“Your spies told you I was there this afternoon, that I spoke to Maggie and Mr. Muehlenhaus. They were mistaken, though, if they told you that I’m working for Mr. Muehlenhaus. I’m not. I’m working for Riley.”
“Is that the truth?”
“What exactly do you think is going on?”
“I think Riley found a man to love. A good man. A strong man. Only he doesn’t meet with their approval. He doesn’t fit the Muehlenhaus plan. And they’ll do whatever they can to get rid of him.”
“You’re not suggesting…”
“You know my father,” Sheila said. “You know what he’s capable of. Do you honestly believe he’d allow Riley to marry just anybody? She’s the girl now. The Muehlenhaus Girl. There are nieces and nephews and cousins. They don’t count. The old man has decided that the family’s legacy rests with her.”
I glanced about for a waitress. Suddenly a drink didn’t seem like a bad idea.
“Your parents claim they’re concerned for Riley’s welfare just like any good grandparents would be,” I said.
“Her welfare? McKenzie, have you ever heard of Rosemary Kennedy, JFK’s sister? She was considered a wild girl like me, someone with erratic mood swings, who liked to sneak out at night and party. Her father, Joseph Kennedy, was an extremely ambitious man who wanted his son to be president. He couldn’t tolerate that kind of behavior from his daughter because it conflicted with his ambitions, his welfare. So he had her lobotomized, had them shove a needle through her eye and scramble her brain. He turned her into a zombie. My father would have done the same thing to me, if he could have.
“See, I was supposed to be the Muehlenhaus Girl. Yet as hard as they tried to shove me into their round hole, that was how hard I fought against it. I make no claims to virtue, McKenzie. I am well aware that I caused most of my own problems. I was not a good girl. I married Alex Brodin for no other reason than he was gorgeous—that was two hundred pounds ago—and then I cheated on him. But I didn’t deserve what happened to me.
“After Riley was born, I was exiled from the Pointe. Banished. I was allowed to return only on special occasions. I could see my daughter only during supervised visits. I was told if I tried to challenge this arrangement, my father would see to it that the courts declared me to be an unfit mother and forbid me forever from having any contact with Riley. He would have done it, too. You and I both know it. Then there was money. I had none of my own. My parents paid me an allowance—one hundred and twenty thousand dollars a year—to stay away. If my name were printed in the newspaper, they would dock my allowance. They made the same arrangement with Alex except, instead of giving him money, they allowed him to have a bank.
“Not once did they say they were doing this to protect Riley from her irresponsible parents. No, they always said they were doing it to protect the Muehlenhaus legacy. If you ask me, it’s the Muehlenhaus legacy that Riley needs to be protected from.”
I didn’t know what to say. I found it fascinating the way we find all screwed up families to be fascinating. I just didn’t know what it had to do with me, and I told Sheila so.
“You can be a man and look out for her,” Sheila said.
“I already promised your parents I would do that.”
“I can’t pay you what they’re paying you.”
“They’re not paying me anything.”
“I have other assets.”
Sheila leaned back in her chair to give me a good look at them. They were impressive, I must admit. Yet I had learned long ago that temptation exists everywhere and it comes at you from the strangest places at the oddest times. If a man isn’t careful, he could fall all the way down the staircase and not even know it until he hit the bottom step.
“Navarre is missing,” I said. “Riley asked me to find him. I said I would. For what it’s worth, I also intend to look out for her.”
God knows someone needs to, my inner voice said.
I left without looking back.
I had a dream that I’d been dreaming in various forms ever since I graduated from the University of Minnesota. In the dream I was back in school, in my senior year, going for my BS degree in criminal justice. It was finals week and I needed to pass an exam in order to graduate, but I couldn’t find the classroom where the test was being held no matter how hard I searched. Not only that, I hadn’t studied. I had signed up for the course, yet for reasons that seemed vague to me, I had never bothered to attend a single lecture. Now my entire future was at stake. Yet the dream ended before I learned what happened—it always did.
This time I was awakened by the sound of my telephone. It rang and kept ringing, always a bad sign. Despite the fact that I carry an expensive smartphone, I still maintain a landline at my home. None of my friends call that number, though. Only tradesmen, political groups, and charities, and they usually give up after five rings. It became clear after the seventh that whoever was calling wasn’t going to give up without an answer. I rolled out of bed and picked up the receiver.
“McKenzie,” I said.