Going out was positively too much for me. I felt like I hadn’t slept in days. But I had to push on. Mere’s supernatural manifestations were so fragile .They could lead me to understand why she was murdered. This spiritual window could close at any time.
While I walked along the crowded city streets, everyone now looked suspicious. I definitely had a feeling that someone was following me, even this guy on a bicycle kept reappearing. I was so relieved when I finally reached 33rd Street where the white stone church stood in the middle of the block. I remembered my grandmother and my visits to this church. Whenever I entered, I sensed the spiritual, particularly around the stained glass windows and little red candles and the altar.
“Here’s where we pray” Mere would say, taking my hand.
“Pray?” I’d ask.
“Just talk to God,” she would explain. As I pushed open the heavy wooden door a moth landed on my finger indicating the dead was present. Hopefully, Mere was waiting for me inside. Entering the darkened empty church, I deliberately chose the pew where my grandmother and I often sat. I didn’t have a lot of time, so I just blurted out, “Mere, what should I do?”
No response. So thinking about Mere’s last words in the ambulance I asked her,
“What are you sorry about?” I sat there impatiently. Little by little the temperature dropped. I just knew it. When I turned in the pew, I saw her standing at the back door just staring in at me. She was pale and fragile looking. I quickly grabbed my bag and ran toward her, but by the time I got to the back, she was gone.
How could she be gone? Why wouldn’t she wait for me?
As I was walked through the courtyard past the golden statue of St. Francis kneeling
in prayer, a homeless man with the bronze high tops came face to face with me. The dark circles under those haunting eyes in his sunken face, staring directly at me. His voice deep and raspy saying, “Miss, Miss.”
This was the homeless guy the guard Pete described on the news. I was terrified yet I walked toward him as he beckoned me toward a bench in the church court yard.
”I’m Horatio. I need to tell you something. We can talk here.”
I knew I was taking a chance, but this could be the break I was waiting for. We sat side by side. Horatio looked straight ahead not making eye contact with me.
“Miss, I’m very sorry about your grandmother. She was a special friend, maybe my only friend.”
I thought, mine too.
“People wouldn’t believe we could be friends. Your grandmother gave out sandwiches and coffee very early in the morning here at St. Francis. She was nice to everybody. She wasn’t afraid of me. After a few words here and there, I learned she worked in the library. I told her I didn’t read much –but I did like Shakespeare, a long time ago. Most people think I don’t know how to talk. I like it that way. Makes it easier on me. Talking to most people is just a waste of time, but not to your grandmother.”
This homeless guy and I had a lot in common.
Horatio continued, “The cops are looking for me, but they got it wrong. I didn’t kill your grandmother. I could never hurt her. But I was there by the side entrance the night it happened. I saw you going in, talking to Pete, the security guard. I saw that guy in the Yankee cap come out walking confident like he didn’t have a care.”
“Horatio, if you saw that guy, you have to tell the police. It might help them find him.”
“The police won’t believe me. You know what drink does to your brain. I don’t remember yesterday.”
“Maybe you’re not sure. I saw him too and I’m not sure. What do you think he looks like - height, weight, race, age?”
“I don’t know.”
I insisted, “You have to tell the police. You just have too.”
“The police and me, we don’t get along. We just don’t.”
“Please, do it for my grandmother.”
“Your grandmother and I have a secret.”
“Okay, then just tell me.”
“Nobody. Don’t you understand? I promised to tell nobody, ever.”
Horatio started squirming, shuffling his feet. Finally, the grimy figure turned away from me and slipped into a crowd walking toward Penn Station.
I immediately phoned Detective Ruiz and filled him in on what had happened.
“Listen, don’t move. I’m sending a squad car over. The officers will drive around the area. See if you spot him. Your father has called me a couple of times. He wants you to have protection. I told him I was watching out for you.”
“He’s unbelievable. He’s so embarrassing.”
“Really? I’ll tell him that you are safe and I sent a squad car for you.”
The cops who picked me up said they knew Horatio, but their description of a harmless simple boozer didn’t fit with the man I just talked to. The cops did tell me that Horatio was an alcoholic who had lost everything - his family, a job as an architect, and a home in New Jersey. They seemed to know a lot about him. I was glad when the police dropped me off in front of the library.
As I was standing next to the patrol car, Chase and his brother Dylan rode their bikes by me. Dylan, sort of embarrassed sped up, while Chase kind of gave me a half wave as if he didn’t know how to act because of my horrible situation. It was hard to see people I knew. What was I going to say? There were no words for them either. I dreaded the thought of talking to Mere’s colleagues.
