Read Liberty Falling-pigeon 7 Online

Authors: Nevada Barr

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Suspense, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery Fiction, #Mystery, #Crime & mystery, #Fiction - Mystery, #Detective, #Mystery & Detective - Women Sleuths, #Mystery & Detective - Series, #Pigeon; Anna (Fictitious Character), #Women Park Rangers, #Mystery & Thrillers, #Ellis Island (N.J. and N.Y.), #Statue of Liberty National Monument (N.Y. and N.J.)

Liberty Falling-pigeon 7

BOOK: Liberty Falling-pigeon 7
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G. P. Putnam's Sons    New York
G. P. putnam's sons
Publishers Since 1838
a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.

375 Hudson Street New York, NY 10014

Copyright © 1999 by Nevada Barr All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Published simultaneously in Canada Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Barr, Nevada. Liberty falling / Nevada Barr. p.    cm. ISBN 0-399-14459-5 (acid-free paper)

I. Title.

PS3552.A73184L53    1999                    98-37343 CIP


Printed in the United States of America


For help on this book, I thank the staff of the Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty National Monuments; the Park Police on Ellis and Liberty (and yes, they are all handsome); the staff boat captains, and especially Becky Brock, who
me the place and a bed to sleep in while I did my research; an individual who is too shy to be named; and Charlie DeLeo, who kindly let me use him in the story. And thanks to Fred Shirley for his time and expertise.

Since the writing of this book, plans have been made to stabilize the buildings on Islands II and III, though no work has yet begun. It is hoped that if the structures can be saved, there will be funds to restore them. Contributions toward this future restoration can be made to The Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation; e-mail:
[email protected]


once my agent, twice my editor, always my friend



Of course Molly would live; anything else was unthinkable. But Anna was thinking it.

Concerned for her mental health--or their own--the nurses at Columbia-Presbyterian had banded together and banished Anna from the hospital for twelve hours. Once pried free of the rain-streaked monolith housing umpteen floors of misery, Anna fled the far reaches of the Upper West Side, spiraling down into the subway with the rainwater. Huddled on the Number 1 train, she rattled through the entrails of Manhattan to the end of the line: South Ferry. The subways weren't those she'd known as a young woman--a wife--living in New York City with Zach. These were clean, silver. They smelled of metal and electricity, like bumper cars at the carnival. Graffiti artists, frustrated by the glossy unpaintable surfaces, made futile attempts to etch gang symbols and lewd declarations of adolescent angst in the plastic of the windows. Vandals lacked patience and dedication.

At South Kerry, Anna sprinted up the stairs and burst from the station like a deadline-crazed commuter and across the three lanes of traffic that separated the subway from the pier. The National Park Service staff boat, the
Liberty IV,
was waiting at the Coast Guard clock, floating on the tip of Manhattan Island. Anna got aboard before they cast off. Kevin, the boat captain, winked. "I wouldn't have left you." She knew that, but she'd needed to run, to see the planks of the pier passing beneath her feet, to feel she'd outpaced the demons, beaten them to the boat. Ghosts can't cross open water.

On shipboard, she kept running. Avoiding kindly questions from Kevin, she left the warmth of the cabin and went to the stern. Under the dispirited flapping of the American flag, she watched the skyline, dominated by the twin towers of the World Trade Center, recede, carried away on the wake of the
Liberty IV.
Patsy Silva, the woman on Liberty Island with whom Anna was staying, referred to this pose, this view, as her "Barbra Streisand moment." It was the East Coast equivalent of Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat into the air in downtown Minneapolis.

Crossing the harbor, Anna tried to fix her mind on the movie that had burned that image into the collective unconscious of a generation of theatergoers, but could not remember even the title.

