A few minutes later, we were in the parking lot of the DeSoto House. Night had fallen, and most of the shops up and down Main Street were closed—Monday night in downtown Galena. There were plenty of streetlamps, though, and the light they cast reflected off the pale pink bandage covering Nina’s stitches.
“Does it hurt?” I asked.
“Yes, it hurts. So does childbirth and stepping on a Lego with your bare foot.”
“We’ll get you some ice.”
“Get me a drink.”
“The emergency room doctor was very kind. Very careful with the stitches. She told me when she was done that if anyone could see the scar without a magnifying glass she’d go back to medical school.”
“That’s good. How do you feel?”
“Tired. Drained. How do you feel?”
“Okay.” What else was I going to say? That even while carrying the burden of what happened at Mrs. Baird’s house I felt elated, I felt jazzed? A psychologist I dated once accused me of being an adrenaline junky. That wasn’t true—I didn’t jump out of planes or hang from mountain ledges by my fingertips. Yet Nina wasn’t too far wrong when she said, “You’re an adventurer. You do what you do for fun…” I just didn’t know how to admit to it without sounding like a jerk.
We completed the short walk to the front door of the hotel. I held it open, and Nina stepped inside the brightly lit lobby. She had been wearing the bloodstained shirt and skirt most of the day without complaint, yet the expression on the faces of the clerk and the young couple standing in front of his desk brought home how disheveled she appeared. She turned to me.
“I look like crap,” she said.
It was because of the turning that she saw them first—a man and a woman—both in suits. He wore a tie; she didn’t.
They rose up behind us from chairs flanking each side of the doorway.
“McKenzie,” the man said.
He reached into his jacket pocket.
“McKenzie,” Nina shouted.
She slipped around me and kicked him swiftly in the groin with the point of her shoe.
He cupped his genitals with both hands and fell to his knees as if he had been downed by a surface-to-air missile. The words he cried were not fit for small children.
The woman stepped backward and went into a defensive stance.
Nina pivoted to face her.
The woman dipped her hand into the open bag that hung from her shoulder.
Nina took a step forward, fists clenched.
I jumped between them and waved my hands like a referee stopping a heavyweight bout.
“Wait, wait, wait,” I chanted. I spun toward the woman and pointed at her bag. “Don’t. Don’t do it. Please don’t. It’s not necessary.”
She brought her hand out of her bag. It was empty.
Nina took another step forward. I caught her by the shoulders and held her “Nina, it’s okay,” I said. “It’s all right. Everything is all right.”
“They were attacking us,” she said.
“No, they weren’t.”
“Sweetie, we’re in a well-lit hotel lobby surrounded by witnesses and security cameras.”
Nina cocked her head so she could get a good look at the trio standing at the registration desk. If they had been disconcerted by Nina’s bloody clothes, their expressions now suggested they were all stunned to the point of paralysis.
“It’s okay,” I told them. I continued to hold Nina by her shoulders. “No problems here.”
“Speak for yourself,” the man muttered from his knees.
The young man at the desk began to move—slowly—as if he were coming out of a trance.
“It’s all right,” I said.
He drifted to his computer and began working the keyboard as if performing a familiar task would somehow return everything to normal. The young couple turned to watch him. A moment later he looked up and smiled. They smiled back.
The man remained on his knees. I offered a hand to help him up, only he waved it away.
“I’m fine just where I am for now,” he said.
“Oh, get up, you big baby,” the woman said.
“Who are you?” I asked.
He reached into his pocket. I heard Nina take a deep breath behind me. He removed a thin leather wallet, opened it, and held it up for me to see. It contained a government-issued identification card.
“Special Agent Matthew Cooper, Department of Justice,” he said.
“Oh, no,” Nina whispered to me. “What did I do?”
“You assaulted a federal officer,” I told her. I started to laugh, which she didn’t appreciate at all.
“Am I in trouble?” Nina asked.
Cooper rose slowly to his feet.
“I didn’t see anything if you didn’t see anything,” he said.
“Don’t worry about it,” the woman said. “He’d be too embarrassed to write it up, how a woman half his size kicked his ass.”
“That’s not what she kicked,” Cooper said. He gestured with his thumb. “My partner.”
Nina turned toward her. I thought she might offer to shake hands, but she didn’t.