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 (10 page)

BOOK: Liberty Falling-pigeon 7
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"We're not going to do anything, Anna," Frederick said. "Molly knows we are here. She knows we love her. She knows the two of us--you and me--are going to hang around singing old songs off key till she's strong enough to walk out of here."

"Right," Anna said to Frederick. "Right," she repeated to her sister. Molly was still breathing eleven beautiful self-initiated breaths per minute. Anna watched and counted and felt the panic receding.

By noon Anna had had all she could take of the sickroom. Molly had awakened once more, and though she'd not spoken, she seemed comfortable and, indeed, comforted by the presence of both Anna and Frederick. With only a mild sense of a rat abandoning ship, Anna left the confines of the hospital for the livelier confines of the city.

For an hour or so she rattled around midtown killing time by looking at clothes she not only couldn't afford but had no place to wear. Shopgirls working on commission hounded her out of the smaller boutiques and she made her way to the cathedrals of fashion on Fifth Avenue. Lord & Taylor. Saks. She remembered actually purchasing clothing at Saks occasionally when she lived in New York in the 1980s. Now it seemed merely a museum for clothes too ugly even for rich people to wear. Two o'clock came and Anna had had all of city life she needed for one day. Not willing to take time for lunch, she headed for the nearest subway and the three-fifteen staff boat to Ellis and Liberty. Anna had cab fare. She'd been a GS-9 for a few years. The money wasn't princely but it was a fair wage. Having simple tastes and no responsibilities, she'd managed a tidy savings program. But somewhere in the years after Henry Ford invented the automobile and the first one went out for hire in New York, an adversarial relationship had sprung up between cabbies and the human race. The noise, smell and congestion of the subway was less abrasive than even a brief incarceration with these unilaterally hostile strangers. Anna carried a pocketful of subway tokens, talismans against the potentially necessary evil of cab warfare.

Assistant Superintendent Trey Claypool was at the MIO dock when Anna arrived just after three. The sun was hot, the air close and humid. He waited hatless near the water, away from any hope of shade as if he, like Anna, was anxious to turn his back on the city. She wandered out to where he sat on a piling and squatted in the meager shade his body provided. "We seem to be on the same schedule today," she said, just to have something to say.

Claypool looked down at her. His hair was cropped close, a mixture of brown and gray. In the harsh light the white bristles glittered like hoarfrost and the planes of his face were without shadows.

"I'm Anna Pigeon," she offered.

"I know. Staying with Patsy Silva." He looked out over the water again. Not lack of recognition; lack of interest.

Anna could live with that. She too let her eyes be drawn over the glitter of broken water ever troubled by the passage of ships and the currents where the Atlantic met the Hudson.

"You're bleeding," Claypool said after a minute, and Anna wondered if he had eyes in the back of his head. "Your leg," he added.

He was right. Blood from the gash on her thigh was oozing through, discoloring the faded denim of her trousers. "It's only a flesh wound," she said, because she'd always wanted to. Claypool grunted. As close as he ever came to a laugh, she guessed.

Heartened by the grunt, she told him how she'd come by the injury. Finishing her tale, she was gratified at last to see a semblance of interest in those guarded green eyes.

"Where did you say it happened?" he asked.

Anna had been up and down and around and through so many deteriorating passages and rooms that she wasn't precisely sure, but she gave it her best. "Island Three," she told him. "Out near the end. Those stairs with that pile of stuff under them. Covered with an old tarp. Pipe maybe."

The interest sharpened and with it some other emotion she couldn't read, pride or aggravation. Neither fit the situation. "No," he said after a pause. "There's no dump, no boneyard where you're talking about. I know every inch of that island."

A certain bitterness of tone suggested he had little else to do but acquaint himself intimately with a resource he would never manage. "You must have been farther over. The Immigration Commissioner's house. There is some old electrical equipment left behind by the Coast Guard there."

