Beatrice gave that a soft nod. “I . . . Thank you.” She looked around our small dining room. “You have a girl now, uh?”
“Oh, that’s a pretty name. Does she look like you?”
Angie looked at me for confirmation, and I nodded.
“More me than him, yeah,” she said. She pointed to a picture of Gabby that sat atop the credenza. “That’s Gabby.”
Beatrice took the photo in and eventually smiled. “She looks feisty.”
“She’s that,” Angie said. “They say the terrible twos?”
Beatrice leaned forward. “Oh, I know, I know. It starts at eighteen months and it goes until they’re three and a half.”
Angie nodded vigorously. “She was a monster. I mean, God, it was—”
“Awful, right?” Beatrice said. She looked as if she were about to tell us an anecdote about her son but caught herself. She looked down at the table with a strange smile on her face and rocked a bit in her chair. “But they grow out of it.”
Angie looked at me. I looked back at her, clueless about what to say next.
“Bea,” she said, “the police said they investigated your claim and found Amanda in the house.”
Beatrice shook her head. “Since they moved, Amanda calls me every day. Never missed until two weeks ago. Right after Thanksgiving. I haven’t heard from her since.”
“They moved? Out of the neighborhood?”
Bea nodded. “About four months ago. Helene owns a house in Foxboro. A three-bedroom.”
Foxboro was a suburb, about twenty miles south. It wasn’t Belmont Hills or anything, but it was a tall step up from St. Bart’s Parish in Dorchester.
“What’s Helene do for work these days?”
Beatrice laughed. “Work? I mean, last I heard, she was working the Lotto machine at New Store on the Block, but that was a while ago. I’m pretty sure she managed to get fired from there just like every other place. This is a woman who managed to get fired from Boston Gas back in the day. Who gets fired from a utility?”
“So, if she’s not working much . . .”
“How’s she afford a house?” She shrugged. “Who knows?”
“She didn’t get anything from the city in those lawsuits, did she?”
She shook her head. “It all went into a trust for Amanda. Helene can’t touch it.”
“Okay,” Angie said. “I’ll pull the tax assessment on the property.”
“What about the restraining orders against you?” I asked as softly as I could.
Beatrice looked over at me. “Helene works the system. She’s been doing it since she was a teenager. Amanda was sick a couple years ago. The flu. Helene had some new guy, a bartender who fed her free drinks, so she kept forgetting to check on Amanda. This is when they were in the old place by Columbia Road. I still had a key and I started letting myself in to care for Amanda. It was either that or let her catch pneumonia.”
Angie glanced at the photo of Gabby and then back at Bea. “So Helene found you there and filed the restraining order.”
“Yeah.” Bea fingered the edge of her coffee cup. “I drink more than I used to. Sometimes I get stupid and drunk-dial.” She looked up at me. “Like I did with you the other night. I’ve done it with Helene a few times. After the last time, she filed for another restraining order. That was three weeks ago.”
“What made you, I don’t want to say ‘harass’ her, but . . . ?”
” ‘Harass’ is okay. Sometimes I like harassing Helene.” She smiled. “I had talked to Amanda. She’s a good kid. Hard, you know? Way older than her years, but good.”
I thought of the four-year-old I’d returned to that house. Now she was “hard.” Now she was “way older than her years.”
“Amanda asked me to check the mail at the old place, just some stuff that the PO forgot to forward. They do that all the time. So I went by there and it was mostly junk mail.” She reached into her purse. “Except for this.”
She handed me a piece of ivory paper: a Commonwealth of Massachusetts Birth Certificate, Suffolk County, for Christina Andrea English, DOB 08/04/93.
I handed it to Angie.
“Similar age,” she said.
I nodded. “Christina English would be a year older.”
We were thinking the same thing. Angie laid the birth certificate beside her laptop and her fingers danced across the keyboard.
“How did Amanda react when you told her you’d found this?” I asked Bea.
“She stopped calling. Then she disappeared.”
“So you started calling Helene.”
“And demanding answers. You’re fucking right I did.”
“Good for you,” Angie said. “I wish I’d been with you.”
I said, “So you called Helene?”
She nodded. “A bunch. And left several angry messages.”
“Which Helene saved,” Angie said, “and brought before a judge.”
Beatrice nodded. “Exactly.”
“And you’re sure Amanda is not at the Foxboro house.”
“Because I staked it out for three days.”
“Staked it out.” I grinned. “With a restraining order on you. Damn. You’re hardcore, Bea.”
She shrugged. “Whoever the police talked to, it wasn’t Amanda.”
Angie looked up from the computer for a second, her fingers still hitting the keys. “No local grammar school records on Christina English. No social. No hospital records.”
“What’s this mean?” Bea asked.
“It means Christina English could have moved out of state. Or—”
“I got it,” Angie said. “DOD 9/16/93.”
“—she’s dead,” I finished.
“Car crash,” Angie said. “Wallingford, Connecticut. Both parents deceased same date.”
Bea looked at us, confused.
Angie said, “Amanda was trying to assume Christina En-glish’s identity, Bea. You interrupted. There’s no Massachusetts death certificate on file. There might be a Connecticut death certificate—I’d have to dig deeper—but there’s a solid chance someone could pretend to be Christina English and the state would never be the wiser. You could get a social security card, forge an employment history, and someday, if you felt like it, fake an injury at your nonexistent job and collect state disability.”