“The man you knew as David Maurell said he wanted to attend Macalester College to become a writer?”
“It’s been done before, McKenzie. Probably I was naive. Or unduly smitten, if you prefer. This is an international school. We draw the best students from all around the world. I said I would help him get in. He said tuition wouldn’t be a problem. His parents left him enough in their wills to pay it. It was his high school transcripts that concerned him. There are ways to get around that, however. In the meantime, I allowed him to audit a couple of my classes. He fit in well. He and one of my students became very close friends. Collin Baird.”
All of my internal alarm bells and sirens flared at once. It was so loud in my head I could barely hear my own thoughts—CBE were the initials on the bag I found inside Navarre’s closet.
Collin Baird, Esquire? my inner voice said.
“What happened?” I asked.
“David stopped coming to class. Stopped coming here. He never called and never returned my calls. I thought it was me, that he had grown weary of our relationship and wished nothing more to do with me. I guess I still do. There was a young woman in the class. I never saw David speak to her, but the way he watched her—I saw the breakup coming, McKenzie. That doesn’t mean it hurt any less.”
“The young woman—do you remember her name?”
She looked up as if she expected to see the name written on the ceiling. I didn’t wait.
“Riley Brodin?” I asked.
“Yes. How did you know?”
It was all starting to make sense to me.
“What about Baird?” I asked.
“Collin dropped out, too. I didn’t think much about it at the time. Students drop classes, don’t they? They quit school. You’d be surprised at how many go home during Christmas and spring breaks and never return. In Collin’s case, he wasn’t much of a student to begin with; certainly he was struggling in my class. I suspected his high school transcripts did not match his true intellectual abilities. We get a lot of that these days—grade inflation.
“Eventually the police came around,” Castlerock added. “They told me David and Collin had driven to Collin’s home in Illinois, but apparently disappeared on their way back here. It was very worrisome to me even though I was told there were no indications of foul play and the police were treating it as a simple missing persons case. Since then I’ve discovered that twenty-five thousand men go missing every year in this country, and one out of five is Latino, like David. However, only a tiny fraction is the result of kidnapping or murder. The vast majority go missing because they want to go missing.”
“Do you believe that Maurell and his very good friend Collin Baird went away together?” I asked.
“It was easier to believe that than the alternative. It turns out I was right, too.” Castlerock gestured more or less at the pocket where I kept my cell. “The photograph that you showed me. It was taken recently, wasn’t it?”
“Sometime in July.”
“David is back.”
“So it would seem.”
“What about Collin?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why did David come back after all this time?”
“Your guess is as good as mine, Professor.”
Professor Castlerock left the coffeehouse first; I stayed to settle the bill. Before she left, she asked if I should find David, to have him call her. I said I would. I was lying. I liked her. I liked Muffie Gabler, Abril and Delfina Nunez, Anne Rehmann, and Riley Brodin, too. The more I learned about Jax Abana–David Maurell–Juan Carlos Navarre, the less I wanted him around the people I liked.
I stepped outside and immediately began searching for the red Sentra. I had picked it up outside the Nunez residence in West St. Paul and let it follow me first to the coffeehouse in Mendota Heights and then to Macalester College. It was now parked in the customer lot of the Stoltz Dry Cleaners and Shirt Launderers across Grand Avenue from Dunn Bros. I waited for the traffic to clear and crossed the thoroughfare. I walked up to the driver’s-side window and peered inside. The window had been rolled down. The driver gripped the steering wheel with both hands and stared straight ahead. Arnaldo Nunez was sitting in the passenger seat and looking uncomfortable in his heavy cast. He leaned forward to look at me.
“Fuck,” he said.
“Hello to you, too,” I said.
“How long you know we be here?”
“Since I took a right off the street where Mrs. Nunez lives.”
Arnaldo stared at the driver, who continued to stare straight ahead.
“Don’t feel too bad,” I said. “A one-car tail is damn near impossible to pull off if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you want, I could give you lessons.”
“Fuck,” Arnaldo said.
“Why exactly are you following me, anyway?”
“Cesar says you’re after Jax. He says you’re gonna give him up once you find him. We’re supposed to watch you, make sure you keep your promise.”