"It wasn't that far over," Anna said, but even as she spoke she was uncertain. Without a detailed, up-to-date floor plan, the magnificent old hospital was a confusing maze.

With her failure to be more specific, Claypool lost interest. They sat without speaking, Anna watching the slow spread of blood ruining one of two pairs of pants she'd brought with her, till the
Liberty IV
motored up.

At her request, Kevin dropped her off on Ellis before completing his run to Liberty, where the Assistant Superintendent lived in bachelor splendor in a charming two-story brick house across a sliver of lawn from Patsy's kitchen door. Shortly after disembarking, Anna wished she'd gone on to Liberty with him. Her leg was beginning to bother her, but more than that, fatigue slammed down and she had no energy either to hike far enough to hide out from people, or to endure further socializing. Patsy's miserable excuse for a sofa and a few chapters of Wilkie Collins suddenly glowed with all the tragic promise of paradise lost.

Feeling pitiful, she limped to the elevator in the old power station behind the museum to wait out the hour till the next boat made a run from Ellis to Liberty.

Much of the inside of the building had been renovated to provide working space for the Ellis Island staff. Walls were white-painted cement block, the floors covered in new green and white linoleum. Despite the job going to the lowest bidder, touches of history remained in wooden doors with clear-paned glass, etched windows and an ornate wrought-iron staircase painted brick red. On the second floor Anna snaked down a hallway twisted by structural necessity to the clean sunny room that had been set aside as an employee break room. It had two refrigerators, three microwave ovens and a sink, but its chief allure came from its location. Near as Anna could tell, it was the break room farthest from headquarters, and being on the second floor, it wasn't handy to a smoking area. People tended not to use it. Anna was counting on that to provide her with the needed respite till the boat returned.

Today the quiet room had become a vortex for past and present. Anna opened the door to see a
wraithlike woman, delicate and pale almost to translucence. She was clad in a brown cotton dress that swept the top of high-buttoned boots; a colored shawl was draped over her shoulders. Her hair was in a severe knot at the back of her head. She was engaged in earnest conversation with a middle-aged man in knickers, woolen stockings and a tweed cap.

Actors; Anna had forgotten about them. Naturally cliquish, they eschewed the common haunts and claimed this small isolated space for their own. On break before the last show of the day, three of them had scattered themselves around one of two tables. They glanced up briefly when she entered, but had no reason to spare a greeting. The conversation was the same as those Anna recalled from a distant past with her actor husband, Zachary: agents, roles, pictures, resumes, the blind idiocy of directors and the sublime possibilities of the next audition.

Anna borrowed a Coke from the stash Patsy kept in one of the refrigerators and took her place at the remaining table. Some kind soul had left a newspaper. She had no interest in reading it, but it was a place for a lone female to rest her eyes in this semipublic place.

Desultory leafing turned up two decent political cartoons and, to her surprise, an article of interest. Buried on page 29 was a short report of the death by falling from the Statue of Liberty. The facts were in line with the scuttlebutt: a girl, early adolescence, not yet identified, dead of massive head trauma. Hatch was mentioned by name. There was a quote from the Superintendent about sorrow, tragedy and ongoing investigation. Without any overt altering of the known facts, the piece was cunningly yellowed with loaded words and slanted connotations. A source who asked not to be identified was relied on for much of this. The park and especially the Park Police were being put in an unflattering light. Though never stating it outright, the author left the reader with a sense that the child's death was a direct result of jackbooted insensitivity.

Distancing herself from its sly ignorance, Anna pushed the paper away. She'd heard that cant before and suspected Patsy's roommate, Mandy, of being the anonymous source.

Retaining the newspaper for protective coloration, Anna allowed her attention to be diverted to the table where the actors congregated. For a change they'd stopped talking shop. The man in knickers, hired probably because he resembled the archetypal Irish immigrant--craggy, handsome, thick reddish hair, square face crosshatched with weathered lines--was holding forth in disappointingly American tones.

