Authors: Carol Lea Benjamin
Ms. Peach turned to face me. “I don't know, Ms. Alexander, but I was told they were on the needle.”
I flapped a hand at her, as if the bad news she'd just given me were nothing at all. “You just told me she handled everything, didn't you?”
Ms. Peach didn't answer my question. Instead she care
fully put the copy of Madison's drawing in a large manila envelope, as if it were a medical report or an X ray, and handed it to me.
“Anyone could have made that picture,” I said, as if I were talking to myself. “I certainly could have.” I stopped short of suggesting that Ms. Peach herself could have made the drawing. But I was sure she'd gotten the point anyway.
Ms. Peach headed for the door, opening it for me.
“You said you were the one who found the doctor?”
“Yes, and I can tell you it was quite a shock.”
“So you were the first one in that morning?” I asked her as casually as I could.
“It wasn't morning. I found him that evening.”
“I don't understand. You said that you left when the doctor was in his office with Madison. I didn't know there were office hours in the evening.”
“There aren't. I came back.”
“Back to the office? Whatever for? Was it when you realized you hadn't set the alarm?”
“No,” she said, her face red, her hands trembling. “I forgot my book.”
stop repeating everything I say,” she shouted.
“It's just thatâ”
“After dinner, I realized I'd left my book at the office and I wanted to finish it that night. It's not that far and so Iâ”
“How long after you'd left was that?”
“About two hours.”
“See. You're doing it again. If you don't stop that compulsive mimicry, I'm going to have to ask you to leave.”
“Must have been a good book,” I said, ignoring her outburst.
Ms. Peach opened the door. “I have work to do.”
“So the doctor's wife hadn't called to inquire where he was. That's not why you came back?”
“No. He had a meeting. It would have been a late night. She wasn't expecting him for dinner.”
I nodded. “And she wouldn't have called you anyway, isn't that so? I mean, the doctor must have had a pager.”
“And no one called the office to see why he'd missed the meeting?”
“Of course not. It's not as if he was the
“Just one more question, Ms. Peach.”
Her eyebrows went up.
Then I shook my head. “Another time,” I said. “You've got work to do.”
This time I left without looking back, crossing the street toward the park. The phone call I had to make could be made there as well as anywhere else, and while I had just been cruel to Ms. Peach, very cruel, I'd done so for a reason. But there was no reason I could think of to be cruel to Dashiell by having him this close to the run and not giving him some time for R & R. As I entered the park at the corner and turned onto the path, his ears went up. I could hear the barking, too, a pleasure after the suffocating beigeness of Dr. Bechman's office.
I called Leon from the dog run.
“I was just at Dr. Bechman's office,” I said.
“I was told Madison's fingerprints were on the needle.”
“It doesn't mean anything,” he said. “That's why I didn't mention it.”
“If it meant something conclusive, she'd be charged, wouldn't she? And what does this have to do with finding Sally?”
“Maybe nothing,” I told him. “Maybe something. I have to toss a wide net, then eliminate what I don't need, what doesn't help. It's not as if she left a trail of bread crumbs. I don't know where I'm going to find what I need to get me started in the right direction. Okay?”
I sighed. So did Leon.
“I need the name of the high school where you were teaching when you met Sally.”
“Abraham Lincoln. On Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn.”
“And do you remember the names of any of her friends?”
“She was never a big talker.”
“No best girlfriend?”
“She never said.”
“And you never met any of her friends?”
“No, I never did.”
“No one in history class she came in with, sat next to, left with?”
“Not that I noticed.”
“What about her other teachers?”
I waited while Leon thought. “I can't recall.”
“One more question for now, Leon. Do you recall the name of the receptionist who worked for Dr. Bechman before Ms. Peach, Celia something?”
There was a silence on the line. I figured Leon was trying to dredge up the name. But then I heard a chair scrape, something fall, a muttered curse. I waited some more. Dashiell had found a willing playmate and they were racing from one end of the run to the other. An elderly man was sitting across from me, a small brown mixed-breed dog on his lap. The dog's face came to a point, his ears seemed too large, erect and rounded at the top, like mouse ears, and he seemed alert but placid. For some reason, that's what I pictured when I thought of Roy. I thought I'd ask Leon about Roy when he got back on the line, another piece of trivia I thought I needed to know, wondering if any of it would help me find Sally.
