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 (3 page)

BOOK: Liberty Falling-pigeon 7
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"That's the original torch," Hatch said with pride. "Old Charlie keeps her shined up like new. Charlie's been the Keeper of the Flame forever--maybe thirty years. He keeps the torches lookin' good. Says God sent him to do it. I guess that's as good an explanation as any."

Anna walked around Liberty's first light. Polished and glowing by the good offices of God and Charlie, it was displayed in the monument's base. The torch was of stained glass. Irregularly shaped panes in pale gold, white and ocher licked up like flames. In the old days the torch had burned from within. Its light was feebler but perhaps, Anna thought, admiring the delicate craftsmanship, shone with greater warmth.

Hatch took her to the balcony of the torch room, then up again into the bottom of Liberty herself. First dreamed of in 1865, then built with a skeleton of iron, sinews of rivets and beams and a skin of glowing copper, completed in 1886, she was a greater wonder of modern technology than all the cybermagic of Silicon Valley. Greater because the least mechanical could grasp how it could have been done and yet marvel at the magnitude of the task. The lady could be worshiped in human terms, not gigs and bytes but "How big is it?" and "What does it weigh?"

Skirting of green floated away by the ton, falling in soft folds off massive girders. Leaning back, Anna let her eyes follow the graceful infrastructure upward. An elevator for those who couldn't walk the 354 steps carried visitors to what was called 5-P--the fifth floor within the pedestal. The elevator was an afterthought, the technology born later than Lady Liberty. Piggybacked into the space next to the main elevator, accessible only by squeezing in between the main elevator and the iron girders, was a small emergency elevator pod. The pod was later still and looked it: ovoid and sleek and mostly of glass. It was a tool for law enforcement and emergency medical personnel, Hatch explained as he gallantly gestured her in first, then mashed in next to her. She in her pajamas and he in his gun, they stood close as lovers as the elevator, belying its high-tech exterior, vibrated and jolted upward. Anna was put in mind of the orgasmatron in Woody Allen's
Sleeper
and had to work at not laughing lest she be forced to explain herself.

"S-eight. See, the S is for Statue, the 8 means eight stories up," Hatch said as the elevator jerked to a stop. "From here on we're on foot."

Stepping around an I beam running slantwise across the elevator's exit, Anna eased out. From this height she could see to the lady's neck. Tightly coiled spiral stairs of iron squirreled into the gloom.

"Step aerobics," Hatch said, and started up.

In the higher reaches of the statue, girders closed in, forming partial floors and shadowed recesses joined by girded catwalks. Anna had been to the crown once before, years back, when she'd lived in New York with her husband. Then it had been packed with people. And hot. Mostly she remembered feeling faint and claustrophobic. The journey up had taken over two hours. Tonight, running after Hatch, the climb took minutes.

Breathing hard, they stood before the row of small windows, the jewels in the crown. The room was ten feet wide and seven feet high. The windows, eye level for the five-foot-four-inch Anna, looked out over a piece of Brooklyn to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge at the mouth of the harbor. Behind Anna and Hatch, in the lady's head about where doctors say the personality is located in the human brain, were three spotlights powerful enough to push their rays out from the crown.

They lit up the room till every detail was harsh and clear. It was all of metal and spotlessly clean.

"Gum," Hatch said when Anna commented on it. "The cleaning crews come every night and scrape off gobs of gum. Graffiti's big too. Kids and not-mature adults get bored standing so long on the stairs and they gotta scribble or scratch on something. Lot of wear and tear, you gotta figure. In summer from ten in the morning till four there'll be twelve to fifteen visitors in this room all the time."

Fifteen. The space felt just comfortable for Anna and three quarters of the beefy policeman.

The appropriate remarks on the view, the structure and the heat of the lights having been made, they started down. Hatch pointed out the ladder leading to the torch. Access was locked; the torch was Charlie's exclusive domain. Visitors had not been allowed up for over fifty years.

At the top of the pedestal, just below Lady Liberty's feet, where the elevator stopped and visitors pooled, Anna and Hatch went out one of two double doors onto a stone balcony sixty feet above the island. The view back toward Manhattan was spectacular, and hidden as they were in the lee of the statue's skirts out of the wind, they were comparatively warm.