"I guess the night watchman--"

"Park Police," the frail blonde interjected.

"--has been talking. He told Andrew he'd seen candlelight in the windows high on Island Two and once he said he heard music. Some kind of fife-and-steel-drum Irish thing." The man laughed, a big theatrical laugh become his own with use. "He should get history straight. I don't think steel drums in Irish music have been around all that long."

"I hate anachronisms in my ectoplasm," said the third actor of the troupe, a stocky black woman tied up in bright pseudo-Jamaican rags. "Still, there is something. I've felt it a couple times when I was rehearsing. I went over to the other islands to sort of get the sense of time. That old laundry room is way colder than the rest of the rooms."

"Method acting," the man said, and winked.

The black actress took umbrage. Her back was turned, but Anna could read anger in the stiffening of the wide shoulders and the backward tip of the turbaned head. "It's there if you're not too tied up in middle-class banality to feel it."

Low blow. Accusing an artist of being normal. In the old days them had been fightin' words. The thought raised Anna's flagging spirits, reminding her of how magnificently young and ardent she had once been.

"Billy Bonham?" said the fragile blonde. "Baby-blue-eyed Billy?" The speaker was probably in her late twenties but her features were as delicate as a child's, the bones fine and light, her skin poreless and without freckle or line. Her hair, naturally blond as near as Anna could tell, had the gossamer texture of a very little girl's.

"Who?" the faux Irishman asked, eyebrows raised.

A faint pink crept up the actress's neck and Anna wondered if a romance was in the offing. Bonham was younger than she, but pretty enough to bridge a gap of a few years.

The black woman caught it instantly. "Oooh. I smell gossip. Billy who, Corinne? Is this somebody we should know about?" Corinne, the blonde, looked genuinely flustered and began shaking her head much too quickly in denial. "Uh-oh," said the other actress. "Is this somebody Macho Bozo should
not
know about?"

"No," Corinne said, her composure regained, the flush all but gone from her porcelain neck. "He's the Park Policeman who has the night shift, the one that said he saw the lights, heard The Chieftains' dead ancestors jamming."

"And just how did you come to know Park Policeman Billy Bonham?" the other woman pried. "He leaves before we get here mornings and comes nights after we've gone. Oho! I thought you took an earlier boat in than we did and a later one home because you were so dedicated to your craft. It's
L'Amour!"

Again the flush. It was utterly charming, the more so because Anna didn't think it could be feigned. Lord knew she'd tried often enough when she was in high school.

"Baby-blue-eyed Billy?" the man put in. "What kind of a name is
Billy?
Are we doing a bit of cradle robbing?"

"He's old enough to be your son," Corinne said wickedly.

"Touché." He went back to a bag of Doritos. "So, tell us about
Billy."

Corinne flopped down, her graceful neck bowed, her head resting on crossed arms. "You two are impossible," she moaned. "I don't know
Billy.
I don't care to know
Billy.
My point was--Oh, fuck," she laughed. "Now I don't remember what my point was."

"Ghosts."

"God. Thank you. Toya. You cost me more brain cells over break than I'd lose in ten years of happy hours. Ghosts. Bill--Officer Bonham is not crazy. I wouldn't stay the night here for an audition at the Public Theatre. I know for a fact it's haunted."

"Hah!" This from Toya, who "sensed things."

Anna was totally engrossed at this point, forgetting to pretend to read the paper, but even in this small diversion she was to be thwarted.

"Time to return to reality, ladies," the man said, his accent now befitting a son of Erin.

"Like the theater is reality," Corinne said, and the three of them left in a flurry of nineteenth-century skirts and twentieth-century profanity.

Billy had been seeing ghosts. That must have been what the morning's fragmented conversation aboard the
Liberty IV
had been about. All alone on Ellis nights, he was spooking himself.

BOOK: Liberty Falling-pigeon 7
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