Ex-St. Paul cop Rushmore McKenzie has more time, and more money, than he knows what to do with. In fact, when he's willing to admit it to himself (and he usually isn't), Mac is downright bored. Until he decides to do a favor for a friend facing a family tragedy: Nine-year-old Stacy Carlson has been diagnosed with leukemia, and the only one with the matching bone marrow that can save her is her older sister, Jamie. Trouble is, Jamie ran away from home years ago.
Mac begins combing the backstreets of the Twin Cities, tracking down Jamie's last known associates. He starts with the expected pimps and drug dealers, but the path leads surprisingly to some of the Cities' most respected businessmen, as well as a few characters far more unsavory than the street hustlers he anticipated. As bullets fly and bodies drop, Mac persists, only to find that what he's looking for, and why, are not exactly what he'd imagined.
David Housewright's uncanny ability to turn the Twin Cities into an exotic, brooding backdrop for noir fiction, and his winning, witty hero Rushmore McKenzie, serve as a wicked one-two punch in A Hard Ticket Home, a series debut that reinforces Housewright's well-earned reputation as one of crime fiction's rising stars.
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May 01, 2004
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Excerpt from A Hard Ticket Home by David Housewright
Stacy Carlson was nine years old and she was dying. Her parents told me so while I watched her playing happily on the front lawn of their home, and the news hit me so hard I nearly lost my breath.
"Does she know?"
"We haven't told her," Molly Carlson said. "But, yes, I think she knows. We took her to enough doctors, even took her to the Mayo Clinic."
"What did the doctors tell you?"
"Leukemia," Richard Carlson answered from across the living room, answered as if he wished to spare his wife the pain of speaking the word. "They say her body is producing too many white blood corpuscles. They say her spleen and lymph glands are enlarged. They say she needs a bone marrow transplant or she'll die. Only, neither of us is compatible and finding a donor outside the family, that's a twenty thousand to one shot. Leastwise, that's what they say."
Carlson was a big man, big in every direction, 275 at least and not all of it was fat. His eyes were a pale green and what little hair he had was gray. All the other times I had seen him he had worn the faded jeans and T-shirts of a working contractor--a guy who not only designed and sold lake homes, but who also dug foundations and hammered nails. Today he was wearing his Sunday best: black boots, designer jeans, a checkered shirt with imitation pearl snaps, and a belt with a garish buckle declaring his fidelity to Winston Cup racing. He lived in a three-story house that he had built himself in a neighborhood where all the other houses were close to the ground. Somehow he had managed to build it without uprooting the dozen magnificent oak, maple, and birch trees that surrounded it. It was because of the house and trees that I had hired Carlson to build my own lake home.
"You want me to find a donor for Stacy?" I asked.
"We want you to find our other daughter, Jamie," Carlson said.
"Jamie," repeated Mrs. Carlson. Her voice was soft, almost a whisper. She was wearing a powder-blue dress printed with yellow flowers. She was eighteen inches shorter and 150 pounds lighter than her husband, but her hair was just as gray. She sat in a chair, her hands folded neatly in her lap, and watched Stacy through a large bay window. She never took her eyes off the girl.
"We had--we have another daughter. Jamie. She left us seven years ago. Stacy was only two back then. We had her late. She was--a present. Anyway, Jamie left us and never came back. We tried to find her, even thought about hiring a private investigator. Then we figured, well, that's the way Jamie wanted it. Only now ..."
"Jamie might be a compatible donor," I volunteered. "Jamie might be able to save Stacy's life."
Molly nodded. "Family members are best. And Jamie has a rare blood type, B-negative, same as Stacy. The doctors say, the first thing you need to be a compatible donor is the same blood type."
A missing person. Missing persons made me nervous. Most missing persons are missing because they want to be and rarely does anything good come of finding them. Still, Stacy Carlson was nine years old and she was dying. Her hair was long and blond and tied in a ponytail. Her eyes were vibrant green, her smile was bright enough to melt snow. I couldn't possibly imagine the pain and anguish Molly and Richard Carlson must have suffered as they watched their daughter, knowing she was literally dying before their eyes. When I was in the sixth grade I lost my mother to a brain tumor literally overnight. My father died just five months ago, yet his passing too was fairly quick, although we had both seen it coming. This was something else. Losing a child, slowly ...
