“My gut tells me, though, that you might be useful. You can talk to Mr. Muehlenhaus and his daughter, for one. I doubt I can get through the front door. So you keep looking for Navarre if you wish. Just stay away from the murder, and don’t even think of doing anything illegal, not even spitting on the sidewalk if you know what’s good for you, and ’specially don’t go around telling people that you’re working with us, and we should be okay.”
“Thank you,” I said again.
“Keep in touch, McKenzie.”
I watched Major Kampa turn and walk away. Lieutenant Pelzer lingered to give me his contact information.
“He’s a real cop, isn’t he?” I said.
“You don’t often see real cops rise up that high. Usually it’s just the politicians.”
“Sometimes you get lucky.”
I didn’t feel lucky, though. Or talkative. Yet there were debts to be paid, the first to Sarah Neamy. I had sent her to Mrs. Rogers’s condo. She had seen what I had seen.
I found her in the office just behind the reception desk where I had first met her. The door was open, and I saw her sitting very still in a straight-back chair against the wall, her hands folded in her lap, looking down, a penitent schoolgirl in her uniform. She seemed to know who I was without looking up to see.
“How could someone do that to another human being?” Sarah asked. “McKenzie, do you know?”
In my time, I had heard that question answered in so many ways by so many people—psychologists, sociologists, criminologists, even standup comedians. Explanations included everything from a chemical imbalance in the brain to childhood abuse and neglect to environmental pressures to an overdose of Twinkies. For a long time, I went along with them. I used to pride myself, especially when I was a cop, on telling people, “I don’t believe in evil, I believe in motive,” as if that somehow proved I had an understanding of the human condition that the average citizen simply couldn’t fathom. I had seen so much over the years, though, that the theories no longer satisfied. I discovered that I preferred the much simpler answer that I gave Sarah.
“Some people are evil.”
She nodded her head as if she believed it, too.
“They’re having an emergency meeting, the board of directors,” Sarah said. “I don’t know exactly what they hope to accomplish. Better security. Armed guards? They kept saying it wasn’t my fault. ‘It’s not your fault, Sarah.’ I don’t know how it could be my fault. I’ll probably be fired within the month, though.”
“It’s all about the morale of the members. Everyone will want to put this behind them as quickly as possible. If I stay, the members, every time they look at me they’ll be reminded of poor Mrs. R because they’ll know I was the one, the one … that I discovered … I saw…”
I rested a hand on her shoulder, and she covered it with her own hand. She looked up at me for the first time.
“I’m sorry I sent you there,” I said.
“It’s not your fault,” she said.
I said, “I’m sorry,” again, just the same.
“Juan Carlos didn’t do this, did he?”
“No. It’s someone looking for him.”
“Where is he?”
“I don’t know.”
“If you find Juan Carlos, will that help you find out who … hurt Mrs. R?”
“I hope so.”
“Juan Carlos had to fill out a questionnaire before he could be considered for membership in the club. I can get you the form. Will that help?”
“Come back tomorrow.”
“Sarah, just get me a copy. Keep the originals. The county deputies might want them, and I don’t want to mess with those guys. They did me one favor, I don’t expect another.”
“You should go home.”
She looked at me as if it were the first time she had ever heard the word.
I returned to Anne Rehmann’s office. It was locked up tight. I called her number and was sent to her voice mail. I told her she could return my call—even though I hoped she wouldn’t—otherwise I would try to see her tomorrow. I didn’t want to talk any more, didn’t want to comfort anyone, didn’t want to think. It was Thursday evening in early October, and there were any number of sporting events taking place that could distract me from the day. Baseball was in the first round of playoffs, college football was approaching midseason, the NHL was ramping up—there might even be a game on the NFL Channel. If that failed, I had access to a cabinet stocked with beer, wine, and other assorted alcoholic beverages. All things being equal, drinking myself silly didn’t seem like a bad idea.
Halfway home, though, I broke my cell phone rule again and called Nina.
“Can I come over to your place?” I asked.
“’Course you can, you know that. You don’t have to call first.”
“I thought this time maybe I should.”
“Are you all right, McKenzie?”
“No. No, I’m really not.”