Vandervoort met me in the lobby. I wouldn’t say he looked worried. Concerned was more like it. Oddly, I found his concern reassuring. As cynical a bastard as I could be, I had never been completely cured of hope. We shook hands.
“What happened, exactly?”
“I got a call at home from dispatch around seven this morning . . . Hey, you want to grab a cup of coffee? My treat.” He was avoiding the subject.
“Sure. We’ll talk as we go. You were saying …”
“They said your wife—ex-wife, sorry, called in hysterical, begging for us to get a car to her house. The dispatcher couldn’t get anything out of her about what was wrong, if there’s been a break-in or what. So they sent a car out, but thought maybe I should know too. Like we were talking about yesterday, people up here still know the Maloneys.”
“I’m glad they called you.”
“I got there a little after Robby, that’s the younger deputy who was out at the cemetery with you yesterday. He’s green, but he’s good with people and he’d gotten your wife—ex-wife—”
“Just call her Katy, Sheriff. It’ll make our lives easier.”
“Okay. Well, he’d gotten Katy calmed down, but he couldn’t get anything out of her except that she’d gotten a call. She wouldn’t put the phone down no matter what Robby did. How do you take yours?” he asked as we stepped into the hospital cafeteria.
“Milk, no sugar.”
He was back in a minute with our coffees. “Let’s sit before we go up to the Psych Ward.”
“Sorry, Mr. Prager. You’re not family anymore. They won’t let you up there without me.”
I didn’t like it, but it wasn’t his doing. It was mine. Divorce impacts couples in different ways. It’s an equation of losses and gains. The gains, however large or small, are usually apparent early on. The losses, as I was discovering, reveal themselves slowly, in painful, unexpected ways. We sat at the closest table.
“When you got there, what happened?”
“I told Robby to wait outside and your—Katy broke down. She said she knew what she was going to say would sound crazy, but it was true. Her brother Patrick had called. She recognized his voice.”
“Exactly. What was I going to say to that?”
“I’m no shrink, Mr. Prager. I said maybe she was just stressed out by what had happened yesterday and how it can get rough sometimes with people you love when they’re gone. But that set her off again. ‘I’m not crazy. It was my little brother,’ she started screaming. Then she started talking about little star or something.”
“Little Star is a pet name she had for Patrick,” I said. I hadn’t heard those two words uttered in two decades.
“Oh, okay. Well, I told her I believed her, but that I needed her to come with me to the hospital. I gotta tell you, I expected that to flip her out, but she came along pretty calmly.”
“Thanks for taking care of her, Sheriff Vandervoort.”
He held his hand out to me. “Pete. Call me Pete.”
We shook hands again and started for the elevator.
“So what do you make of it, Moe? You know Katy. I don’t, so I’m just asking.”
“Pete, my wife is the least crazy person I ever met. If she says she got a call, I believe her.”
“From her dead brother?”
“I didn’t say that. Someone’s going to a lot of trouble to fuck with my family.”
We stepped onto the elevator and had the car to ourselves. He pressed 6.
“Look, Moe, I gotta say this, so hear me out. This is a police matter and this is my jurisdiction. I’d hate for us to be at odds after making nice. You have to stay out of it.”
I didn’t say anything to that. He seemed relieved by my silence. I think he was even less anxious to hear me tell him lies than I was to tell them.
THE DAYS OF involuntary institutionalization have long since gone. It wasn’t even that easy to keep people for observation anymore unless a crime had been committed, so it was no shock to me that the shrink at Mary Immaculate was sending Katy home. A big man with soulful eyes and a calm manner, the doctor’s name was Rauch. He possessed the ability to make you feel you were the most important person in the room and what you had to say was absolutely crucial.
“I’ve given her a Xanax to calm her down and a prescription for more if need be,” he said. “From what I understand, she’s had a lot to deal with in the last thirty-six hours, gentlemen. I am not familiar enough with her to make a formal assessment, but I can say that there are always unresolved feelings when it comes to the death of a loved one. It is no great leap to see how the desecration of her father’s and brother’s graves might stir up those feelings and set her off.”
