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Pretty Girl Gone (Mac McKenzie #3)
Author:David Housewright

Pretty Girl Gone (Mac McKenzie #3)

David Housewright





For Renée

as always





Acknowledgments


I would like to thank all those whose invaluable aid and insight helped make this book possible: Cara Engler, Chris Engler, Coon Rapids City Attorney Tammi Fredrickson, Dr. D. P. Lyle, Rhonda Martinson, Tom McGlynn, David Peterson of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Alison Picard, John Rock, Ben Sevier, Michael Sullivan, and Renée Valois.





Pretty Girl Gone





1


The Degas was real.

I had seen the painting of the ballerina at the Minneapolis Institute of Art about a year earlier. The Institute sold it at auction soon after, despite much criticism, claiming it required the income to cover overhead and pursue new acquisitions. Only the auction was less public than MIA members had been led to expect, and gossip swirled that the man who eventually purchased the painting had simply seen it, wanted it, and used his considerable connections to get it.

I was admiring the painting in the lobby on the top floor of that man’s bank, thinking it actually looked pretty good hanging there. My escort stood close by. He was wearing a gray trench coat with the belt cinched at the waist, looking like an extra in a bad Humphrey Bogart movie—actually, there are no bad Humphrey Bogart movies, but you get my drift. He gestured for me to move along with the pocket of the trench coat. There was a gun in the pocket, a stainless steel Charter Arms .38 wheel gun, but I ignored him. If he didn’t shoot me when we were alone, I doubted he would do it now, in a lobby filled with purposeful business people. I spoke loud enough for most of them to hear.

“Hey, pal. Do you have a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”

My escort’s face went from pale to crimson so quickly you would’ve thought I bitch-slapped him, which I had every intention of doing at the first decent opportunity.

I heard the gallop of footsteps behind me, followed by a woman’s voice.

“You’re late.”

“Come,” my escort said, taking my arm. I shook it free and pointed at the Degas.

“Have either of you ever stopped to look at this painting? You’ve probably passed it a thousand times, but have you ever taken a moment to really look at it? The lines, the blending of color, the woeful expression on the ballerina’s face? Critics didn’t like the ballerinas that Degas painted. They said he was vulgar and cruel. But he was neither. It’s just that while everyone else at the time was painting dancers in all their resplendent glory, Degas wanted to capture them offstage, catch them when they were worn down by tedious tryouts and exhausting rehearsals. He wanted to show us the pain they endured, the suffering that went into their art. Perhaps he thought it would help us to appreciate them more.”

“Don’t tell me,” the woman said. “You’re the expert on nineteenth-century art we were told to expect.”

“Merely a gifted amateur.”

“You be sure to give Mr. Muehlenhaus your opinion of French Impressionists. I’m curious to hear his reaction.”

“Let me guess. Muehlenhaus is one of those guys who knows nothing about art but knows what he likes.”

The woman stared at me with smart brown eyes and an expression that suggested I was mad.

“Mister Muehlenhaus knows when he has been kept waiting for thirty minutes. This way.”

She moved toward a pair of glass doors; I could see offices and workers beyond them. I followed. It was only polite. After all, the man had gone to such extremes just to meet me. The woman opened the doors for us and my escort gave me an unnecessary shove through them.

“You’re pushing your luck,” I told him, but I don’t think he believed me.