"Tell me about Jamie," I said.
"You'll try to find her?" Molly asked, her face bright with hope.
"I can't promise anything, but yes, ma'am, I'll try."
Molly squeezed my hands like it was a done deal. "Thank you," she said.
"You understand, right? Richard told you I'm not a private investigator? I don't have a license. I don't have legal standing."
"He said you used to be a policeman."
"Yes. For eleven years in St. Paul."
"He said you help people."
"Sometimes. When I can."
"I appreciate this, Mac," Carlson said. In all my previous dealings with Carlson, he had spoken loudly. I figured he always spoke that way, big men sometimes do. Yet in his own home his voice was small. It was what my mother had called "an indoor voice."
"I can't tell you how much I appreciate it," he added. "Only, I'm not asking for charity. I know you usually do these things for free, but I'm a man who likes to pay his own way. Just ask anybody in Grand Rapids. Money's not a problem."
"Don't worry about it," I said. "Money's not a problem with me, either. I have plenty."
"I pay my own way," Carlson insisted.
"We'll talk about it later."
"I know you've been thinking about extending the deck at your place, maybe screening off part of it."
"We'll talk about it later."
"You spell your name S-O-N, right?" I said.
"Your name. S-O-N or S-E-N?"
"S-E-N is Danish. I'm Swedish," Carlson answered with a certain pride.
I made a note of it on a yellow legal pad I stole from my girlfriend's office. "How do you spell your daughter's name?"
"Anne," he said, then added, "with an E."
I wrote it down. "Jamie Anne Carlson. Pretty name."
"Thank you." Molly smiled slightly and looked down at her hands, still folded in her lap.
Carlson sat in an old, stuffed chair that had carried too much weight for too long and stared at a spot on the wall that no one else could see, leaving his wife to answer my questions.
"It was the year Jamie graduated from high school," Molly said. "Right after the Fourth--the weekend after the Fourth--she just took the clothes that would fit into one suitcase and left. We thought she would come back when her money ran out. She didn't. When she didn't come back by September, we went to the police. They said they couldn't help us. They said since she wasn't a minor and since there wasn't any indication of foul play--that's the phrase they used, foul play--well, they said they couldn't do anything."
"We thought of looking for her ourselves," Carlson said. "Hiring a private detective. But I guess we didn't see any point in it. Besides, we always thought she'd call. We always thought she'd come home."
"Why did she leave?" I asked. "Was she unhappy?"
"She didn't seem unhappy," Molly said.
"Did you have a fight, a serious disagreement of some kind?"
"No. I don't remember a fight. Truth is--truth is, Mr. McKenzie, we don't know why she left. One day she was living here perfectly fine, talking about going to the community college in the fall. Next day she was gone."
"No!" Molly was adamant. It was the first time she had raised her voice. "My Jamie wasn't like that."
"Something made her leave," I reminded her.
"I guess she just wanted to see some of the world."
"The world." Carlson spat the word like it was an obscenity.
Molly stared at him for a moment before continuing.
"She didn't like it here. She said there was nothing for someone her age to do."
Carlson shook his head in disbelief.
"Plenty to do," he insisted. "It's not like Grand Rapids is some hick town."
"Yes, it is," said Molly. "We like it, but ... Mr. McKenzie, Jamie was young and she was pretty, she was smart and she was bored. She wanted to leave here and she knew we disapproved, knew we would try to talk her out of it ... ."
"Maybe so, but she didn't have to just up and go like that. Without saying good-bye. Without even leaving a note. That ain't right."
And she hasn't tried to contact you again, not once in seven years, I thought but didn't say.
"No, it isn't right," I agreed.
"Where do you think Jamie went?" I asked.
"The Cities," Molly said. "Where else?"
In Minnesota? There was no place else, I agreed silently.
"Do you know Jamie's social security number? It'll help me find her."
"I don't know," Molly said. "I know she had one--the government gave her one when she was born. It's probably around here somewhere."
