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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Song of the Past: Installment Six

(Previous installment.)

Monday, 3:00 PM
Deirdre, upon leaving Justin’s, decided she needed time to think. If she could only remember why the symbol on the tie tack seemed familiar, she felt that she could at least make a start with this case. She headed back across town to the place that had been her favorite spot for contemplation ever since she had arrived in New Haven.

When she reached the gate of the road through West Rock Park she found it padlocked. A sign on the gate read, “This road closed for the winter. For foot access, please use the Nature Center parking lot.” As she considered her next move, a van pulled up behind her. The driver, a man perhaps in his early thirties, stared intently toward the gate, straining to read the sign. He then looked at Deirdre.

“Are you going up to the top?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Well, the Nature Center parking lot is right over there.” He pointed down the road to the right.

“Thanks.”


The van pulled into the parking lot just behind her. Out of its doors emerged a host of children, all under the age of ten. When the driver got out Deirdre saw that he wore his beard long, and on his head was a yarmulke. Of the children the older boys also sported yarmulkes.

Deirdre sat in the car sorting through her case notes. One of the boys ran up to her window.

“Have you ever walked up to the top before?” The pale face smiled at her from within a frame of brown curls; long sideburns hung from above his ears to below his jaw.

“Yes, I have.”

“It’s really neat up there. You can see a real long way, and there’s a cave you can climb inside.”

“Yes, it’s very nice.”

Backup arrived, a much smaller boy, probably only recently walking. He was a picture of roundness, a little round face ringed by round curls, a semi-circular smile that looked to large too fit on the face, and a small round belly. He stood stock-still and stared up at Deirdre.

“Hey there, how are you?”

As Deirdre addressed the younger of her visitors the older one ran off to join the main body of the tribe, which had started to move across the parking lot. The little one just continued to stare and smile. Was he having some sort of beatific vision?

“Jonah, come on!” came the shout from across the parking lot. Still the young mystic remained in his rapture.

Deirdre gestured toward the retreating crowd with her hand. “I think they’re leaving. You’d better go catch them.” Unmoved by the temptations of the world, the visionary could not be budged.
Finally the boy who had first run to her car broke loose from the pack and retrieved the little one.
“Bye,” he said, as he lead his charge back into the world of up-hill walks and keeping pace with longer legs.

“I’ll see you up there.”

Deirdre put on a light jacket when she got out of the car. The weather had turned and the day was mild, but there was still a chill in the air, and the sun was growing faint and low in the sky. She spent a few minutes by the small stream running past the parking lot, then set off up the hill.
She caught up to her fellow pilgrims near the beginning of the road leading up the rock. The man immediately began talking to her.

“So, are you at Yale?”

“No, I’m a cop.”

“A cop, really? That must be interesting, being a cop.”

“It is sometimes. What do you do?”

“Oh, I’m a teacher.”

“Where do you teach?”

“I’m between jobs right now, except for some special assignments I do.”

“What are they?”

“I put on magic shows for kids, tell stories, sing.”

“That must be fun.”

“It is. I love kids. Do you have any?”

“No.”

“Are you married?”

“No.”

“That’s funny. You seem like you’d be a good mother.”

“Well, someday.” Deirdre smiled wryly. “Not all of these are yours, are they?”

The man beamed. “Yeah, eight kids in nine years. That’s my oldest,” pointing to a thin girl, “and that’s my youngest,” pointing to a stroller he was pushing.

“By the way, my name is Deirdre.”

“Mine is Izzy. That’s easy to remember. Izzy.”

The second largest boy and a middling size girl had closed on either side of Deirdre, and each of them took hold of one of her hands, smiling up at her while they did so. “What did I tell you,” Izzy said, “you’d make a great mother.”

The boy who had her by the hand gave her a puzzled look. “Are you Jewish?”

“No, I’m Irish and Jamaican. You know, beer, potatoes, reggae music.”

Her interviewer was nonplussed. He disengaged and ran back to his father for a consultation. Deirdre saw him pointing toward her. His father was looking down patiently from on high, trying to explain. Apparently satisfied he had no sAtAn on his hands, he ran back and took Deirdre’s hand.

The oldest girl, Rachel, had approached on Deirdre’s right.

“We’ve been studying fungi and molds in my science class. I got a one hundred on the test about them.”

“Some of my best friends are fungi and molds.”

Rachel looked incredulous. “No, I mean the plants.”

