The hotel was old and worn, with crumbling sidewalks and a facade in dire need of paint. There was a low Cyclone fence surrounding it, and I wondered if the people living nearby and sending their kids to the Franklin Elementary School knew what it was used for.

We parked in back on broken asphalt and hard-packed earth, found an opening in the fence, and followed it around the outside of the building to the top of the horse shoe. There was a balcony that ran the length of the second floor, and we walked beneath it toward the office. An old man sat in a frayed lawn chair at the base of the horse shoe. He was staring at the courtyard beyond. It was overgrown with weeds and uncut grass that grew between the broken stones. In the center was an unused fountain. The floor of the fountain was cracked, and I doubted it could hold water. It was an altogether depressing sight, yet the old man found something there that made him smile nonetheless.

We stepped inside two glass doors and were greeted by a long, high, battle-scarred desk that was once the center of the hotel. It now served a lone receptionist. Karen greeted her as Agnes and asked if Roger Colfax was in. Agnes smiled as if they were old friends, and I wondered if Karen spent a lot of time here.

“Yeah, sure, you betcha,” Agnes said, and I winced. Ever since the Coen brothers film came out, I am quick to tell outsiders that no one in Minnesota actually speaks with the vocabulary and accents of the characters in Fargo. Only to my embarrassment, I am reminded from time to time that some of us do.

Agnes led us to an office just off the reception area with badly chipped wood paneling, a threadbare carpet, and furniture that should have been replaced a decade ago. Cardboard boxes, used as file cabinets, were stacked on both sides of the desk. There was an ancient air conditioner sitting precariously on a windowsill; a stiff wind could probably topple it from its perch.

Agnes said, “Wouldja lookit who came for a visit, now.”

Roger rose quickly from the desk. “Karen, it’s always a pleasure to see you,” he said, and from the way he said it, and the way his eyes swept over her body, I believed he was telling the truth. He took her hand and said, “You look wonderful, as usual.”

Karen said, “Thank you, Roger.”

Agnes smiled brightly, said “Okay, then,” and left the office.

“You’ve done something to your hair,” Roger said.

Karen glanced at me. “No. I just let it blow around in the wind a bit.”

“Very becoming.”

“You’re too kind.”

Roger led her to a chair without releasing her hand until she was safely seated. He went to his own chair and tucked himself behind his desk. His grin reminded me of one of those middle-aged guys who won something in high school and still display the trophy.

“You’re not here on a social call, are you?” he said.

“I’m looking for Scottie Thomforde,” she said. “Is he here?”

Roger shouted, “Agnes.” Agnes poked her head into the office. “Has Scottie reported in yet?”

“Not yet,” she said. She smiled benignly as though she expected him at any moment.

“Let me know when he does.”

“You betcha.”

“Tight ship you run here, pal,” I said.

Roger looked at me like he was seeing me for the first time. “Do I know you?” he asked.

“He’s with me,” Karen said.

“Are you going to violate Scottie?” he said. “Why?” He was staring at me when he spoke, giving me the impression that he thought I was a cop serving a warrant. Neither Karen nor I corrected him.

“I don’t know that I’m going to do that,” Karen said.

“I’ve had no problems with him,” Roger said. “He’s gone to all the meetings. He’s never missed a counseling session. He hasn’t broken a rule.”

“I did a spot check this afternoon. He left his job around one and hasn’t been seen since. Do you know where he is?”

Roger leaned back in his chair; his left hand beat a monotonous rhythm on the desktop.

“Is that a yes or a no?” I said.

“He’s on Huber,” Roger said.

“What’s that mean?”

“Work release program. It allows offenders to leave the house to go to work as long as they return to the house immediately afterward. Scottie’s not supposed to leave his place of business, but you have to understand”—he was lecturing me now—“it’s our job to help prepare offenders for the outside world. We can’t do that solely within these walls. You can’t teach offenders how to behave in a free society unless you give them some freedom.”

Yeah, sure, my inner voice replied.

“I give Scottie thirty minutes’ travel time by bus,” Roger said, “plus an additional hour’s grace in case he has to work overtime and doesn’t have a chance to call in, before I become unduly anxious.”

“When does Scottie get off work?”

“Five thirty.”

“Add ninety minutes in case he wants to get his ashes hauled or score some blow—”

“That’s unfair,” said Karen.

“And Scottie should be under your personal supervision no later than 7:00 P.M. Right?”

“That is correct.”

“What time is it now?”

Roger glanced at the clock on the wall behind me. “Seven forty-five,” he said.