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.)
At the Clark Street stop, Anna detrained and emerged into the sunshine. The Hatchetts, Junior and Senior, lived in a nice neighborhood. Pricey now, but James Senior may have bought and paid for his home in the fifties when it could still be done by regular people. With that thought, it occurred to Anna that she had assumed Hatch was from a blue-collar background. As she looked for 364 President Street, she realized why: his accent and his usually successful attempts to correct it. Speech patterns learned from a workingman who wants his son to have better.
By Colorado standards President Street was narrow and, with cars parked down both sides, almost choked, but the trees were mature. Late June found them in the fullness of their splendor, not yet tinged by smog or drought. The brownstones lining the street were simply designed, with square fronts and wide stoops. Unlike the Upper West Side's deep canyons, here buildings were on a more human scale, four stories mostly. That small concession changed the light, allowing the street a dappled neighborhood quality.
Number 364 was halfway down the block on the left. It had only two stories, quaint and cottagelike between its taller neighbors. The stoop was swept and two potted geraniums stood sentinel on cither side of a formidable wooden door. Beside the door were two bell pushes. A: James Hatchett, Sr. B: James Hatchett, Jr.
Anna pushed A and waited for the buzz. When it came it engendered in her, as always, a sense of urgency, as if the person within would let go of the buzzer before she could yank open the door. She made it with seconds to spare and stepped into the gloom of the hallway. The house was laid out like many she'd been in, in New York City: apartments to the left, stairs to the right zigzagging up to the floor above. Flooring and stairs were of dark wood, worn but cared for. The inevitable nicks and scuffs had recently been restained and the whole had a new coat of varnish. A rug cascaded down the steps like a tongue in a Disney cartoon. It was held in place at the back of each riser by a brass bar. The same blue paisley configuration continued on a runner over the hardwood to the door to apartment A.
As her eyes adjusted, she saw a man standing at the far end of the hall. There was a light above him, but either it had burned out or he'd decided not to turn it on.
"Excuse me, are you Mr. Hatchett?" she asked.
"The same." The voice was strong but had the coarsened quality of age. Walking into the darkness, she could see he was well into his sixties and leaned on a walker. His upper body was heavy, barrel-chested and short-waisted, with thick ropy arms. In his youth he must have been immensely strong.
"What can I do you for?" The offer was spoken in a friendly manner but it stopped Anna. This was territorial. This was a city. One did not accept strangers into one's home unexplained. Not even small female strangers.
She put her hands where he could see them and shifted her weight so the light through the high window in the front door reached him. He was square-headed, his hair black and white, in a grizzled old-fashioned crew cut. High and hooked, his nose jutted out from between thick black brows. Beneath, his eyes were gray and sharp. Even old and crippled, he wasn't a man Anna wanted to mess with.
She'd spent some time concocting a story to feed the old guy, but under his steady gaze she abandoned it. Either he'd help her or he wouldn't, but that nose looked as if it could sniff out a lie at fifty paces. "I met Hatch at the statue," she said. "We spent a little time together, not much. I was helping him identify the girl that died. I don't think Hatch jumped. I wanted to talk to you. If it's too painful, I'll go. I know I'm intruding on what must be an unendurable grief."
The old man pulled a large white handkerchief out of the pocket of the blue jumpsuit he wore--the unstructured kind that doesn't bind when one is sedentary. As the hankie was released, she noticed a silver sliver disappear into a leather case snapped to a belt loop. It was long and narrow-bladed, like the knives used to gut fish. She'd been right to respect the man's space.
Mr. Hatchett blew his nose with a honking sound, then pushed his glasses up onto his forehead and unashamedly wiped the tears out of his eyes. "Nothing's unendurable. But damn near. Damn near. Come on in." He pushed the door open with his hip and held it for her with one foot of his walker. "Lou Gehrig's disease," he explained as she passed him. "When it gets to your lungs, they say it kills you. We'll see."