The NPS boat stopped first at Ellis Island. From there it would continue its endless triangle, ferrying staff to Liberty Island, then the third leg of the run, back to MIO, the dock shared with the Marine Inspection Office of the U.S. Coast Guard where Anna had boarded. Farther out in the harbor, the Circle Line ferried its tourist cargo in roughly the same path but docking at different points on the islands. Anna was bunking in Patsy Silva's spare room in a cozy little cottage on Liberty Island in the shadow of the great lady herself. The view from Anna's bedroom--could it be duplicated--would jack the price of a condo into the high six figures. As it was park housing, Patsy and her roommate paid the staggering sum of one hundred and forty dollars a month; recompense for living in an area a GS-7 on NPS wages couldn't possibly afford.

Loath to go "home" immediately, to strand herself amid the all too human accoutrements of coffee cups and telephones, Anna thanked Kevin, disembarked at Ellis, the
Liberty IV
's first stop, and slunk away, keeping to deserted brick alleys.

For ease of reference, Ellis was divided into three "islands," though all three of its building complexes shared the same bit of earth and were joined together by a long windowed walkway. Island I was the facility the tourists saw. Spectacularly refurbished in 1986, it housed the museum, the Registry Hall, the baggage room and the service areas through which twelve million of the immigrants who poured into America from 1892 to 1954 had passed. Vaulted ceilings, as airy as those of a cathedral built to worship industry, intricate windows, modern baths, electricity, running water--all the state-of-the-art nineteenth-century architecture--had been lovingly restored to its original grandeur. And returned, Anna had little doubt, to its original cacophony. At Ellis's peak, ten thousand souls a clay were shepherded through the "golden door" to America. Now Ellis, in season, saw eight to ten thousand visitors from all over the world each clay. The raucous babble of languages must have seemed familiar to the old building.

Echoing off acres of tile in cavernous rooms, the din gave Anna a headache. She'd arrived in New York two days before. After a day of staring blindly at exhibits, she'd been driven to Islands II and III. In these crumbling urban ruins she'd found solace.

Isolated from the public by an inlet where Circle Line ferries disgorged two-legged freight, Islands II and III had been the hospital wards and staff living quarters when Ellis was an immigration station. One of the first American hospitals built on the European spa principle that light and air are actually good for people, its many rooms were graced with windows reaching nearly from floor to ceiling. The infectious disease units on Island III were interconnected by long, freestanding passages, walled in paned glass Ellis had boasted a psychiatric hospital, two operating theaters, a morgue and an autopsy room. At the turn of the century, the hospitals on Ellis were showcases for modern medical practices. That, and the fact that at one time or another nearly every disease known to man was manifest in at least one hapless immigrant, lured students and doctors from all over. They came to Ellis to teach, learn and observe.

In the early fifties the hospitals had been abandoned. Unlike the registry building on Island I, they'd never been restored. There had never been funds to so much as stabilize the structures. Thus Anna loved them, found in them the peace the sprawl of New York City had destroyed even in the remote corners of her famed city parks.

On these abandoned islands, as in the Anasazi cliff dwellings in Colorado, the sugar mills on St. John, the copper mines on Isle Royale, Nature was taking back what had once been hers. Brick, glass and iron were wrapped with delicate green tendrils, vines content to destroy the manmade world one minute fragment at a time. Walls disappeared behind leafy curtains. Glass, shattered by the vicissitudes of time and vandals, was slowly returning its component parts to the sand that had been dredged from the Jersey shore to build the island. Four stories above this landfill, hardwood floors, sloped with moisture, grew lush carpets of fine green moss on the mounds of litter half a century of neglect had shaken down from the ceilings.

The rain that had been an unrelenting mirror of Anna's spirits since she arrived in New York blew down through chimneys, in windows, through ragged sockets of ruined skylights. Rain worked its silent progress down walls and pipes and electrical conduits of the old structures till, days after the skies cleared, it would rain in the maze of tunnels and corridors beneath the ancient buildings.

