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.)
To her relief, the
was motoring up to the quay. She began to run the last fifty feet, an uncomfortable reprise of fleeing Manhattan the day before. Lest she look as haunted as she felt, she forced herself to slow to a walk.
was a trim little ferry with a high snug bridge above a passenger cabin, a square box with padded benches for fifteen or twenty people. A walkway ran between the rail and the cabin from the bow to the flat open area in the stern. There the American flag flew, rain or shine.
Cal Jackson, a black man so skinny his considerable strength seemed to emanate from skeleton rather than muscle, made an unerring toss of the rope, lassoing the thick wooden upright that supported the dock. No one currently working on Ellis or Liberty, the two parts of the National Monument, had ever seen him miss. Cal never boasted. He just never missed. At first Anna had thought him a young man, but on talking with him had revised her opinion. He looked maybe forty, but he talked of having worked on a fishing boat off Long Island in the early fifties and hiring on as a deckhand on a boat that supplied oil rigs off the coast of Texas in the early sixties after he got out of the Navy. He had to be close to retirement age.
Today Dwight Alvers captained the
Though sunlight and relative solitude tempted her, Anna climbed the short stairs to the bridge.
"Look what the cat drug in," Dwight said, and moved amiably aside to let her squeeze by. Patsy had gotten her in the habit of riding up on the bridge for the trips from island to island. The captains never seemed to mind the company and the view was good. There were two long-legged stools in front of the instrument panel, a radar screen hanging down in the middle of the window over the bow, a walking space no more than thirty-six inches wide, then a deep, butt-high wooden shelf finishing the small cabin. This shelf, with the captain's log and his lunch box, was Anna's favorite place.
Dwight was thick and red-necked. Anna didn't know if his politics fit, but his neck was the color of old brick. Hair bristled blond from creased, burnt-looking skin. His eyes were deep-set beneath brows bleached white. The nose, decidedly too delicate for the beefy face, sat aloof above a wide mouth. Narrow lips and a frown that showed Dwight's genes more than his disposition gave him a forbidding look. The crew cut and single diamond stud in his left ear didn't help.
Today he'd been unmasked. Events conspired to reveal what lurked in the heart of this man.
The console, the instrument panel--whatever one called the dashboard of a boat--was crowded with stuffed animals. Boneless lions and elephants like the ones that kids called Beanie Babies slouched on the radar screen and peeked from beneath charts. Anna recognized Nola from
The Lion King
and a crustacean in red velveteen that might have been from
The Little Mermaid.
Bears were well represented, as were dinosaurs. The keeper of this menagerie was the frail, intellectual-looking child of eight or nine who had been hidden behind Dwight's considerable self.
"What's all the excitement on Liberty?" Dwight asked. "The radio's been jammed with emergency chatter."
Anna looked at the man's son. "Jumper," she said, and left it at that.
Dwight whistled long and low; then he too shelved the subject till little pitchers took their big ears elsewhere.
"My son, Dwight junior," the captain said proudly. Anna and the little boy murmured "Howdoyoudo" in unison. "We call him Digby," Dwight said.
"That's so people can tell us apart," Digby volunteered.
"Two peas in a pod, right, son?"
Cal cast off and Dwight turned his attention to conning the
away from the dock and clear of the dredging barge that toiled most hours of every day keeping the boat channel from silting in. Various creatures, animated by Digby, assisted in the process. A turquoise burro rode the top of the wheel, and a grape-colored, forked-tongued beast that more closely resembled a slug than a snake insinuated itself into the crook of Dwight's elbow.
"How come you're not in school?" Anna asked, and was startled at how like her maternal grandmother she sounded.
At the querulous tone, Digby looked injured. "It's summer," he said.
"Monday, Wednesday, Friday Dig usually has piano, but his teacher's sister's having her baby today. C-section. So Dig's come to work with me. Dig's a musician. A regular Liberace."
