“David,” she said. “Yes. We want to talk about David. Let’s go inside and talk about David.”
She turned her head and gazed through the screen door inside her house. After a moment, she stepped back and opened the door. “Please, come inside.”
I was last across the threshold. There was a wooden staircase to my left that led upstairs. What caught my eye and held it, though, was the pictures on the wall, all of them religious, and so many that I thought they must be her first line of defense against the world.
Mrs. Baird led us away from the staircase to the corner of her living room that she had reserved as a sitting area. There were books stacked on a coffee table and next to the chairs; books with titles like God Has a Dream, Fasting and Prayer, and Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, as well as Mysterious Ways and Give Us This Day magazines. She sat facing the staircase. We fanned out on either side of her.
“Tell us about David,” she said.
Us? my inner voice asked.
I reached inside my pocket and produced the smartphone. I called up Navarre’s photo and showed it to her.
“Mrs. Baird,” I said, “is this the man you know as David Maurell?”
Her mouth formed a sneer and through it she said, “That’s him. That’s the man who…”
“Who ruined my son’s life.”
Chief Hasselback leaned back in her chair and made herself comfortable as if she expected a long story. Nina hunched forward, resting her forearms on her knees, as if she expected the same thing.
“How did he do that?” I asked.
“Ask him. David’s up in Minnesota, isn’t he? Do you know where?”
“He was in Minnesota. I don’t know where he is now.”
Mrs. Baird snorted. “Oh, he’s still there. We know that much.”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“We just do.”
“What do you know about Maurell?”
“When he came to visit that one time, he seemed very shy. Very polite. I remember that Collin kept teasing him because of a classmate they had at Macalester. A girl. David thought she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, only he was afraid to speak to her. I thought it might be because of David’s accent. Collin said it was because the girl’s family was extremely wealthy and David’s was poor.
“Perhaps not poor, exactly. David’s people had escaped from Cuba when Castro took over. They became American citizens and started a company that sold sugarcane, but they weren’t rich by any means—at least that’s what David said. He said his family’s dream was to return to their native land. David didn’t want to go to Cuba. He was born in America. Cuba was a foreign country to him. So he and his family were at odds. That’s why he came here with Collin on break instead of going home.”
Oh, he’s good, my inner voice told me.
“He and Collin were great friends,” Mrs. Baird said. “They met in college, you see. David would buy him gifts—and me, too. David seemed always to have plenty of money on hand. I said, put the money in a bank. Only Castro confiscated everything, all of their money and property, so his family didn’t trust banks. This was America; the banks can be trusted here, I told him. Then the financial crisis hit and we found out, no, we can’t trust our banks, either.”
Very, very good.
“But he was a liar,” Mrs. Baird said. “He lied about everything.”
“What do you mean?”
Mrs. Baird rose abruptly from her chair and crossed the room to what could only be described as a knickknack shelf. At the same time, I heard a creaking sound on the staircase. So did Nina. She rotated her head to see. She turned back when Mrs. Baird said, “Look.” Mrs. Baird found a photograph of a young man dressed in black high school graduation robes not unlike the ones Jax Abana had worn and carried it back to where I was sitting. She thrust it at me.
“Look,” she repeated. “Collin was a good boy. He never did anything to anybody. He never did anything wrong.” Mrs. Baird was looking at Chief Hasselback when she said that last part. “People said he did things, but that wasn’t true. He was a good boy. A good student and athlete. People were jealous of him.”
I took the photograph and stared at it for a moment. It might have been taken eight years earlier, yet I recognized the young man instantly.
“David, David was such a liar,” Mrs. Baird said. “He lied to Collin. He showed Collin money that he had, thousands of dollars, and he said he and Collin would go to Iraq and invest the money. He said that Iraq was the new land of opportunity because the people there needed so much help to rebuild after the war. He said that they could invest the money and Collin would help and they would become rich and split the money fifty-fifty.”
“Iraq?” Chief Hasselback said.