“Yeah, well, there are partners and then there are partners. What do you want, Heavenly?”
“I want to know what Tim Dahlin said.”
“He said if I don’t lay off he’s going to make my life a living hell.”
“He said that?”
“Words to that effect, yeah.”
“Did he say anything about me?”
“Truth be told—no. The only time your name came up is when he mentioned that he knew you had made me an offer for the letters. How did Dahlin know that?”
“I don’t know,” Heavenly said.
“Neither do I.”
“Do you think he’s been following me?”
“Why not? He’s been following me.”
Heavenly turned and surveyed the club. Her eyes were wide and bright, and her bottom lip trembled just so. I wondered if she practiced or if the look came naturally.
“I’m frightened,” she said.
“How can you sit there drinking at a time like this?”
“Can you think of a better time?”
She gestured toward the door. “He could be out there,” she said. “He could be planning—who knows what he could be planning?”
“Heavenly, Dahlin cares only about the letters. You don’t have them, and he knows it. He isn’t going to bother you.”
“Do you have the letters?”
“Go home, Heavenly.”
“What are you going to do?”
“That depends on how soon you leave.”
I smiled at Nina, and she smiled back. Heavenly took note of both smiles and shook her head in disgust. “I don’t believe it,” she said. She slammed her wine cooler on the bar top, turned, and tramped from the club. Nina and I both watched her until she was out the door, although I suspect I enjoyed the sight more than Nina did. I turned back to find that she was now staring at me.
“Ten presidential elections?” Nina said.
“Four. I said four.”
“I remember when it was three.”
“Yes, well, we’re both getting older.”
“Speak for yourself.”
“Did I say older? I meant more mature.”
Nina crossed her arms over her chest and sighed dramatically.
“Did I say more mature? I meant—never mind. Are you coming over later?”
“I don’t know. A woman my age …”
“I’ll put on a pot of oatmeal and chill some prune juice.”
“How can I resist? I should be able to sneak out in about an hour.”
“Make it two. I need to run an errand first.”
According to his business card, Boston Whitlow lived in an apartment above a women’s clothing store in a bustling Minneapolis neighborhood called Cedar-Riverside. A hundred years ago it was known as Snoose Boulevard—I have no idea why—and was home to the Scandinavian immigrants that worked the mills and lumberyards along the Mississippi River. It now had probably the most diverse population in the Twin Cities. About seventy-five hundred people lived in the immediate area. Two-thirds were black, Native American, Hispanic, Asian, or some other minority; two-thirds were under the age of forty. When I was a kid, Cedar-Riverside was claimed by hippies, pseudo-intellectuals, poets, musicians, actors, artists, and activists of every persuasion, and it seems as if they never left. Stand at the busy intersection that inspired the neighborhood’s name and look for yourself. It has some of the best people-watching in the Twin Cities. It also has some of the worst parking. It was past nine and most of the shops and stores were closed, but the theaters, clubs, bars, and cafés were still humming. Which is why I was forced to plug a meter nearly a block and a half away from Whitlow’s place.
The entrance was jammed between the clothing store and a boutique that sold the most outrageous hats I had ever seen. The apartment itself was at the summit of a long flight of wooden stairs. There was a light at the bottom of the stairs and another at the top. I licked my fingers and unscrewed the bulb at the top as soon as I reached it, hiding in the shadows.
On the drive over, I had contemplated the various ways I could deal with Whitlow. Trickery came to mind. So did outright lying. I even considered the assorted handguns I have stashed in the safe embedded in the floor of my basement—after all, Whitlow was armed. Carried an Undercoverette, of all things. In the end, I decided there was nothing like the direct approach. So I rapped on Whitlow’s door. He looked through the spy hole, but, of course, he couldn’t see me. He did a foolish thing, a Minnesota-nice thing—he opened the door. A sliver of light appeared between the door and the frame as he peeked out. “Can I help you?” he said. I could see there was no chain, so I rammed the door hard with my shoulder. It flung open, knocking Whitlow backward but not down.
“McKenzie,” he said.
I snapped a fist deep into his solar plexus. That knocked the wind out of him. He covered up and dropped to his knees.
I closed and locked the door and went to Whitlow’s side. I squatted next to him. He didn’t want to look at me, so I gave his cheek a gentle slap.