“We were sixteen. I was driving my father’s car, and he was driving his mother’s car. We had driven to the Wabasha Caves down by the river one night and had drunk some beer, me and Scottie and Bobby Dunston and six or seven others. When we were driving home, Scottie took a hard right turn off Fairview onto Marshall. An old man dressed all in black was crossing the street in front of us. Scottie didn’t see him until he hit him. Guy flew over his hood, over his car. I was driving behind Scottie. I almost hit the man myself. We stopped. Someone, Bobby, I think, ran to one of the houses”—I gestured toward the homes on the far side of the street—“and called the police.

“This was before Mothers Against Drunk Driving, before driving while intoxicated was considered such a horrendous crime. This was before the term ‘designated driver’ even entered our collective vocabulary. So when they came to investigate, the cops didn’t bother asking Scottie to blow into a PBT to see if his breath could change the color of the crystals. There was no blood test. Instead, they asked him to touch his nose and walk in a straight line, and Scottie did. Then they measured his skid marks and decided that he hadn’t been speeding. The next day an investigator from the county attorney’s office questioned me because I had been driving the other car, because I had seen everything. He asked if Scottie had been drinking. I said no. I said the other kids had been drinking but Scottie and I hadn’t because our parents would have killed us if they caught us drinking and driving. That was good enough for the investigator. They let Scottie go. No charges were ever filed.”

“You lied,” Karen said.

“Yes, I did.”

“To protect Scottie.”

“To protect myself. My father was sitting there when the investigator questioned me. If I had said Scottie was drinking, I would have had to admit that I had been drinking, too, and I was far too frightened of my father to do it. It was an act of cowardice that’s haunted me on and off ever since. But at the time, Scottie thanked me profusely. So did his mother. Now he’s kidnapped a young girl that I love from her mother and father that I love and has demanded one million dollars of my money for her safe return.”

“That’s why you’re so angry?”

“That’s it.”

“I understand,” she said. I doubted that she did.

I checked the traffic, pulled onto Marshall, and hung a right at the next intersection. A couple of turns later I was parked in front of the house where Scottie Thomforde had once lived.

“I forgive you, McKenzie,” Karen said.

“Forgive me? For what?”

“For being rude to my friends, Mr. Cousin and Roger. For being rude to me.”

That slowed me down. There was no question, I had been rude, even insulting. Still, I figured I had just cause. Besides, who asked her?

“Gee, thanks a lot,” I said.

“I forgive you for being sarcastic, too.”

We never reached the entrance. Tommy Thomforde intercepted us before we were halfway up the walk, bursting through the front door, crossing his arms over his chest, and demanding to know, “What did Scottie do now?”

“Good evening, Mr. Thomforde,” Karen said.

They had recognized each other by the light of the streetlamps.

“You wouldn’t be here if Scottie wasn’t in trouble,” Tommy insisted.

“What?” I said. “No polite greeting? No chitchat?”

Tommy glared over Karen’s shoulder. His expression quickly changed to surprise and then to genuine pleasure.

“McKenzie?” he said. “Rushmore McKenzie? It is you. How are you, man?”

Tommy brushed past Karen, took my hand, and we hugged, our hands clasped between us so onlookers wouldn’t think we were gay. I could feel hard muscles through his shirt. “Man, it’s been years. How you doin’?”

“Pretty fair, Tom. Pretty fair. How ’bout yourself.”

“Same old, same old.”

“How’s your mom?”

“Feisty, as usual. What are you doin’ here, McKenzie?”

I flung a glance at Karen. “We’re looking for your brother,” I said.

“I am right. He is in trouble, again.”

“Not necessarily,” Karen said. “It’s just that we don’t know where he is. We were hoping he was here.”

Tommy shook his head. “He’s not here. Hasn’t been here since— the last time I saw Scottie was two weeks ago when he spent the weekend. Mom invited the entire family over. Made a big dinner. Except Scottie was hungover; he was sick from going out and drinking the night before. So much for the family reunion. I probably shouldn’t have told you that.”

“Has he spoken to your mom recently?” I asked.

“He calls her a couple times a week. Always has, even when he was in prison. Scottie was always a mama’s boy.”

“Can we talk to your mom?”

“She’s not here. She went over to the Silver Bucket for the meat raffle.”

“Meat raffle?” Karen said.

“Yeah. She goes there at least once a month. Meets her old friends, drinks some beer, buys raffle tickets to win steaks, chops, chicken. Last time she won ten pounds of hamburger.” Tommy smiled at me. “What can I say? You can take the girl out of the East Side, but you can’t take the East Side out of the girl.”

“I’ve always liked your mom,” I said.