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.)
"Who's the cute boy policeman?" she asked, after the drone of the boat engine and the cheerful murmur of Patsy and Dwight's chatter had soothed her into a sociable mood. Patsy laughed again. Patsy Silva laughed a lot, smiled a lot and resolutely saw the good in life. Anna had known her for a long time, since she'd started as a secretary in Mesa Verde. Now she was moving up the ladder, running with the bigger dogs. Anna had no doubt she'd be a superintendent within ten years. Though she seemed a threat to no one, Patsy had a good mind and a genius for organization. Like most professional women, she was a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde--or perhaps a Margaret Thatcher and Cinderella. On the job, she was a study in efficiency and put in more hours than anybody on staff. Off work, she was subject to the myriad romantic fantasies that plague single girls between the ages of thirteen and dead.
"Billy Bonham's a cutie pie," Patsy said. "Do I detect a hint of Mrs. Robinson?"
"Sometimes I forget," Anna admitted.
"Me too, till I look in the mirror. Billy's as sweet as he looks. Fresh off some farm in North Carolina by way of Boston University. Our Park Police guys are all cute. I don't think they hire them like they do regular rangers. I think they cast them like Disney casts young blue-eyed blondes to run the Alice in Wonderland ride. Maybe they have Park Police pageants." Patsy laughed again, a genuine peal, the kind described in old books. "God, but I'd love to see the bathing suit competition."
"Cut that out," Dwight said mildly. "I'm feeling sexually harassed."
Patsy winked at Anna and smoothed her short blond hair back with both palms.
"Billy didn't seem too anxious to assess the damage," Anna said, remembering the fear in his eyes.
Dwight docked neatly at the end of the covered pier where the Circle Line brought visitors. They disembarked and he motored away, the wake of the
catching the day's final hurrah, glowing iridescent green against the oily night harbor.
As Patsy and Anna walked down the planks, a
figure disappeared into the darkness under the wooden roof at the far end of the pier. With the wattage of Miss Liberty, two cities and a basin full of boats, there was little true night on Liberty Island. Anna's eyes had adjusted before they met the man in the middle of the dock.
"Andrew, this is Anna. Andrew's another of our Park Police. Usually he works days. Anna's staying with me for a while." Patsy's introduction served two purposes: common courtesy and letting law enforcement know who was on the island. Andrew was over six feet tall with a body out of a muscle magazine, hair shaved so close he looked bald and skin as black and polished as his shoes. Anna shook the proffered hand. His grip was firm but gentle. If Andrew had any unresolved issues about his masculinity, bone crushing wasn't one of his compensations.
"What did I tell you?" Patsy tittered like a teenager as they left him. "Central Casting. Who else could find guys like that?"
Completing the picture of their regression to adolescence, Anna giggled. Briefly, she hoped Andrew hadn't noticed; then she dismissed it. Odds were slim he was unaware of the effect he had on women.
"Where's Hatch?" she asked.
Patsy opened the kitchen door. It was never locked--almost unheard of in these environs. "My God, didn't you hear? Where have you been, girl?"
The moment she spoke, it came back: the cry, the crumpled child, the crowds, Hatch staring down, the adenoidal voice whining, "Naw, man, he was pushed. That cop shoved him off." Anna's own concerns had effectively blocked it from her mind.
"I heard," she said, and told Patsy she'd seen the dead boy.
"Girl," Patsy contradicted her. She dumped the pack she used as a briefcase beside the refrigerator. "Beer?" Anna accepted a Bud Light, not because she particularly liked the stuff but because it did contain alcohol and she'd forgotten to buy wine. When Molly was well, she promised herself as she popped the top, she'd go back to AA for a few meetings.
"Girl. It was a girl," Patsy repeated. "The medical examiner thinks she was fourteen or fifteen. Thin and flat-chested but definitely a girl. She had brown hair down to here." Patsy had led the way into the living room, and indicated the length of the child's hair by a chopping motion in the vicinity of her butt as she flopped into a comfortless government-issue armchair, not unlike those in the ICU at Columbia-Presbyterian.
