Heavenly lived in a duplex on Fifth Street, not far from the Minneapolis campus of the University of Minnesota and only a stone’s throw from the I-35W bridge that fell into the Mississippi River. I had crossed the bridge myself only ten minutes before it collapsed on my way to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome to watch the Twins play the Kansas City Royals. I didn’t even know it went down until the PA announcer asked for a moment of silence just before the game. I was astonished by the news and, despite the overwhelming evidence, couldn’t make myself believe it actually happened until I snuck over to the site a couple of days later to see for myself the twisted metal, smashed concrete, and battered vehicles still in the water. Bridges don’t fall, I kept telling myself. You’d think a guy who lived the way I did would know better; still, I couldn’t get my head around it.
News coverage was wall-to-wall for several days, of course. Seven stations including CNN and Fox rushed crews to the scene. The pictures they broadcast were almost as astonishing to me as the collapse itself—literally dozens of courageous people rushing onto the broken pieces of the interstate and bridge to aid the injured. Not just first responders, who are trained to run toward a disaster while others are running away. Ordinary people. Men and women who just happened to be at hand when the bridge fell. My favorite was the softball player who lived in an apartment building overlooking the river. He was putting on his uniform when he glanced out of his window and saw the bridge go down. He forgot about his game, left the apartment—he didn’t even bother to close his door—jogged to the bridge, and began assisting whomever he could, including a bunch of kids trapped on a school bus. Later, a reporter stuck a microphone in his face and asked, “Why did you do it?” as if he had committed a crime.
“People needed help. I was here,” he said and then shrugged at the camera and said, “Sorry.”
“He should be sorry,” Nina said at the time. Her eyes were glistening with tears. “Getting caught doing good, what was he thinking? Doesn’t he know that up here in stoic Minnesota acts of heroism and compassion are expected to remain anonymous?”
I was never so proud to be a Minnesotan as on the day the bridge collapsed. Hell, it took nearly a week before politicians started pointing fingers at each other.
Still, a replacement bridge hadn’t yet been erected, and that made rush hour traffic iffy at best. It took me nearly twenty minutes to drive the half-dozen miles from my place to Heavenly’s duplex. The porch was a concrete slab beneath a flat roof held aloft by two wooden supports. There were two doors. Heavenly opened the one on the left before I had a chance to knock. From the eagerness of her greeting, I gathered she hadn’t been all that sure I would come.
“Thank you, McKenzie. Thank you,” she said and pulled me inside. She closed and locked the door only after looking both right and left, as if she were afraid I was being followed.
She repeated what she’d told me earlier, claiming that she didn’t know the men and was confused about what they wanted. “This business with Josh and now Mr. Dahlin—I was so frightened,” Heavenly said. “Then I thought about what you said and I was even more afraid. My mother, when I was a girl—pretty attracts evil, she told me. Do you believe that? Pretty attracts evil?”
She was wearing tight low-waisted jeans with a lacy cherry-colored form-fitting T-shirt that revealed her flat stomach each time she raised her arms. She did indeed look pretty, yet it was my experience that men don’t attack women because they’re pretty. They attack them because they’re women.
Heavenly was twisting a magazine in her hands that she had rolled up into a stiff rod, a formidable weapon, although I doubted that she realized it. I took the magazine—of course it was Cosmo—and led her to a chair. She was trembling.
“Can I get you anything?” I said. “Water?”
I made a move for the kitchen, but she grabbed my arm with both of her hands and held it the way she had the magazine. I patted her hands and said, “Heavenly, it’s okay.” She stared into my face with those amazing blue eyes, nodded as if she saw something there that reassured her, and released my arm. I went into the kitchen and drew a glass of water from the tap. While I was there I took a look at the back door. It had a cheap lock that your average juvenile delinquent could pop with a student ID.
I returned to Heavenly’s side with the water. While she drank it I told her, “I doubt it’ll make you feel any better, but I don’t think those two guys wanted to do anything more than frighten you.”
“You’re right. It doesn’t make me feel any better.”
She finished the water and handed the glass back.
“More?” I asked.
She shook her head, and I set the glass on an end table. The living room was furnished out of the JCPenney Sunday flyer and didn’t seem to fit Heavenly’s personality—but hey, at least she had living room furniture. The room was small, and so was the dining room. The kitchen was off to the side through a narrow doorway; you couldn’t see inside it from the other rooms.
“How long have you been here?” I asked.
“Couple of years. Boston and I—” Heavenly looked up and to her right as if she were remembering something important. “Most of the furniture is his. I don’t know why he never came back to claim it.”
“Maybe he’s hoping you’ll reconcile,” I said.
Heavenly shook her head as if she couldn’t imagine the possibility.
“Before you called me,” I said, “did you think of calling him? Did you think of calling him first?”
She didn’t answer.