“So you think she was hallucinating, Doc?” I was glad Vandervoort asked and not me.
“Well, Sheriff, how many confirmed cases of resurrection can you point to? If I had to guess, and this is off the record, I’d say someone called and Katy heard what she wanted or needed to hear. Guilt and wish fulfillment make a powerful and, oft-times, toxic elixir.”
“Thanks, Dr. Rauch.” I shook his hand.
“Mr. Prager, I don’t think Katy is a threat to herself or others, but there is something troubling going on. I would strongly advise you try to get her to seek treatment. When that point comes, I can recommend some good people in the area. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go sign the necessary papers.”
Vandervoort and I had already agreed that I would take Katy home.
“You know, Moe, I am gonna get the LUDs for Katy’s phone, just to make sure. Like the shrink, I believe in guilt, but I’m not keen on coincidences.”
“Me either. Thanks. Can you excuse me a second, I’ve got to call my daughter.”
OUR RIDE BACK to the Maloney house on Hanover Street consisted of silence bookended around a burst of anger. Early on, Katy wasn’t talking and kept her head turned away from me.
“I’m not crazy, Moe,” she said calmly, head still turned.
“No one says you are.”
“It was him.”
“Patrick? Katy, come on.” I didn’t want to argue with her, but I wasn’t going to placate her either. “Patrick’s dead. You know it. We saw him buried.”
“Did we?” There, she said it. Someone was bound to. “We saw bones and rags and sneakers buried, not my brother.”
sneakers. The cops confirmed it with dental records. That was Patrick.”
“Then how do you explain the call?”
“Someone’s fucking with you, with us. That’s what all this stuff with the graves was about. That’s why someone screwed around with Jack White’s grave and—”
Now she turned to face me. “What happened to Jack’s grave?”
I told her about the package at the office, about the Sunday call from Mary, and my trip to Dayton.
“Fuck you, Moe. You’re doing it all over again,” she said, a tear in the corner of her eye. “You and your goddamned secrets. Just take me home.”
When we got there, I expected her to run out of the car and flip me the bird, but she was full of surprises.
It was an order not an option. When I stepped through the front door, she called me into the bedroom.
I hesitated to go in. There was already enough going on. But when I entered, Katy was standing by her night table, her face serene.
“When I called you, when I called the police, I used my cell.”
“I know,” I said. “That’s the hang-up number I got.”
“Do you know why?”
“Umm … look, Vandervoort told me. When the deputy got here, you wouldn’t let go of the phone.”
“That’s right. I wouldn’t.”
“It was early when the phone rang and I was still asleep.”
“You call here sometimes, right?”
“You know I do, Katy. Just look at the red light on the phone machine. At least two of those flashes are my messages, but what’s that—”
“Ssshhhh! How many rings before my machine picks up?”
“Very good,” she said. “You always were observant.”
Before I could get the question out, she pressed the PLAY button on the machine.
You have seven new messages. You have one saved message. Playing new messages.
Without hesitating, Katy hit ERASE.
And again and again and again until all the new messages were gone.
To play saved messages, press three.
She flicked her right index finger.
First saved message. Six forty-three a.m. From outside caller:
“Hello … Hello, who’s there?” Katy’s voice was full of sleep.
“I miss you, sis.”
“Gotta go now. I love you.”
“Oh, my God! Patrick don’t hang—”
End of saved messages
We both stood there across the bedroom from each other, as far apart as we had ever been. Even at the few low points of our marriage, even in the depths of her anger when the truth of Patrick’s disappearance first surfaced, she had never looked at me so coldly. We were strangers.
“Now,” she said, “I’m tired, please get out of my parents’ house.”
I turned and left without a word.
