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Forty-nine

Grace Rodriguez was shocked when she entered the Midtown North Precinct and connected with New York City law enforcement for the first time in her life. The building was old and bare of any comforts whatsoever. Hard surfaces everywhere were covered with decades' accumulation of black grime from city streets. She noticed the signs warning of pickpockets in several languages, police equipment she couldn't identify. The officers looked large and rough in their blue uniforms. The faces of the most wanted criminals posted on the walls looked no more frightening to her than the officers with the weapons hanging from their belts. Not even the sight of several Latinos comforted her. None of them smiled at her. Inside the precinct everybody was either busy or trying to look busy, and the people at the front desk were sharp-voiced and impatient, like the waiters in coffee shops.

When she went to the desk and asked for the person in charge of the Maslow Atkins case, she was told to sit down and wait. She sat on a hard chair and watched uniforms walk back and forth. Both the men and the women had a special police walk that frightened her. None of them looked at her or asked her if she needed help. She felt unimportant and invisible. This frightened her, too.

Throughout her adult life, Grace had always identified with poor people who couldn't speak English well, didn't have jobs and nice homes, and couldn't properly care for their kids when they were sick or in trouble. And she'd seen the movies where the police were corrupt and mean. But now she saw that being in a police station was like entering poverty itself. When she went to the bathroom, she was shocked. It was worse than any hospital, post office, train station, court building she'd ever seen. She couldn't imagine why any of the people she saw here would want to work in such a place or how they might be able to find her daughter.

After an hour, she was so agitated she went to the desk a second time and asked who was in charge of the case. She wanted a name. No one seemed to know who was in charge. After a few minutes of calling on the phone, a mean-looking Hispanic woman sitting at a lower desk said, "Sergeant Woo."

"Sergeant Woo?" Grace swallowed the bad taste in her mouth. She wasn't sure what kind of name that was. "Could I see him?" She was becoming indignant at the way she was being treated. So many people walking in and out. No one paying attention. "I have to leave soon."

"She's out in the field," came the cold answer.

"Can I talk to someone else?" she said. "I need to talk to someone now."

"No one is available."

Grace felt tears sting behind her eyes. All she wanted to do was find her daughter. "This is important! When is she coming back?"

"We'll let you know."

Grace returned to her chair and wondered if she should call Jerry. He lived on Park Avenue and was an important man. No one would dare to treat him like this. But calling Jerry was out of the question. He didn't want anyone to know he had a daughter. He was the one who'd put them in this position in the first place, the strange limbo of being alone and possessed. Jerry didn't approve of her taking any independent actions when it came to their daughter. At the same time, he wasn't there to take care of things himself.

Secretly, Grace had always believed his story that he was a good man caught in a bad situation, that he wanted to do the right thing for her and Dylan, but didn't want to hurt his wife and son. She'd thought that his loyalty to the two of them demonstrated his sensitivity, not his selfishness. She'd always wished that his wife, who was mean and ugly and old and would certainly take half his fortune should they divorce, would just die to spare them the agony.

So many times when she'd been hurt or angry with Jerry for one slight or another, she'd tried so hard not to feel that she was, in the end, alone. Now she knew that she and Dylan were indeed alone.

She was thinking that she had come to the wrong place with her story when a beautiful Chinese woman, exquisitely dressed in a rust-colored suit and purple blouse, came in the precinct door.

The officer at the desk shouted at her, "Sergeant, someone's looking for you."

The woman stopped at the desk to talk to him, and he pointed at Grace. Immediately she came over.

"I'm Sergeant Woo. How can I help you?" She had a low voice with a slight New York accent.

Grace was shocked. This Chinese woman was in charge of Maslow's case? Jerry had told her the Mayor himself was involved. The police department was doing everything possible to find him. Jerry would not be happy to think this woman was the best they could do. Grace herself was not very optimistic about a Chinese woman detective.

"Ah, I wanted to talk to someone about Maslow Atkins."

"Good. Thank you for coming. Have you been waiting long?" the woman asked politely.

Grace had gotten to her feet. Now she looked down at her hands. Yes, she had been waiting long. She had some information, but now she wasn't sure she wanted to give it. The detective's face was polite but unreadable. Grace didn't feel comfortable talking to her.

"They didn't know who was in charge," she said after a slight hesitation.

"I'm sorry, it's very chaotic around here today. I guess no one sent you upstairs to the detective unit."

"No."

"Well, come upstairs now. We'll find a quiet place to talk. It's only on the second floor, do you mind taking the stairs?"

"No. That's all right." Grace followed the Chinese woman cop without a Chinese accent. She didn't know what she was going to tell her.

Upstairs, behind the door that was marked "Detective Unit," they walked into a room full of smoke. A lot of people in plain clothes were in there, walking around smoking and sitting at the desks, talking on the phones. The sergeant ignored them. She stopped outside a tiny office with a glass window in the door. Inside a man with a big mustache was sitting at a desk with a plaque that read "Sergeant April Woo" on it. Grace realized that the detective's name was April. She felt sick and wished she hadn't come.

"Would you wait here for a moment?" The sergeant went into her office. Her back was to the window. Grace couldn't see her face or hear what she said. The man came out. The woman sat down at her desk.

"You may go inside now," the man told her. He, too, spoke in a polite manner.

Grace could tell he was Latino. She gave him a grateful smile and went into the office.

