Jerry Jeff Walker was on the CD player, singing about getting off that L.A. freeway without getting killed. I hummed along while I drank my coffee and read the newspapers.
Both the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune were filled with stories about the brutal slaying of Katherine Katzmark. They emphasized that she had been an attractive woman. They remarked on the three businesses she had owned. They also made mention of the fact that she was the only female among the eight founding members of the Northern Lights Entrepreneur’s Club, a growing organization of young businesspeople that was challenging The Brotherhood—as the Twin Cities’ more senior movers and shakers were known—for political and economic dominance. It was just-the-facts-ma’am reporting, but there was an interesting if not insidious edge to it that disturbed me. The papers seemed to suggest that Katherine had been raped, tortured, and murdered because of her looks, her three businesses, and her involvement in the club—that her brutal death was punishment for having the audacity to shine in a male-dominated world.
Or maybe it was just me.
Without thinking, I reached for the phone. I was going to call Kirsten to ask if she had the same take on the articles as I did but then I remembered—we don’t have a relationship anymore. I cursed softly and returned the receiver to its cradle.
I was surrounded by eight large windows arranged in a semicircle in the breakfast nook that I had added to the house, each window overlooking my backyard. The yard was nearly a hundred feet deep and at the back of it was a small pond with a fountain in the center that my father had installed—I had told him we could pay someone to build it for us, but he was a guy who liked to do things himself. In the pond I could see five baby ducks frolicking under the watchful protection of their parents.
The mallards had arrived in the early spring at just about the time my father died and had somehow discovered the pond despite the fir trees that shaded it. Soon after, the five ducklings appeared. I told my father about the ducks while he lay in a hospital bed and he made me promise to take care of them. He was a guy who took care of things, of people. If you needed a ditch dug, a roof shingled, furniture moved; if you needed a few bucks or a shoulder to cry on; if you needed a volunteer, you called my dad. I learned from him.
I began by feeding the ducks from a distance, but eventually they took dried corn out of my hand. I called the adults Hepburn and Tracy. The kids I named Bobby, Shelby, Victoria, and Katie after the Dunston family and Maureen after my mother. They seemed quite content in my backyard and I dreaded the day they would all fly south for the winter. I asked a friend at the Department of Natural Resources about it and he told me if they survived the trip the ducks would probably return in the spring to establish new nests.
“In a few years you could be up to your butt in mallards,” he said.
That was fine with me. I liked the ducks. One of the things I liked most about them: They mated for life.
The St. Paul Police Department is located across from the Tastee Bread Company in downtown St. Paul, I-94 cutting a valley between them. I parked neatly in the visitors section of the asphalt lot after dodging a half dozen vans and panel trucks that were parked any which way the drivers pleased. The trucks were emblazoned with the logos and call letters of local TV and radio stations. Reporters for the stations as well as the two Twin Cities daily newspapers and assorted weeklies milled together in the foyer, standing apart from the officers who came and went, while they waited for someone in authority to make a statement. Most of the officers viewed the reporters with derision if not outright contempt. I recognized some of the cops from my eleven years on the force. Some of them recognized me.
They were friendly enough. They slapped my back and shook my hand and joked about the times we shared and how bad things were getting in the department and how lucky I was to have left when I did and said we should all get together and raise some hell. Only I knew nothing would come of it. I was no longer a member of the fraternity. I had quit. Pulled the pin and walked away. I might have gone back if someone invited me, only no one did. So, I stood by myself in the foyer, waiting for Bobby. It was the curse of the self-employed—or unemployed, as the case might be. Working alone you often become lonely. There’s no one with whom to discuss last night’s Twins game or politics or even the weather.
“I feel like a kibitzer,” I told Bobby later as we left the building, walking south on Minnesota Street.
“You are a kibitzer,” he said abruptly.
“Thank you for understanding.”
“What do you want me to tell you? That you’re an integral member of the St. Paul Police Department? You’re not.”
There was anger in his voice and since I was reasonably sure I hadn’t put it there, I asked, “What’s going on?”