“They probably thought that the files were unimportant,” the clerk said. “None of them were pertinent to ongoing investigations. They were just taking up much-needed space.”
“You don’t think it looks bad?” I said.
“I guess you could argue that the department destroyed the records to avoid embarrassment over its involvement with criminals, but when they switched to a computer system in the early seventies, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension shredded hundreds of documents from that era, and I promise you, those people, they couldn’t care less about our reputation. Besides, it’s not like the police are the only ones anxious to edit history. There are a lot of prominent citizens, people who have buildings named after them, and their children—well, it’s all in the past, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” I said. I’m not sure why I was so surprised. Americans have always had short memories, haven’t they? It’s like there’s a statute of limitations imprinted on our brains. What occurred ten years ago doesn’t matter much to us. Fifty years ago? That’s too far back to remember. Seventy-five years? It might as well be the Peloponnesian Wars. I suppose it’s because as a people we are constantly reinventing ourselves.
“You could try the Minnesota Historical Society,” the clerk said. “They pay attention to these things.”
“Of course …” She was staring up and to her left now, as if experiencing a moment of inspiration. “We still have the homicide files. You could request those.”
“There’s no statute of limitation on murder.”
The bright red card the desk sergeant gave me allowed access to RECORDS UNIT ONLY on the third floor. Just the same, I rode the elevator down to the second floor, where the homicide unit resided.
There were two secured doors right and left when I stepped off the elevator and a glass partition in front of me. A woman sitting behind the glass smiled. If the receptionist in records was a lumpy leopard, this one was a black panther, sleek and powerful.
“May I help you?” she asked.
“I wish you would,” I said. Perhaps I sounded too flirtatious—sometimes I can’t help myself.
The receptionist grinned at me as if she had heard it all before but didn’t mind. Unfortunately, our budding relationship was interrupted when a woman strolled up behind her.
“McKenzie? What the hell are you doing here?” she said.
I was smiling at the receptionist when I answered. “Looking for help.”
“Yeah, you need it.” Detective Sergeant Jean Shipman rested a hand on the receptionist’s shoulder. “Lisa, this is Rushmore McKenzie.”
Lisa looked from me to Shipman and back again. “Really?” she said.
“In the flesh,” Shipman said.
Lisa smiled again, but it wasn’t as much fun this time. “You’re him?” she asked.
Or not so cool, depending on your point of view. I had been a good cop, spent eleven and a half years on the job; the Ranking Officers Association once even named me Police Officer of the Year. Yet most of the officers who knew my name didn’t remember me for that. To many I was the guy who hit the lottery, the cop who quit the police department in order to collect a three-million-dollar reward from a grateful insurance company on an embezzler I tracked on my own time nearly to the Canadian border. In moments of frustration they would sometimes invoke my name—if I could get a deal like McKenzie, I’d be out of here so fast! To the others I was the asshole who sold his shield for cash. I often wondered which side Shipman was on.
“Is Lieutenant Dunston around?” I asked. I deliberately projected a degree of formality because I didn’t want to compromise his command position. Shipman didn’t seem to mind.
“Nope,” she said. “Bobby must have seen you coming and snuck out the back.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time.”
Shipman swung around the receptionist’s desk and slid out of my sight behind a wall. A moment later the secured door on my right opened. She held it for me, and I slipped inside the inter sanctum of the homicide unit. There wasn’t much to see. If you didn’t know where you were, it could have been an insurance company, advertising agency, newspaper office, law firm—any place where professionals work side by side and carry guns.
“How are you, Jeannie?” I asked.
She flashed a two-second smile at me. “Excellent. You?”
“Good as gold.”
“What brings you by? Nostalgia?”
“In a manner of speaking. I want to take a look at your files.”
“No, no, no, no, no, I don’t think so.”
“Not current files.”
“Not any kind of files.”
“McKenzie, no. Bobby would have a heart attack. You know that. You know better than to even ask.”
“I’m not looking for open cases, or even cold cases.”
“Anything and everything between, say, January 1930 through May of ’33.”
That slowed her down.
“You’re kidding, right?” she said.