Anna's dad had died of Lou Gehrig's disease; cheated her and Molly out of another twenty years of having a father. "That's what got my dad," she told Mr. Hatchett, "but it took fourteen years to do it."
"I got two left then. Sit down." He pointed to a rocking chair beside a fireplace filled with a dried-flower arrangement. Anna sat and James Hatchett Senior swung himself and the walker to a sideboard beside the door. "Scotch?" he offered.
It was eleven-thirty in the morning. "Don't mind if I do," Anna said, surprising herself. The Scotch was in honor of old Mr. Hatchett, Molly and her own father.
"A man's a damn fool to drink before he's forty and a damn fool not to afterward," Mr. Hatchett said. She heard the sound of liquid pouring into a glass; then he said: "I'll let you do the honors. Mine's the one with the straw."
Anna thought he was joking, but his was in a single-serving apple juice jar with a straw. She remembered then how stiff her dad's back and neck had gotten at the end. Stiff and terribly weak. It had been hard for him to put a glass to his lips, then tip his head back. That was soon before he died. Mr. Hatchett might not have two years left. She hoped she was wrong.
"Here you go, sir." She put the jar on the wide arm of the La-Z-Boy he'd settled into.
"Jim," she said, and took her seat. Recalling Hatch's accent, she said, "You don't sound like you're from Brooklyn."
"Seattle," he said. "Originally. Then all over. Then here. Stevedore for thirty-one years down on the docks. Here's mud in your eye." They toasted solemnly and sipped their drinks.
The apartment--or what she could see of it--was built in railroad style. They called it "shotgun" in the South. Each room was connected to the others in a line, like railroad cars. The living room, where they sat, was at the rear of the building. Two windows, uncurtained and opened to catch the breeze, looked out on a tiny garden fenced off from a dozen other gardens, equally tiny, behind the buildings that lined this street and the next. Hatchett's garden was well kept, roses in beds and potted plants around a square of brick paving. His apartment was equally well tended, if totally masculine. The few knickknacks looked to be souvenirs from around the world: a plaster Leaning Tower of Pisa, a wooden pagoda, a metal Eiffel Tower about six inches high, seashells and a plastic hula dancer in a faded grass skirt. There were lots of books, one floor-to-ceiling bookcase of paperbacks. At a glance, the complete works of Louis L'Amour and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Two black-and-white pictures in old frames--one of a woman, one of a ship--graced the mantel. Faded prints of heavily forested mountains framed the chimney. The only feminine touch was the dried flowers in the fireplace. Anna must have looked at them, because Jim said, "The housekeeper does that. She puts 'em in every June and lets 'em collect dust till September. I don't see the point but it keeps the old bat happy. Look out. We got company."
Anna turned in time to see a big tiger cat jumping from the windowsill to the arm of her chair. He paused, showed her his rear end long enough for her to pay her respects, then leapt to the arm of Jim's lounger. There he flopped down, legs hanging limp, chin on the upholstery in the same pose Anna had seen his larger cousins take when draped over tree limbs in the Serengeti.
"Hey, Crumbum," Jim said, and rubbed the cat's head with scarred knuckles. The cat's left ear was a ragged stub and one of his eyes was missing.
"Used up a few lives?" Anna asked politely.
"A few. He used to be quite the ladies' man. A real fighter. Till we got him fixed and he forgot what it was he was fighting for."
Silence settled between them. Anna could feel the sun warm on her shoulder, the Scotch warm in her stomach, and hear the uneven rattle of the tiger cat purring.
"You want to talk about Jimmy," Mr. Hatchett said after a fortifying sip from the straw.
"If you don't mind."
"Nah. I want to talk. Memory's all that keeps 'em alive. Jimmy, his mom, my folks, all alive and well in here." He tapped his temple. "A piss-poor excuse for the real thing, but you take what you can get." He pulled out the handkerchief and whisked it under his nose. Crumbum lazily batted at the cotton as it brushed by.
"Do you think he killed himself?" Anna asked bluntly.
Jim didn't answer and he didn't meet her eye. After half a minute she wondered if he'd heard her. "I like to think he didn't," he said finally.