I took a white card from my wallet. I had five hundred printed about a year ago with just my name and phone number. I think I had given out twenty so far.
"If you can find her social security number, call me."
"R. McKenzie," Molly read slowly. "What does the R stand for?"
Usually when people ask that question, I simply answer, "My first name." For some reason I told Molly the truth.
"Rushmore? I never heard that before."
"My parents took a vacation to the Badlands of South Dakota. They told me I was conceived in a motor lodge near Mount Rushmore, so that's what they named me. I'm sure they thought it was a good idea at the time. Anyway, it could have been worse. I could have been Deadwood."
Both Carlson and Molly thought that was pretty funny. 'Course, they had never had to raise their hands when teachers called "Rushmore" on the first day of school.
"Driver's license?" I asked.
"Jamie had one. I don't know the number or anything."
I made note of that on the legal pad, too. The Department of Motor Vehicles would be one of my first stops.
"You said she was talking about going to a two-year college. What major?"
"She wanted to be a paralegal and work in a law office."
I made a note of that, then said, "I could use a photograph of her."
"I'll get it." Molly rose from the chair and went into an adjacent dining room.
Carlson watched her leave, then said, "You might wanna try talking to Merci Cole," his voice dropping several decibels.
If I had trouble hearing Carlson, his wife did not. A moment later, she was standing under the arch that separated the living room from the dining room.
"Merci Cole? Why do you say that?"
"Who's Merci Cole?" I asked, writing her name on the yellow pad.
"She was a friend of Jamie's," Molly answered, still watching her husband.
"Friend," Carlson muttered under his breath. It was another word he didn't seem to like. "I didn't say they were friends."
"Maybe not a friend." Molly turned away from her husband. "But they knew each other. Merci ran with a wild crowd--not Jamie's type of people at all. I don't think Merci received much supervision at home. She didn't have a father, she was born illegitimate. Her momma worked all the time at the paper mill. She died--when did she die?"
"Two years, three months ago," Carlson said. Molly seemed surprised that he knew the answer.
"They became friendly when they were both up for queen at that festival they had at the end of the school year," Molly added. "Spring Fling. They both lost. People said it was because they were both tall with blond hair and green eyes. They split the vote and the girl with dark hair won. The girls spent a great deal of time together during the contest. They seemed to have this, I don't know, rapport." She turned toward her husband. "But I don't know why you think Merci had anything to do with Jamie leaving."
"I didn't say she did."
"Well, then ..."
"Well, then--they both left at nearly the same time."
"So, I don't know, maybe they ran into each other."
"Merci was a thief," Molly said.
This time Carlson didn't argue. Instead, he found his spot on the wall and stared some more. Molly sighed in resignation and went back to watching her daughter through the window.
"Tell me about it," I said. "Anybody."
"Merci was a waitress at the diner near the mill," Carlson said. "Leastwise she was until she and the Steele boy, Richie, ran off with money they stole from the till. Didn't take the deputies long to catch 'em, neither. They didn't even get as far as Duluth. Oh, they swore they were innocent, said they didn't steal anything, said they were running away to get married. But the money was sure enough missing and they were sure enough leaving in a hurry. After she was arrested, Merci used her one phone call to contact Jamie. Jamie used her savings to bail Merci out."
"Why would she do that?" I asked. "You said they weren't close."
"I don't know," Molly answered.
"What happened after Merci was arrested?"
"The Steele boy, his father is big over at the paper mill," Carlson continued. "So you know the cops went easy on him once the old man replaced the money that was stolen. Merci they told to get out of town. They said if she wasn't gone within forty-eight hours they were going to arrest her. So off she goes."
I nodded. It was a typical tactic of a small town police force. Whenever the rurals have a problem that isn't worth their time and aggravation--or when the fix is in--they just tell the suspect to grab the next stage out of Dodge and don't come back.
"That was toward the end of June," Carlson said. "Week or so before Jamie left."
"One thing has nothin' to do with the other," Molly insisted.
"I didn't say it did," Carlson said.
I jotted the facts down on the yellow pad along with a question: Was 18-year-old Jamie's sense of justice so offended by the treatment of her friend that she would abandon her family and home?
