“That’s fine, sir,” said the female officer. “We appreciate your cooperation.”
“Not at all, not at all,” said the man. He was smiling brightly. When he saw me, he turned up the wattage. “Mr. McKenzie? Would you be Rushmore McKenzie?”
“A true pleasure, sir.” He offered his hand. I didn’t take it. “I am Boston Whitlow. I’ve been searching oh so hard for you.”
“With a gun?” I said.
“An unfortunate misunderstanding, as I just finished explaining to the officers. I have since locked my handgun in the trunk of my vehicle—”
He tapped the roof of the Honda. “So you see, I am quite harmless.”
“Did you call in the complaint?” the female officer asked.
“That was me,” Jenness said. She had remained in the club until she saw me drive up. She explained that Whitlow had made her nervous earlier.
“Forgive me, dear lady,” Whitlow said. “I am mortified to have caused you alarm.”
“It’s okay,” Jenness said.
She looked at me, an expression of confusion on her face. I don’t know if she was unclear what to do next or if Whitlow’s language threw her off. Still, the cops were satisfied—“No harm, no foul,” the male officer said—and they went to their cars and drove off. That left the three of us standing in Rickie’s parking lot.
“So here we are,” Whitlow said.
“How ’bout that?” I said.
“Would you like to come in?” Jenness said. “We’re not open for business, but I have a pot of coffee brewing.”
Whitlow took Jenness’s hand and kissed her middle knuckle. “You are beyond kindness,” he said.
Jenness blushed. I had never seen her blush before. She kept blushing as we crossed the parking lot and entered the club. She found a table for us and filled two mugs from a glass decanter.
“I’m sorry I can only serve bar coffee,” Jenness said. “It’s not as tasty as our restaurant coffee. Our chef and cooks won’t be in for a while yet.”
“Nectar,” Whitlow said after taking a sip. “Pure nectar.” Jenness blushed some more. “However, I am afraid, dear lady, that like most men, I find you to be a sweet distraction, and Mr. McKenzie and I have business to discuss.”
“I’ll leave you, then.” Jenness gestured toward the bar. “I have work—if you need anything, I’ll be over here.”
“I thank you most heartily,” Whitlow said.
Jenness turned, walked smack into a table, glanced at Whitlow and smiled because Whitlow was smiling, and carefully threaded the rest of way to the bar and the office beyond. She looked back twice during the trip. Granted, Whitlow was a reasonably good-looking guy—did I mention that he was reasonably good-looking?—but still.
C’mon, girl, my inner voice said. Get a grip.
“Very attractive,” Whitlow said.
“Yeah, she’s a peach,” I said.
“Is she married? Is she seeing anyone?”
Oh, for cryin’ out loud, my inner voice said.
“What is it with you kids?” I said aloud. “Can’t any of you just get to the point?”
“I’m not a kid,” Whitlow said.
Ahh, geez. “You said you were looking for me. Here I am. What do you want?”
“I can see, sir, that you are a man of action. No walking in on little cat’s feet for you.”
“God help me, you’re another English major, aren’t you?”
“Why, sir, an excellent observation. I have a master’s from the University of Minnesota.”
“Do you know Heavenly Petryk and Josh Berglund, or is that a foolish question?”
“I am … acquainted with Ms. Petryk, certainly. I was aware of Mr. Berglund, but we had not met. It was tragic what happened to him. Tragic. Do you not agree?”
“I do indeed agree.”
“Still, I am reminded of the chorus employed by Kurt Vonnegut whenever he wrote a passage dealing with death.”
“‘So it goes,’ ” I said.
“You are familiar with his work.”
“Also with death. Tell me, Whitlow—”
“Boston, please. Call me Boston.”
“Tell me, Whitlow, where were you last night?”
Whitlow’s smile dimmed for a moment before returning to full wattage. “You are quite blunt,” he said.
“So are the cops.”
“Why would they be interested in me?”
“Because I’m going to tell them all about you.”
“What kind of gun do you carry?”
“My gun is locked—”
“What is it?”
“A … a .32, an Undercoverette they call it. Charter Arms.”
“That’s a revolver, isn’t it?”
“Berglund was killed with a revolver.”
That erased the smile from his face. “Mr. McKenzie, surely—” he began, then stopped. The smiled returned slowly. “You are deliberately attempting to provoke me.”
“Is that what I’m doing?”
“You believe it will give you the upper hand in our negotiations.”
I said nothing. Instead, I took a long sip of my coffee while my inner voice asked, Negotiations?
“I have a business proposition to lay before you,” Whitlow said.
“The letters—I wish to purchase them.”