“What are you saying?”

“The next day we didn’t hear from the kidnappers at all. Yet the morning of the following day, when Scottie called, he didn’t ask if we had the ransom money. He already knew. He knew because you told him, because I told you when you called me while I was at the remote vault.”

“That’s crazy.”

“Teachwell knew he could ambush me at Joley’s because you told him we were friends.”

“I didn’t tell him. Scottie must have told him.”

“He knew he could ambush me at Nina’s for the same reason—you told him. Neither Scottie nor Teachwell could have possibly known about Nina, but you knew about my relationship with her.”

“That’s crazy talk. How can you blame me for this? I tried to help you.”

“No, you were helping them. Victoria said there was a woman involved, a woman T-Man called ‘babe’ when he spoke to her on the phone. You’re a babe. You told me so yourself.”

“Not me.”

“It’s all easy to deny. No proof. No evidence. Nothing. Except— when we first started looking for the T-Man, we reviewed all the names of convicts Scottie did time with at Stillwater and came up empty. That’s because T-Man, Teachwell, did his time in St. Cloud. There’s no way they should have known each other, you said so yourself. But they did. How? Why? Because you were their parole officer. Both of them. I looked it up on the S3 Web site. Which makes your insistence that you don’t know Teachwell a little suspect, Karen. Which makes me think you planned it all, Karen.”

Karen’s bag stood open on a chair against the same wall where she deposited the suitcase. She shook her head as if she couldn’t believe what she was hearing and edged toward the bag.

“What are you going to do?” I asked. That stopped her. “With the money, I mean.”

“I don’t have the money.”

“Karen”—I made a big production out of sighing like the tiredest man on the planet—“I don’t care anymore. Scottie’s dead. Teachwell’s dead. Victoria is safe and sound. Nina’s safe. All I want is my money. I’ll even give you a finder’s fee. Ten percent.”

“Not half?” Karen moved closer to the bag. “That’s what the insurance company gave you when you caught Teachwell.”

“How would you know that if the T-Man didn’t tell you?”

“Didn’t you tell me?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Hmm.” She stopped. Smiled. Looked up to her right. Took a small step, then another. “It seems I do remember a Thomas Teachwell now. A glorified accountant who thought he was some kind of urban thug, who gave himself the nickname T-Man. He’s one of the hundred or so parolees I supervise. There are so many that sometimes I forget who’s who.”

“A very plausible defense,” I said.

“He was always whining about a man named McKenzie, an ex-cop who took all of his money and ruined his life.”

“What about Scottie Thomforde?”

Karen was very close to the bag now.

“Scottie,” she said. “He was another whiner who blamed all of his problems on someone else, who never took responsibility for his own actions. He moaned and groaned about a man named Bobby Dunston, who later became a big-time cop. I didn’t pay much attention. They all whine, my parolees. Then one day Scottie mentioned his rich friend McKenzie and wondered how he and the cop could be so close.”

“You connected the dots.”

“Something like that.”

“Why did you do it, Karen? Why did you bring Teachwell and Scottie together? Why did you kidnap Victoria Dunston?”

“So I could have a car just like yours.”

As simple as that, my inner voice said.

“Why didn’t you just take the money, then? Take it and run. Why try to kill me?”

“That wasn’t my idea, McKenzie. You have to believe me. That was all Teachwell. I didn’t want to kill anybody. Least of all you. I liked you. I really did. I even thought we might be able to get together. Teachwell was desperate to kill you. That’s what attracted him to the job in the first place, the chance of hurting you, and he had the money. He wouldn’t give me my share unless I helped him.”

I wanted to say something—winners never cheat and cheaters never win, something like that, only pithy. I didn’t get the chance. Karen dove for the bag and the .380 Colt Mustang inside it, as I knew she would. I was quicker. My Beretta was in my hands and leveled at her chest and I was shouting, “Don’t you do that,” before she could get her fingers around the pocket gun. She froze for a moment, then slowly brought her hands out of the bag. They were empty.

“Please,” Karen said. “Please.”

“Where’s the money?”

“You won’t shoot me, will you, McKenzie? I like you, McKenzie. I told you. I wanted to go to bed with you. From the moment I met you I wanted to. I still do. I know you want me, too.”

“I said, where’s the money?”