"There's talk of suspending Hatch. The Chief Ranger was in the Super's office half the afternoon."
Anna eased down on the sofa and put her feet up on a coffee table that looked as if it had been custom-made for George Jetson, a sixties version of the future. The gash on her thigh had clotted and the torn flesh was pulling tight. Each place she'd banged in her fall was reasserting its need for sympathy. She took another pull on her beer. "Why? What happened?" If nobody else heard the kid saying Hatch had pushed the girl, Anna wasn't going to volunteer the information without talking with him first. He didn't strike her as the type who went around chucking strange children off parapets.
"This is all second and third-hand," Patsy said. "But according to Hatch, this kid had been acting strange. Somebody'd reported her or something. Hatch got to watching her and thought maybe she was picking pockets. We get our share of that. Tourists. Crowds. The pickings can be pretty good. For the price of one ticket a
thief can work the boats and monuments all day. She--Hatch thought it was a boy too--evidently started acting really peculiar on the top of the pedestal where you can go outside. Hatch thought she was stuffing things in her backpack. He was going to talk to her and--again according to him--she just took off out the doors. He ran after her. The way he tells it, he was trying to catch hold of her to stop her from jumping, was a second too late--and
"Hi, Mandy, we're talking about Hatch." Patsy broke off as her housemate came in. Mandy was young and round of face, eyes and tummy--everywhere but where a woman might choose to be round. Her hair was baby-fine and cut in a bowl shape, like most depictions of Joan of Arc. Anna had found no call to either like or dislike her. But she was about to.
"Hatch should be fired," Mandy said, as if what she thought mattered. "This Keystone Kop routine. Chasing a kid! This is an island, for chrissake. Where did he think she was going to go?" The condemnation was delivered with scathing finality.
Anna was tired, and somewhere between 1975 and the present, she'd ceased caring what the Mandys of the world thought, but out of loyalty to Hatch and the brotherhood, she roused herself. "You've got to chase 'em," she said. "You don't know why they're running. Maybe they'll hurt somebody. Hurt themselves. You let 'em go, it turns out you knew, you'd been told they were acting fishy. You tried to talk to them. They ran and you just said, 'Oh well, win some lose some,' then they pull out a forty-five and start shooting visitors--or worse, damage the resource. Try explaining that to the Chief Ranger. Not to mention John Q. Public. That's the luxury of not being in law enforcement. You don't have to engage. Hatch did. He had point two seconds to figure out what to do."
"Okay. Sure. Whatever." Mandy looked around the room, vaguely peeved, then pushed her stubby bangs off her forehead with the edge of her hand. "Anybody want the bathroom? I'm going to have a soak." Finding no takers, she stumped off down the hall.
"My junior year in college I took third place in the state finals for persuasive speaking," Anna said. "Evidently I've lost my touch."
"Mandy suffers from arrested development," Patsy whispered after checking to see that the bathroom door had closed. "She views the world from a training bra."
Patsy's own form was a fifties wet dream, movie stars before anorexia and gym memberships became fashionable. Anna laughed. "Another beer?" Patsy offered, further endearing herself.
"There was no backpack," Anna remembered suddenly as Patsy came back with two more Bud Lights. "Hatch said she was stuffing something in her backpack? When I checked the boy--the girl--after she fell, she didn't have a pack, not a purse, nothing."
"Maybe one of the EMTs picked it up for her."
"I was there before, the EMTs." They sipped their insipid brew in silence for a moment.
"God," Patsy said. "Somebody
it? Can you believe somebody would steal a backpack off a broken little kid like that?"
Having a fairly dismal view of her fellow humans, Anna found it easy to believe. Certainly easier than believing Hatch had made up a nonsensical lie about picking pockets, then purposely pursued a child through a hundred witnesses for the sole purpose of shoving him--her--to her death. Even evil had to conform to some twisted sense of logic.
"Who was she?" Anna asked.
