Donahue’s hadn’t changed much since the early 1950s when the purple neon sign above the door blinked HOME COOKING. The sign was still there although the neon had long since burned out. So were the original booths and tables, just as worn with age and use as the sign. The walls were adorned with a series of Chinese landscapes that seemed as out of place now as they had fifteen years ago when I was introduced to the restaurant. I was still on probabation and Colin Gernes, my supervising officer, sat me down at the counter and announced, “Got a rook here, Liz.”
Liz was a big-busted woman of indeterminate age, dressed in a black and white uniform. “Fresh meat,” she said contemptuously. Five minutes later she slid a platter of sliced roast beef served with mashed potatoes and gravy in front of me.
“This one’s on the house, Rook, with some advice,” she said. “Find another line of work while you still can.”
“Too late,” Gernes told her. “He busted a suspect for B and E this morning and he liked it. He’s a thirty-year man for sure.”
I learned later that Liz had a husband who put in twenty-six years with the cops before he was killed in the line of duty by a seventeen-year-old coke-head. You’d think she wouldn’t want anything to do with cops after that, but she did. She took her husband’s pension and insurance and bought Donahue’s, where she dispensed good food, hearty laughter, caustic advice, and simple wisdom to the men and women who worked at the St. Paul Police Department three blocks away. That and a strong shoulder to cry on. When her huge heart finally burst at the age of seventy-two, they fired exactly seventy-two shots over her grave. Four hundred active and retired officers attended her funeral. No governor, no mayor, no councilman, no police chief was allowed to speak a word.
“I haven’t been here in years,” I said when we found a booth under a faded print showing a dozen Chinese peasants trapping a tiger beneath the Great Wall. I didn’t know they had tigers in China. The restaurant was half full. Most of the cops had stopped coming after Liz passed. I read the menu the waitress gave me. I don’t know why. I already knew what I was going to order. “Hot roast beef with mashed potatoes.”
After the waitress took our orders, Bobby told me that there was no paper on Carlson, Jamie Anne—she hadn’t ever been arrested for anything, not even a traffic summons. He had run the name through DMV. The only match was sixteen and brunette and living in Minneapolis—the doctor’s daughter, I presumed.
“What about Merci Cole?” I asked.
Bobby gave me a folded sheet of paper.
“My, my, my.”
Merci had a long list of prostitution gripes, one DWI, a couple of dis cons and one Class A felony—possession with intent. She did eighteen months at Shakopee and was released six weeks ago. Her last known address was on Avon near University Avenue in St. Paul, a neighborhood with abysmal property values.
I refolded the sheet and stuffed it in my pocket.
“I appreciate this, Bobby.”
“No problem. You can do me a favor, though.”
“I’d like to use your lake home … .”
“When this is done …”
“Anytime you want.”
“Get away for a few days.”
“It’s yours. In fact, I’ll tell you what. I’ll get you a set of keys. Whenever you want to use it, don’t even ask. Just go.”
“That’s decent of you.”
“Think of it as a resort. Use the boats, the tackle, eat the food, drink the beer—don’t worry about anything. It’s on me. And hey, if you and Shelby want to go alone, have a nice weekend of passion, huh? I’ll be happy to take the girls.”
“Nice weekend of passion,” he repeated quietly, nodding his head like he could already see it. And then, “How’s Kirsten?”
“It’s not my turn to watch her.”
“Trouble in paradise?”
“It looks like we’re through. She says she wants to see other people.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“The head nodding, what does that mean?”
“It means I’m not surprised.”
“She’s money, man. She’s Lake Minnetonka, she’s Vassar, she’s opera.”
“I have money.”
“Yeah, but she was born to it, she was raised by it. You just lucked into it. Answer me this. Would she have gone out with you if you were still a cop living in Merriam Park?”
“I like to think so.”
Bobby shook his head.
“Don’t get me wrong, I liked Kirsten when I met her. But the thing is, this is a girl who never rode on a city bus, not once in her life, while you and me, we’re the guys who tried to sneak on and off without paying, who slipped slugs into the doohickey that collected the fares.”
He had a point.
“You’ll find another girl,” he added.
“God, I hope. I’ve been living vicariously through your sexual exploits for years.”
“What sexual exploits?”
“C’mon, Mac. You’ve got it made.”
“All these women who put off getting married, who put off having families while they were establishing their careers, suddenly they’re our age and they’re looking around for eligible guys and there just aren’t any.” He pointed at me then. “Except for a few guys like you.”
“You’re good-looking, not as good-looking as me, but presentable.”