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 forty-four 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.
“What the hell, Shelby. You and the girls can’t be bothered to lock doors and turn on lights … ?”
Bobby Dunston’s call caught me just as I was stepping out of the shower. I was dripping water all over my bedroom carpet when he told me, “I pulled the information you wanted.”
“Why don’t you come downtown about twelve-thirty and I’ll give it to you. You can buy me lunch.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“You can do a favor for me, too.”
He hung up before I could ask him what favor.