“You aren’t worried about social fallout from Riley’s involvement with that immigrant,” I said.
“Hmmph,” Muehlenhaus said.
Mrs. Muehlenhaus smiled, but not much.
“We don’t concern ourselves with such matters,” she said.
“Look, kids,” I said, adding the “kids” to annoy Mr. Muehlenhaus some more. “The young lady asked me to find her boyfriend who’s gone missing. When I do, I’m supposed to deliver a simple message. That’s it. If along the way I find evidence that proves Navarre is a louse, I’ll be happy to pass it along. I’ll be telling her, though, not you.”
The way he glowered, I knew that Mr. Muehlenhaus not only wanted what he wanted, he wanted it exactly his way—Mrs. R’s definition of a spoiled child. Mrs. Muehlenhaus, on the other hand, seemed more interested in the end result than how it was achieved.
“That’s fine,” she said.
“Riley is our granddaughter, and we love her so much. We’re just trying to look out for her. If you’ll be kind enough to do the same…”
“I will do the same.”
“Thank you, McKenzie. That’s all I ask.”
Muehlenhaus’s foot began tapping a quick rhythm on the carpet. I don’t think it was impatience so much as restless energy. It was as if he were finished with me and now his body felt the need to be up and doing something else.
“I decided I don’t want to have any more conversations with you unless your wife is present,” I told him.
“Why is that?” Muehlenhaus asked.
“I think you’re less likely to shoot me in front of her.”
“Oh, McKenzie.” Mrs. Muehlenhaus rose from the sofa and offered me her hand. “Many people have made that mistake.”
A few minutes later, Muehlenhaus escorted me to the front door of his house. He didn’t offer to shake my hand, merely said, “I’ll be in touch,” as I passed through the doorway. He was smiling, though, like a magician with an endless supply of rabbits and hats.
I heard the floorboards creak when I stepped onto the old-fashioned wooden porch that ran the length of the front of the house, and it occurred to me that they had always creaked. They creaked when Bobby and I were at the University of Minnesota and before that at Central High School and even before that when we both attended St. Mark’s Elementary School just a few blocks away. They creaked when we hung out at Merriam Park across the street and when we were rookies with the St. Paul Police Department and when Bobby bought the house from his parents after they retired to their lake home in Wisconsin. I found myself walking across the porch listening to the varying tones the floorboards gave off. Step in the right places in the correct order and I was sure you could play Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”
The door opened abruptly and Katie Dunston, Bobby’s younger daughter, poked her head out. “What are you doing?” she asked.
I bounced up and down.
“Hear that?” I said. “Hear how the floorboards creak?”
“They always creak.” Katie disappeared back into the house, leaving the door open for me. I heard her shout, “It’s McKenzie.”
I entered the house, closing the door behind me. Shelby Dunston called from the kitchen. “Are you hungry? I was just putting away the leftovers.”
“I’m good, thank you,” I called back.
A moment later she appeared, a dish towel in her hand.
“Hey,” she said.
“Hey.” I moved toward her. She lifted her cheek for a kiss, and I gave her one. “What’s going on?”
The look she gave suggested that the question was in poor taste and she was disappointed in me for asking it. Shelby left the living room and returned to the kitchen without speaking. I glanced at Katie and mouthed the same question.
Katie pointed upstairs and mouthed back, “Victoria.”
I moved toward the thirteen-year-old and whispered. “What about Victoria?”
“She got caught cheating in school.”
“What? No way. Victoria doesn’t cheat. She has a four-point-oh average, for God’s sake.”
“She wasn’t actually cheating. What she did, she let a boy copy off of her paper.”
“Yeah. Mom is—she’s freaking out. Yelling at Vic for letting a boy use her like that. I mean she said stuff you only hear on the FX Channel, you know?”
“Where is Vic?”
“Banished to her room until she’s twenty-one and if she doesn’t like it she can move out right now.”
I heard Shelby’s voice behind me. It was loud and clear.
“What are you doing, young lady?” she wanted to know. “Telling family secrets?”
Katie took a step backward.
“No, ma’am,” she said. “I was just telling McKenzie that I’m an independent woman and no guy is ever going to make a damn fool out of me.”
“Are you swearing in my house?”
Katie seemed confused. “You did.”
“Go up to your room right now.”
Katie glanced up at me. She was almost smiling. “See,” she said.