“Could he be trusted?”
“Turned out no, he couldn’t. It was fun while it lasted, though. Exciting. He took me places where a white Catholic girl from the suburbs is rarely found. Kinda opened my eyes to the world a little bit. Heckuva lot more than Notre Dame did, I can tell you that.”
“They say he was a member of a street gang called the Nine-Thirty-Seven Mexican Mafia,” I told her.
“I asked him about that. He said it wasn’t true, although he had friends in the gang. I actually met a few of them.”
“You believed him, then?”
“Well, yeah. How many four-point-oh honor students do you know who are in street gangs?”
Just the one, my inner voice answered.
I thought that Muffie must be very good at her job because she spoke easily in a way that made the listener feel comfortable. Plus, she never stopped smiling—until I said, “You stopped seeing him after graduation.”
“It’s an old story, Mr. McKenzie. Boy meets girl. Boy tires of girl. Boy never calls girl again and he refuses to answer when the girl calls him. After a while girl knows that she’s been … discarded. She is upset, the girl. After a while, she gets over it. She vows from that moment forward to share herself only with gentlemen, who, to her great surprise and happiness, are actually quite numerous.”
“Jax didn’t go to Notre Dame, then?” I asked.
“No. We talked about it when the acceptance letters started rolling in, but I didn’t think that was going to happen even before we broke up. I just couldn’t picture Jax in South Bend, Indiana. Could you?”
“Where did he go to school?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask his whore?”
There’s that word again, my inner voice told me.
“What whore would that be?” I asked.
“Right before I left for college my freshman year, my friends and I went shopping up and down Grand Avenue in St. Paul. We ended up at a Dunn Bros coffeehouse. This was early afternoon in late August, maybe the beginning of September. The place was nearly deserted, yet there was Jax Abana at a table with a woman sitting in his lap that was old enough to be his mother, for God’s sake, and they were playing tongue-hockey in front of everyone. I saw Jax and Jax saw me and there was an expression on his face like he was afraid I was going to go over there and start beating on him or something in front of his mom. Seriously, though, life is way too short for that. So I gave him one of these…” Muffie blew me a kiss and smiled. “Afterward, I turned around and walked out.”
“Did you ever find out who the woman was?”
“The whore? A friend, one of the friends that were with me, found out a couple of weeks later and posted it on my Facebook page. You’ll never guess who it was.”
Patricia Castlerock was not a whore, either. She was an associate professor of English at Macalester College in St. Paul who taught undergrads all about the Harlem Renaissance, American Modernism, and Anglophone-Caribbean Literature, as well as race and film study. Macalester did not keep faculty hours on Saturdays, so I was lucky to find her grading papers in her office on the second floor of Old Main, the first building built on campus when the college was established in 1885. She was startled when I rapped on her open door. Her head came up and she whipped off her cheaters, and my first thought was that Muffie Gabler was mistaken. Big sister perhaps, yet there was no chance the woman was old enough to be Jax Abana’s mother.
“I apologize if I startled you,” I said.
“That’s quite all right,” she said. “I’m afraid we don’t keep office hours on the weekends.”
“I apologize for that, too. If I could have just a few minutes of your time—it’s important.”
Castlerock set down her red pen.
“What does this involve?” she asked.
“It concerns one of your former students. A man named Jax Abana.”
She thought it over for a few moments and shook her head. “I don’t believe I know a student by that name. This would have been when?”
“Seven or eight years ago.”
Again she thought about it; again she shook her head.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “I could check. However, I am pretty good at remembering the names of my students.”
Now it was my turn to do some thinking. Finally I said, “He might have called himself Juan Carlos Navarre.”
“No … no, that doesn’t ring any bells, either. Are you sure he was one of my students? Perhaps you should check with the registrar’s office. It opens at eight Monday morning.”
“Like I said, it’s important. Would you be so kind…” I fished my cell from my pocket and called up Navarre’s pic. “If you could take a look at this…”
Castlerock sighed her impatience and took the smartphone from my hand. She stared at the photo for a good ten seconds. When she finished her face was pale and her upper lip trembled just so.
“What is your name?” she asked.