I glanced up at Allen as I spoke. He didn’t so much as arch an eyebrow. I turned back to Dahlin.
“Allen can take care of himself,” he said, “as you will soon discover if you continue to involve yourself in matters that do not concern you.”
“What matters would those be?”
“I have absolutely no interest in your family—or you, either, for that matter.”
“In that case, I expect you to return my property.”
“The letters my mother wrote.”
“Actually, those letters belonged to your aunt’s daughter’s daughter. That would make her your what—second cousin?”
“A very silly girl,” Dahlin insisted.
“She’s not a silly girl. She’s a woman. I like her. I like her a great deal better than I like you—but why quibble?”
“Why quibble, indeed, Mr. McKenzie? I will pay you for the letters.”
“Ten thousand dollars.”
“That’s not much money,” I said. “Especially when you consider that people have died for them. Josh Berglund comes to mind.”
“Others could die as well.”
“A pretty good threat, Dahlin. Nice and subtle. Except it would only work if I was convinced that you were involved in Berglund’s murder. Are you saying that you were involved, Mr. Dahlin?”
“I most certainly am not saying that.” Dahlin glanced around as if he were looking for a TV camera.
“No, I wouldn’t imagine that you would.”
“I want those letters, McKenzie.”
“What makes you think that I have them?”
“I am aware that Mr. Berglund passed the letters on to you before he died and that both Ms. Petryk and Mr. Whitlow have made you offers to secure the letters.”
“Who told you that?” My eyes were fixed on Allen.
“So far you have resisted their entreaties,” Dahlin said. “Do not make that mistake with me.”
“What exactly are you afraid of, I wonder.”
“Do not be presumptuous, Mr. McKenzie.”
“It’s just that, from what I know, you seem to be going to a great deal of trouble for a not very good reason.”
“My reasons are my own.”
“Mr. Dahlin, are you aware that your father was blown up in a car in 1936 just weeks before you moved to St. Paul?”
Dahlin’s face grew tight and red and his eyes became alarmingly bright, even as his voice grew cold and colorless. “My father died in his sleep in February 1975, three months after my mother died in her sleep,” he said.
His response made me feel like a jerk. Dahlin was right. Whatever emotional wounds he was suffering because of his parentage belonged to him and him alone. I had no business picking at them.
“I apologize, sir. Allow me to rephrase the question? Are you aware that Brent Messer—”
“I didn’t even know he existed until three months ago,” Dahlin said.
“Do you believe that he was Frank Nash’s partner, that he was his fence?”
“It is all about the gold with you, isn’t it? The gold you people think is hidden in St. Paul.”
“Yes, it is.”
“The gold doesn’t exist.”
“You’re probably right. Still—”
“What can I do to convince you to walk away from this, this”—Dahlin gestured at the reflecting pool—“this silly wish? What’ll make you stop?”
“The arrest and conviction of Josh Berglund’s killer, for one.”
“I know nothing about that.”
“So you’ve said.”
He looked at me as though his eyes were focusing on something inside my head. He spoke very slowly. “I can break you, McKenzie.”
“No, I don’t think you can. I’m not some poor schnook who’s worried about feeding his family, paying his mortgage, sending his kids to school. You can’t take my job away or blackball me in my profession. Nor can you foreclose on my house, condemn my property, repossess my cars, or push me into bankruptcy. As for other, more subtle weapons that might be at your disposal, if you come after me, pal, you’ll find I have more than enough money and resources to fight back. You won’t like how I fight.”
“There are other ways, less subtle.”
Dahlin turned his head and watched Allen rise from his perch on the step. He turned it again to see how I would react as Allen slipped his hand under his coat and moved toward me. I don’t think he expected me to smile. When I did, Dahlin looked back to see Greg Schroeder pressing the business end of a .40 Glock into Allen’s ear.
“Can I shoot him?” he said. “Can I, can I, huh, huh?”
“What about it, Mr. Dahlin?” I said.
Dahlin seemed more disappointed than angry. “You made your point,” he said.
“You got guys with guns, I got guys with guns, and my guys are scarier than your guys.”