“He’ll be here soon,” she said.
The third women didn’t speak, although she clutched Mary Pat’s hand as if she feared the consequences of letting go. Up close I recognized her as the young ma?tre d’ who greeted me when I came to Casa del Lago the day before—Maria.
“I’m so sorry about what happened,” I said.
“Who would do such a thing?” Mary Pat wanted to know. “Why?”
I caught Riley’s face. Her expression gave nothing away.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Was it the people who were watching, the kid in the Chevy Impala you talked to?” Mary Pat asked.
“The police are checking it out.”
“I told the police about the people watching the restaurant,” Mary Pat said, “and the private investigator looking for Juan Carlos. I told them about you, McKenzie. They didn’t believe me, the police. They wanted this to be an accident, a wire shorting out, a grease fire. When the fire marshal told them it was arson, they seemed disappointed, like it was a big inconvenience to them.
“McKenzie, I don’t know what to do. What if the insurance company denies my claim because—I think they call it the arson defense. If they suspect the fire was deliberately set, they won’t pay off even if I didn’t set it.”
“We don’t know that yet,” Riley said. “My father will be here any minute.”
“If they don’t pay…” Mary Pat ceased speaking as if it were too painful to finish the sentence. After a few moments she said, “Look at my place.”
It seemed like a really bad time to ask if anyone had seen Navarre, so I didn’t. Instead, I waited. I tried to lure Riley away with head gestures so I could speak to her privately, only she would have none of it. Finally a man approached.
“He’s here,” Riley said.
Alex Brodin had a round face that didn’t like the sun and a round body that was wrapped in a crisp blue suit expertly tailored to accommodate his girth. The suit dripped of money, and so did the platinum watch around his wrist. I didn’t know what Sheila Brodin had seen in him. I suppose he might have been an athlete once; he might even have been handsome. Now he looked to me like a man who made his living selling tips at Canterbury Park racetrack.
“I’m sorry it took so long,” he announced to the group.
“Good morning, Dad,” Riley said.
The way Brodin looked at her—I should say the way he didn’t look at her—there was something workmanlike about it. As if he were a painter and she were the side of a house. His feelings toward his daughter were all business.
“Good morning,” he said. He moved to the table and stood in front of Mary Pat. “I spoke to the insurance company. There will be an investigation just as I told you over the phone. They will be looking for motive and what they call opportunity evidence that implicates you in setting the fire.”
Mary Pat cried out in pain and sorrow. Brodin continued speaking as if she hadn’t made a sound.
“You must be prepared to produce your business records and answer questions,” he said. “And make your key employees available to answer questions as well.”
“You mean me?” Maria asked. She released Mary Pat’s hand as if she had suddenly learned it was radioactive.
“Everyone,” Brodin said.
“How long will it take?” Mary Pat asked.
“The company refuses to commit to a timetable. You can expect that their investigators will be thorough. The company has a fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders, after all.”
Mary Pat barely had enough voice to get the words out. “What about my place?”
Even the birds that flew in the clear blue sky above knew she was hanging by an emotional thread.
“This is why we insisted that you buy business interruption insurance.” Brodin seemed pleased with himself when he said it. “You’ll have enough money to make your mortgage payments and compensate your vital employees for six months.”
“That won’t fix my restaurant. I need the money to rebuild before winter sets in, before my repeat customers forget about me, or I could lose everything.”
“It’s doubtful the insurance company will make a determination anytime soon. Nor can we be confident that its decision will go in your favor.”
“What about you? You can loan me what I need to rebuild, and when I settle with the insurance company, I can pay you back.”
“I’m afraid my hands are tied.”
“What does that mean?” Riley asked.
Brodin didn’t answer his daughter. Instead, he spoke directly to Mary Pat. “Minnetonka Community is already carrying a sizable loan on the business…”
“I was paying it off,” Mary Pat insisted. “I was ahead of schedule. The restaurant was making good money.”
“I appreciate that. Unfortunately, it’s a matter of collateral.” Brodin gestured toward the burnt-out restaurant. “You no longer have much.”
“Are you saying you won’t help me?”
“There’s only so much that I can do.”