“Does he spend a lot of time here?”
“More than a nonmember should, but—well, between Mrs. R and Ms. Riley Muehlenhaus Brodin”—she emphasized the name Muehlenhaus—“no one is going to say anything.”
“Has Navarre been around lately?”
“I haven’t seen him since Friday evening. He had dinner with Riley. I think they hit balls on the driving range, too.”
“Are you open to a bribe, Sarah?”
Her body tensed and her eyes glazed with hostility at my words, yet her smile remained unchanged.
“No, Mr. McKenzie, I am not,” she said. “Please don’t offer me one. I won’t like you if you do.”
“I apologize, Sarah.” I was speaking quickly because her good favor was suddenly very dear to me. “I meant no disrespect. Please forgive me.”
She tilted her head in a way that suggested she was willing but needed more incentive.
“Navarre has disappeared, and I need to find him,” I added. “I was hoping you would call if he shows up.”
Sarah took a deep breath and answered with the exhale. “I suppose I could do that. Navarre isn’t a member yet, so technically I wouldn’t be breaking any rules of confidentiality.”
“Are there rules of confidentiality?”
“A lot of people ask questions about our members; a lot of people would like to get the goods on them.”
“Mostly other members. Why are you looking for Navarre? Is it because he’s a phony?”
“What makes you say that?”
“Some of the richest people in Minnesota pass my desk. Many of them are friendly, many are kind and generous like Mrs. Rogers, and a lot of them aren’t. Yet none of them, not even Mrs. R, has ever tried to impress me. McKenzie, I’m a salaried employee. No one cares what I think, only that I do my job—for which I am handsomely compensated, I might add. Juan Carlos, though—from the very beginning he wanted me to know that he was wealthy, that he was connected, that he was worthy of my respect.”
“Could be he’s nouveau riche and doesn’t know how to handle it yet.”
“Except that doesn’t fit the story he tells everyone. Besides, like a man once said, it’s not the nouveau that matters, it’s the riche. If Juan Carlos has money, he got it yesterday.”
I drove only 4.7 miles, yet it took me nearly twenty minutes to reach Casa del Lago—such are the driving conditions on the narrow roads surrounding Lake Minnetonka. The restaurant had a large patio overlooking Gideon Bay with a low railing that kept patrons from falling over the edge into the water. A couple of dozen tables were strategically placed across the colorful bricks, each with a large blue and white umbrella that promoted Corona Extra when opened. The lunch crowd sitting at the tables was divided into two groups. Half were dressed like they had just stepped off the deck of one of the cabin cruisers and speedboats tied at the pier jutting into the lake. Half were dressed as if they had arrived in one of the luxury cars parked in the asphalt lot. There were a few cars that looked like they were driven by what my old man would have called “just folks.” Most of those were parked in the back of the lot, though, so I figured they belonged to the worker bees that managed the restaurant. I parked in the front row because, well, what did I have to be embarrassed about?
I stepped inside the restaurant. Someone had tried hard to make it appear like a Hollywood version of a Mexican hacienda, yet the all-white clientele and the neon Miller Lite and Dos Equis signs gave it away. The only thing that seemed authentic was the young woman who intercepted me at the door. She had long black hair and dark eyes and spoke with the soft accent of a woman who learned English in a house filled with people who spoke Spanish. Her name tag read MARIA.
“Table for one, or will you be joining other guests?” she asked.
“I’d like to speak to the owner, if he’s available,” I answered. She cocked her head at me as if unsure what to make of my question. “It’s a personal matter,” I added.
“If you care to wait at the bar,” she said.
Maria directed me toward the stick. I crawled up onto the stool while she disappeared behind a door marked AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. The bartender hurried over, and I ordered a Summit Pale Ale. He was quick in drawing it for me.
A few moments later, an older man dressed for yachting—not boating, yachting—joined me. He climbed the stool two down from mine and nodded. “Hey,” I said, just to be polite. He ordered Glenlivet with one nice ice cube, whatever that meant. After he was served, he rolled up his sleeves as if drinking were serious work.
“Not many warm days left like this one,” he said.
“No, not many,” I agreed. In Minnesota, September and October are the best months of the year. Unfortunately, November and December soon follow.
“Yeah, that’s why I gotta start thinkin’ about gettin’ my boat outta the water. Once it gets cold it can be such a bitch.”