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.)
Out came the handkerchief.
Crumbum abandoned his master and, tail switching, stalked off through French doors that Anna guessed, from having frequented apartments like this in her younger days, opened into the dining room.
His mother's suicide explained a lot: Why Hatch reacted so badly to the lady who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, the flowers, his distress at the death of the girl at the statue, the azalea blossoms. Why he had needed so desperately to find out her ID, remembering, maybe, the weeks he and his dad had waited, not knowing. Anna waited till Jim had done with crying for the moment; then, briefly, she told him the story of the woman at the Presidio.
"That sounds like Jimmy," he said when she'd finished. "They say kids who had a parent commit suicide are more likely to do the same than kids that didn't. Jimmy never had dark times like his mother. He was a sunny little guy from the day he was born. I figured he'd be okay. Maybe there was something I wasn't seeing. He was brooding about that little girl killed at the statue, I know that. He never said outright, but he blamed himself. I think he blamed himself for his mom too. Hell, we both did. But I was a grown man and he was just a boy. I see these things on TV about little kids harboring these awful thoughts for years and then something triggers it and they go haywire. It was on Oprah."
"I don't think he killed himself," Anna said. Psychologically the facts might fit, but viscerally it didn't feel right.
Jim looked up from his apple juice bottle. "I don't want to think he did, but I'm an old man and Jimmy's father. Do you have anything or are you just wishing too?"
Anna gave him her best stuff: the ash and the tin. Spoken aloud, it sounded pretty feeble.
"That little meathead." Jim laughed. "He told me he'd quit smoking. Though I don't suppose one cigarette a
day would kill anybody."
Given the situation, the words rang hollow and the two of them waited out the ensuing silence.
"Can I see Hatch's apartment?" Anna asked abruptly.
"Now, why would you want to do that?" Jim asked amiably, but suddenly Anna was acutely aware of the fish-gutting knife on his hip.
"I don't know." She wasn't being entirely honest. Hatchett's gray eyes hardened as if he sensed it. "I was hoping to find something that could go toward explaining things. Just looking," she admitted. "Not looking to find."
He said nothing and her nerves began to tingle. Had Hatch kept a child for seven years, the old man would have known it, been a party to it. "The police have already looked for a note," Jim said finally. "I haven't been up there in a couple years." Tapping his walker with the back of his hand, his wedding band ringing dully against the aluminum tubing, he watched her as if guessing the weight of her soul.
"Sure. Why not. The key is on that hook by the door. Come on back when you're done. I'll leave my door open."
"Thanks." Knowing a burden of trust had been laid upon her, and hoping she'd find nothing more sinister than dirty socks, she took the key and left. Jim didn't ask her if she knew where she was going. He knew she'd already figured that out. Whether he suspected why depended on how much he had to hide, either on his own behalf or that of his son.
Clearly the "old bat" who cleaned for Mr. Hatchett Senior did not perform the same services for his son. Had Anna not seen many bachelor apartments in her life, she might have thought the place had been searched, ransacked by slovenly amateurs. The floor plan was the same as downstairs. Windows were closed and blinds drawn. The air was hot and smelled of garbage and unwashed laundry. Anna's mind flashed back to a sickening sweet-sour smell. Where? The infectious disease wards on Island III. No, this was different--homely, stale odors of a life lived. Obviously, Mr. Hatchett Senior had not had the heart to have his boy's place cleaned yet. Anna understood that. The bizarre permutations of grief were not unknown to her. After she was widowed--and she'd never told anyone this, not even her sister--she had slept on the same sheets for eighteen months, never washed them, because they were the last sheets she'd ever slept on with Zach.
The blinds were old-style paper rolls and the light through them cast a sepia tone over the piles of clothes and newspapers, the relics of a short and solitary life. Anna opened the blinds and surveyed the wreckage. Clearing her mind to sharpen her senses, she walked slowly through the clutter: Lacrosse clothes and sticks--Hatch either played or coached.
Anna flipped through it. Hatch had circled in red everything he wanted to watch that week. He was hooked on the afternoon soaps and old westerns:
and a handful of others in syndication that aired during the day.
The living room held little of interest. The dining room was a nest of old newspapers, but nothing stood out, no clippings of special interest: kidnappings, suicides, runaways. His personal mementos, and they were few, were in the bedroom. A photograph of his mother and him as a boy of six or eight. Maybe the last shot of the two of them before she took her life. A cross on the wall. A statue of the Virgin Mary on the dresser. Catholic. James Senior had mentioned that, but Anna had not quite realized the import. To a Catholic, suicide was one of the worst sins a person could commit, a betrayal not only of life but of faith.
She riffled through a closet, which regurgitated Park Police uniforms and little else. A row of tractor caps were the only pieces of apparel treated with respect. A collection of nine hung across one door, each on its own hook. They were standard tourist fare. Hatch had probably picked them up in the parks he'd worked in or visited. As she was closing the doors, giving up the search as pointless, one of the caps caught her attention. Having removed it from its hook, she turned it in her hands. The cap was dirty white canvas with an adjustable back. On the front, where the logo is usually displayed, was a brown lumpy shape. A potato, Anna realized, and knew she'd seen it before on the dead child. She'd remembered it as a rock or a
football, but this was a potato. A spud.
Was this what was referred to on the cryptic list found on Hatch's body? And what did it mean? That he'd known the child, that the hat had special significance? Or was this the clue to her identity he'd hinted at in the letter he left Anna? Identity was moot. Little Agnes Abigail Tucker once was lost but now was found.
Anna closed her eyes, the better to bring the list Trey had read to mind. "Little girl. Spud. Call Caroline."
