“The current whereabouts of one DuWayne Middleton, lately a guest of the Minnesota Department of Corrections.”

Another pause. “Keep your thousand dollars,” she said. “I’ll take the dinner and drinks, though.”

“It’s a deal.”

“What about tonight?”

“Tonight’s not good,” I said.

“Just as well. I’m not at my desk. I won’t be able to access the S3 until tomorrow morning.”


“Statewide Supervision System. It’s a centralized Web site that contains information on everyone under probation or supervised release in Minnesota.”

“Tomorrow morning will be fine,” I said.

“I’ll phone.”

“Please do.”

“I’m really glad you called, McKenzie.”

I told her I was glad that I did, too, only I had things to do and couldn’t talk. She seemed disappointed by that. After I hung up, I felt a pang of guilt along with all my other aches and pains.

You should have told her that you have a girlfriend, my inner voice admonished me.

“I already did,” I told myself.

Tell her again.

“I will. As soon as she gives me the information I need.”

In the meantime…

“This is a first for me,” Nina said.

“What is?”

“Spending the night in a hotel room with a man who is not my husband. What would my mother say, I wonder.”


“Oh, I’m sure she’d use a lot more colorful adjective than that.”

Nina snuggled closer to me and softly kissed the edge of my chin. The warmth of her breath on my skin was like an autumn breeze wafting up from the river; it gave me goose bumps even then, even after we had made love.

“Are you going to tell me now?” she asked.

“Tell you what?”

“Why you’re so melancholy tonight.”

“I’m not.”

“If you don’t want to talk about that, then tell me why we’re in an expensive hotel instead of the perfectly good king-sized bed in your own bedroom.”

I didn’t say.

“Or why you suddenly have three bruises on your back and shoulder.”

“You noticed that, huh?”

“Kind of hard to miss, McKenzie. They’re the size of cantaloupes. Plus, your ankle is ban daged. And there was all that moaning when we were rolling about. Somehow, I don’t think that was because of me.”

So I told her.

I told her everything.

I felt her naked body stiffen against me as I spoke.

When I finished, she seemed as far away as Kuala Lumpur.

“Why do you do these things?” she said.


“Honey, honey, honey,” she said and rolled out of the bed. “Can’t you find some other hobby? Something else to occupy your time besides what you do now?”


“Don’t talk to me.”

A moment later she was in the bathroom, the door closed. I waited in bed for her to come out. She didn’t. A lot of time passed. Finally I went to the bathroom, knocked softly on the door, and called her name. When she didn’t answer, I opened the door. She was wrapped in the plush white robe provided by the hotel, sitting on the edge of the tub. Her eyes were red and swollen from tears, but she wasn’t crying now.

Nina looked up at me. The glare from the bathroom light seemed to bother her, so I switched it off.

“I worry about you,” she said.

“I know. I’m sorry.”

She came off the tub and wrapped her arms around me. She rested her head against my shoulder—the sore one. I made an effort not to flinch. I caressed her hair and kissed the top of her head.

“You need a keeper,” Nina said.

“Do you want the job?”

“Want it or not, I think I’m stuck with it.”

“I love you.”

“Dammit, McKenzie. There you go again.”

A few moments later, we went back to bed.


Nina was gone when I woke. Considering how badly I slept, I was amazed she was able to slip away without my knowing it. I could only pray that Schroeder’s people weren’t also caught unawares. Nina left a note on my pillow: I hope your back feels better. Call me when you can. It was signed with three X’s and an O.

You are one lucky sonuvabitch, my inner voice told me. And then I thought, Luck has nothing to do with it. The credit all belongs to Nina.