“That’s a good idea,” I said. “Sheila would protect Riley, too. And Navarre. There’s no way she would rat them out to Mr. Muehlenhaus.”
When I said, “Let’s go,” Nina thought I was bringing her along with me. She was annoyed when I drove back to her place in Mahtomedi so I could swap her Lexus for my Jeep Cherokee. Call me cheap, but if it came to it, I’d much rather buy myself a new SUV than buy Nina a new luxury car.
“Leaving me behind,” she told me. “This isn’t going to happen when we move in together.”
That’s an argument for another time, my inner voice said.
Sheila Muehlenhaus Brodin lived on a cul-de-sac in Lake Elmo, an outer-ring suburb of St. Paul, which put her about as far away from Lake Minnetonka as physically possible while still being considered a resident of the Twin Cities. There were two cars parked in the driveway. I thought I recognized one, yet couldn’t place it. The mystery was cleared up, though, when I ranged the doorbell and Alex Brodin answered.
“Who is it?” a woman’s voice bellowed from deep inside the house.
“That fucking McKenzie,” Brodin replied.
“Stop calling me that,” I said.
Brodin stepped away from the door without saying if he would or wouldn’t.
“You might as well come in,” he said.
“I’m surprised to see you here.”
“Sheila and I visit frequently. Misery loves company.”
I crossed the threshold. Brodin led me into a spacious living room. The thing I noticed first—couldn’t help but notice—was an enormous painting of an alluring woman with lustrous eyes and deep red hair that matched her gown. There was nothing else on the walls and nothing nearby to compete with the painting. It was as if the entire room had been built solely to accommodate it.
“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” Brodin said.
“Yes,” I said.
“Thank you,” Sheila Brodin said as she entered the room. Of course, the painting was of her. “I was eighteen when I sat for it.” She placed a hand on her stomach. “’Course, that was before childbirth.”
“You haven’t changed a bit,” Brodin said.
Sheila bowed her head at the compliment and then turned it my way as if she were expecting me to repeat it. When she got bored waiting, she drifted to a bar complete with stools located in the corner. A full wine rack was on display, as well as assorted liquor bottles, ice bucket, and glasses. I had seen temporary bars set up in the homes of friends and acquaintances during parties, yet none that were permanent. Sheila’s bar was as much a fixture of her house as the painting.
“I’m drinking bourbon,” she said. “Alex?”
“I’ll have the same.”
“I came because—”
“I know why you came here,” Sheila said. “Riley and her Prince Charming have escaped the clutches of the evil Grand Vizier and he’s dispatched his minions to bring them back.”
She held up a bottle of Maker’s Mark for me to see.
“Over ice,” I said.
I was partly raised by a man who insisted that good Kentucky bourbon was meant to be taken straight—“the way God intended.” He would have rolled over in his grave if he knew I was diluting it with ice. On the other hand, I had already consumed several alcoholic beverages, and I thought it best to keep my wits about me—whatever of those I still had left, anyway.
Sheila fixed the drinks, gave one to Brodin and one to me. She raised her own glass and said, “To true love.”
“Hear, hear,” Brodin said.
“Why not?” I said.
After we finished drinking, Sheila said, “I thought we had an understanding, McKenzie—you were going to look out for Riley.”
“I’m trying, God knows.”
“Then what are you doing here? Let the girl have her chance.”
“Things have happened since we last spoke. Do you want to hear about them?”
“Does it involve the Department of Justice freezing Navarre’s assets?” Brodin asked.
“Then I want to hear.”
Sheila found a chair and sat, folding her legs beneath her. She waved her drink at me.
“You have the floor,” she said.
I explained as succinctly as I could. I was surprised that neither of them interrupted to ask questions.
When I finished, Sheila said, “I don’t believe you.”
“You think I’m lying?”
“If you’re working for the old man, yes I do.”
“I’m not. How many times do I have to say it?”
“What McKenzie said about the DOJ freezing Navarre’s money this morning—that’s true,” Brodin said. “I told you how I’m screwed because of it. Brodin Plaza. If something isn’t done by the end of the month, if I don’t get additional funding, I’m going to have to halt construction. I went to the old man. He blew me off. I told him I wasn’t interested in his money, just in help talking to the government. He said a real man solves his own problems.”
“That’s what I mean,” Sheila said. “It’s all just another elaborate ploy so he can get his way. Be a big man on the lake.”
“I don’t believe this,” I said.