We drove to a neighborhood on the North Side known as Harrison. It used to be called “Finntown” in deference to the Finnish immigrants who originally settled there. Today it attracted a lot of working poor, including Hmong, Hispanics, and Somalis. Along the way, we passed dozens of abandoned houses with lawns that resembled wheat fields. They were all victims of Minneapolis’s “North Initiative,” a program that was supposed to curtail the area’s rising crime statistics by forcing homeowners to take better care of their property. Dozens of building inspectors had swarmed over the North Side citing residents for everything from flaking garage paint and missing storm windows to worn-out roofs and crumbling driveways. Over twenty thousand citations were issued in the first ten weeks alone—and the inspectors weren’t even close to being finished. Homeowners were told that if they didn’t correct the cited problems immediately, they would face escalating fines (which the politicians claimed only coincidentally added millions of dollars to the city’s general fund). Except many of the residents were minimum-wage workers who couldn’t afford the improvements. Which is why the North Side now had the highest foreclosure rate in the Upper Midwest.
As for crime—a group of teenagers was congregating on the corner when we turned onto DuWayne Middleton’s street. A kid who was standing apart from the others flashed a signal when he spied the Jeep Cherokee, and the group casually scattered.
“Did you see that?” Karen said. “That was a drug deal.”
“I saw it.”
We drove another half block and parked in front of a house that was in need of fresh paint. The garage needed paint, too, and the asphalt driveway leading to it was crumbling badly; a few bare patches had been covered with plywood. Getting out of the car, I thought about the Kevlar vest in the back. There was just the one, though, and I didn’t think it was fair for me to wear it while Karen went without, so I left it there. And they say chivalry is dead.
An old, small, thin black woman answered our knock. I said, “Mrs. Middleton—” She started in before I could speak another word.
“I got the money,” she said.
“I got the money, and I already talked to a contractor. Thirty-two hundred, he said. Thirty-two hundred to fix my driveway and the rest— eighteen hundred dollars is going to paint the house and the garage. I hired it done already. You can look at the estimates. I got written estimates, so you ain’t got no business bein’ here. You ain’t got no call to give me no more fines.”
“You ain’t turnin’ me outta my house. This is my house. I’m going to live in this house and I’m going to die in this house and then I’m going to haunt whoever lives here next.”
“Good for you,” I said.
That slowed her down. She examined Karen and me more carefully.
“You ain’t from the city,” she said. “You ain’t from Regulatory Ser -vices.”
“No, ma’am,” I said.
Karen flashed her identification. “I’m with the Minnesota Department of Corrections,” she said.
“You here to check up on my boy?” Mrs. Middleton said.
“Why didn’t you say so?” She flung open the door and invited us in. “D’Wayneeee,” she called. “Someone to see you.” She pointed us toward a small living room. “He’s watching the TV.”
DuWayne didn’t look any bigger than a small church; I was impressed that the sofa on which he sat could handle the weight. He was a hard-ass con with a broken nose and scars and prison tatts, eating from a bowl of Cocoa Puffs; the bowl and spoon looked like small and useless things in his hands. He was watching The Price Is Right when we entered the room. He seemed to take no notice of us.
“Mr. Middleton, I’m with the State Department of Corrections,” Karen said.
DuWayne didn’t reply.
“Sir, we would like you to answer a few questions.”
He still refused to acknowledge our presence, just kept staring ahead, watching his program.
Screw this, my inner voice said. I stepped directly between DuWayne and his TV. He didn’t seem to notice until I said something that made the lid on his right eye twitch just so: “My name is McKenzie.”
DuWayne slowly ate a spoonful of cereal, dug into the bowl for another.
“For a guy who’s paying fifty thousand to see me dead, you don’t seem all that concerned that I’m here.” ’Course, one look at his mother’s house and I knew he wasn’t buying the hit. “You’re just another errand boy, aren’t you?”
“Wha’ you doin’ here?” DuWayne asked before shoveling another spoonful of Puffs into his mouth.
“Dogman-G sent me.”