Molly shook her head at her husband, then gave me the photograph, a two-by-three high school graduation shot. It showed a young woman posed against a dark, marbled background. She was beautiful. Bright green eyes, hair like a palomino pony, skin--you knew not so much as a pimple ever dared blemish that skin. I looked from the photo to the Carlsons to the little girl playing quietly outside and then back to the photo. How did Richard and Molly Carlson ever produce a child who looked like this? Twice?
"I'll be in touch."
Molly squeezed my hand. Again she said, "Thank you."
I shook hands with Carlson and went to my Jeep Grand Cherokee parked in their driveway. Stacy waved as I drove away. I waved back.
Ten minutes later I parked in front of the Judy Garland Museum, Judy singing "Somewhere over the Rainbow" on a weather-battered speaker, the ticket taker singing along. Kirsten Sager Whitson was leaning against the building, waiting for me.
"Sorry I took so long." I gestured toward the museum. "How was it?"
"Okay," she answered without enthusiasm. I reached for her hand. She pulled it away and filled it with her purse, making it seem like a casual gesture instead of the deliberate snub I knew it to be. She moved quickly to the passenger door of my SUV, opening it before I had the chance to do it for her.
A visit to the museum--Judy Garland had been born Francis Gumm in Grand Rapids; her family later moved to Duluth--had been Kirsten's idea, an alternative to meeting one of my "cases." Kirsten didn't approve of my occasional forays into detective work and said so. She thought they were common, even used that word once. "Common." I reminded her that I was eleven years a police officer. "How common is that?" Only that was before Teachwell and, in Kirsten's world view, didn't count.
Teachwell's company and insurance carrier had agreed to pay a finder's fee of fifty cents on the dollar with the stipulation that I keep my mouth shut about the size of the theft--thus avoiding a possible Enronlike meltdown of the company's stock. After the government took its 36.45 percent, I was left with approximately two million in income-producing mutual funds. Kirsten expected me to act like it. Only I had been unable to cast off the shackles of my blue-collar upbringing. She had used those words, too. "The shackles of your blue-collar upbringing."
"What do they want you to do?" she asked when we hit Highway 169 going south toward the Cities. I told her. "You're going to do it, aren't you? You're going to find the girl."
"Sure, if I can. Why not?"
"You don't need to do this."
"No. I could turn the car around and go back to the cabin. You and I can spend another week fishing and swimming and lolling in the sun. But I thought it was starting to get a little old toward the end, didn't you?"
"No. What I mean is, you don't need to do this. You could get a real job if you're bored."
"Doing what? Making more money?"
"There's nothing wrong with making money."
"Of course not. Except I already make $170,000 a year just for getting up in the morning. I realize that's not much if you're a shortstop for the Texas Rangers. On the other hand, I don't have coaches yelling at me or fans booing because I hit a single instead of a home run. Anyway, my needs are few and relatively inexpensive. I have more than I'll ever need."
"I'm not talking about money."
"I thought you were."
"I'm talking about getting a job that you can care about, that has value, that gives you pleasure. Like, like ..."
"Like helping people with their problems?"
She didn't have anything to say to that.
"Kirsten, I was a cop for eleven years. It was the only real job I ever had. I liked it. I liked catching bad guys, I liked being a peacemaker, protecting the peace. But mostly I liked helping people. It got to be a habit with me."
She didn't have anything to say to that, either.
During the 200-mile drive up from the Twin Cities Kirsten had been all chit-chat, conversing in depth on a number of topics that meant nothing to her. Same thing at the cabin. Now she sat in stony silence, staring out the passenger window. I didn't push, yet by the time we hit McGregor, midway between Grand Rapids and the Cities, I was feeling anxious. I figured she wanted to tell me something and was having a difficult time getting to it. I also decided I definitely didn't want to hear it.