Digby rolled his eyes and Anna laughed. "Harry Connick Junior?" she offered.
"Maybe..." Clearly Digby didn't want to be pigeonholed this early in his career.
As Manhattan, already formidable, grew to fill the windscreen, Anna watched Digby's zoo wander across Dwight's bridge and felt better than she had since she'd arrived in New York the previous Thursday.
The boat became part of the balletic weave of ships in the harbor. Out the starboard side of the cabin, Anna could see the statue. A helicopter chopped the air over the plaza. No doubt retrieving the dead child. Ahead was the distinctive geometric shape of Ellis Island.
"I was one of the last immigrants through there, did you know that?" Dwight said.
Anna didn't know whether to believe him or not. He liked to string her along to see how long it would take her to get a joke. The past few days it had been quite a while. Not feeling mentally acute, she just nodded.
"No kidding. I was a little shaver, not more than four years old. I came over from Czechoslovakia with my mom. She was an old widow lady of twenty-two. That was in 1951. We were just about the last folks through."
"I was born here," Digby said proudly. "Right there." Using the tail of an armadillo as a pointer, he indicated most of Brooklyn.
In need of harmless conversation, Anna asked: "Do you remember any of it?"
Dwight shook his head. "Not much. But when I started working here, it was like that baseball guy said, deja vu all over again. I'd remember stuff I'd never thought of before. Just little scenes and things. Mom remembers, though. She had to stay out there close to a week. Some kind of paperwork snafu. My grandmother, or the lady that would be my grandmother soon as her son and my mom got married, came out and got me, so I was only there maybe overnight.
"They must have known they were closing up shop soon. The people Mom spent her time with were these old geezers who'd worked Ellis since day one--"
"That'd be fifty-nine years, Daddy. They'd be too old," Digby said.
"Hey, tell it to your gramma. This is her story."
"You tell Gramma," Digby said in a tiny voice only he, Anna and a brown plush turtle heard. Anna gathered that Gramma was a formidable woman.
"Ma came home from that week on Ellis with enough stories to last a lifetime. People born, people hanging 'emselves rather than be sent back to the old country, ghosts and royalty, a lady in the loony bin found dead wearing nothing but her knickers, operas, ball games, this shock treatment machine they rolled from ward to ward, guys falling in love with gals who didn't speak a word of their language, folks with money stuffed in their shoes. Good stuff. There's tapes from lots of immigrants in the library. They got Ma to make one.
"Never make it, Cal," he hollered out the window as the deckhand tossed the rope expertly over a piling. "Cal missed his calling," Dwight said as he cut power and let the
drift gently dockside at the Marine Inspection Office in Manhattan. "He should have been a bronc roper."
For Anna's money, the boat trip had been too short. The hospital, the ICU, Molly on tubes and drugs, exercised an uncomfortable polarization. Anna could not bear to be away and couldn't stand being there. Once in either place--at Molly's side or tucked in the city exclosure of Ellis or Liberty--she was okay. In transit, both ends of the journey attracted and repulsed her simultaneously. Time went out of whack, either passing with mind-bending rapidity or creeping by so slowly she could hear her bones shrinking with the onset of old age.
True to expected perversity, the subway ride to the Upper West Side ate up several years of her life. At twelve-thirty she was eating pizza at a stand-up table in a sidewalk restaurant on 168th Street. At twelve forty-five she presented herself in the intensive care unit on the fifth floor.
"Please wait. The doctor will be right with you." This was pronounced in indifferent tones by a distracted woman in white. It was said after she'd looked at a clipboard. That meant something; it meant she didn't say the same thing to everybody, that there was some special reason Anna had to wait, a reason articulated on that board.
The two slices of pizza congealed in Anna's stomach and sent a geyser of what felt like quick-drying cement up her esophagus. In the eternity, she continued to stand before the counter trying to say, "Is there a problem?" The opaque pebbled glass of the sliding window closed.
