“Life is pretty much in the streets in a trailer park,” Pen said. “A mobile home isn’t very big. There’s not much room for socializing, and sometimes the walls can get awfully close, so you spend a lot of time outside. And because we live just a few feet from each other, there’s not much privacy. You have to be neighborly to get by. Steve’s not. I suppose it’s an occupational hazard, being suspicious all the time. But I like people. I didn’t know how much I liked them until I moved here and really got to know a few.

“This is Jerry’s place—a different Jerry,” she said as we walked past a dark brown trailer. “This Jerry makes sculptures out of beer bottles and beer cans.”


“Does he empty them himself?”

“Sometimes his neighbors help.” Pen chuckled mischievously. “Sometimes we help way more than we should.” Her fingers closed around my wrist. “I heard Jerry’s starting a new project. If you’re interested, we can drop by later and see if he could use some assistance.”

She released my wrist and I wondered if she was flirting with me, decided she wasn’t, but maybe she was, then again …

We came to a gentle hill. At the bottom of the hill was a small park with swings, slides, monkey bars, and teeter-totters.

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Pen said, “Everyone in the city pitched in to build this.”

She broke into a trot. When she reached the park, she dropped her bag, kicked off her sandals, and ran barefoot to the swing. She had it going pretty well by the time I reached her. I watched as Pen stretched her long legs toward the sky, tucked them under her seat as she swung back, then stretched them out again, gaining altitude and smiling at me. I wondered again if she was flirting, decided she was, and suddenly I wanted to swing, too. I wanted to be that kid again who hung out at Merriam Park and played hockey and baseball and trifled with high school girls and who didn’t have a care in the world except passing advanced physics. I wanted to go to pep rallies and mixers and keggers down at the river. I wanted to take Pen to the prom …

Stop it, McKenzie, my inner voice admonished. Get your head in the game.

“You said your husband is with the FBI,” I told Pen.

“Yes,” she replied in full swing. “Steve was one of the lead agents on an organized crime task force. But since 9/11 the bureau has been dedicating more and more resources to fighting terrorism at the expense of everything else. Steve is really upset about it. I guess most of the field officers are, too. They want to keep solving traditional federal crimes—bank robberies, drug trafficking, kidnappings. But the politicians at the top, they want to reinvent the bureau to reflect the current political climate. At least that’s how Steve sees it. Anyway, they shut down the task force and sent us to Minneapolis. Steve says it’s temporary, that’ll we’ll be going back to New York any day now. If we don’t …”

Pen slowed to a stop.

“Trailer life is okay. But I want a house. I want to live in a real, honest-to-God house, with a garden and a rope swing in the backyard for the kids and thick green grass that you can walk on without shoes. We couldn’t have that in New York City, but we can have it here and that’s what I want. You’re not going to write that down, are you?”

I glanced at the notebook in my hand.

“Nah,” I said.

Pen laughed again.

“Ruth wouldn’t like it. She was one of the founding residents of Hilltop.”

“She was living here in 1956?” I said, remembering the Trailer Park article I had read in the library.

“When the city incorporated, yes. You’ve been doing your homework.”

“Of course. I’m a professional.”

I wondered briefly if there really was such a thing as a born liar and if I fit that classification. But I summarily dismissed the question from my head. It took years of practice to reach my level of competence. I wasn’t a born liar, I was a self-made man.

We left the park and continued walking. Pen smiled for no particular reason. Shelby often would smile like that, smile as though someone had told her the most amusing tale. I asked her about it once. “Why do you smile so?” She said, “McKenzie, you can be such a drip sometimes,” which I later took to mean, “Why shouldn’t I smile?” Shelby was a happy woman, and I decided Pen was, too.

“Something else I want,” Pen said.

“What’s that?”

“I want my car back. I have a Mustang convertible with a 193-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 engine and five-speed manual transmission. I love that car, only I never get to drive it. Steve’s always taking it. In New York owning a car is a self-indulgence. Most of the money I earned went toward keeping it in a garage. But out here it’s a necessity. Everything is so spread out. Mass transit is a joke. You can’t hail a cab to save your life. I really miss Matilda.”

“You named your car Matilda?”


“Matilda the Mustang.”

“You don’t name your cars?”

“Well, no.”

She looked at me like she had just discovered a disturbing flaw in my character.

“Anyway, I want Matilda back. She’s mine. I bought her.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a songwriter.”

“No kidding.”

“Amazing, isn’t it?”

“I didn’t mean it that way.”

“I did. I am constantly amazed that I make money doing this. Not a lot of money, but all it takes is one hit and you’re on your way.”

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