“A little bit.”
“I’m not. Truly, I’m not. I know these people. I know what they’re capable of. I had one offender, he wanted to show his girl a good time, so he ordered a pizza and then shot the delivery boy in the back of the head for the money he had in his pockets. Another offender, a woman, she was angry that her boyfriend discarded her for someone else, so she burned down the boyfriend’s apartment building, killed seven people. The boyfriend wasn’t even home.”
Another offender kidnapped a twelve-year-old girl and terrorized and traumatized her and the people who loved her for a little bit of money, and maybe some payback for an imagined offense that occurred over two decades ago, my inner voice added. What madness is that?
“None of it makes sense to me,” Karen said. “I understand why they do the things they do. I understand their motives. Yet the motives so often pale in comparison with the enormity of their crimes.” She shook her head sadly. “I don’t forgive them, McKenzie. Who am I to forgive them for the terrible things they do? Except this is the difference between you and me—I want to help them. I want to change them. I want to make sure they don’t do terrible things again. I mean, what’s the alternative if we don’t help these people, if we don’t try to change them? What else would you do with these people?”
“I don’t know.”
“Neither do I.”
“Karen, what’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this, anyway?”
“You mean sitting in an expensive car outside a sleazy bar after being nearly assaulted by a half-dozen degenerates?”
“After I earned my criminal justice degree, I worked at Lino Lakes as a jailer. I had taken a lot of psychology courses, and my plan was to work as a juvenile probation officer. I wanted to get a sense of what prison for kids was all about first, so I went to work for the juvenile detention center in Lino Lakes.” Karen stared out the window of the Audi some more. “Prison is a terrible, terrible place,” she said. “A bad place.”
It’s supposed to be, my inner voice said.
“It chews people up in a way that’s… that’s hard to explain unless you’ve seen it firsthand. I saw kids, I don’t care what they did to get there, they were kids, but after a few months—what is it the philosophers say? ‘If you live where they live and are taught what they are taught, you’ll believe what they believe.’ For these kids, prison became their teacher. Most of what they knew about life they learned behind bars. I suspect that’s what happened to your friend Scottie. Anyway, I decided I would work to keep people out of prison. I know it’s not a popular goal. Yet”—she turned and looked hard at me—“when my head hits the pillow and I look back on the day, no matter how crummy the day is, I can always say ‘The world’s a little bit better place because of what I did.’ ”
“Where have I heard that before?” I asked.
I started the car, and we drove off. After a few blocks I said, “Did you learn anything? Back at Lehane’s, did anyone say anything interesting?”
“The bartender didn’t recognize any names, but he said he remembered serving two men who fit the descriptions of Scottie and the T-Man. He said they reminded him of one of those ads for a health club, the kind with a before and after photo, Scottie looking wimpy and the other looking muscular.”
“Did he remember anything else?”
We managed to negotiate Spaghetti Junction, the confluence of Interstates 94 and 35E and Highway 52, without getting wrecked and were heading west when Karen’s cell phone rang. I could hear only her end of the conversation.
“Yes… When…? What did he say…? You’re kidding… No, tell him nothing. I’m on my way.”
Karen folded her cell and slipped it back into her bag.
“What?” I said.
“Take me back to the halfway house.”
“Scottie Thomforde just rolled in.”
Special Agent Damian Honsa worked hard to keep his reassuring smile in place. He paced the length of Shelby’s dining room and back again, his hands clasped behind him, while we all watched from chairs around the table. “What do we know?” he said.
“We don’t know squat,” Bobby said.
Bobby had been in favor of arresting Scottie immediately. Honsa had talked him out of it. “We have two teams on him,” Honsa said. “He’s not going anywhere.” Again, he used the threat to Victoria’s safety to keep Bobby in his place.
“We know that Scottie is lying,” I said.
“You don’t know,” Karen insisted. “You weren’t there. You didn’t see his face. You were waiting in the car when I spoke to him. He could be telling the truth.”
“Why are you still here?” Bobby asked.