merodie forty-seven seconds by my watch before she said, “It wasn’t Richard.”

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G. K.’s mouth hung open, but nothing came out. She closed it again, licked her lips, and said, “Let me explain this again.” She did, too. Slowly. Carefully. Yet in the end, Merodie’s answer was the same.

“It wasn’t Richard.”

“But it could have been him,” G. K. blurted.

Merodie leaned across the table, her elbows supporting her weight. Her voice was like the first frost of autumn.

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She said, “You wouldn’t want me to testify to something that wasn’t true, would you, Ms. Bonalay? Isn’t that, whaddaya call it, suborning perjury?”

In that moment I searched Merodie’s face and found something there that I hadn’t noticed before—raw intelligence. Merodie Davies had a plan. I just didn’t know what it was.

12

Dark and menacing storm clouds were gathering at the horizon by the time we left Merodie, but they were far too distant to worry about. We were walking toward our cars on East Main Street.

“I don’t know what to do,” G. K. said.

“Merodie isn’t leaving us many options,” I said.

“I could use a drink. McKenzie, would you have dinner with me?”

The question was so abrupt that I stopped walking.

“I’m sober, clear-headed, and feeling no pain,” G. K. said. “At least not much.”

“I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

A look of disappointment flashed across her face. I liked the look. A woman disappointed because I was turning her down for a date—you bet I liked the look. I wished for a moment that Nina Truhler had seen it.

“Is it because we’re working together? Because I could fire you.”

“It’s not that. It’s . . .”

It’s Nina, dammit. Say it!

“Gen, the day we met, just hours before we met, I broke up with a woman—or I should say, she broke up with me. She was, she is—The thing is, I cared for this woman very much and I still do. The ego in me thought that the hole she left in my heart could easily be filled, but it just isn’t true. You could drive a truck through the hole, it’s that big. You’re very smart and very tough and very considerate and very beautiful, but in the end—I’d love to spend time with you, it would be time well worth spending, but in the end . . .”

“In the end I’d be the rebound girl,” G. K. said.

“Something like that.”

“And if the other girl called, you’d go running to her.”

“It’s not very fair to you.”

“At least you’re being honest. Most guys wouldn’t. Most guys would take advantage.”

“Don’t think I haven’t considered it.”

“I want to thank you anyway.”

“For what?”

“For all those ‘verys’ you recited before. Especially the very smart and very tough. I don’t always get credit for that.”

“I’m sorry, Gen.”

“Don’t be. But you know, McKenzie, if that hole you’re talking about ever shrinks to a manageable size—you know where I live.”

“Yes, I do.”

I didn’t feel like returning to an empty house, so after I left G. K., I grabbed some fast food—which wasn’t particularly fast and didn’t taste much like food—and drove over to the Coffee Grounds coffeehouse in Falcon Heights and bought myself a double café mocha. Real Book Jazz was onstage, and Stacy, the pretty college girl who was fronting the group, gave me a little wave as I claimed a small table in the back. She did this partly, I’m sure, because I was a fine figure of a man—just ask G. K.—but mostly because I have been known to stuff a fifty into the tip jar. I waved back.

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