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.)
Fingers hooked through the rusting mesh, feet reaching for stumps of metal the color of dried blood where risers had once been, Anna pulled herself toward the tree, the watery gray light of day.
When she'd gained the new-made earth on the fourth floor, she let herself stop. Walls built when labor was cheap and money plentiful shut away the high-pitched squeal of bunched humanity. Savoring a silence only made deeper by the monotonous symphony of water, she breathed deep of the moldering air. It stank with life. She had no doubt spores and microbes were thick, each breath a colloidal suspension of mist and microscopic worlds.
Turning from the silver-bright garden under the skylight, she picked her way through the remnants of what had apparently been a mess hall when the Coast Guard used the island in the 1940s. This high up, Anna had little faith in the floor and trod with great care between fallen chunks of ceiling and the inviting but treacherous stretches of greening. The far wall, facing south, away from the peopled part of Ellis, was alight with windows. Ducking through one of these glassless apertures, she breathed a sigh of relief. Resting against the stone of the window ledge, she took in an aching lungful of air. This was the place she'd found her second day in New York, the place she'd claimed for her own. A tiny private wilderness in the megalopolis that consumed the Eastern seaboard.
Her window overlooked a deep balcony the width of the room, thirty or more feet. The balustrade was of brick, laid in a lattice pattern, welcoming light and air. To the left was the red-tiled roof and green copper rain gutters of the next building in the complex. A locust tree, easily a hundred feet high, pushed branches over the balcony rail, lending this fourth-story aerie the snug mystery of a tree house. Beyond this kindly embrace, Anna could see the rain-pocked water of New York Harbor and, if she squinted through the leafy canopy, the head and upthrust arm of the lady on nearby Liberty Island.
Here Anna felt safe. From what, she would have been hard-pressed to say. Perhaps from prying eyes or well-meant inquiries. from the gabble of tourists and the strange uninterrupted hum of Manhattan across the water. Here she could let herself think, free from the fear that thoughts would overwhelm her and she would run screaming into the ocean or, worse, huddle in a closet somewhere under the pitying eyes of those not yet insane.
Human frailty was cumulative. Anna did not find safety in numbers, only the pooling of neurosis. Seldom did she feel comfort in another's arms, only the adding of their burdens to hers. To think of Molly, she needed to be alone in the pure clean air above the huddled masses yearning for God knew what ridiculous bullshit.
In April Molly had come down with pneumonia. True to form, she'd not gone to the hospital. One of her clients at the ParkView Psychiatric Clinic was a thoracic surgeon with deep insecurities about his sexuality. Halfway through a session he'd gotten off the couch--Molly did use an actual couch, a very fine one of wine-colored Moroccan leather with ebony lion's-paw feet--and diagnosed his psychiatrist. Two days later the doctors were saying the pneumonia was a blessing in disguise. Because of it, they'd found an undiagnosed heart problem: clogged arteries. Bypass surgery was recommended. When the pneumonia was cured, Molly went in for the procedure. All had gone well except that Molly's lungs would not pick up where they'd left off. Thirty years of Camel non-filters, Dewar's Black Label and considering riding the escalator at Blooming-dale's a form of aerobic exercise were taking their pound of flesh. Dye was injected to discover why her lungs were failing. The dye damaged her kidneys. At fifty-two, Anna's sister was on a respirator, a feeding tube and dialysis. The doctors, or more accurately, Dr. Madison, said there was no reason why Molly should not recover, but it would be very, very slow. Unsaid was the obvious: There was equally little reason why she should not die.
Except that Anna would not have it.
Except that Anna could not bear it.
And there was nothing she could do. Helplessness bound her in tight coils, making her muscles twitch and her lungs pinch. Guns, knives, courage, strength, cunning, wit, anger, chutzpah, stamina, skill, experience were as confetti, feathers on the wind in the face of this creeping death.
If anyone was to go mano a mano with the killer, it had to be Molly. Anna could only stand on the sidelines and cheer her on.
Too restless to retain her perch on the sill, she stalked across the rubble-strewn balcony, snatched leaves from the tree, stalked back. Face half a foot from the brick, she stood without moving for nearly a minute.
I'llwear out the fucking pom-poms,
Revenge of the Cheerleaders.
