Tschida and Lindberg glanced at each other. They seemed impressed that I knew about such things.
“Nothing we can use,” the chief said.
“Where were you last night?” Tschida asked.
Chief Rock gave him a hard look yet said nothing.
“When last night?” I asked.
“Approximately four thirty A.M.”
“So when you say last night, what you really mean is early this morning, right?”
“I was in bed. No, there aren’t any witnesses to confirm my alibi.”
I reached for the smartphone in the left inside pocket of my sports jacket. The abrupt movement caused all three officers to flinch. I paused, said, “I’m reaching for my cell,” then slowly pulled it out.
The chief and Lindberg relaxed. Tschida did not. “Are you armed, McKenzie?” he asked.
“I have a nine-millimeter SIG Sauer locked in the trunk of my car.”
“Do you have a permit to carry?”
I stopped fiddling with my cell long enough to answer. “Yes. It’s in my wallet. The wallet is in my right inside coat pocket. Do you want me to reach for it?”
He snorted at me.
Lindberg asked, “Why do you have a gun?”
I found the pic of the kid I met the day before and handed the smartphone to the chief.
“This is why,” I said.
Chief Rock held the phone up for the officers to see.
“The shirt—is that gang sign?” he asked.
“Nine-Thirty-Seven Mexican Mafia. That’s why I have a gun in the trunk of my car. I’d be wearing it behind my right hip, only I didn’t want to make you guys nervous.”
“Why?” Tschida asked. “D’you think we’d be scared or something because we’re just a small-town police department?”
I ignored the question. Instead, I gestured toward the restaurant’s patio. “One of the young ladies with Ms. Mulally is Riley Brodin.”
“Old man Muehlenhaus’s granddaughter?” the chief asked. There was a sense of awe in his voice that I found disturbing.
“Turns out she has a boyfriend named Juan Carlos Navarre who’s been missing since Saturday. She asked me to find him. Navarre is an investor in the restaurant. I came here yesterday afternoon to ask Ms. Mulally what she knew about Navarre’s disappearance, which wasn’t much. She told me that Casa del Lago was being watched. I asked the kid about it. He had nothing to say.
“The kid, by the way, is named Arnaldo Nunez. He’s eighteen. The car is owned by his mother. The Nine-Thirty-Seven was a street gang in West St. Paul that was crushed about eight years ago. The kid was way too young at the time to be involved. It turns out, though, that his older brother was a founding member. His name is Cesar Nunez, and he’s currently doing time in Stillwater for a drug conviction stemming from his time with the gang.”
“How do you know all this?” the chief asked.
I could have invoked Bobby’s name; I knew he wouldn’t approve, though. Instead, I said, “It’s all public record.”
“So you think Nunez is responsible for the fire,” Tschida said. “What reason would he have?”
I had a thought, but I kept it to myself. Instead, I glanced around the area, looking for Navarre and anyone who might be doing the same. I saw no one that appeared even remotely suspicious. ’Course, by then I was late to the party.
“All I know about Nunez is what I told you,” I said.
Chief Rock returned my smartphone.
“He couldn’t have been involved,” he said.
“Why not?” Tschida asked.
The chief spoke to his officer like a teacher lecturing a student who hadn’t been paying attention in class. “Because he’s currently in Two Twelve Medical Center with a shattered leg and a concussion, the result of a car accident on Highway 7.”
I might have told the chief that Nunez had plenty of help—the drivers of the red Sentra and black Cadillac DTS I saw at Navarre’s house came to mind. I became distracted when he pressed a beefy index finger against my shoulder and said, “You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you, McKenzie? A pile-up on Highway 7?”
“No, why would I?”
The chief stared at me as if he expected the steely glare in his eyes and the scowl on his face would be enough to cause me to break down and confess. When that didn’t work, he said, “I think we’ll have a talk with Mr. Nunez.”
“I’d like to be there,” I said.
“This is police business,” Tschida told me. “You police?”
I returned the phone to my pocket. “See you guys around,” I said and resumed my walk to the patio. I half expected the cops to call me back. They didn’t.
The three women were sitting so that they faced the burnt-out restaurant, their backs to the patio table. Mary Pat Mulally sensed my approach. She turned her head expectantly, yet when she saw that it was I her expression became disappointed. Riley Brodin recognized Mary Pat’s frustration and rubbed the back of her shoulder.