For a moment she hesitated, wondering whether to tap on the glass, but in the end she was too afraid of what she might hear. Knowing herself for a craven, she retreated across the waiting room to a blue plastic armchair flanked by angular wood-look tables covered with magazines. A woman in her early forties sat on a sofa of the same blue leatherette along the opposite wall. She was heavyset, with big hips and thighs. Her face was overly made up but open, with an eager friendly expression. The woman wanted to talk. Anna hid behind a magazine, raising the top edge till it screened not only her eyes but the whole of her face. Without being aware of it, she tucked her elbows close to her body as if she could protect all of her person with the glossy pages.
In the next twenty minutes half a dozen people came and went. Each time, Anna jerked her head up and watched with the frightened expectant eyes that must come to haunt the sleep of medical professionals. Never was it for her. Thirty-seven minutes had creaked by before Dr. Madison finally came into the room.
Anna didn't move. She couldn't.
Don't sit, Doc,
Sitting is bad.
Good news was delivered standing, shouted from the door: "It's a girl!" "He's alive!" Bad news called for chairs and exaggerated eye contact.
Madison stepped across the small area, smoothed his lab coat over his behind, sat in the chair next to Anna's and crossed his legs, plucking the seam of his trousers straight. Anna didn't utter a sound. She thought of Shakespeare, of his writing that someone's tongue clove to the roof of his mouth, and that this, then, was what he had been talking about.
"Molly's about the same as yesterday," Dr. Madison said.
Anna eyed him coldly. "For that you had to sit down?"
"My feet hurt," he defended himself.
"Wear sneakers." To her surprise, he laughed. It wasn't so much pleasant as infectious, high-pitched--almost girlish--but utterly unselfconscious. Anna liked him better for it.
"Sorry," he said, and pulling off his bifocals, he scrubbed his eyes on the sleeve of his lab coat. "I get it. I sat. Scared you. I'm so sorry." He was still chuckling. It was beginning to lose its charm.
"I've been sorry since your dye fucked up my sister's kidneys."
Madison looked as if he'd been slapped. Before the words had passed her front teeth, Anna regretted them. Out of a primitive need to do battle she might have stood by her statement. Two things stopped her: The doctor looked more hurt than angry, and in this imperfect world, her bad manners might be taken out on her sister.
"Sorry." The word was hollow, feeble. "Really sorry." Somewhat better but still lame. "Abjectly, grovelingly, idiotically sorry. I would abase myself, throw myself at your feet, pluck out the offending member, but I'm afraid it would embarrass us both. I'm..." Her mind shut down with sudden fatigue. "Sorry," she finished.
Several seconds ticked by while Dr. Madison looked at her, disdain or concern rumpling his high forehead, creasing the skin to a hairline that had retreated four inches since he was a young man. "That," he said finally, "was the finest apology I've ever received. The groveling, the abasing, the plucking--it was positively eighteenth-century in its humility. Drawn from the days when humility and gratitude were considered good things. I accept. I would, however, enjoy a little groveling when Molly's better. I think a laugh would do her a world of good."
"It's a promise," Anna said.
Dr. Madison put his bifocals back on and brought his watery, slightly protuberant blue eyes into focus. "Molly is not improving. Yesterday afternoon we tried taking her off the respirator. Her lungs didn't fail completely, but she was only taking five or six breaths a minute. Barely enough to sustain life. Not enough to recover from major surgery. We had to put her back on. She's been fighting it and she's pulled out her feeding tube twice. I'm telling you this because we've had to sedate her and we've strapped her wrists to the bed. It looks a whole lot worse than it is. Much of these tube-pulling actions are subor semiconscious, like swatting a fly in your sleep. But I wanted you to be prepared."
"I'm prepared." Anna stood.
Madison blinked up at her with his mild blue stare till she sat down again.
"Sorry, Dr. Madison." Anna gave him the short version.