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 (5 page)

BOOK: Liberty Falling-pigeon 7
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"David."

"Good name. David and Goliath. Davy Crockett. Go ahead." Anna knew she babbled, but felt the need to make human noises and couldn't manage to fix her mind as to content.

"I think it's not only wrong but dangerous to assume Molly can't hear or understand you. She's very ill, desperately ill. She has the body of a woman of seventy."

"The wages of sin," Anna said.

"All too common among my fellow physicians," Madison said. "Often, after a major illness like the one your sister is going through, particularly in cases where the patient is physically helpless--where she is hooked up to life support machines and so forth--and mentally helpless in the sense that she's in and out of consciousness, unable to speak, possibly unclear as to what she hears and sees and what she only dreams--in cases like this the patient can feel overwhelmed, lost, as if they've failed somehow. It's not unusual for them to give up."

"And?"

"They die," Madison said simply.

"Not Molly."

"Ah. That's it. That's where you come in. Not Molly. You need to talk to her, keep her interested in living. Don't let her forget she has to come back, wants to come back."

"I'll stay here. I'll talk around the clock."

Again the merry girlish laugh. "Molly hasn't a chance. You'll probably drag her into her nineties. Round the clock won't be necessary. Your sister has to rest. To mend. Three to five hours a day will suffice. And closer to three for a while." He squeezed Anna's hand reassuringly.

Resenting it, she curled her fingers around the chair arm, the closest thing to forming a fist she would allow herself.

"Do you want to see your sister now?"

"Is that a rhetorical question?"

Dr. Madison--David--appeared to give up. The kindly bedside manner disappeared and weariness--or professional distance--took its place. With an effort he levered himself out of the chair. The chairs were too low for a man of his stature. He was six foot five or six, stooped, no doubt from having banged his head on numerous objects in his youth, lanky, myopic and bald. Quite like some sort of benevolent insect, Anna thought, a walking stick or a
praying mantis.

She followed him through the door. Away from the pseudo homeyness of the waiting area was the high-tech bustle of the ICU. In his wake, she drifted down a hall of windows and flashed on the long brick walkway on Ellis. Through these windows was not the dripping green of Mother Nature in a frenzy of vengeance, ripping back her world, but pathetic and heroic pictures of frail broken human beings battling death with their little machines. In the third cubicle on the left was Anna's only sister.

David Madison left her at the door.

A straight-backed chair with red plastic cushions, the kind Anna had seen in a hundred roadside cafes in the West, sat beside the bed. Looking shrunken and old amid the tubes lay her sister, arms pinioned to her sides by soft white-fabric restraints.

Anna sat down. She'd boasted she could talk the clock around. Now she wondered what she should say.

 

4

"It's me, Anna." She began as she had begun hundreds of phone calls over the years. For the first time in her life there was no response. Molly lay as one dead. Not dead, missing. Her humanity, her soul some might call it, was hidden from mortal eyes. The hospital had made her but a component part of their system, a flesh-and-bone cog in the machinery, the cheapest, weakest, most easily replaced link in the chain of medical technology. A translucent tube taped in her mouth forced her lungs to rise and fall precisely the same distance exactly twelve times a minute. No room for sighs or sobs or laughter. Another--the feeding tube, Anna guessed--hung from an intravenous fluid sack on a metal pole, the end needling into Molly's inner elbow and secured with surgical tape. A catheter for urine snaked out from between sheets untroubled by human wrigglings. Palms up, Molly's hands lay pinioned at her sides. Visions of the Virgin Mary flickered behind Anna's eyes. Serene in blue plaster robes, she watched countless students pass through the halls at Mercy High School in Red Bluff, California.

Delighting in her irreverence, Anna had called the statue Our Lady of the Lobotomy. The pose, the dearth of inner life, was echoed now on her sister's face, as was the grainy pallor of plaster. Only Molly's hair remained untamed by intensive care. Deep russet, once strawberry blond but coarsened now by age and the incursion of rebellious wiry silver hairs, a tangle of curls ran riot over the pillow. She wore it longer than Anna remembered. Combed, it would reach her jawbone.

