“Our names?”

“Boston and I. We had been partners at one time. Dahlin met us in his office; he has an office in downtown Minneapolis. He hired us to research and write a business book, one of those self-congratulatory I’m-rich-and-you’d-be-rich-too-if-you-were-as-smart-as-I-am books that he would publish under his own name. Dahlin seemed like a nice enough man, funny, kept telling us to call him Tim; certainly he paid well. He made us sign a confidentiality agreement promising that we would never disclose that the book was ghostwritten, that he didn’t actually write a word. That’s standard. Most of these kinds of books, autobiographies by celebrities, athletes, businessmen, politicians, what have you, they’re ghostwritten. Sometimes the subject admits they had help. Sometimes their ego won’t permit it. ’Course, Boston and I knew going in what the deal was, so we had no complaints.


“Part of Dahlin’s legend, what he told people all his life, was that he was born on a French ocean liner in the middle of the Atlantic during a hurricane on July 23, 1934, while his parents—they were both Americans—were traveling back to the United States. According to the legend, his parents met in France, married, lived there for a while, but wanted their son to be born on American soil. Somehow he thought this story was special. Maybe it is. Certainly it’s different. For purposes of the book, we researched the event, tried to find out the name of the ship, the name of the captain, how bad the storm was, that sort of thing. Instead, we discovered that Dahlin was actually born in a Paris hospital. Now get this—he was born on February 23, 1934, not in July. Only Dahlin didn’t know that. He didn’t make up the story. His parents did.”

“Why?” I asked.

“That’s what Boston and I wanted to know, so we kept digging. We discovered that Dahlin’s mother was originally named Kathryn Messer. Mrs. Kathryn Messer. She had been married to—”

“Brent Messer, the architect from St. Paul,” I said.

“Exactly. Supposedly she went on a European vacation—alone—in mid-June 1933. She traveled to Paris, where she soon met another expatriate, a man named James Dahlin.”

“Where have I heard that name before?”

“Jim Dahlin Homes. For a long time he was the largest builder of houses in the greater Twin Cities. His billboards were everywhere. Jim Dahlin, as coincidence would have it, was from St. Paul. He just happened to be vacationing in Europe when Kathryn was there. Boston believes that they knew each other in St. Paul, that they had an affair and arranged to meet in Paris. That sounds a little too Barbara Cartland for me. Anyway, it’s just speculation, or wishful thinking, depending on how you look at it. In any case, Kathryn divorced Brent Messer in late September of 1933, married Jim Dahlin in early October, announced the birth of a child in July 1934, moved to New York in the same month, and lived there until they returned to St. Paul in September of 1936.”

“Dahlin’s parents changed his birthday,” I said. “They changed it from February to July, so everyone—including Messer—would believe that he was Dahlin’s son and not Messer’s son.”

“Tim was very angry when he learned that,” Heavenly said. “He told us we were wrong, told us we were incompetent, told us we were liars even after we laid it out for him.”

-- Advertisement --

“I could see how it might be a shock to the man, especially after all these years.”

“So did we. That’s why Boston and I didn’t resign. Instead, with Dahlin’s permission if not his good wishes, we started to research Brent Messer. He was a well-regarded architect. A prominent builder. Had a lot of political connections. He built the Public Safety Building, among other things. Then we found a short piece that appeared in the St. Paul Daily News that said he and Kathryn had been seen partying with the”—Heavenly quoted the air—“ ‘notorious Oklahoma gunman Frank Nash.’ That seemed colorful to us, and that’s what you look for in these kinds of books, color, so we pursued it. Eventually, our research led us to a story that appeared in the Huron Plainsman detailing the robbery of the Farmers and Merchants Bank. We came to believe that that was what Nash and the Messers were celebrating at the Boulevards of Paris nightclub, Nash’s big score. Boston and I reported all this to Dahlin. He thought about it for a few moments, reminded us that we had signed an ironclad confidentiality agreement, and fired us.”

“None of what you discovered fit his image of himself,” I said.

-- Advertisement --