I found the Civic near the front entrance when I arrived; the Trailblazer was across the parking lot. Both vehicles were empty. I parked my Audi between them and went inside.
For a long time I thought Rickie’s was named after Rick’s Café Américain from the movie Casablanca. It was actually named for Erica, the daughter of the take-your-breath-away owner—at least Nina Truhler always took my breath away. The club was located on Selby Avenue just down the road from the St. Paul Cathedral and had a solid reputation for presenting the best up-and-coming and lesser-known jazz acts in its elegant upstairs dining room. At the same time, the downstairs portion of the club resembled one of your more comfortable neighborhood bars. It had a small stage, yet most of the music came from CDs that Nina burned herself.
Frank Sinatra was covering “Mood Indigo” from half a dozen hidden speakers as I made my way to the bar—Nina loved Sinatra. Nina’s assistant manager was standing behind it. “McKenzie,” she said.
“Hey, Jen,” I said. I sat on a cushioned stool. “How was brunch?”
“Good. A lot of churchgoers from the cathedral. We finished serving an hour ago. Are you here to see Nina? She’s in the office. Do you want me to tell her you’re here?”
That caused her to arch an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“I have things to do,” I said. That didn’t lower the eyebrow. Jenness Crawford knew me too well.
“Summit Ale?” she asked. Summit was my favorite beer, brewed in St. Paul, my hometown, thank you very much.
“Please,” I said.
While she poured it from the tap, I surveyed the room. Ivy and Berglund were sitting at a table near the stage and drinking hard lemonades. They hadn’t changed much since I saw them last. Berglund still wore a severe expression, while Ivy’s face was flushed with excitement. Both had turned in their seats and were watching me intently. Could they possibly be any more obvious? my inner voice asked.
A man matching the description that the sarge gave me was sitting with a companion near the door. He was supposed to be twenty-two, yet they both looked young enough to eat off the children’s menu at Denny’s. They were sucking on bottles of light beer—I knew they were tough because neither used a glass. Occasionally they would throw a glance at Ivy and Berglund, only they never held it long. Amateurs, I thought. They were both wearing windbreakers; the driver’s was green and had the logo of the Minnesota Wild hockey team, while his pal wore the colors of the Minnesota Timberwolves basketball team. It was about seventy degrees outside, a bit warm for the Twin Cities in the first week of May, and warmer still inside Rickie’s, so I figured the jackets were meant to conceal their handguns.
Jenness set the Summit on a coaster in front of me. I ignored it, rising from the stool. She must have seen something in my face because she asked, “What are you going to do?”
“Relax,” I said. I doubt that she did.
I was about ten steps from the table when he saw me coming. “Ted?” I shouted. “Ted? How the hell are you, man? You still driving that piece-of-crap Chevy?”
He glanced at his partner, then back at me. “Do I know you?”
“What do you mean, ‘Do I know you?’ How can you say that after all we’ve been through together? Hey, man, who’s your girlfriend?”
Ted’s partner didn’t like the insult. “Who the fuck are you?” he said.
“Easy, Wally,” Ted said.
“Yeah, Wally.” I slapped him hard on his shoulder. “We’re all friends here.”
“Friends?” Ted said.
“Sure. I came over to do you guys a big favor.”
“What favor?” asked Wally.
I placed both my hands on the table and leaned in. They leaned in, too, as if we were about to share a secret. I forced my voice to drop a few octaves, tried to make it sound menacing.
“The favor is this—I’m going to let you both walk out of here in one piece. All you have to do is promise to quit following my friends. They don’t like being stalked by a couple of amateur goons. I don’t like it, either. It stops. Now. Drink your beers. Move along. If I see you again—you really don’t want me to see you again.”
Wally pushed his chair back from the table as if he were about to leap out of it. He opened his windbreaker and gave me a good look at the gun in the holster on his left hip, positioned for a quick cross-draw. He smirked and said, “Am I supposed to be afraid of you?”
“Yes, you are. Didn’t I sound scary just now?”
He moved his hand until his fingers were brushing the butt of the gun. He watched my face, wondering what I was going to do. When I did nothing, he began to drum a monotonous rhythm on the wood grip. I was perfectly willing to let it slide, but when I asked, “Would you really pull a gun on me?” Wally wrapped his fingers around the butt and smirked.
I turned to Ted. “Is he really going to pull a gun on me?”