Anna wanted to touch it but didn't. She wanted to touch the imprisoned hand but didn't. She wanted to speak but couldn't. Words formed in her mind much as thunderheads form on a summer afternoon. One would float in, others cluster around, mass and weight would build. Before a storm of conversation could ensue, they dissipated into mist.

Molly was too sick to tell her troubles to, too frail to be cried over. So many of their exchanges over the years had been about Anna: Anna's love life, her work, her fears, her feelings. It hurt to realize that though Molly knew every kink of her psyche, Anna knew very little about
her.
Molly's opinions she knew on everything from thong panties to Israeli politics, but of Molly herself, very little. When their conversations weren't centered on the health and well-being of little Anna Pigeon, they'd been a rapid-fire exchange of ideas, metaphors and jokes. It wasn't a one-woman show; without her partner giving her cues, Anna couldn't remember her lines.

Digging deep in a well dry as dust, Anna dredged up topics. She told Molly of her flight out from Colorado. She told her of Hatch and the statue at night. It was on the tip of her tongue to tell her of the child crushed against the pavement, but Molly had blamed herself for a patient's suicide several years before and Anna stopped herself lest she send Molly farther in the direction of darkness. She talked of Patsy and Kevin, Digby and Dwight, of the pizza she'd eaten for lunch and not yet digested. Even to her own ears she sounded like a parody of the boring party guest. When she finally droned to a halt, the clock above the bed had chipped away only seventeen minutes from the hour. For three more Anna sat without speaking, her mind an empty place surrounded by shadows.

"I guess I'll go check out your apartment," she said at last. "Water the plants or whatever. I haven't had a chance to get up there yet. Can I bring you anything?"

Twelve lifeless breaths hissed by.

"Cigarettes? Scotch?"

And twelve more.

"I won't be gone more than an hour or so." Anna backed out of the room, half believing at any moment Molly would sit up, call to her, be alive.

Molly's apartment was on Ninety-third Street between West End Avenue and Broadway, apartment 14D. Built before the war, it was a forbidding gray box punctured with symmetrical windows. The key would be with the doorman. This had been arranged before Molly went in for bypass surgery, before Anna flew out from Mesa Verde. Anna was to have stayed there. From the airport she'd gone to the hospital and from the hospital to the narrow rolling cot in Patsy's spare room on Liberty. With her sister lying in the ICU, her lungs unwilling to take in enough air to sustain life, Anna couldn't bear to be incarcerated in a box surrounded by hundreds of thousands of like boxes. The thought made her own lungs begin to shut down. She'd wear out her welcome with Patsy before she'd spend a night in the city.

At 125th Street she got off the subway, then walked the last thirty blocks between the hospital and Molly's building. Killing time, lulling her mind as she often did with the lifting and laying down of her feet. Block passed like block, a spatter of shops in tawdry hues, odors that would transport a discerning nose from the slums of Somalia to the Champs Elysees. Noise was constant, mingling, blurring till it became as white noise: meaningless.

The doorman, dressed even on a warm summer day in the maroon and gold livery that enhanced doormen all over the city, was polite and helpful. A key was pressed into Anna's hand and she was pointed into the opulent gloom of the late 1920s. There, flanked by mirrors in bronze and wood black with polish and age, Anna took an elevator to the fourteenth floor.

Leaving the hospital, she'd had no plan but the feeble one she offered Molly: to water the plants. By the time she turned the key and heard the dead bolt slide free, she'd devised one slightly less tinged with self-interest. She would search through Molly's things. Not snooping precisely--diaries and personal letters she would leave alone lest she uncover her sister's secrets or, even less appealing, inadvertently stumble across some criticism of herself. Digging, then, gently, the way an archaeologist would dig uncovering a lost civilization, Anna would find the things that tied Molly most firmly to the surface of the planet. These she would take with her to the hospital and talk of them till Molly came back to join her. Or to tell her to leave her stuff the hell alone.

