“No, it’s not. Pen, it isn’t all right. I’ll take you back to New York. I promise I will. I’ve made a mess of some things out here and I have to clean it up before I go, but I’ll take you home, I promise. I’ll write my letter of resignation right now, if you want. I’ll tell the FBI, transfer me back to New York or I quit. There’s a lot of other things I can do. I could make a lot more money, too.”
“Money’s not important. What’s important is that we’re together. That we love each other.”
I went to the desk and switched off the receiver.
I didn’t believe a word that Sykora had said, and I was amazed that Pen did. She seemed smarter than that.
I left the room, left the motel, and crossed Central Avenue. The air was cold, and the wind blowing in my face had an edge to it. Lights reflected off the wet pavement, and I deliberately walked down residential streets that were darker and quieter to avoid them. I traveled twenty minutes in one direction, then fifteen in another before stopping. I rested my hands on my hips and stared straight up at the night sky. A solitary dot of light moved in a straight line among the bright stars, and I thought of the International Space Station, flashed on all those glorious photographs taken of Earth from space. The world looked quite spectacular when seen from a distance. It’s only when you get up close that it loses its appeal, and I was way too close. I had lost perspective.
“Step back,” I said aloud. “Step back and look at the big picture.”
And I did, literally, stepping backward three paces while looking up at the night sky.
Now what do you see?
“Steve Sykora’s future. He messed up my life. Now I’m going to mess up his.”
Of course, jealousy had nothing to do with it.
Sunday morning. I slid open the window of the motel room, and the wind stirred the lace curtains like a skirt. I flashed on Pen’s rose-colored dress. I could feel the warm pressure of her body against mine, taste her lips and smell the fragrance of her rain-soaked hair.
It occurred to me that I might be insane, and I wondered briefly what Dr. Jillian deMarais would say.
You’re obsessing over a woman you barely know, who’s made it clear she doesn’t want to know you. What are you, nuts?
Good question. What would you advise, Doctor?
McKenzie, you need to get out more.
Sounds like a plan to me.
Sykora had vowed to spend the day fulfilling each and every one of Pen’s whims, which mostly involved cultural pursuits—the Walker Sculpture Garden, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Minnesota Historical Society. Meanwhile, I sought enlightenment of a different sort.
I drove to a gas station that had one of those drive-up pay telephones you can operate from your car and pumped two quarters into the slot. I called Jeannie Shipman, Bobby Dunston’s “young, beautiful, smart-as-hell partner” at the St. Paul Police Department, although I don’t think he calls her that anymore. For the briefest period of time, Bobby had contemplated having an affair with her, but cooler heads prevailed.
“McKenzie,” she said after I identified myself. “There are people looking for you.”
“Are they looking hard?”
“I couldn’t say about anyone else, but we’re not.”
“I appreciate that.”
“Why are you calling me?”
“I forgot Bobby Dunston’s extension number.”
“Uh-huh. Well, why don’t I wave him over. Just in case his phone is tapped.”
“If I’m so wonderful, how come you never ask me out?”
“Because you’re way too good for the likes of me.”
Jeannie snickered. “One day I hope to have a friend as close as you and Bobby are. Hang on.”
A moment later, Bobby was on the phone.
“You sonuvabitch,” he said.
Yeah, me and Bobby were like this.
“Don’t call me that,” I told him.
“I could kill you.”
“What did I do?”
“How ’bout that scene you played on my patio the other night?”
“The scene where you gave my wife all of your worldly possessions—your fucking last will and testament—and said good-bye.”
“I didn’t say good-bye. I said good night.”
“You said good-bye.”
“I didn’t say—did I really?”
“Yes, you did, really, and now Shelby’s all shook up wondering what’s happened to you. ‘Is McKenzie all right?’ ‘Have you heard from McKenzie?’ And another thing, pal—where do you get off buying my wife a sports car?”
“Are you kidding? The only way she gets a sports car is if I’m dead.”
“You jealous bastard. How ’bout if I amend the policy so you both get sports cars? And the kids, too?”
“That would be much better, thank you.”
“Fine. I’ll take care of it when I get back.”
“So you are coming back.”
“That’s the plan.”
“Where are you now?”
“Bobby, you don’t want to know where I am now.”
“That’s true. But where are you?”
“All right, all right.” I heard the exertion Bobby put into sitting down. He said, “So, how’s it going?”
“Not bad. Could be better.”
“Are you playing nice with the other children?”
“They’re all being mean to me.”