I could see Ruiz calmly seated at an aluminum mesh table surrounded by New Yorkers enjoying outdoor lunch with crumb collecting pigeons at their feet.
Ruiz said, “Zoe, no luck in finding this homeless guy. We’ll pick him up. It’s just a matter of time.”
I said, “I don’t think he will help you. He seemed kind of scared of police.”
“Let us worry about that. It’s you, young lady who has to be careful. You won’t be safe until the killer is found. You obviously don’t understand that. Your grandmother was murdered and the Gutenberg was stolen. That’s a dangerous scenario and you’re playing some secret cat and mouse game with a homeless guy.”
“Have you been talking to my father about my involvement in the investigation?”
“No, but any one with common sense would say you have no involvement.”
“I didn’t get a good look at the murderer, but the murderer isn’t anyone like this grimy Horatio.”
“Listen Zoe, get something straight here. I’m the detective. I have the badge. I have the gun. .How old are you, again?
“Eighteen, and how old are you, Detective ?”
“Young to be a detective?”
“First officer in my graduating class to make detective.”
Ruiz looked so self assured. If only I felt that he could find the murderer. I just sat and pretended to listen. I had lot of practice doing that with my parents.
“Zoe, we really don’t know what we are dealing with here. The police can only protect you so much.”
I decided then not to tell Ruiz about Horatio being at the crime scene until Horatio told me the secret. Just when I thought I had nailed the plan on humoring Ruiz, he reached out and touched my hand. My brain and body clearly registered his touch. I hated to admit it, but I so enjoyed the feel of it. Could I be attracted to a know it all like Ruiz? I pushed away the feeling. How could I be attracted to anyone with my grandmother just murdered?
He sensed my reaction and softly said, “I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
I just looked at him.
“How about coffee?” Ruiz asked.
Just as I started to enjoy the moment, Ruiz said, “Here comes your dad.”
“I told you not to call him.”
“Zoe, I had no choice.”
I exhaled in exasperation as I ran to my dad who was standing next to an open cab door. The cab was stopped in the middle of Fifth Avenue with honking cars swerving around it.
“Zoe, what the hell are you doing getting mixed up with some homeless guy who is a suspect in murdering your grandmother? That’s it. Right after the funeral, you go back to Boston.”
“No, Dad, I’m not. I’m eighteen in case you have forgotten.”
“Hey,” Ruiz stepped in between us and maneuvered us first to the curb, then to the café table outside the library.
“Since I got you both together, let me update you on what’s happened since our conversation in your apartment. As I already told you the FBI is now all over this - the good news and the bad.”
“What do you mean?” we both asked in unison.
“The Feds can get in my way, but I have no choice now.”
No surprise to hear that Ruiz believed he was smarter, sharper than the FBI.
“Now that you have a little time to rest and think things over, is there anything you haven’t already told me that could help with the investigation?”
Since Ruiz was asking, I went for it – “My grandmother and I have a strong belief in the supernatural. Is there any chance of bringing in a psychic on this case?”
“What drugs are you on Zoe?” Ruiz asked.
“Zoe, I warned you” my dad interrupted, “about what would happen if you went this route. Back to Boston.”
“Okay, dad, I was just asking. But apparently Detective Ruiz and you are stuck on the same damn page. Everything by the book. You two will get along great. But I’m not leaving until the killer is caught and Mere’s reputation is intact.”
I surprised myself by clearly and calmly telling Dad I wasn’t leaving. I’m not sure why I was able to do this. Usually I agonize over decisions. Here I felt Mere needed me. No one, my dad and, certainly not this throw back Ruiz, understood or was even open to Mere’s spiritual gifts. I wasn’t leaving without fighting to find her killer. My dad looked surprised by my adamant refusal to go back to Boston.
“Like at eighteen you’re going to solve the case of who killed Mere or stole the Gutenberg. Listen Zoe, I’m making plans for the funeral. I don’t have time for one of your temper tantrums.”
Ruiz saw where this father - daughter feud was headed and said, “Mr. Donovan, Zoe is safe with me. Why don’t you go and take care of the arrangements? Since we are here in the library, maybe Zoe could show me around. I’m embarrassed as a New Yorker to say I was never even in this library before your mother’s case. What do you say Zoe? How about a quick intro to the place and I will personally take you back to your dad.”
Though every fiber of my being said don’t stay here, I nodded yes.
My dad shook his head yes while muttering, “This is all too crazy. Zoe, are you up to showing the detective around?”
“I’m fine with it, Dad.”