Inside, Anna laid the key on a table designed for that purpose. Because it was the city, she drew on old paranoia and threw the bolt and engaged the chain lock. She'd not been to Molly's apartment often, once every few years, maybe three times in all. With both money and good taste, Molly had created a home for body and spirit. By West Coast standards the apartment was spacious. By New York standards it was palatial. A wide entry hall led to a dining room made airy by an enormous wall mirror and interesting by an intricate Persian rug in cobalt, red and ocher. A large window with a deep uncushioned seat and pale gold diaphanous curtains suggested a grand vista. Architecture suggested an air shaft.

The hall, like all of the apartment but kitchen and baths, was floored in oak finished to a deep honey glow. It opened into a living room with two windows overlooking a building across Broadway six lanes and two sidewalks away. Molly had mixed Art Deco and Far Eastern design elements with the twenties hardwood and plasterboard. The effect was stimulatingly exotic and at the same time homey, with a color scheme Anna would not have tried to duplicate on her most fashionable days. A wine couch, long and low, in leather so soft it felt and looked like old velvet, was angled beneath the windows. It was the original piece around which everything else had been fit. Molly had bought it for her office with what then had amounted to a month's pay. Clients had a tendency to fall asleep in its feathery embrace. Though it had undoubtedly been relaxing for them, Molly said she'd begun to develop a complex and had traded it in for the sterner version that now graced her clinic.

Everything was tidy, neat. A cleaning lady of course; Tuesday and Friday mornings, Anna remembered. No dust, no litter of magazines, not even the smell of stale cigarette smoke. Knickknacks were few and told a lot about Molly's sense of style and travels but little else.

A stealthy sound slipped from the hallway and stopped Anna on the edge of a thick Persian carpet.
Cat,
she thought, but Molly didn't own a cat. Her excuse was that she traveled too much, but lots of cat owners traveled, none more than Anna. This trip, Mesa Verde's new dispatcher, a fey and charming young man fresh from the IRS, had agreed to take on her family obligations: Piedmont--her orange tiger cat--and a dog named Taco, whom she'd inherited. Taco was a golden retriever. A good enough dog, but a dog for all that. Thinking of him, Anna felt an unpleasant twinge. All dogs were Catholic at heart. It was in their eyes, liquid brown accusation. Taco had watched her pack her suitcase as if she were digging a doggie-sized grave.

Not yet alarmed, Anna listened. This was New York. A cat was not necessary for the promulgation of sneaky noises. There were rats for that, mice and large aggressive cockroaches.

The creak of a floorboard brought the frisson of fear to her vertebrae. Even Manhattan had yet to breed rodent or roach sizable enough to make the timbers groan. Someone was in Molly's apartment, either in the study or in the bedroom. It not being Tuesday or Friday, it wasn't the cleaning lady.

Anna drifted noiselessly back toward the front door. With her sister missing in action, there was nothing in the apartment she was willing to wrestle with some idiot drug addict to preserve. This was an excellent time to practice one of the earliest American battle strategies: run away and live to fight another day.

Keeping her eyes on the hallway, she backed as far as the entrance to the foyer. Footsteps, definite and purposeful, came from the direction of the bedroom. The intruder was coming out. Anna turned and fled to the front door. Chain lock and bolt secured, it would take precious seconds to unlock--seconds she didn't have. Ducking into the dining room, she pressed herself against the wall. The footfalls came across the hardwood, then, striking the runner, were muffled. The chain was released with a characteristic clatter. Then there was nothing; the intruder was remembering he had not chained the door behind him when he came in. As she crushed herself tightly against the wall, Anna's shoulder brushed a picture frame. In the tense silence of a supposedly deserted apartment, the screech of wood on plaster hit her eardrum like a stifled scream.

The intruder heard it as well. He would have had to. His shoes made tiny sounds as he shifted on the carpet. The shush of something, probably whatever he'd come to steal, brushed against his trouser leg. He was turning.

Quick as the thought, Anna snatched a pewter candlestick off the polished surface of the credenza, spun through the arch and, before he could face her, jammed the end of the candlestick against the base of his spine.

BOOK: Liberty Falling-pigeon 7
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