"Sit down," Sergeant Woo said.

Grace sat down. The man with the mustache came in and sat down in the chair beside her. He had a nice smile and was wearing a very strong aftershave that was sweet and spicy and familiar to her.

"Lieutenant Sanchez is in the Special Case Squad. He's in charge here," Woo said.

Grace stared at the two of them. She realized the cops she was dealing with were Spanish and Chinese. She wondered if this was not a very important case, after all. No one here seemed to know what was going on or who was in charge. Where were the Americans?

"I'm Grace Rodriguez," she said softly. "Thank you for seeing me."

"Thank you for coming in," said the lieutenant called Sanchez.

Grace sniffed, trying to hold on to her composure. Cops were tough, she knew. And her child was illegitimate, named after a seventies folk singer. Her Dylan had turned out to be as strange as the singer was, a weird duck, delicate as glass-and missing since yesterday. Grace felt ashamed about having to describe her difficult child like an item for the lost and found. The two cops waited.

"Maslow Atkins is my boss's son," she said, flushing deeply.

The two exchanged glances. "Take your time."

"I don't know whether you have spoken with Mr. Atkins. I asked him to tell you about us, but-" Grace sniffed. "Well, he's a very private person."

The Spanish lieutenant nodded. He seemed like a nice man. Grace chewed on her lip. She hadn't wanted it to come out this way. She hadn't wanted to harm her daughter. She'd wanted her and Jerry's story to end well. She'd always expected it would. Now her hopes were down the toilet. She could never trust him, never be with him again. She cared only for her daughter. Saving Dylan. The two cops waited. She took a deep breath. "Jerome Atkins and I have a daughter. Our daughter, Dylan, is twenty and missing since yesterday." There, she said it. Her eyes overflowed and tears coursed down her face.

She couldn't help it. The Chinese detective passed over the tissue box. Grace took one and pressed it to her face.

"I'm sorry. I haven't been able to tell anyone about this. It's been hard. No one knows about my life. I'm sorry."

"No problem. We cry all the time, don't we, Lieutenant?" Woo said.

The lieutenant nodded. "Your daughter, Dylan, does she know her half-brother, Maslow?"

Grace shook her head. "Jerry didn't want Maslow to know about us. So, I didn't think so. But Dylan found out about her half-brother years ago. She's always been passionately interested in knowing him. Her father was dead against it."

"And when did Dylan contact him?" this from the Chinese.

"Ahh, well, she might have been following him. I don't think they knew each other. Dylan promised her father that she wouldn't contact him. But she was angry at him and you know kids. They don't always keep their promises." Grace dabbed at her eyes.

"Angry at Maslow?"

"No, her father."

The two detectives exchanged glances again. Grace was afraid she'd said something she shouldn't have.

"Maybe I'm wrong. I'm just-I'm very upset. I don't know where she is, and he's missing, too. It's all so horrible. Both of them missing. It's-"

"Miss Rodriguez, did you know your daughter is seeing a psychiatrist?"

Grace was shocked. "Dylan? No. She would never- what makes you think that?"

"Do you have a photo of her?" Sanchez asked.

"Um, not with me. I can get one." Grace put the tissue to her nose. A psychiatrist? Where was this leading? Had Dylan gone crazy? Was she in a hospital?

Sergeant Woo pulled a thick stack of photos out of her purse and shuffled through them. Finally she found the one she was looking for. "Is this Dylan?"

Grace took the picture and stared at it. Her daughter's thin face stared out at her from a frame of long black hair.

"Where did you get this?" Grace was astounded. "It was taken yesterday afternoon at Maslow Atkins's office."

"No!" Grace couldn't believe it.

"Maslow is a psychiatrist. Dylan was in treatment with him. She called herself Allegra Caldera. When we spoke with her, she was waiting for her five p.m. appointment."

Grace closed her eyes. A little tear squeezed out. She never would have imagined that her daughter could devise such a scheme. Amazing. Dylan had outwitted her father and found her own way to get to know her brother. Grace dabbed at her wet eyes. She couldn't help feeling a little surge of pride at her daughter's ingenuity. Waiting for her appointment! So there had been a man in her life. A brother. A giggle erupted from her throat like a bubble in a fish tank. Dylan had a touch of her father's deviousness. "Where is she?" she asked.

"Maslow and Dylan had a fight on Tuesday afternoon, and Dylan may be the last person who saw him before he disappeared," Woo was saying.

"What?" The fabric of Grace's suit was soaked under the arms.

"She was seen with him just before he went into the park."

Grace was confused. "But you said you saw her yesterday in his office. Did she know why you were there? Did you know who she was?"

"Yes, she knew we were looking for Maslow. No, she didn't tell us she was his sister. She was pretending to be someone else. She didn't appear to know he was missing."

"Well, how did your conversation end? Where did she go? You don't suspect her of anything?" The question hung in the air.

The Chinese woman spoke softly. "I told her I wanted to talk with her again. She said that was fine with her, gave me a fake telephone number, and took off." Sergeant Woo looked as disturbed by the whole thing as Grace was.

The lieutenant got up quickly and left the two women alone together. The Chinese detective kept her for a long time asking her many questions about Dylan's life and her activities in the last few months, but although Grace talked a great deal, she didn't seem to know her daughter very well.


Forty-eight | Tracking Time | Fifty