The Devil May Care (Mac McKenzie #11)
The last time an attractive woman tried to pick me up in a bar was never, so when the young lady climbed the stool next to mine, flashed a 100-megawatt smile, and said, “Are you McKenzie?” my first thought was “Is this a trick question?”
“Yes, I am,” I said aloud. “And you are…?”
Usually when people introduce themselves they offer you their hand. She didn’t. I tried to place her in my memory. She was not a classic beauty. So many attractive women tend to look like so many other attractive women, each of them borrowing heavily from the same magazines, TV shows, movies, and whatever else drives what we consider fashion these days. Yet Riley’s face, liberally sprinkled with freckles, was as unique as her name, and startling ivory-colored hair cut close to her scalp emphasized the individuality of her looks. I suspected that half the people she met thought she was pretty; the other half not so much. I was in the first camp. On the other hand, she was maybe twenty years younger than me, so I immediately deposited her into the look-but-don’t-touch category despite the way her skirt slid up to there. If a man knows what’s good for him, he’ll limit his lust to women who are roughly the same age as he is.
“How do you know me?” I asked.
“My grandfather. He speaks of you often, although I’m not sure he likes you very much.”
“McKenzie, how brave are you?”
“How brave do I need to be?”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“What exactly do you want, Ms. Brodin?”
Nina saw the exchange from where she was standing at the far end of the bar. She had never seen an attractive woman try to pick me up, either. I’ve known her long enough that I could read the expression on her face as she approached. “Now what?” it said.
“Hi,” she spoke aloud when she reached the end of the bar where we were sitting. I took a deep breath. Her perfume tinged the air with the faint scent of vanilla, and I was reminded of the eclairs you can get at Wuollet Bakery down on Grand Avenue in St. Paul. I love eclairs.
Riley smiled brightly. “You‘re the lovely Ms. Truhler, aren’t you?” she said.
Nina’s eyes flitted to my face and then back to the girl’s. I was curious as to what her response would be, but Riley cut her off before she could speak.
“I apologize,” she said. “That was rude of me.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Nina told her.
“That’s how my grandfather refers to you. The lovely Ms. Truhler. He likes to hang labels on people, using adjectives to describe them. I’m his clever granddaughter. My father is that deadbeat son-in-law. My mother is—well, that doesn’t matter.”
“Who is your grandfather?” I asked.
I stopped breathing. Nina did, too, but not before gasping a mouthful of air to tide her over while we digested the news. Walter Muehlenhaus—I knew him as Mr. Muehlenhaus—was rich, powerful, and connected in the way you’d expect the old robber barons like J. P. Morgan and James J. Hill to be connected. Those conspiracy movies Hollywood makes where the hero follows the clues all the way to the top? That’s where Muehlenhaus sat. He’s the reason the state legislature voted to build a billion-dollar football stadium for the Minnesota Vikings on the exact location of the old stadium even though it would have been cheaper and far more convenient to move it to any of the other sites that were proposed.
After regaining my composure, I said, “Mr. Muehlenhaus sent you?”
“Oh, no,” Riley said. “He’d be furious if he knew I was here.”
“Why are you here, then?” Nina asked.
“I’m embarrassed that I’ve never been to Rickie’s before.” Riley turned on her stool to examine the neighborhood bar-slash-restaurant-slash-jazz-club that Nina had named after her daughter, Erica. Most of the tables, booths, comfy chairs, and sofas arranged downstairs were filled, as was usually the case on a Tuesday evening, and half of the tables in the upstairs dining room/performance area were occupied as well, even though the music wouldn’t begin for another two hours yet. “I don’t get across the river very often,” she added.
That didn’t surprise me. Folks in St. Paul and the eastern suburbs, if you gave them a good enough reason they might be induced to cross the Mississippi into Minneapolis. However, the people who live there rarely, if ever, travel to this side of the river. Most natives will tell you that whoever invented the label “Twin Cities” was being ironic. We aren’t twins. We aren’t brothers. Hell, most of the time we aren’t even friends. Which made the question that more imperative.
“What do you want, Ms. Brodin?” I asked again.
“My BFFs call me Riles.”