Low comedy. Life and death. The life and death of the dearest person in the world.
Self-medicated with a decent Beaujolais, Anna fell out of consciousness before ten p.m. The wine was searing nerve ends already flayed raw, and her sleep was infiltrated by scenes of loss. Handicapped by a dreamscape's malicious illogic, she desperately sought everything from woolen socks to the antidote for an injection that induced death by madness.
Around midnight, alcohol jangle and a pulsing jungle beat scraped at nightmare and nightmare became reality. Visceral pounding invaded her room, thudding that mimicked migraine and loosened marrow from bone. Opening her eyes did nothing to banish what sounded like the score to a Dean Koontz musical.
Patsy's spare room, only slightly larger than the single metal-framed cot Anna slept in, was piled to the ceiling with the oddments of a nomadic lifestyle. At the foot of the bed, hiking up nearly the width of the wall, was an old-fashioned sash window propped open with a
two-by-four Patsy left there for that purpose. Noise poured in on a
Anna slept as she swam and bathed, most sensibly and comfortably naked. When traveling, she brought pajamas lest she frighten the natives. Pulling them on against air too cold for June, she wove her way through the boxes to lean on the window-sill.
Across a black harbor Manhattan's skyline glittered, a perfect Broadway postcard. On the water, lit up like a lantern, floated the perpetrator of Anna's nightmare: a party boat. Patsy had warned her, but she'd forgotten. From Memorial Day to Labor Day they circled Liberty Island like hungry coyotes around a newborn moose calf, pressing as close as they dared without risking life and limb. Weddings, graduations, unspecified revelry, proving, if nothing else, that disco was not as dead as it deserved to be.
The festivities would grind on till two or three hours past midnight. Anna felt her way back to bed. The teensy light on her alarm told her it was 12:03. No rest for a while. She was annoyed on principle, but knew the wine would have ruined her sleep without the advent of the floating circus. Knowing she was as isolated in the midst of one of the world's largest cities as she would have been on the mesas of southern Colorado, she slipped on moccasins, pulled a Levi's jacket over her pajamas and went out through the kitchen door.
The physics of sound waves would dictate that the noise out of doors was in actuality louder than it had been in the room, but without walls and the dull air of even a well-ventilated house, it seemed less toxic. Wind off the water was cold, heavy with moisture. Stars that, in the grand scheme, had only recently been dimmed by Manhattan's glory and would be shining still when the last lightbulb on earth burned out, showed through jagged rents in the storm. Tomorrow--today--should show a more amiable face of summer. For the nonce, the cool gusts of midnight suited her, cooled the fevered sweat of wine gone cruel and reminded her the world was a place of the senses and not only of the mind.
A twisting sidewalk led from the cluster of employee houses. Cutting through a hedge black and shining with raindrops, Anna walked onto a broad circle paved in a circular pattern of brick and gray slate. East-northeast was Manhattan, looking magical and small. Due east was the lady. Luminescent in copper aged to a fine verdigris patina, Liberty stood shoulder to shoulder with the land, her face turned determinedly out to sea, her torch, newly gilded, catching the light of sixteen high-intensity lamps. Like most other Americans, Anna's ancestors had come through this harbor, passed the lady, disembarked at Ellis Island. But for her and Molly there were no stories. The only daughters of two black sheep, they'd known only one of their four grandparents and nothing--not even the names--of their great-grandparents.
Anna walked along the island's perimeter and around the remains of old Fort Wood, build in the 1800s to protect New York Harbor. The walls of the fort were shaped like the Star of David and made of solid granite. Inside, the fort had been filled in to make a base that lifted the lady's skirts twenty yards above the top of the old walls. Even without history gilding it, it was easy to imagine the impact this glorious woman would have, seen from tired and hopeful eyes in need of new dreams.
Below Liberty's left foot, set into a grassy bank separating the harbor walk from the statue, was a metal grid thirty feet long and six wide. From beneath probed the impressive beams of fourteen high-pressure sodium lights, illuminating the massive drapery of the gown and the bottom of the book and firing the underside of jaw and crown.
From the party boat anchored offshore, the music shifted to an all-bass rendition of "Staying Alive." Unable to resist, Anna ran up the grass, walked to the middle of the light grid and struck the pose made famous by John Travolta in
Saturday Night Fever.
