A long time ago—a lifetime ago—her niece had been kidnapped. I’d found her and returned her to the home she shared with her mother, Bea’s sister-in-law, Helene, even though Helene was not what you’d call a natural-born mother.
“How’re the kids?”
“Kids?” she said. “I only have one.”
I searched my memory. A boy. I remembered that. He’d been five or six, shit, maybe seven, at the time. Mark. No. Matt. No. Martin. Definitely Martin.
I considered rolling the dice again, saying his name, but I’d already let the silence drag on too long.
“Matt,” she said, careful eyes on me, “is eighteen now. He’s a senior up the Monument.”
Monument High was the kind of school where kids studied math by counting their shell casings.
“Oh,” I said. “He like it?”
“He’s . . . under the circumstances, he’s a, ya know, he needs direction sometimes, but he turned out better than a lot of kids would.”
“That’s great.” I regretted the word as soon as it left my mouth. It was such a bullshit, knee-jerk modifier to use.
Her green eyes flashed for just a second, like she wanted to explain in precise detail just how fucking great her life had been since I’d had a hand in sending her husband to prison. His name was Lionel and he was a decent man who’d done a bad thing for good reasons and flailed helplessly while it all transformed into carnage around him. I’d liked him a lot. It was one of the more cutting ironies of the Amanda McCready case that I’d liked the bad guys a hell of a lot more than the good ones. One exception had been Beatrice. She and Amanda had been the only blameless players in the entire clusterfuck.
She stared at me now, as if searching for a me behind the me I projected. A more worthy, more authentic me.
A group of teenage boys came through the turnstiles wearing letter jackets—varsity athletes heading to BC High a ten-minute walk down Morrissey Boulevard.
“Amanda was, what, four when you found her?” Bea said.
“She’s sixteen now. Almost seventeen.” Her chin tipped at the athletes as they descended the stairs toward Morrissey Boulevard. “Their age.”
That stung. Somehow I’d lived in denial that Amanda McCready had aged. That she was anything but the same four-year-old I’d last seen in her mother’s apartment, staring at a TV as a dog-food commercial played in the cathode rays bathing her face.
“Sixteen,” I said.
“You believe it?” Beatrice smiled. “Where’s it go, the time?”
“Into somebody else’s gas tank.”
“Ain’t that the truth.”
Another group of athletes and a few studious-looking kids came toward us.
“You said on the phone she was gone again.”
“With Helene for a mother, you can’t rule it out.”
“Any reason to think it’s more, I dunno, dire than that?”
“Well, for one, Helene won’t admit she’s gone.”
“You call the cops?”
She nodded. “Of course. They asked Helene about her. Helene said Amanda was fine. The cops left it at that.”
“Why would they leave it at that?”
“Why? It was city employees who took Amanda in ’98. Helene’s lawyer sued the cops, sued their union, sued the city. He got three million. He pocketed a million, and two million went into a trust for Amanda. The cops are terrified of Helene, Amanda, the whole thing. If Helene looks them in the eye and says, ‘My kid’s fine, now go away,’ guess what they do?”
“You talk to anybody in the media?”
“Sure,” she said. “They didn’t want to touch it either.”
She shrugged. “Bigger fish, I guess.”
That didn’t make sense. I couldn’t imagine what it was but she wasn’t telling me something.
“What do you think I can do here, Beatrice?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “What can you do?”
The softening breeze moved her white hair around. There was zero doubt that she blamed me for her husband getting shot and being charged with a grocery list of crimes while he lay in his hospital bed. He’d left his house to meet me at a bar in South Boston. From there, the hospital. From the hospital, jail. From jail, prison. He’d walked out of his house one Thursday afternoon and never walked back in.
Beatrice kept looking at me the way nuns used to look at me in grammar school. I hadn’t liked it then, I didn’t like it now.
“Beatrice?” I said. “I’m real sorry your husband kidnapped his niece because he thought his sister was a shitty parent.”
“But he did, in fact, kidnap her.”
“For her own good.”
“Okay. So we should just let anybody decide what’s good for a kid who doesn’t belong to them. I mean, why not? Every kid with an asshole parent, line up at the nearest subway station. We’ll ship you all to Wonkaville where you’ll live happily ever after.”
“No, I’m not.” I could feel a rage building in me that got closer to the surface of my skin every year. “I’ve eaten a lot of shit over the years for doing my job with Amanda. That’s what I did, Bea, what I was hired to do.”
“Poor guy,” she said. “All misunderstood.”
“What you hired me to do. You said, ‘Find my niece.’ And I found her. So you want to give me the arched eyebrow of guilt for the next ten years, knock yourself out. I did my job.”
“And a lot of people got hurt.”
“[_I _]didn’t hurt ’em, though. I just found her and brought her back.”
“That’s how you live with it?”
I leaned back against the wall and exhaled a long burst of air and frustration. I reached into my coat and pulled out my Charlie Card to slide through the turnstile. “I gotta go to work, Bea. A pleasure seeing you. Sorry I can’t help.”
She said, “Is it about money?”
“I know we never paid your bill from the first time you found her, but—”
“What? No,” I said. “It has nothing to do with money.”
“Look,” I said as softly as I could, “I’m hurting just as bad as anyone in this economy. It’s not about the money, no, but I can’t afford to take on any job that doesn’t pay, either. And I’m about to go in for an interview with someone who might give me a permanent job, so I couldn’t take side cases anyway. Do you understand?”