“Sometimes it seems like my entire life has been one of those days,” I said.
The bartender was too busy to chat and shuffled down the stick to serve other customers. Just as well, for I had nothing to say to him. I glanced up at the walls, although I couldn’t tell you why. Nina forbade TVs in her place, so there was no ESPN or Fox Sports to watch. Also just as well. The Twins were off to a slow start. As for the Wild and Timberwolves, let’s just say they had just finished up what had been long seasons and let it go at that. Actually, make that very long seasons. I took another slug of Jack followed by a sip of water.
A moment later Nina was standing across the bar from me, balancing a coffee mug by the handle. “From your expression, I’m guessing you didn’t find the gold,” she said.
“Remember when I told you that this wasn’t about righting the wrongs of the world, that it was just for fun?”
“Could be I spoke too soon.”
“You’d think picking up eight million dollars in gold bullion wouldn’t be such a trial.”
“Just goes to show how mistaken a guy can be.”
Nina pointed her mug at the Jack Daniel’s. “Are you going to have many more of those?” she asked.
“That depends. Are you coming over tonight?”
“I could be talked into it. In fact—”
Before she could finish, Heavenly Petryk shoved her way between me and the guy sitting on the stool next to mine, a wine cooler leading the way. “McKenzie, I need to talk to you,” she said.
“So important you can’t be polite?” I said. “You can’t say, ‘Excuse me’? You can’t say, ‘Sorry to interrupt, McKenzie, how was your day, McKenzie, has anyone threatened your life since I saw you last, McKenzie?’ ”
Heavenly looked at me as if I were speaking a language she had never heard before. “I’ve been anxious to hear what Dahlin said,” she told me. “What did he say?”
“Yes, McKenzie,” Nina said. “Tell us.”
Heavenly scowled at Nina; it was the first time she acknowledged her existence. They locked eyes, and for a moment I was reminded of a painting I had once seen at the Minneapolis Institute of Art—two samurai about to strike. I gestured from one woman to the other.
“Nina, Heavenly; Heavenly, Nina.”
“Oh?” Heavenly regarded Nina carefully from across the stick. “You’re much younger than I’d thought you’d be,” she said. “ ’Course, it’s hard to tell in this light.”
Nina’s smile didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“Heavenly,” she said. “What a charming name. It’s clear to see your parents had a sense of humor.”
I drank the rest of the Jack in one gulp. I was glad for the way it burned all the way down. It kept me from smiling; it kept me from laughing. Do either, my inner voice said, and you will probably pay with your life.
“McKenzie says he’ll only get involved with women who have voted in—how many elections, ten? Isn’t that cute?”
I waved at the bartender for another round.
Nina said, “Yes, it is cute. By the way that’s presidential elections, dear. American Idol doesn’t count.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Heavenly said. “I don’t watch TV. I read books. You must have seen a few when you were a little girl.”
“McKenzie told me you were an English major. That’s all right. A girl as pretty as you doesn’t need a real major to get an M.R.S.”
The bartender poured the whiskey just in time.
“Tell me, Nina, how long have you been a waitress?” Heavenly asked.
“Since about nine years ago when I first opened the doors. How long have you been a bimbo—oops, I meant blonde.”
Heavenly cocked her head as if she had just heard something interesting. “You own this place?” she said.
“Most of it,” Nina said. “The bank still owns a small piece.”
“Really? It’s very nice.”
Nina seemed surprised by the compliment. “Thank you,” she said. She glanced at me and shrugged.
“It must have been hard, building all this,” Heavenly said.
“It had its moments,” Nina said.
“Did it help or hurt that you’re pretty?”
Heavenly nodded as if that one word spoke volumes. “It’s tricky to be a blonde and get respect,” she said.
“It’s tricky to be a woman and get respect,” Nina said.
Heavenly saluted Nina with her wine cooler. Nina returned it with her coffee mug.
How ’bout that, my inner voice said. A truce.
“I only hope I’m doing as well as you when I’m your age,” Heavenly said.
“I can see that you and your hair have been through a lot already,” Nina said.
Or maybe not.
“I would like to speak to McKenzie,” Heavenly said.
“Go ’head,” Nina said.
“Why? McKenzie is only going to tell me everything you say later. Won’t you, McKenzie?” “Oh, boy,” I said.
“Will you, McKenzie?” Heavenly asked. “Probably.”
“I thought we were partners.”