“Abele,” he said. “Celia Abele.”
I never mentioned the little dog across from me. Or Roy. What did he have to do with anything at this late date? Why even assume that Sally would have kept a dog she'd never wanted in the first place? She might have just given him away. I remembered a dog I'd been given once when I was a child. I'd said he was cute and asked to pet him. The lady holding the leash asked if I wanted him. I'd nodded, hardly able to believe my good luck, but when my mother
saw him, she was furious. She asked where the lady lived and I said I didn't know. She asked me where I was when the lady had given me the dog, but we'd just been on the sidewalk, two blocks from where I lived, and after she handed me the leash, she'd gone around the corner and disappeared. I begged and pleaded and my mother said, “We'll see,” but in the morning, the dog was gone. She never said what she did with him, no matter how many times I asked, no matter how hard I cried. “See,” my sister had said the next night when my parents were out of earshot, “I told you so.”
I thought it was strange that Leon hadn't asked me why on earth I'd gone to Bechman's office. He hadn't asked me why I wanted Celia's last name either. What if he did ask questions? What if he asked me how far I'd gotten or what I thought? What could I say to him, that at this point I had no reason to think that Madison
killed her doctor, nor any reason to feel hopeful about finding Sally, alive or dead? Or would I mention I'd put some terrible doubt in the mind of Ms. Peach in the hope that next time I showed up, she'd break a few laws on behalf of a kid she clearly couldn't stand?
“Well, then,” I'd said after thanking him, “I'll see you around eight.”
“Instead of ringing the bell,” he said, “call my cell when you're on the way and I'll wait for you out front,” he'd said.
I told him I would.
The dog Dashiell had just been playing with was gone, and now he was chasing an Irish setter in great circles around the perimeter of the run. Suddenly they stopped, dropped and began to wrestle in the dirt. Some people think adult dogs don't need to play, that play is only for puppies. If they visited the dog run, they'd change their minds fast. Not only was playing good for dogs, honing muscles, reac
tion time and social skills, but like exercise and gaming for humans, it was a stress buster, the best there was. It seemed to have the same effect on the onlookers, too. There was always someone leaning on the fence and looking in, watching the dogs living in the moment.
I'd taken the long way around, walking Dash past the chess players at the southwest corner of the park. Two of the kibitzers were kibitzing here now, at the run, their arms hanging over the fence, watching a different kind of game. The woman was tall and horsey, long face, long nose, big chin and hair pulled back so tight it made her ears seem to stick out. Her coat looked worn, even from across the run, and while it wasn't cold out, and that may have been why she had it unbuttoned, it might not have fit across her considerable girth. The man was small, shorter than I am, lost in a hunter's orange jacket at least two sizes too big for him, a watch cap on his head, the hood over the cap, aviator glasses, unlaced workman's boots with unmatched socks peeking over the top. They might have both been homeless, having picked their outfits out of the trash, neither willing to look a gift horse in the mouth. Even if your coat won't close, or the color of it gives the impression that someone is about to start shooting deer in Washington Square Park, you can't be fussy about size and color when winter's coming and you're lucky enough to find something you can get into that will keep you warm.
When I got home, I checked my Brooklyn directory and located Lincoln High, way the hell at the far end of the borough. Then I checked under Abele, to see if Celia lived in Brooklyn. There was a Claire Abele on Bedford Avenue, a Richard Abele in Brooklyn Heights, and that was it. I tried the Manhattan directory next. There were six Abeles in Manhattan, Audrey, Harrison, J., Louise, Philip and a C. Abele on Bethune Street, a block from Leon's apartment and
just a short walk to her former job as receptionist for Drs. Willet, Bechman and Edelstein.
Of course the Celia Abele who had worked for Dr. Bechman at one time could live in Queens, the Bronx, on Staten Island or in New Jersey. She might have relocated to Denver, Colorado, or Wake Forest, North Carolina. Nothing said she'd remained close by or that she even had the same last name now that she did then. For all I knew, she'd left her job to get married to an Eskimo who lived fifty miles north of Fairbanks.
Still, I wrote down the address and the phone number, but I didn't plan to call. I thought I'd walk by, see how big the building was, see if there might be some way, by hook or by crook, to talk to Celia Abele face-to-face. It was too easy to hang up the phone, and too tempting, too, especially with the glut of telemarketers invading what used to be the privacy of your home.