The balcony was protected by a parapet with shallow crenels, like the tower of a medieval castle. Hatch swung his legs through a gap and sat down, feet dangling over space. "The smoking lounge," he told Anna as she came up to lean on the wall beside him. From the breast pocket of his shirt, he removed a foil packet, the kind in which Anna used to carry joints during her misspent youth.

His blunt fingers were surprisingly dexterous, and as he uncurled the edges, Anna couldn't believe he'd be stupid enough to smoke marijuana on duty in front of a stranger.

She was right.

"My cigarette," he said, holding the forlorn crushed object up for inspection. "I used to smoke two packs a day. For the last five years I been down to a pack a month. This is my spot. One a day after I put the lady to bed. Don't smoke at all on my weekends." He looked to see if Anna was laughing at him. She wasn't. She knew the value of ritual in ordering the mind and lending meaning to lost souls. "Gauloises," he told her, indicating the cigarette. "They're French. Kevin gets 'em for me in the city. It's kind of a tribute, see. The lady came from France, and in Paris, they got a little bitty statue just like this one to welcome us when we go over there. That's really something, isn't it? These two ladies facing each other over the ocean welcoming strangers back and forth. I'm going to Paris someday just to see her sister." Hatch lit up, took a drag. Anna stared across the water at the endlessly fascinating hive of humanity that was New York City. To her, the tobacco smelled like smoldering manure, albeit fresh manure, but Hatch seemed to be enjoying it.

She kept him company till he'd smoked it down to where he was about to burn his fingers, then watched as he took a tin the size gourmet hard candies come in from his shirt pocket and opened it. Inside was fine, white sand. "Pinched from the Waldorf-Astoria. Peacock Room, no less. First-class all the way, that's me." Hatch smothered the butt in the sand, capped the tin and put it back in his pocket.

"There go your pals." He nodded in the direction of the harbor between Liberty and Ellis Islands. The party boat was motoring away, trailing sound after it like a bad smell. "Maybe you ought to put those pajamas to work," he said, and Anna laughed. "Somebody oughta be getting some shut-eye."

"You're on till eight in the morning?" Anna asked as he locked up behind them.

"Usually. Today I've got a double shift. I'll be on till five tomorrow."

Anna groaned her sympathy and took her pajamas back to bed.

Anna was persona non grata in the ICU till noon. During the morning hours doctors would be doing things to her sister; things she had to accept on faith as benevolent or make herself crazy. Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center was one of the best in the world, Dr. Madison one of the finest heart and lung specialists in the hospital. There she must enter into a realm where she was not particularly comfortable, that of trust.

After the nocturnal ramblings with James Hatchett, she thought she would be able to sleep in, but a cloudless peach dawn had found her sitting at Patsy's dining table watching ferries drag sleepy Staten Islanders to jobs on Wall Street and beyond. Unable to remain within the house walls, she had emerged onto Liberty proper around ten a.m. Since ten-thirty she'd been pacing on the top of the old fort, watching the clock for the
Liberty IV.
Each new Circle Line ferry, bristling with tourists, full to capacity with maybe a thousand people, amazed her. Towns all over the world must stand empty so that Liberty Island might be populated from Memorial Day to Labor Day. There was nothing to "see" at the monument, nothing that in the years since Lady Liberty's completion and the first boatload of tourists hadn't been done better and more efficiently by Walt Disney. Habit and the memory of a dream Americans no longer had was keeping them coming.

But the lady was real. Even these dull-eyed, camera-wielding masses seemed to sense it. Why else would they stand three and four hours in line, inching step by step up the spiral staircase, a double helix of DNA moving along Liberty's spine, for a meager peek at the harbor through the stingy glass jewels in her crown?

Only the day before, much of which Anna had spent on her deteriorating fourth-floor balcony, Patsy had been squiring around a professor from Vermont who made studying overcrowding in America's National Parks part of his life's work; whether it's better to let a lesser number of visitors have a quality experience, or to continue in the democratic practice of letting everyone be disappointed equally. And too, how much love can a limited resource--even one made by talented and industrious Frenchmen--stand?

