Shelby watched while Katie retreated upstairs. She called to her, “And I don’t want to see you again until you’ve done your homework.”
Katie called back, “I’ve already done my homework.”
“Don’t you sass me, young lady.”
Shelby turned and glared at me.
“Do you have something to say, McKenzie?” she asked.
Ever since she wed my best friend, it seemed as if Shelby’s main goal in life was to see me married with children. It annoyed her to no end that Nina and I had been together for so long without benefit of matrimony. I was tempted to ask her what she thought of the institution now, only I didn’t have the nerve.
“Is Bobby here?” I asked instead.
“He’s downstairs watching a ball game, the coward. Tell me something. When did the woman become responsible for disciplining the children? When I grew up it was always the man. My mother, whenever we screwed up she would say, ‘Wait until your father gets home,’ and when he got home we would get it. You know what Bobby did when he came home? He hugged her. Hugged. Her. Asked Vic if she understood how big her mistake was and why we were so angry.”
“He was being the good cop.”
“Oh, and that makes me the bad cop?”
Shelby’s lips became a thin line etched across a granite face. She brought her hand up and pointed at me, didn’t say another word. Just pointed.
“I’m ahh, I’m going downstairs, now.”
Shelby didn’t answer. Just kept pointing. She was still pointing when I opened the door in the kitchen that led to the basement stairs. A moment later I was standing next to Bobby’s sofa in the rec room that I helped him build. He was watching two National League teams trying to take an early lead in their best-of-five playoff series on his HDTV. I knew for a fact that he didn’t care for either baseball team, didn’t care who won or lost. We didn’t speak until the batter hit a lazy fly ball to left.
“I don’t know who I’m more concerned about,” he said. “Victoria or Shelby.”
“Think Shelby is overreacting?”
“I don’t know. I only know that Victoria, and Katherine, too, for that matter, have never done anything wrong that you and I haven’t done ten times worse when we were kids. Shelby, too, if the stories her friends and family tell are true. We turned out all right. Sorta. So, how upset do you allow yourself to get? How tough should the punishment be? It’s hard being a good parent these days.”
“I met your children. Someone is doing a pretty decent job.”
Bobby gestured with his head toward the basement steps. “I think so, too, but Shelby isn’t in the mood to hear it.”
A few minutes later I had a Leinenkugel and a seat on the sofa.
“Are you just visiting or do you have something in mind?” Bobby asked.
I explained my involvement with Riley Brodin and the Muehlenhauses. That made him laugh. “You never learn, do you?” he said. Then I told him about the kid in the parking lot of Casa del Lago.
“Are you sure?” Bobby asked.
“Black handprint and in the palm the numbers nine-thirty-seven resting on top of eMe.” To confirm my claim, I showed him the photograph I had taken, along with a shot of the Chevy Impala’s license plate.
“Nine-Thirty-Seven Mexican Mafia,” Bobby said. “They’ve been gone for what? Seven years, now? Eight? They were located in West St. Paul; got their name from the address of a car wash on South Robert Street where the founders used to work. It’s not even there anymore, the car wash. The DEA, the BCA, and the Westies—they hit them hard—you should remember that. You were still a cop, I think, when that happened. Apparently they had a CI, an inside man that set up the gang. Half of them went to prison; some were absorbed by other Hispanic street gangs—Norte?os Fourteen, Latin Kings, BFL. The others got out of the life.”
“Could the gang have been reformed?”
“Not that I heard. Even so, who wears gang sign on a T-shirt? Ink, sure, everyone does tats. Colors. I know of a gang that always wears tan slacks and white shirts with button-down collars. Motorcycle clubs like putting patches on their jackets, their vests. A T-shirt? That’s new.”
Bobby paused to drink some beer and watch a few more at-bats. All the while I could see the wheels spinning in his head, and I knew enough not to interrupt the process. Bobby was the best cop I knew—even better than I was. Certainly he was smarter at playing the game than me, not fighting the regs that seemed to be written to keep us from doing our jobs so much as caressing them, massaging them until they yielded exactly what he needed. We started together at the St. Paul Police Department nearly twenty years ago. He was now a commander in the Major Crimes Division.
“Why would anyone wear a T-shirt with the name of a defunct Mexican street gang?” he asked at last.
Bobby ignored the remark.
“’Course, anyone can wear a T-shirt,” he said. “I’ve seen you wearing a shirt that claimed you were property of the Minnesota Twins, and we both know that you sucked at baseball.”