"Sounds like you might think he did."
Again the silence. For a man who said he wanted to talk, words were coming hard. "Get that picture off the mantel, would you?" he asked at length.
Anna got up to do as he requested.
"The one on the end there in the black wood frame. Careful. That frame's falling apart. I keep meaning to get around to regluing it but never seem to quite make it."
Holding it securely together, Anna lifted down a photograph of a sweet-faced woman in the fitted coat and wide collar fashionable in the forties. She was leaning against the rounded fender of a car, her hand shading her eyes from the sun. No. Anna looked closer and smiled. She was saluting. The clothes looked about right for World War II. She appeared to be Italian, great dark eyes with straight black brows and shoulder-length waves of lush dark hair.
"Hatch's mother," Anna said. There was no mistaking the eyes.
"Hatch ... Right, that's what they called Jimmy at work. Jimmy's mom, Angela. I took that the first day I met her. She was seventeen. It was wartime. I was in the Navy and we got married a week later. Two days after that I shipped out and was gone three years. We were so hot for each other you could see the sparks. And in those days, if you cared about a girl, you married her first. You can't tell at that age what's hormones and what's love, but Angie and I were a couple of the lucky ones. We fell in love writing letters. All those three years. Hundreds of letters. I'd still know Angle's handwriting if I saw it tomorrow on a flyer in the gutter. Spiky little backhand. She was a southpaw. I got home and we got right to the business of being married like no time had passed at all."
Jim sucked up some Scotch and scratched the cat's head, flattening what was left of his ears out at right angles to his skull. Anna waited. She knew the beginning of a story when she heard one.
"What Angie'd managed to hide in her letters--not on purpose, she didn't have a dishonest bone, but because she'd hid it her whole life--was she had some kind of problem just being happy. She had dark times when she'd go off, walk by herself for hours. I was pretty worthless. Looking back, maybe there's something I could have done, but we didn't know much in those days. Only crazy people saw head doctors. I knew she wanted a family. I did too. I didn't become Catholic like they wanted, but I signed papers saying the kids would be raised Catholic. Church isn't all that bad for kids if you don't take it too seriously. There weren't any kids, though. We didn't run around testing ourselves like people do now. It was just the woman's fault. 'Barren' was the word Angie used to beat herself with."
Never having had much interest in children except from a scientific viewpoint, Anna found it hard to imagine the emptiness a woman like Angela Hatchett must have experienced when she was unable to bear. On two occasions she'd watched friends go through a frustrating fertility quest in their late thirties; seen it take over their lives, nearly destroy their marriages. Both cases had ended in not one but two successful pregnancies. She'd celebrated for them but known, deep down, she did not understand. As she did not truly understand now.
"To make a long story short," Jim went on after a minute, "the dark times got longer and darker. That woman must have walked a thousand miles. Hell, maybe she sat. I wasn't allowed to go with her. At thirty-nine she got pregnant. Everything went well, even the delivery. Angie had that baby laughing. Just like that's what she'd been born for."
"Hatch," Anna said.
"Jimmy. He was the best baby I ever saw. Sweet-tempered. Almost never cried. Laughed before he could sit up. A cat's tail and an empty box were all the toys he ever needed, though you can bet we bought him everything that wasn't nailed down.
"I thought that'd do it. A baby. For a while she was so happy, my Angie. Like the sun had finally come out. But whatever it was came back. When Jimmy was about five, she started walking again."
Anna had thought this fairy tale was going to have a happy ending, that the old man had forgotten the original question and was enjoying his reminiscences. Now she got a bad feeling Jim was just answering her in horrid detail.
"When Jimmy was eight, Angie jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge. It was more than a month before we knew. The body had to wash up and then it wasn't like it looked like Angie anymore."
"No note?" Anna asked.
"Never. I suppose I should have seen it coming, but I didn't. I always thought if I had it to do all over again ... Then I did have it to do all over again, with Jimmy this time, and I didn't see it coming. Son of a bitch."