She doubted that at this hour anyone on the boat, barring the crew, would be sober enough to focus their eyes, but she amused herself considerably.
"You. Buddy. Come off of there." A deep voice, rich with the neighborhood warmth of Brooklyn, came through the blaze.
Anna shaded her eyes. A futile gesture. Full bore of the sodium lights had induced terminal night blindness. Anxious to get out of the spotlight, she leapt for the grass.
"Easy now, buddy. You take it easy. Don't want you strainin' nothing. Including my patience. You probably just got yourself lost."
The voice was not peremptory but oddly gentling, the way people talked to growling dogs and lunatics. Off the grid, Anna could see the outline of the man who had called to her. Light blue shirt, gold badge: Park Police, supposedly tough guys. Or perhaps more accurately, highly trained professionals taught to distrust. The avuncular tone seemed out of character for addressing a night intruder. Then she remembered the pajamas. She was wearing a pair of flannel PJs given to her by the Cumberland Island fire crew as a joke. They were pale pink and patterned with fat brown bear cubs.
This Park Policeman thought she was a wandering nutcase. And so she was. Anna laughed, realizing as she did that it was not the most reassuring course she could have taken. To her embarrassment, she couldn't stop. The disco pose, the pajamas and three days of too much stress and too little sleep had rendered her borderline hysterical. "It's okay," she managed.
"Sure it is, buddy, sure it is. Everything's gonna be okay. Take your hands out of your pockets now and come on down here where I can see you."
Mustering a semblance of self-control, Anna held her hands out where the policeman could see she was unarmed, and walked slowly down the grassy slope. "My name's Anna Pigeon," she said. "I'm staying with Patsy Silva." She could see him now. He moved his hand away from the butt of his pistol and his face relaxed.
"That's right. I remember a lady was visiting Pats. In that jacket with the short hair, I thought you was a guy." Respectfully, he refrained from mentioning the pajamas.
"You get a lot of weirdos out here?" Anna asked.
"Not a lot. Kids sometimes. You can land a little boat anywhere. I shoo 'em off."
Assured he was
reassured, Anna stuck her hands back in her pockets and hugged her jacket around her for warmth. "Party boat woke me," she explained.
"They'll do that. You want to see the statue? Cleaning crew's gone. I thought I'd tuck her in for the night. I wouldn't mind the company. I'm Hatch. Well, James Hatchett, but it's always been Hatch."
There was a
wistful air to the invitation, and Anna realized how lonely--and deadly dull--the midnight-to-eight-a.m. shift would be. "Hatch," she said. "That would be great. Just one law-enforcement person on?" she asked as she fell into step beside him.
"What if something happens?"
"I guess I dial nine-one-one," he said, and laughed.
No backup: Anna had worked without backup half her career, but here in the city it surprised her.
The entrance to the lady through the pedestal was in keeping with the beauty of the statue. Two bronze doors, decorated with a bas-relief glorifying industry, rose over twenty feet. Hatch pushed them and they glided quietly on metal tracks laid in the granite floor. Inside was another set of doors, more pragmatic in nature. They were of glass with modern locks. Beyond, at the entrance to a one-and-a-half-story room with a mezzanine, white security arches like those used in airports to detect metal stood sentry. Visitors had to walk through them. Security measures had begun appearing in parks and museums all over the country. A sad commentary on the times.
Hatch disappeared momentarily; then the hall was filled with light. When he returned Anna saw him clearly for the first time. He was young--somewhere between twenty-five and thirty-five--big and, she suspected, deceptively soft-looking. Olive skin, close-cropped black hair and an inky mustache suggested an Italian ancestry that clashed with the surname Hatchett. The uniform of the Park Police fit him snugly, as if night duty on Liberty had put a few pounds on what had been a football player's physique. Dark eyes under thick straight brows were his finest feature. Hatch wasn't a smiling man, yet his face was pleasant. He stood with the easy hip-shot stance of a man accustomed to easing his back from the constant weight of a duty belt laden with gun, nightstick, pepper spray, cuffs, extra magazines for the 9mm, flashlight and other items carried by choice, departmental directive or necessity.