"Christ," Anna whispered. Perhaps it was lack of sleep that was poisoning her outlook. No; it was the crowds. Hadn't rats, packed too many to a cage, begun to devour one another and commit other antisocial acts? As the herd of tourists pushed by, portions of them or their swinging baggage jostling portions of her anatomy, Anna felt her teeth growing sharper and the urge to bite forming deep within her ratty little soul.

Challenging herself to have at least one unjaundiced thought before lunch, she turned her back on the next wave of humanity and stared over the water toward the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. The rain was gone. Sun lay on the world like a blessing. Sparkling blue, the harbor belied all rumors of pollution. Sailboats took the place of butterflies, buildings in Brooklyn and Staten Island the place of cliffs and forests, the graceful line of the bridge that of distant mountains. Grudgingly, Anna admitted it was a glorious sight, stunning and not without magic.

A sharper sound cut through the low-grade fever of noise. It moved out through the crowd like ripples on a
pond, a sound every law enforcement officer becomes attuned to. Like a shepherdess listening to her flock and knowing a predator is among them, Anna knew that something alien, hostile, disturbed the visitors. Without making a conscious decision, she ran toward the epicenter of the noise.

Dodging somnambulant tourists, she scattered "Excuse me's" and "Pardons" liberally as she ran across the pedestal. On the Manhattan side of the monument's base the crowd had separated out: a ring of those not understanding, not wishing to get involved, then a space, then a denser ring of well-wishers and ghouls packed together.

"Step back. Back, please. Give them room." Anna recited the official litany as she squeezed through to the inner ring.

Crumpled on the granite was a boy no more than ten years old, from what Anna could see of his face. His little body was sprawled in the awkward way of violent death. Mechanically, she felt for a carotid pulse. CPR didn't even cross her mind. The kid was wearing a tractor cap, slightly too large and pulled down till it bent the tips of his ears outward. Still, she could see his head had split, burst on impact. The crown of the cap was crushed flat to the eyebrows as if he'd landed squarely on his head. Blood, a single clean-looking fragment of skull bone, and gray matter had been forced out the left temple.

"He jumped," said a scrawny young man in huge denim shorts and a T-shirt that read, "Been There, Wrecked That."

"Naw, man, he was pushed." This from a disembodied adolescent voice behind the first speaker. "That cop shoved him off. I was looking when he did it."

Anna looked up. Twenty yards above them, framed in the gray stone of a shallow crenel, was James Hatchett.

 

3

Step back. Back, please. Give us room." Anna looked up to see the gray and green of the monument's emergency medical technicians bearing down on her. Out of uniform, out of her own park, her EMT skills redundant, she melted into the crowd. As the medical technicians closed around the child's corpse, she glanced at the parapet sixty feet above. Hatch was gone. Curiosity egging her on, it crossed her mind to seek him out, pepper him with questions, but given the circumstances, one evening's acquaintance was not enough to presume upon. For a while--an afternoon, a week, a month, depending on what had actually happened--Hatch would be subjected to interrogation by all and sundry.

Turning her back on the hubbub, she walked toward the dock. Around her, tourists speculated in half a dozen languages as to what had occurred.

A perspiring woman with a toddler in one hand and a hot dog in the other stopped Anna and asked.

"I think a water main broke," Anna told her, and moved on.

Despite the graphic and gory vision she'd been witness to, she was oddly unmoved. Training warned her of post-traumatic stress with its potpourri of delayed reaction miseries, but she doubted that was the case. Over time one did become desensitized. The child's face, the blood and brains on the stone, would be filed away with other like horrors and probably never referred to again unless a similar incident brought them to mind.

Aware of the innate selfishness of the human heart, she realized that the heaviness she was experiencing--a depression that felt more like physical exhaustion than mental disorder--was because the accident had brought death too vividly to the fore: Molly's death, Anna's young husband Zach's death, her own death. With that thought came an unsettling sense of life's being meaningless, either too short or too long.

BOOK: Liberty Falling-pigeon 7
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