“So do I. I keep them in dishes in my house. I bring them out at night and have parties with them.”

Now she laughed. “No you don’t!”

A little over halfway to the top the tribe’s faith in their pilgrimage wavered. The younger members’ strength was failing, and they raised a plaintive cry. A council was called, the elders conferred with the father, and it was decided that, in the company of the one called Deirdre, those who were willing would proceed to the Cave of the Judges at the mountain’s peak.

Three then went with her, and their names were Sarah and Jacob and David. They passed on into the wilderness, beyond the ken of the rest of the tribe, and at length they came to a long bend in their road. There a vision came to Jacob, and he lead them over a stone wall in what was called a “real neat short-cut,” and they passed across a meadow to Judge’s Cave.

The children clambered around inside the small passages. Deirdre stopped and read the plaque narrating the history of the cave, then followed them. She said to Jacob, the elder of the two boys,
“Did you know that people lived in here once?”

“Yes, two men who had sentenced the English king to death. They were hiding from his son when he had become king. Edward Whalley and William Goffe.”

Jacob again took the lead. “Can we go look out from there?” He pointed to one of the park’s scenic overlooks.

“Of course. But let’s be careful.”

They crossed a ring of road and its grassy center, coming to a place where a path guarded by an iron handrail skirted the edge of the rock’s plateau-like top. The slope there was not the vertical drop of the rock’s southwest face, but it was still much more than forty-five degrees. Deirdre wondered what kind of a welcome back she would get from Izzy if she lost a kid over the edge.

They walked a slow curve swinging past a gentle rise to their left and the sharp drop to the right. Sarah and David were both nervous about the drop. David came dangerously close to the edge. “Let’s sit down,” Deirdre quickly suggested.

They walked a couple of steps up the rise and sat on rocks. Now Deirdre’s attention left her charges and roamed out over the valley below. Their view was northwest, across part of Westville, beyond the Merrit Parkway, and out over the hills of Woodbridge and Orange. The gentle folds of the land were mottled orange, red and yellow, dappled by sun and shadow.

“I’m scared. Let’s go.” It was Sarah who spoke.

“Sure, we can head back. I’ll bring you down, then I’m going to come back up here.”

“Can we stop at the cave and go through one more time?”

Deirdre consented, and so it was after one more circuit of the tunnels that they went back across the meadow, over the wall, and down the road.

Izzy smiled as they approached. “So, you made it back.”

“Yeah. I hope I’ve returned with as many as I took.”

“Thanks a lot. Good luck to you.”

“You, too. Take care.”

They went their separate ways, Deirdre back up to the top and Izzy down towards his van. Deirdre again employed the short cut that Jacob had recommended, and was soon seated in the place where Sarah had become frightened.

The sun was nearly touching on the distant the hills, which glowed russet and gold, amber and sienna, scarlet and ocher. The exhalations of countless trees mingled with the car fumes, wrapping the branches in gauze. Red, orange and violet-bellied, gray-backed clouds tumbled across the sky.

She took a cigarette out of her pocket and lit it. As she breathed in the smoke her mind reviewed the thin substance of her investigation. The tie tack seemed to present the only thread for her to pull, to tease, to try and draw forth a hint of a track to follow. Not the footprint? No, forensics had reported that there was no hope of identifying it as having been made by some particular shoe, or even some specific brand. Men's dress shoe, between size nine and ten. And, as the Captain had said, the print could have been left there at any time during the afternoon or evening, the rain having stopped at about noon on Saturday. Still, the print nagged at her. It was certainly and most simply a sign that someone had stood or stepped there. However, she had a haunting feeling that it was a sign of something else as well, and that if she could only grasp this second meaning she would have another lead. But all she had to go on was the feeling. For now she would have to work with the tie tack.
Where could she have seen that symbol before? Was someone wearing it? That didn’t ring a bell. In a book? No, not that one either. Hanging somewhere. At a friends? Unlikely. On a case? Not that she could recall. The odor of it? What was it now? Eggsbaconoldgreasecoffeetoast. Hy’s Restaurant! She could picture it hanging on a wall amidst various Masonic bric-a-brac. She would head there now.
She got up, dusted herself off, and headed downhill. In fifteen minutes she was at Hy’s. She felt her heart racing from excitement as she neared the front door. It was closed when she got there, so she decided to call it a night. But her breakfast plans were set for the morning.

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