"Who knows. A kid. No ID. Nobody has claimed her as far as I know. Maybe she was a runaway."
"Her picture will go out," Anna said. "Somebody will recognize her. The world's not that big anymore."
Patsy went to bed. Anna poured the last of her beer down the sink. If she drank enough to drop the veil over her mind she'd be up all night running to the bathroom. Without sufficient alcohol to slow the spinning of her thoughts, sleep would be a while in coming. A hot bath might have been the next best thing, but Mandy had drained the tank dry and, given the age of the equipment, it would take it longer to recover than Anna cared to wait.
Pulling on her Levi jacket against the breeze off the ocean, she let herself out. A walk around the island to clear her mind; then she would read herself to sleep with something familiar. Knowing Molly might be in the hospital some time, Anna had packed several comfort books:
Great Expectations, The Moonstone, The Small House at Allington.
Stories she'd read before and would read again, finding reassurance in the formal language and happy endings.
For reasons of professional interest or a natural morbidity, she made her way to the base of the pedestal where the girl had fallen, jumped or been pushed to her death. Bright scraps of pink littered the granite. Azalea blossoms had been scattered, a tribute to the dead. Squatting on the unnaturally clean stone--scrubbed by an NPS that didn't like blood shed any later than the Civil War to become part of the attraction at their historic monuments--Anna closed her eyes and conjured up what memories she had of the incident.
The child's face and her injuries were paramount, coming into focus with unpleasant clarity. Anna let them sit, waiting for them to lose their shock value. It was not brain and bone she hoped to recall. Gore, like loud noise and bright light, had a way of blinding one to pertinent detail. Inexperienced EMTs had been known to lose patients because they wasted precious time dealing with a spectacular but non-life-threatening injury while the patient quietly ceased breathing from an unrelated problem.
Graphic images faded. Bits of the child came clear. The ball cap hiding her hair had a funky decoration on it, a football or a rock. Her skin was good--no acne--and pale, as if she spent little time in the sun. Some of her teeth had been broken in the fall, but Anna could see the bottom row. They were crooked but white and without fillings. She wore a white T-shirt and green trousers. Army fatigues maybe; they were a couple sizes too large and frayed at the cuffs where they dragged the ground. New, expensive sneakers--Reeboks. If the child was a runaway, she'd either bolted recently or done well by herself.
Without opening her eyes, Anna tilted her head back, looking around at an imaginary crowd. Backpacks: there was nothing on the ground near the dead child. Her mind's eye saw only shoes, feet and shins. From the knees down people were a tacky lot, Anna thought, as the grubby, hirsute parade passed through her mind: running shoes that looked as if they'd been used as third base for a season, hammer toes, army boots under unhemmed Levi's, ridged and yellowed nails poking from strappy sandals.
Mentally, she raised her sights. Backpacks: the people she could recall pushing closest had all been carrying something. A minute's concentration brought out a camera, two waist packs--one in purple, one in green--and two backpacks. The boy nearest--the one in the huge shorts--had carried one. Behind him she'd seen a part of another, as if someone held it by a single strap.
She opened her eyes. It was no use. She couldn't recall anyone's face clearly. She was unsure of the color of the packs or who, precisely, carried them. Even in cities packs were ubiquitous, and there was no reason to believe the person who stole it would have hung around. From her conversation with Patsy, Anna got the idea that the missing pack had only been missed later, after the crowd had dispersed. Not too great a loss from an interviewer's point of view. When people ran in herds their senses became dulled. One good witness in twenty was a small miracle.
The happy growl of a small motorboat caught her attention. It was the
making its last trip back from Manhattan. Any Liberty Islander who missed the ten-fifteen boat was marooned in the city for the night. The roar of the diesel engine reminded Anna she had a question for Dwight. When she tried to get to her feet, the cut on her thigh raised such a fuss that she had to push off the stone with both hands.
At a limping trot she managed to reach the end of the pier just as Cal was reeling the
dockside. Ever the gentleman, he handed her on board with a grace and dignity rare in modern times.