“For Riley and Juan Carlos.”
“Why not? If he really is Juan Carlos…”
“If he really is…”
“Not a chance. Nina, the man who’s stalking Riley—”
“He rented the house across the bay so he could stare at the purple flag at the end of her dock through a telescope, for God’s sake. He’s not Juan Carlos Navarre, the real Juan Carlos Navarre. He can’t be. He has to be Jax Abana. I showed his photograph to his mother, to his sister, to Collin Baird’s mother, to two of his former lovers, to Cesar Nunez, to the police detective who worked the case—they all identified him. Jax Abana.”
“They identified a man they hadn’t seen in seven, eight years from an image on a cell phone.” Nina pointed her finger at me. “You told them what to expect before they actually saw the picture.”
“That’s not entirely true.”
“Confirmation bias, I think they call it—you see what you expect to see, what you want to see. You also told me that what’sisname, the detective, Ihns—he said that Abana looked different back then. He had a mustache.”
“He doesn’t now. McKenzie, you’re the one who’s told me many times that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable.”
“His mother would know who he is, his sister would know, don’t you think?”
“Maybe Navarre looks just like Abana. Maybe they’re doppelg?ngers.”
Nina cleared her throat and gave her voice a professorial tone. “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth,” she said.
“You’re quoting Sherlock Holmes now? Nina, there is no doubt in my mind that Jax Abana alias David Maurell is pretending to be Juan Carlos Navarre. I believed it when I was sure there was no such person. Now that I know there is, I believe it even more. The only question is—what happened to the real Juan Carlos?”
“There’s only one way to settle the argument.”
“Find the sonuvabitch, I get it.”
We were on Highway 52 in Inver Grove Heights and fast approaching St. Paul when my cell phone started playing “Summertime” again.
“Don’t you think it’s time you found a new ringtone?” Nina asked.
I pulled the phone from my pocket and handed it to her. “Answer that for me.”
“Bebe’s Peanut Shop, Bebe speaking,” she said.
Serves you right, my inner voice told me.
I’m guessing the caller must have apologized for dialing the wrong number, because Nina quickly said, “Not necessarily,” and added, “Who’s calling, please?” When she had an answer, she told me, “Lieutenant Pelzer?”
“Put it on speakerphone,” I said. After she did, I raised my voice again. “LT?”
“Bebe’s Peanut Shop?”
“Little something I have on the side. What can I do for you?”
“There are a couple of things I want to talk about. Meet me at the Casa del Lago.”
“Any particular reason you want me at the restaurant?”
“That’s where we found the So?adora this morning.”
“It might take me ninety minutes to get there from where I am.”
“Sooner would be better.”
“I’m on my way.”
Nina deactivated my smartphone.
“The entrance ramp to Interstate 494 is just up a ways,” she told me. “This time of day, traffic will be light. We can be in Lake Minnetonka in forty-five minutes.”
“I’m taking you home first.”
“Oh, c’mon, McKenzie.”
“How’s your temple? A little sore? A little puffy? I must say, that’s a becoming shade of purple. Really sets off the stitches.”
“Don’t be like that.”
“Besides, I like Pelzer. He’s been very good to me so far. I don’t want you beating him up.”
Nina folded her arms across her chest, and for a moment she looked just like her daughter when Erica was young—and she was pouting.
“I promise to call and tell you everything that happens,” I said.
“It’ll be quicker if you take me to the club. You can borrow my car if you want.”
“You break it, you buy it.”
The hull of the So?adora was white with a thin flaming-red racing stripe running from the bow to the stern. Its cockpit upholstery and carpet were white, and so was the sundeck pad. Inside a white 32-inch LED TV, two-burner stove, microwave oven, refrigerator, and stereo system were surrounded by white handcrafted cabinetry, white leather upholstery, and birch floors. Even the innerspring mattress inside the private stateroom was hidden beneath crisp white covers. It was so clean it looked as if it had just come from the showroom.
“I don’t suppose you found anything when you searched it,” I said.