How, I wondered, had Katy and I grown this far apart? We had once loved each other beyond all reason. From the first, our bodies had fit together as if carved to do just so. Did we fight? Of course we fought, all couples fight, but we could always see the love behind the anger. Now, and over the course of the last few years, there was only anger. Even during the inevitable dead spots in our marriage, when every day was like a long drive through Nebraska, we had rediscovered the passion. We had come through everything. I think for the very first time, when I walked out of her bedroom, I accepted that we would not come through this. That cold look on her face, not a judge’s signature on a piece of paper, was our divorce decree.
STILL A LITTLE stunned, I drove around aimlessly for a while. It was pretty country up here, though not as pretty as it once had been. Farms that I used to pass on my way up had been sold and turned into gated communities of McMansions with nine-hole golf courses and artificial lakes. Some of the farms had been cut up into bigger lots. Those parcels were for super-sized homes, ones with garages the size of aircraft hangars. Sarah had a friend who called them Garage Mahals. To me, no matter how lavish the homes might be, no matter how tasteful, they were ugly. They just didn’t belong.
I loved New York City, but it could be cruel to its neighbors. I once heard it said that being in close proximity to New York was like sleeping in bed next to an elephant. Everything was great until the elephant rolled over. It was what ruined Long Island and what was slowly happening here. To its neighbors, the city was a contrary beast. As its influence spread to surrounding areas, it sucked the local flavor out of the landscape. It’s funny how people try to get away from the city, but never quite escape its gravity.
As the light faded, I rode back into Janus. The sheriff’s office was at the end of Main Street. Robby, the young deputy, was at the desk. I hoped he got paid a lot of money given the hours Vandervoort was working him. He recognized me and flashed a smile that still had a lot of little kid in it. It was nice to see. I wasn’t sure there was a lot of that left in me.
“That’s right, Mr. Prager.”
I thanked him for helping with Katy.
“Sheriff Vandervoort’s not around. I’m sorry. You want to leave him a note or something.”
“No, thanks, that’s okay. Any results from the crime scene?” I asked just to make small talk.
He hesitated. “No.”
He smiled like a kid and lied like a kid. The job would beat that out of him soon enough.
“Look, deputy, you saw my ex-wife this morning. You saw for yourself what this is doing to her. Just let me know so I can be prepared when the shit hits the fan. And it’s our secret. Sheriff Vandervoort will never know we even spoke about it.”
“I shouldn’t. I’m on probation and this is the only job I’ve ever—”
I put my hand on his shoulder. “Listen, kid, it’s up to you.”
That did the trick.
“There were some shoe impressions that didn’t match any of the elimination impressions,” he whispered as if Vandervoort was lurking. “They were men’s size nine running shoes that led away from the Maloney plot, across three adjoining plots, down into the stream.”
“No big deal in that, right? Shit, in Janus alone, how many guys are out there with size nine running shoes?”
“You don’t understand, Mr. Prager. These weren’t just any men’s size nine running shoes.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“These were Shinjo Olympians.”
“Shinjos? I’ve never heard of—”
“—Shinjos. That’s right.” He cut me off. “No one has. Not no one, very few people have. That’s because they stopped making the Olympians model in 1976 and the company went out of business is 1987.”
“Thank you, deputy.”
I about-faced. Robby said something to me, but the blood pounding in my ears was too loud for me to hear him. I sat in my front seat for what seemed like hours. The next thing I was fully conscious of was unlocking the door to my condo.
THE SUN FILLED
my rearview as I drove along the Belt Parkway to the Gowanus. This part of the Belt could be beautiful, especially in early morning. From Bay Parkway west, the roadway swooped along the shoreline and you could race with container or cruise ships sailing beneath the Verrazano and into the hungry mouth of New York Harbor. The deep blue of the water could seem almost structural and not a trick of light. In the orange of the sun the patches of rust on the skin of the gray bridge came alive. Not today. Today I was blind to beauty, to nearly everything, but I had made this drive so often I could do it in a coma.