“I have coffee,” she said.
She led me to the boat house, which could have sheltered a family of four. It had a toilet and shower, a Murphy bed, cable TV, a stereo CD player, a PC, plenty of furniture, a bar with a refrigerator, a small stove, and a brick patio all around. Mrs. Teachwell filled two china cups from a gourmet coffeemaker that was far superior to the one I owned. “Sugar, cream?” she said. “Black,” I told her. I was surprised and a little disappointed when she gave me the cup without a saucer.
“This is the only boat house I’ve ever been in that didn’t have boats,” I said.
“There’s a locker in the back for equipment,” Mrs. Teachwell said. “I use the rest of it mostly for parties. Why did you come here, Mr. McKenzie? Thomas and I are divorced. We were divorced before he was arrested. You know that. So why did you come here looking for him?”
“Because I never believed it, the divorce, I mean. You were always there for him. At the jail, at the hearings, later when he elocuted following the plea agreement. Ex-wives, as a rule, don’t behave that way. Something else. When I found your husband in the cabin up north, he was waiting, had been waiting for a couple of days. He could have slipped across the Canadian border anytime. That was his plan—cross the border and escape to Rio de Janeiro. He had it all worked out. It was a good plan. The plan would have worked. Instead, he waited. I think he was waiting for you.”
Mrs. Teachwell took a chair facing a pair of French doors and Lake Minnetonka beyond. I watched her from where I was standing near the mahogany bar. I would have liked to sit, too, and rest my back and ankle, but she didn’t offer a chair, and I couldn’t impose.
“I was devastated when we divorced,” she said. “I never saw it coming; couldn’t believe it when it did come. There was no explanation. Thomas simply said, ‘I’m divorcing you,’ and walked out. He was so generous with the settlement, too. Gave me nearly everything. The house. Cars. Savings. Investments. He didn’t even take his golf clubs. I thought there must have been another woman. There wasn’t. For a brief period, I actually thought there must have been another man. Not that, either. It made no sense to me. Then it did.
“Thomas had been embezzling money for years. Millions of dollars. I didn’t know it. It was the only secret he ever kept from me. Later, he told me that he originally did it to demonstrate to the board that it needed to take safeguards. Then he did it because it was fun. Then he did it out of habit. That’s what he said. Of course, it was more than that. I believe Thomas had a Walter Mitty–like view of the world. He was never satisfied being a CFO. He wanted to be a swashbuckler. A pirate. He wanted to be Errol Flynn in Captain Blood. He wanted to be Han Solo and Indiana Jones.”
Don’t we all? my inner voice said.
“It was a kind of daydream,” Mrs. Teachwell said. “It became painfully real only after the financial scandals at Enron, Tyco, World-Com, and all those other companies. Thomas was a smart man. He knew what was coming long before it got here. I’m talking about the independent financial audits that many shareholders began demanding from their boards. He divorced me. He divorced me and gave me everything to protect me. Then he waited. When his firm finally hired an independent auditor to examine the books, he took what money he had accumulated and ran. He asked me to go with him.”
“You said no.”
“I said yes, Mr. McKenzie. I would have gone to Rio with Thomas. I would have gone anywhere. Only I couldn’t get away. The police were watching me; I was being followed. I was terrified that I would lead them to Thomas. So I stayed put. Thomas could have left the country. Should have left the country. Contacted me once he was safely in Brazil. You were right. He waited for me. Because of that, you were able to catch him.”
“And then prison. Prison for him and a sort of prison for me. It isn’t easy being involved with a jailbird. That’s what some of our friends— ex-friends—called him. Jailbird. I didn’t mind. I still had the house, the money; I had what he had given me. I visited him in St. Cloud. I told him that it all would be there waiting for him—that I would be waiting for him—when he was released.”
Mrs. Teachwell nursed her coffee, kept staring at some distant point on Lake Minnetonka.
“He changed,” she said. “Both physically and emotionally.
Physically—Thomas had never been an athlete…”