Kirsten agreed to stop for a sandwich, and I pulled off the main drag and parked in the gravel lot of a restaurant called Jack's. Across the highway from Jack's was a small office building. A few decades ago Jack's was called Mark's and the office building had been a mom-andpop tavern called The Wheel-Inn. It was there that I had witnessed Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon. My parents and I were returning from a camping trip not far from where my lake home is now and listening to the event on the radio. As the historic moment approached, my father stopped at the first public place he saw with a TV antenna. We sat in the tavern for over three hours eating hamburgers and drinking root beer while waiting for Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to leave their landing module. I don't remember much about the historic moment--I was so young. But I remember the root beer and I remember my parents. Dad cried and Mom laughed.
"Are you coming?" Kirsten asked.
I closed my door and locked it with a button on my key chain.
"Are you pregnant?"
Kirsten's mouth hung open for a moment and I thought I had guessed right. I was actually disappointed when she finally shook her head and said, "No."
"What is it then?"
"Hey." I rested my hands on top of her shoulders, leaning in, and giving her my most reassuring smile. "It's me."
She stepped back until her shoulders were no longer within reach. My hands fell away.
"Oh right. Like suddenly you're the Great Communicator."
I was surprised by the sharpness of her words. "Where did that come from?"
She crossed her arms.
"It's not you, it's me."
"What's you and not me?"
"Do we have to talk about this now?"
I gestured toward 169 with my head. "We're running out of highway."
Kirsten stepped away from the restaurant door and walked to the center of the parking lot. Gravel crunched under her feet.
"Something's changed," she said.
I shook my head dumbly, my mouth open. I felt numb, except for my stomach--my stomach was suddenly very active, performing all kinds of gymnastics.
"You spend too much time on the fringe, McKenzie," she told me at last. "The people you associate with--they live in rooms they pay for by the week."
"I don't know what that means."
"The coke-heads, the pushers, the prostitutes, the criminals and lowlifes and, and--two weeks ago we were supposed to go to the Guthrie Theater but we didn't because instead you were parked outside a motel with a camera because a friend wanted to know if her husband was cheating on her."
"The woman was from the neighborhood; I knew her growing up."
"That's what I mean. The people you deal with. In your world, in the world where you do these favors for people, everyone is so, so--wrong."
"A middle-aged couple from Grand Rapids is wrong?"
"You know what I mean."
I took the half dozen steps to my car door without realizing I had done it. The vehicle was now between us. I looked over its roof at Kirsten.
"I don't want to deal with it anymore," she announced with a voice as hard as the look in her eyes.
"Would you be happier if I was a stock broker?"
"The artistic director for the Minnesota Opera Company?"
"I can't be those things."
"I think maybe we should start seeing other people."
"Are you already seeing other people?"
"Oh yeah, right. Typical male reaction."
"Is that a yes or no?"
Kirsten moved to the Cherokee, leaned against it. Her arms stretched across the roof toward me. I took both of her hands in mine.
"I would never do that, Mac," she said, softening her voice for effect. "I care for you too deeply. Besides, you carry a gun."
Kirsten smiled. I guess she thought she had made a joke.
"If you tell me you just want to be friends, I might use it."
See, I can be funny, too.
"You'll always be more than that," she said.
"Then why are you dumping me?"
Kirsten didn't answer and I found myself gazing at the office building across the highway again. Suddenly, walking on the moon didn't seem like such a big thing.
I dropped Kirsten at her handsome Cape Cod located on the parkway that ringed the Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis, the house with the Victorian-style gazebo in the backyard. She kissed me good-bye. Not one of those quick pecks people in a hurry usually give each other. This one lingered long enough to cause a stirring in the nether regions.
Sure, I thought as she bounded away, her designer duffel bag over her shoulder. Break up with a guy and then kiss him to the depths of his soul so he knows what he's losing. 'Course, Kirsten insisted that she wasn't dumping me, that we weren't breaking up. We were merely seeing other people. So there was still hope. Yeah, right.
Twenty minutes later I reached my own home in Falcon Heights, a large English Colonial with a sprawling front porch. When I bought it, I thought it was located in St. Anthony Park, an exclusive, quiet, exceedingly old neighborhood of St. Paul tucked unobtrusively between the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis. It wasn't until I made an offer that I discovered to my horror that the house was on the wrong side of Hoyt Avenue, that I had inadvertently moved to the suburbs. Still, I'm a St. Paul boy at heart and whenever anyone asks, that's where I tell them I live.
