“I told you I didn’t do it,” she said. “I told you, but you didn’t listen. You were my friend. You should have believed me.” She hung up before I could defend myself.
A few minutes later, she called back. “I’m sorry,” Ivy said. “You are my friend. You tried to look out for me, and I’m grateful. I really am. I only wish you would have believed me in the first place.”
“So do I,” I said.
She hung up again.
“I don’t blame Ivy for being upset,” Nina told me. She had a folded section of the morning St. Paul Pioneer Press that must have been important, because she kept waving it.
“I don’t, either,” I said.
“What about the gold?”
“Yeah, about that.”
I explained about Kathryn’s missing letter and the Guardian Life Insurance Building and the fact that it was all a pile of rubble somewhere—maybe the gold had been crushed along with the concrete, maybe it hadn’t. “Heavenly and Whitlow are probably searching landfills even as we speak, if you want to join them,” I said.
“I wonder,” Nina said.
“What do you wonder?”
“Does it have to be an office in a building where he worked? I mean, couldn’t it be an office in his home? A home office. I have one. You have one—sorta.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Remember in Kathryn’s letters she complained about the mausoleum that Messer built for her?” Nina slid the folded newspaper toward me. “The Ramsey County Historical Society is conducting tours today of a house at 337 Summit Avenue, her old address. Someone had turned it into apartments in the mid-seventies, but the new owners paid a lot of money to have it restored to its original condition and are letting the society use it for fund-raising.”
I scanned the article but was too dim to see Nina’s point. “What does that have to do—”
“McKenzie, look.” Nina pressed her forefinger on the fourth paragraph of the piece. “Here,” she said.
The Presswood House was named after Robert Presswood, the lumberman and state senator who lived there for over thirty-five years. Presswood bought the house in 1936 immediately following the death of the original owner, famed architect Brent Messer, who designed and built the house for his wife, Kathryn, in 1928 …
Summit Avenue had always been St. Paul’s showcase, its most prestigious address. It curved for four and a half miles from the St. Paul Cathedral to the World War I monument located in the tiny park where Summit met the Mississippi River, and it had been the home of many of the city’s most illustrious citizens, from railroad tycoon James J. Hill to F. Scott Fitzgerald. What made it unique was that it had managed to retain its essential personality throughout decades of urban renewal. The great mansions still stood and were lived in; the houses, churches, and schools that had been slowly added since the first home was built in 1855 had all been constructed with an eye toward preserving the avenue’s Victorian charm and integrity. Bicyclists, Rollerbladers, joggers, and strollers all moved more slowly on the avenue than on any other promenade; rubbernecking tourists snarled traffic. When you were on Summit, you could feel the pull of the city’s glorious past.
Take the Presswood House. Brent Messer built it on the bluff side of Summit Avenue overlooking the valley descending to the Mississippi River. There had been a fifty-year-old Italian villa on the property when Messer bought it. He tore it down to make room for the house he designed personally for his young bride. Instead of embracing the building styles favored by his contemporaries, Messer reached back to the late nineteenth century for a Romanesque motif, the same style as James J. Hill’s monumental residence. While Hill’s house was singularly unattractive—it reminded me of a medieval castle; all it needed was a moat—Messer managed to build a house that projected not only strength and stability but also delicacy and warmth.
That’s what I was thinking while Nina and I waited for the tour to begin. Unfortunately, we weren’t alone.
Boston Whitlow was already at the house by the time we arrived. He was leaning against one of the posts holding up the striped canopy that protected the front entrance—apparently the county attorney had decided not to hold him for lying to the cops. He didn’t speak, but I could read the obscenity in his eyes. Meanwhile, two middle-aged women armed with clipboards greeted us cheerfully. We had not reserved a place ahead of time, so we were asked to “donate” twenty bucks each for a ticket; the women made it clear that the event was a fund-raiser for the Ramsey County Historical Society. We were each given a gold sticker, with RCHS stamped in black, that we dutifully positioned above our breasts and were promised that there would be refreshments and hors d’oeuvres on the patio following the tour, along with a presentation by the architects and remodelers who restored the mansion.