“Umm, Mr. McKenzie?”
It was a woman’s voice, sounding tentative and unsure, and I figured that was my fault, so to make up for it I said, “Yes, it is. How may I help you?” as cheerfully as I could.
“I don’t know that you can. I was asked to call you. I’m not sure why.”
No, not a woman’s voice—a girl’s. It had a kind of raspy quality as if she had just finished crying.
“Who asked you to call me?” I said.
“Josh Berglund. He … yesterday he told me … we spoke … Josh said …”
She paused for a moment to gather her thoughts. When the moment stretched into half a minute I said, “Miss?”
“I’m sorry—it’s just… it hasn’t been a good day for me. I just learned that Josh was … a little while ago I learned that he … that he was killed, and I still … I can’t believe it happened. They say—the reporter on the news—the TV was on at the Life Center and I glanced at it …”
She paused again. This time I filled the silence by asking questions, trying to draw her out.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“That’s a pretty name. Are you Italian?”
“Half Italian, half Irish.”
“You said Life Center before, what’s that?”
“The Community Life Center in Benson Great Hall. It’s a kind of student center.”
“You’re a student?”
“Yes. At Bethel University.”
“What are you taking?”
“I’m thinking about economics, but I’m still a freshman, so I have time before I declare a major.”
Now for the tough questions, my inner voice said.
“How did you know Berglund?” I asked.
“I met him at the nursing home,” Genevieve said. “I volunteer at the nursing home, and he came to interview Uncle Mike and we—he and I—we became … He was very kind to Mike. I can’t believe he’s gone.”
The catch in her voice almost brought me to tears.
“You said he told you to call me,” I reminded her.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“I’m not… I don’t know.”
“What did he say?”
“He called me. Called me on my cell. He said he was in a hurry. He said things were happening quickly, but he didn’t say what things. I asked, but he didn’t say. Now I see—I saw on TV that he was killed. I don’t know what to do.”
“Genevieve, he gave you my name, right?”
“Yes. He gave me your name and phone number. He said if anything should happen to him—he didn’t say what could happen, but he said if anything happened I should call you.”
“Why?” I asked again. I was becoming more and more annoyed that Genevieve wouldn’t just spit it out, yet at the same time I was trying to sound sympathetic to keep her talking. “What did he want you to tell me?”
“He wanted me to tell you not to let—he said ‘bastards …’ ” She spoke the word as if she were afraid of it. “He said not to let the bastards get it.”
“What bastards? Who was he referring to?”
“He didn’t say.”
“What did he not want the bastards to get?”
“He didn’t say. Mr. McKenzie, I asked, but he laughed like it was a joke. Like it was a riddle.”
“Genevieve, may I see you?”
“Now? No. No. Not—no. Not tonight. Not—not in person. I can’t see anyone. I can’t—”
“Tomorrow, then? Can I see you tomorrow?”
“I suppose. Yes. I don’t have classes until … I don’t know if I’m going to go to class.”
I asked for her phone number, and Genevieve managed to get it out. I asked where she would like to meet; I said the earlier the better. She told me that freshmen aren’t allowed to keep cars on campus and she didn’t want to leave the school grounds anyway. I certainly couldn’t blame her for that. After all, she was meeting a stranger who might or might not have been involved in the killing of someone she obviously cared for. She suggested I meet her at 10:00 A.M. outside Benson Great Hall. It was just inside the gate on the left. She said that I couldn’t miss it. I told her she was welcome to bring friends. She thanked me and said she was sure she would be okay.
I tried to ask her a few more questions, but the few minutes she had invested in our conversation seemed to have exhausted her.
“I’m sorry, Mr. McKenzie,” she said. “I can’t talk anymore.”