Back in the living room, she cleared a stack of old pay stubs and assorted bills off the desk. It was an antique secretary rich with cubbyholes and compartments. Anna found what she was looking for in a recess under the pigeonholes: a Rolodex. One by one she flipped through the cards. He had the numbers and addresses of two Carolines: Caroline Rogers in Queens and Caroline Colter at Craters of the Moon National Monument. Having pulled the two cards out, Anna stuffed them in her hip pocket.
A rapping on the floor let her know her company was missed below stairs. Taking the cap with her, she let herself out and locked the door.
Jim was waiting for her in his chair. Crumbum was back, squashed over the arm as before.
"So, did it look like a cyclone hit it?" Hatch's father asked.
"Pretty much." Anna took her seat in the rocker and watched Jim Hatchett's eyes dull as he looked back through the years.
"He's always been like that. Angie threatened, cajoled and prayed but he never changed. Everywhere he went he left a trail--sweaters, socks, books. I always figured he'd grow out of it."
Jim was digging down by his hip again. Anna trusted he was looking for the handkerchief and not the knife. To give him a semblance of privacy, she stared out the window. Three little sparrows hopped along the brick in search of seeds.
"Did you find what you were looking for?" Jim asked when he'd recovered himself.
"I don't know," Anna replied. "Have you seen this before?" She took the ball cap out of the back of her waistband, handed it to him and watched closely. No glint of recognition or alarm.
"Jimmy collected these things but I never paid much attention. They all look alike to me. What's this supposed to be? A potato?"
"I guess," Anna said.
"Looks more like a turd."
There was nothing wrong with Jim's eyes or his sense of art.
Instead of handing it back, he put the cap on and asked: "Why did you take it?"
She answered with another question. "Does the name Tucker mean anything to you? Agnes Abigail Tucker or Pearl Tucker?"
Jim's face altered almost imperceptibly, a tightening of the skin around the eyes. Anna didn't know whether the names triggered some response or the man just didn't like being questioned. "Not offhand," he said evenly. "Why?"
"Do you have a basement?"
He looked at her long and hard. "What is it you're getting at? It's not just Jimmy jumping. Square with me or stop wasting my time."
Anna thought about it for a minute, then decided to tell him. If he and his son had collaborated in kidnapping and perversion, she could probably get to the door before the old guy got the knife out from between the cushion and the cat.
"I was trying to find a connection between Hatch and the dead girl. Her name was Tucker. She was kidnapped in California seven years ago."
"What... Wait." He thought. "That would've been about '92 or '93."
"Jimmy was working at that big park they got in San Francisco, down on the bay."
"And nobody found the little girl--found who kidnapped her--and then she was killed?" '
"A basement?" The pieces were falling into place behind the gray eyes, creating a picture Jim Hatchett did not like. "You thought maybe Jimmy stole this kid, brought her home like a stray kitten and kept her in the basement
"I didn't really think it," Anna hedged. "It just sort of crossed my mind as one remote possibility."
"Remote, hell. I've got half a mind to throw you out on your ear. What kind of mind sits around dreaming up psycho stories like that?"
"Somebody stole her. Somebody kept her for seven years."
"Jesus. What a world. Get us both another Scotch if you will."
Anna did as she was bade, making hers a short one. As she sat with her drink she considered asking again about the basement, but Jim was looking dangerous and she felt she'd pushed him about as far as he was going to be pushed.
He slurped up a snort of whiskey, his head heavy on the weakened neck. Anna saw her own father, his last days, skin loose, body failing him, but still able to tell a good joke and generous enough to laugh at ones he'd already heard.
"You never thought Jimmy'd do a thing like that," Jim stated. His voice was flat and strong. This was as close to pleading as he ever got, Anna would have bet her life on it.
"No. I never did," she said. And she never did, not really. It was just a lead, and like a hound dog that knows nothing else, she had to follow it to the end. "And I don't think he jumped."
Jim grunted his satisfaction.
"Can I take the cap?" Anna asked as she stood to go.
"Can I come back?"
"You damn well better."
The door to the building's basement was under the front stoop, as were many in the old brownstones. Anna hadn't noticed it before--she was too busy looking for the address. On the leaving-no-stone-unturned principle, she slipped around and down the stairway. In the basement door, a monolith of solid oak and nail studs, was a barred window. Standing on tiptoe, she looked inside. From the thin light leaking through ground-level windows, she could see a clean open space. To the right were a utility sink, a washer and a dryer. Down the middle ran a clothesline. Against the left wall were two cubicles, storage units for the apartments.
The odds of keeping a child captive in secret under these conditions were all but impossible. Still, she climbed the steps and walked into the narrow alley of grass and shrubs between Hatchett's building and the next. Dropping to hands and knees, she peered in the dusty windows. Both cubicles were filled with boxes, bicycles and other household paraphernalia. It all looked as if it hadn't been disturbed for a good long while.
Having brushed the evidence of her inquiries from her trousers, she regained the sidewalk.
Anna suppressed a guilty twitch. Jim Hatchett stood on the stoop above, leaning on his walker. "I brought you the key to the basement," he said. "You still want to see it?"
"Nah," Anna said. "I trust you."
He laughed, a deep chest laugh that was infectious. "Like one old fox trusts another. Here." He tossed her the baseball cap with the potato on it. "I don't know what good it will do you."
Anna didn't either, but since Hatch thought it was important enough to pinch from the New York City morgue, it had to mean something.
By the time Anna landed on Ellis Island and plopped herself down in the visitor's chair in Patsy's office, it was after four. Phone clamped between ear and shoulder, Patsy was furiously scribbling, punctuating her sentences with "Got it" and "Okay, go ahead."