Protected by the covered walkway connecting the islands, Anna threaded her way through the detritus of a functioning park and odd stores remaining from a long history as a public trust. When Ellis was abandoned, it was left almost as if the bureaucrats and medical personnel
would return. Files, desks, furniture, dishes, beds and mattresses clogged the old rooms.

The corridor she followed curved gently, joining the three building complexes together. At best guess it was three or four hundred yards long, but the curvature warped the distance, giving a sense of an endless hallway to nowhere. Electrical cable dripped from the ceiling in knotted gray swaths, but no lights burned on the second and third of Ellis's "islands." What light there was leaked in through arched windows spaced down the walkway, each curtained in June's voracious greenery. Gouts of ivy and feathered fingers of locust broke through the glass, reached into the dim hall, greening the light and bringing in the rain. Spiderwebs caught the drops and converted them to emerald and diamond. Last year's leaves littered the floor.

Past the inlet between Islands I and II the corridor forked, the left branch leading underneath the buildings of Island II. The way was blocked by piled boxes of deteriorating manuals. Beyond, Anna could hear water--more than the hypnotic
drip drip
of creeping rain--and guessed the passage would be flooded.

Farther along the connecting passage, two wooden doors opened into a large room. The ceiling was partially destroyed, exposing bones of iron that divided the darkness above. The floor was soft with a mix of dirt, plaster and decomposing plant material. Slipping through the jam of rusted hinges, Anna skirted a frightening chunk of machinery. Once a mangle for cleaning and sterilizing hospital linens, it was now rusted immobile. Squatting over a quarter of the room, it suggested a malevolent past it had never possessed, hinted not at pink-cheeked laundresses but at inquisitors and iron maidens.

Skirting the mangle, Anna trod soundlessly, wanting to keep her whereabouts unknown, at least for a while. The back of the laundry room let into the first in the line of four-story interconnected buildings that made up Island II. The buildings were in a row: the psychiatric ward, hospital wards, living quarters and one of the islands' two operating theaters.

The buildings were tied together by long hallways, one on
each of the four floors. Two days' wandering had yet to bring Anna into all the rooms. From cellar to attic they enclosed hundreds of thousands of square feet of shadow and memory.

At the staircase in the psychiatric ward, she began her climb. The steps were rotting, the ceiling hanging in tatters. Walls were clamp to the touch. Plaster had fallen away and choked the steps till she walked on a ramp only partly divided by treads. Eroded plaster revealed walls of red stone blocks mortared together. Time, like a cancer, had eaten away at each layer of building material till the walls had the look of leprous and decaying flesh.

Anna found it beautiful, and wondered at herself. Was it merely the twisted set of her mind, or was this mosaic of ashes to ashes and dust to dust a thing of beauty? The latter, she decided. Her heart was lifted by the tiny clutches of fragile moss, by the down of a pigeon feather on the dappled gray of old wood. The stark and perfect walls of Columbia-Presbyterian, where Molly was interred, burned her with their sterility, their stink--if not of death, then of the weapons with which humanity waged war against it. Here in the mold, in the leaves and rain and growing mountains of bird shit, life was rich, fecund, strong enough to tear down the best man had to offer.

Each floor gained brought Anna closer to the sky, to the elements. The stairwell told its story of exposure in increasing amounts of damage. The five flights of stairs, from cellar to fourth floor, ascended in an angulated corkscrew fenced on one side by the wall and on the side of the stairwell by the high iron grating that graced all public areas in the psych ward, a net of metal girding the world into two-inch squares. On the third floor the stair treads were gone. Anna eased up on metal risers, the wood of the steps frayed away in splinters. From the third to the fourth floor even the risers had succumbed. Rust ate through bolts and metal tore away. From above rain dripped through a skylight framed in leaves--not from the massive and venerable trees outside but from the struggling, anemic upstart of an oak no more than four feet high and rooted in pigeon droppings and plaster dust on the top-floor landing.

BOOK: Liberty Falling-pigeon 7
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