I parked in my garage and entered the house through the back door. The first thing I did--before flicking on a light, before opening a window, before checking my mail and newspapers stacked in a box on the porch--was to turn on my CD player. Immediately, the grandiose sounds of opera spilled out of nineteen speakers strategically placed in various nooks and crannies throughout the house--Maria Callas singing an excerpt from Madame Butterfly. There was a purity to the music that I rarely heard in any other form. Still, I wasn't an opera fan. I listened to it because Kirsten listened to it. It was Callas, in fact, who had brought us together.
I had attended a Christmas party in the offices of my accountant, where I had discovered a remarkably handsome woman arguing with a man I didn't know. From what they said, I gathered that Callas had once been quite fat--as opera divas often are--when she first established her reputation. Afterward, she carefully and deliberately shed a third of her weight, turning herself into the sleek, fashionable woman who attracted the attention of Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis, among others. The topic of debate was whether Callas sounded better when she was fat or when she was thin.
"What do you think?" the woman asked abruptly.
"It might be sexist," I told her, "but things tend to sound better when they come from an attractive package. You, for example, remind me of a Mozart aria."
She laughed and told me that was the most original line she had ever heard. One thing led to another and there I was, listening to Maria Callas on a late Sunday afternoon.
"Why do you need to see other people?" I asked the empty house. Its answer was no more satisfying than Kirsten's had been in McGregor.
I poured myself a Pig's Eye beer and drank it way too fast. I poured myself another. I figured I had two choices. I could sit around and feel sorry for myself or I could work. I chose feeling sorry for myself. That lasted until the telephone rang.
"Are you all right?" Kirsten asked.
I was so surprised to hear her voice my heart skipped a beat and a voice shouting from the back of my head told me that it had all been a terrible mistake--of course she loves you.
"Sure, why wouldn't I be?"
"I thought you might ..." After a long pause she added, "I knew you would be okay, I was just checking."
"Thank you for your concern," I replied stoically. Sure, like I was going to tell her I was hurting.
"Mac, you're not like anyone else I know. All the men I know, they have a-gen-das"--she sounded the word out--"they have plans, they have mission statements. You don't. No, come to think about it, you do. You do have a mission statement. But yours is so simple and concise. Live well. Be helpful."
Why are you telling me that? I asked myself but didn't say.
"You're a good guy," she added. "There aren't many like you out there."
"Umm, I have to--I have to go, now."
She said, "I'll talk to you later," but it sounded like "good-bye."
And that was the end of that.
I hung up and listened to Maria for a little while longer.
"Screw this," I announced. I went to the CD player and replaced Maria's disc with another. A moment later Bonnie Raitt filled my house, asking, "What is this thing called love?"
I poured a third Pig's Eye--promising myself this would be the last--and settled in with my telephone directories. It's rarely that easy, but you have to begin somewhere and after seven years maybe Jamie wasn't hiding very hard. It was seven when I started dialing, eight-fifteen when I finished. Everyone was home--it was Sunday night in Minnesota, after all. There was one honest-to-God Jamie Anne Carlson listed in the Twin Cities, only she was sixteen years old. Her father, a doctor, had given her a phone with the stipulation that she stay the hell off his. There were thirteen 'J' Carlsons in the Minneapolis white pages and eight 'JA's--including a Jean Autry--but no Jamies. The St. Paul white pages listed six 'J's and two 'JA's. None of them was the woman I was looking for.
I returned the phone books to their proper place under the junk drawer in my kitchen and moved to what my father used to call "the family room," just off the dining room. Boz Scaggs followed me, having replaced Bonnie Raitt in the ten-disc CD player.
I fired up my PC and accessed the Web site of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. I found the screen for motor vehicle information and completed the request form, asking for Jamie's driver's license information. The request cost four dollars, would take at least twenty-four hours to complete, and left me wondering what to do next.
