“Who’s calling please?”
“This is Chief John Rock of the South Lake Minnetonka Police Department.”
Oh, crap, my inner voice said. I had been on the job for over eleven and a half years. It didn’t matter. Whenever a cop approached me I still asked the same question—what did I do? This time I flashed on what Greg Schroeder had said about an accident on Highway 7 the day before. Oh, crap.
“Yes, Chief,” I said. “What can I do for you?”
“You spoke yesterday afternoon with Ms. Mary Pat Mulally, owner of the Casa del Lago restaurant here in Excelsior.”
I couldn’t think of a reason to deny it, so I didn’t.
“Ms. Mulally told you that her place of business was being watched by individuals unknown to her,” the chief added.
“Yes,” I said, drawing out the word slowly.
“She said you confronted one of these individuals in the parking lot.”
Dammit, it is about the accident.
“In a manner of speaking,” I said.
“I want to talk to you about that,” the chief said. “Please meet me at Casa del Lago immediately. Or at least what’s left of it.”
“It’ll take about forty minutes for me to—wait. What do you mean, what’s left of it?”
“Someone set it on fire last night.”
I dialed Bobby Dunston five seconds after I said good-bye to the chief. He identified me through caller ID.
“It’s a little early for you, isn’t McKenzie?” he asked. “It’s barely nine A.M.”
“I need help.”
“That’s what I’ve been saying since we were kids.”
I told him about the call from Chief Rock.
“I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a South Lake Minnetonka Police Department,” I added.
“Small, maybe a dozen full-time officers. Created through a joint powers agreement between the cities of Excelsior, Greenwood, Shorewood, and Tonka Bay. Usually handles thefts, burglaries, property damage, driving offenses, disorderly conduct and public intoxication complaints—that sort of thing. Most of the heavy lifting is done by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department.”
“You’re just a frickin’ fount of information this morning, Bobby.”
“Isn’t that why you called me?”
“I called because I was hoping you had something on the Mexican Mafia and the kid I told you about.”
“I haven’t had a chance to look into it.”
“I wish you would. It would be nice if when I meet the chief I had something in my pocket to bargain with—you know, in case I’m in trouble.”
“When aren’t you in trouble?” Bobby sighed dramatically. “Haven’t we had this discussion before about you not involving me and the St. Paul Police Department in your little escapades?”
“Yes, we have.”
“As long as we’re on the same page. I’ll call you back.”
He did, too. I took the call even though it meant driving with one hand through the narrow streets of Excelsior until I reached Casa del Lago. I parked in the back of the lot, putting plenty of space between the Audi and the official vehicles, a single fire truck and a couple of police cars.
I could see the front of the restaurant. It was deeply charred. A load-bearing wall must have collapsed, because the roof above the door was listing hard to the right. From the outside, the rear of the restaurant appeared more or less intact; the Excelsior Fire District had positioned huge fans in the windows and doorway that blew smoke out across Lake Minnetonka. The patio seemed unscathed. Mary Pat Mulally sat at one of the tables. She looked as if she were attending the funeral of someone she dearly loved. There were two women doing their best to comfort her. What made me hesitate before leaving the Audi was the identity of one of the women—Riley Brodin.
I left the car and walked toward them. Before I got halfway, a large man wearing a white shirt stretched tight across his ample stomach and an indifferently knotted black tie intercepted me. There was a gold badge pinned over his left breast and a triangular patch with the words SOUTH LAKE MINNETONKA POLICE DEPARTMENT sewn to his right shoulder. Two men standing behind him looked almost exactly the same except they were smaller and their shirts were blue.
“You McKenzie?” the man asked.
“I’m Chief John Rock. This is Officers Tschida and Lindberg.” No one offered to shake my hand, so I didn’t offer to shake theirs. “What do you know about this?”
You wouldn’t think that someone who was a cop would have a problem with authority, yet I do, so my first inclination was to play the smartass with Rock. The anguish in Mary Pat’s face made me reconsider.
“You’re pretty sure it’s arson, I take it,” I said.
“Someone smashed the glass in the front door and tossed a Molotov cocktail inside,” the chief said.
“They weren’t trying to hide the crime. What about security footage? Cameras pick up anything?”