“Asshole, I’ll fuck you up.”

He opened the car door and slid out. He wore his jeans low on his hips so that the top three inches of his boxer shorts were visible. Yet it was the image on the front of his tight T-shirt that caused me to rethink my actions—a large blackhand print. In the palm of the hand were the numbers 937 resting on top of the letters eMe. The Black Hand of Death, an image usually associated with Sicilian gangsters, had long ago been appropriated by the Mexican Mafia—eMe spelled out the Spanish pronunciation of the letter M.

“Say cheese,” I said and took his photograph just the same.

“Give that back,” he demanded, as if my camera had stolen something precious from him.

He took a step toward me. When he did, I slipped the phone back into my pocket and took a step toward him, clenching my fists like I was ready to rumble. While he was sitting in the car, he was a machine yelling at a man. When he got out the situation changed. Now he was a man shouting at another man—a man who was bigger than he was. Doubt crept into his voice.

“Who d’ fuck you think y’are?” he asked.

“Who the fuck do you think you are?” I asked in return.

He didn’t answer. I gave it a beat and began edging away slowly. After a few steps, I turned my back to him and returned to the Audi. I gave him another look before sliding behind the steering wheel. He was talking on his own cell phone. It didn’t look like the conversation was going well.

I drove out of the restaurant’s parking lot and worked my way along a couple of narrow streets to County Road 19. The Impala caught up to me at the intersection. A thrill of fear rippled through my body as I watched the driver in my rearview while waiting for the light. I guessed that he was following someone’s orders—he didn’t look smart enough to be giving them himself. Whose, though? To do what?

Three possibilities came to mind. The first was to shoot me, but c’mon, I told myself, that’s a little melodramatic, don’t you think? Even the Mexican Mafia doesn’t kill without a reason, and I hadn’t done anything to anyone yet. The second was to find out who I was, except the driver could have accomplished that task the same way I intended to learn who he was—by running the license plate number of his car. There was a handful of Web sites more than willing to help for a fee. If they couldn’t, you could always hustle down to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety building in St. Paul and fill out a DVS Records Request Form. It cost all of $9.50.

The third possibility seemed more likely—the driver was told to follow me with the expectation that I might lead him to Navarre.

The light changed and I took a left, heading east along the section of the county highway that was called Smithtown Road into the City of Excelsior. Excelsior was approximately one square mile in size with a population of about 2,400. It was founded in 1853 to serve wealthy visitors from New York and Europe, and its numerous antique shops, specialty stores, restaurants, theaters, and B&Bs suggested that it hadn’t strayed far from its roots.

I stayed on Smithtown until it became Oak Street and hung a left at the Excelsior Elementary School to see if the Impala would follow. It did. So you’re not just being paranoid after all, my inner voice told me. Still, by the time I passed the Bird House Inn I had reached a conclusion. Either the kid was told not to lose me at any cost, which meant he didn’t care that I knew he was following, or he honestly didn’t realize I was onto him, which made him a pitiful amateur.

Either way, you cannot encourage or condone such sinister behavior, my inner voice said.

I turned right and worked my way back to the county road. I eased the Audi out of Excelsior, caught Highway 7, and drove east between St. Albans Bay and Christmas Lake. I found KBEM-FM on the radio, only they were playing a jazz version of Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird.” That would not do at all, I decided, so I fiddled with the MP3 player until I found Billy Idol’s cover of “Mony Mony.”

Now that’s traveling music.