The concept of the right to privacy is a treasured hallmark of the American way of life, institutionalized early on by the founding fathers in the fourth and fifth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It's also a myth. In this era of advanced computer technology, guys like me can examine private information contained in vast databases that most Americans don't even know exist. Give me a name--just a name--and in seventy-two hours I can learn if the guy's married, his wife's maiden name, the names of his children, where they go to school, and if he's shacking up with some bimbo at the No-Tell Motel. I can obtain financial records including bank account numbers, deposits and balances, insurance policies, medical history going back ten years, employment histories, credit histories, court judgments, worker's compensation claims, property records, even high school and college grades. I can learn which credit cards he carries, what magazines he reads, which restaurants he frequents, the charities he supports, the organizations he belongs to, as well as his long-distance and intrastate toll calls. If he's online I'll know which Web sites he visits and what chat rooms he hangs out in. I can even find out if he wears a toupee or bought the Mario Lanza CD that was advertised on television. Yet it all seemed like so much work for a guy who broke his promise and was now working on his fourth beer.
Besides, there were two databases that might tell me everything I needed to know in a hurry if I could tap them--the National Crime Information Center and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's Criminal Justice Information System. I used to have a pretty reliable source in the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department who would access this information for me--I paid him fifty, sometimes a hundred bucks a pop. But that was when he was a sergeant making thirty-nine seven a year. Now he's a newly promoted lieutenant pulling down fortyfour five and he's above it all. Not only that, he threatens if he catches me using someone else in the department he'll bust my balls--how soon they forget.
I considered several other likely candidates who could help me and settled on Detective Sergeant Robert J. Dunston of the St. Paul Police Department. I called. The phone rang five times before a woman answered, "Hello."
"Hi, Shel. It's me."
"Rushmore." She's the only person who gets to call me that. "When are you going to take me away from all this?"
"From all of what? What's going on?"
"Bobby's in one of his moods again. Right now he's upstairs lecturing the girls because they didn't turn on the porch light."
"Put him on the phone."
A few moments later Bobby was telling me what he told his two daughters.
"How many times do I need to say it? Keep the front door locked, keep the back door locked, turn on the lights. How many women need to be raped, how many need to be killed before they catch on? Do they need to see pictures, 'cause I have pictures."
"Crime scene photos? You're going to show crime scene photos to an eight- and ten-year-old girl?"
"If that's what it takes."
"Bob, you're losing it."
"Am I?" He took a deep breath. "Maybe I am." Slow exhale. "It was awful. The worst I ever caught. What he did to her." His voice dropped several octaves like he was afraid someone would overhear him. "Mac, he removed one of her breasts with a steak knife, the other he peeled the way you would fillet a fish. Cigarette burns all over her body, a knife protruding from her vagina. He tied her to the bedposts with twine and sealed her mouth with duct tape ... ."
I closed my eyes at the horror of it. Sometimes I didn't miss police work at all.
"I never saw one that bad before, not even in training," Bobby added.
"Who was she?"
"Katherine Katzmark. Know her?"
"Name sounds familiar."
"She was an entrepreneur. Rich. Owned a catering service and a chain of kitchenware stores that sold imported place settings, cutlery and that sort of thing--you know, Worldware--and something else, I don't remember. By this time tomorrow I'll know everything about her."
I didn't doubt him for a moment. Bobby was an extremely thorough investigator.
He added, "I only came home for a few hours of sleep," in case I thought he was sloughing off--the first twenty-four hours in a murder investigation are crucial.
"High profile case," I volunteered.
"Tell me about it, the media is already ..." He paused, sighed some more. "You try not to take it home with you, you know? But I pull into the driveway and the light's not on."
He paused for a moment and then asked, "What did you want, anyway ?"
"I was going to beg a favor but I'm embarrassed now, what with your other troubles."
"But not too embarrassed."
Of course not. I told him the reason I called and he recited the department line concerning the unauthorized use of criminal records along with a lecture centering around the fact that he was far too busy to do my favors for me. I agreed with him and apologized.
"Ahh, screw it, I'll call you tomorrow morning."
"Bobby?" I asked before he hung up.
"Could you pull Merci Cole, too?"
"Sure. Why not? It's not like I have anything better to do."
I then asked him to put his wife back on the phone.