I turned on the computer and typed in Classmates.com. They'd been after me weekly to sign up and get in touch with my old classmates, something I had no desire to do. What would they think of the life I'd chosen? I couldn't imagine. Or maybe I could and that was why I'd had no desire to get in touch. But I did finally accept Classmates.com's invitation, signing up not as Rachel Kaminsky, the name I'd had in high school, but as Sally Bruce because it was her long-lost friends I was hoping to hear from, not my own. I backtracked to the year she would have graduated, then back four from that to give the range of time she'd attended Lincoln. Now all I had to do was wait and hope.
If Lincoln was like any other New York City public school, its senior class would have had around a thousand kids in it. I didn't know the chances of anyone recognizing Sally's name and responding. I figured they were slim, like everything else in this case. All the more reason to try anything I could think of.
At a quarter to eight, I called Leon. Dashiell and I headed a block and a half west to Greenwich Street, then a few blocks north to Bank Street. I could see Leon sitting on the steps out front, a black gym bag on his lap.
He handed me the bag. “I hope this helps.”
“Me, too,” I said. I weighed the bag by hoisting it up and down. “Not much in it.”
“I wasn't sure what you wanted.”
“A diary would be nice,” I said, thinking I'd get a smile.
“There was one,” Leon said. “But when the police came, I couldn't find it.”
“You don't think she took it with her?”
“She didn't even take a purse. Just a light jacket, her keys, some pickup bags.”
“Did it ever turn up?”
“Excuse me?” I had the feeling that even with something this important, Leon only half listened.
“The diary?” I sat on the top step, putting the bag on my lap and unzipping it, hoping to see the diary lying on top.
I looked inside the bag. There were some notebooks, the kind you use in school, the yearbook Leon had showed me with Sally's graduation picture in it, a manila envelope with two rubber bands around it. “What happened to her books,” I asked, “her clothes, her stuff, you know, hairbrush, bracelets, ice skates, bowling ball, family pictures, cartoons she cut out of the
and hung on the refrigerator, anything that might tell me something about her, something that might give me a hint where she might have gone?”
“Madison has her clothes and some of her things.”
“She didn't tear those up?”
Leon shook his head. “The books are upstairs. Do you want to see them?”
“Yeah, I do.”
Leon got up. I reached for his arm. “You can show me which ones were hers when I come in the morning.”
“All of them,” he said. “Well, most of them. Not the photography books. Not the history.”
“I'll see you in the morning,” I told him, not wanting to tell him I was heading out on what no doubt would be a fool's errand, not wanting to tell him any more than I had to lest I get his hopes up only to dash them a moment later. I was going to wait until he went inside, but Leon stayed put, waiting for me to go. So I headed back the way I'd come, and when I got to Bank Street, I turned back to see if he was still standing there. The stoop was empty. I walked back that way, passing the entrance to Leon's building and heading for the corner of Bethune Street. When I glanced up, I saw the light go off in Leon's living room. I wondered what that meant. Surely, he wasn't going to go to sleep at eight-twenty. Did he watch TV in the dark, I wondered, or listen to music with his eyes closed?
Canned pears and Mop & Glo were on special at the D'Agostino's on the opposite corner. I turned west and started watching the addresses, looking for the building where the C. Abele I'd found in the phone book lived, someone who might or might not be the person I hoped to find.
The address in the phone book turned out to be a medium-sized brick apartment building. Like many buildings in the city, you could enter the vestibule without a key but not the lobby. I did so and checked the names on the bells. Again, it said C. Abele. There was one more place to check. The mailboxes were on the opposite wall. I looked for the one for 3F, then looked to see the name in the little slot. It said Charles Abele.
Dash and I walked along the river before going home. The water was choppy, those small peaks everywhere, and it seemed to flow in stripes, every other one heading for the ocean, the ones in between going back from where they came. There was a good breeze, even better when we walked out onto one of the piers. I sat on a bench at the far end, putting the gym bag next to me, the Statue of Liberty overseeing the harbor to my left, New Jersey across the way. Looking downtown, I could only be aware of what was missing, a hole in the skyline where the Twin Towers used to stand.
Dashiell lay down on the pier near my feet. We stayed for a while, listening to the water sloshing against the pilings, letting our thoughts drift. Then we headed home to open the gym bag once again and see if there was anything in what Leon had collected that would help me find his missing wife.