Authors: Judith Van Gieson
Judith Van Gieson
SHADOW OF VENUS
All rights reserved.
Copyright Â© 2004 Judith Van Gieson.
This book may not be reproduced in whole
or in part, by other means, without permission.
First ebook edition Â© 2012 by AudioGO.
All Rights Reserved.
Trade ISBN 978-1-62064-478-2
Library ISBN 978-0-7927-9518-6
Cover photo Â© 91057355/
Phyllis Bosco, Lincoln HanselâYou are the stars who light my sky.
Many thanks to the Ladies of the Annex and to published poet and former Albuquerque Journal correspondent Patty Ann Byrum for letting me enter their lives. Maria Senaida Velasquez Huerta, Carol McGinnis Kay, and Gerard Kosicki were kind enough to read the manuscript and give me their expert advice. I'm grateful to Don Bullis for sharing his knowledge of the law and to Lawton Davis for the use of his name. As for the girls who opened their hearts and told me their stories, I couldn't have written this book without you.
HILEAN POET WAS ENDING A LONG AND DISTINGUISHED CAREER
by spending a semester as a visiting professor of literature at the University of New Mexico. Librarian Claire Reynier had arranged for him to give a reading in the Willard Reading Room, a beautiful setting with high ceilings supported by vigas, windows facing onto the cactus garden, and her favorite rare books locked into bookcases on the north and south walls. The poet was a small, dignified man with a thick white mustache. Claire had been having a good hair day, but she felt too tall as she stood next to him at the podium under the glow of an overhead light. She glanced around the room and was delighted to see that all the seats had been filled.
“It gives me a great deal of pleasure to introduce Jorge Balboa,” she said. “He's the author of numerous award-winning books and will read from his most recent,
Recuerdos de Amor.”
“Thank you,” Jorge replied. “You are very gracious.” He lifted Claire's hand and gave it a kiss.
She left him at the podium and walked down the aisle feeling like a butterfly had touched her hand, thinking she would stand in front of the rear bookcase since she saw no available seats. A woman in an aisle chair in the last row motioned to her. Claire paused. The woman removed a plastic bag from the adjacent seat, placed it on her lap, and slid over, giving the aisle seat to Claire.
“Thank you,” Claire said as she sat down.
“You're welcome,” the woman whispered. “You look beautiful today.”
“Yes.” The woman nodded.
“That's a lovely compliment.” Claire felt herself blush.
“I meant it.”
Claire took a closer look at the woman, who appeared young enough to be a student. Students came and went and it was harder to remember them as time went by. This woman looked vaguely familiar, but there was nothing exceptional about her to jump-start Claire's memory. She had good bones and might have been considered pretty if her face had had more animation. Her thin brown hair fell in a straight line to her shoulders. Her clothes were beige and lavender, pale and neat, protective coloring that made her nearly invisible. If Claire had met her before, she couldn't remember when or where.
Jorge Balboa began to read in a rich baritone voice, muffled somewhat by his mustache. Although he was small in stature, his voice was operatic. The room settled into a reverent silence. Claire
her eyes and let the words massage her back and shoulders. They were words of gentle love, love without the raw edges of anger or betrayal, love as experienced by a mature and contented man.
“You are the green and blue at twilight,” Jorge said. “The silvery scimitar of the newest moon.”
“Shit. That ain't poetry.” A woman's voice broke in like scratchy slivers of glass.
“Te amo, te amo mucho, te amo siempre.”
Jorge ignored the interruption or was too deep in his romantic trance to notice. His voice dropped to a dramatic whisper. The audience leaned forward to hear.
“You want to hear poetry? I'll give you some poetry.” Claire turned around and saw a woman standing in the back doorway. It was Ansia, a street person who hung out in the library. The campus police ignored her until she nodded out in a reading room and snored too loud or woke up and got into an argument. Ansia had extreme moodsâmanic or nearly comatose. Her hair was streaked the color of cherry Jell-O. Her dress was in tatters. Her feet wrapped in flimsy sandals were as rough and cracked as elephant hide.
“Mi chiva, mi negro, mi
BB,” she crooned.
“Te amo, te amo mucho, te amo siempre. Mi jeringa, mi sancho,
my candy man. You got me all tore up from the floor up. Now that's poetry.”
Claire felt Ansia had woken her from a warm and lovely dream. She'd left the rear door open to let some air into the room. As she stood up, hoping to close it and somehow persuade Ansia to leave, two uniformed campus police came around the corner, grabbed Ansia by the arms and yanked her out of the doorway. They began escorting her down the Great Hall in the direction of the main entrance. The back of her skirt was stained with menstrual blood, a sight that provoked a primal, paralyzing fear in Claire.
“Move it.” A campus policeman pulled Ansia.
The man's touch set her off. “Get your goddamn bear claw hands off of me,” she screamed. “I live in this state. I have the right to speak. I have the right to use the library.”
“Mi corazÃ³n. Te amo.”
The woman who had relinquished her seat jumped up and grabbed Claire's arm. “She hates men,” she said. “Make them let go of her. Please.” Her eyes had the panic of a wild animal seeing the doors of a cage slam shut. She bolted through the doorway clutching her plastic bag in her arms.
Claire thought she might be going to help Ansia, but the woman turned in the opposite direction, scurrying away toward the rear exit, leaving Claire to think she should go to Ansia's aid herself, but she didn't know what she could do.
The campus police turned the corner with Ansia squirming and kicking between them. Claire closed the door and returned to her seat; her job was to supervise Jorge Balboa's reading. His gentle words of love seemed out of place now in a room that reeked of fear, but then, Claire reflected, love as she had known it had often had an element of fear.
MAINTENANCE MAN DISCOVERED THE BODY
when he unlocked a storage room in the basement of Zimmerman Library on Tuesday morning after the long Memorial Day weekend. By the time Claire got to the Center for Southwest Research at nine, all the staff was buzzing about it. Knowing that the best source of information for anything that happened on campus was her colleague Celia Alegria, Claire went to her office.
Celia wore a black dress today. Since there had been a death over the weekend, it seemed like a prescient choice, although on Celia black wasn't somber. She enlivened it with lots of turquoise jewelry.
“What happened?” Claire asked her.
“Paul Begala in maintenance found a body in a storage room.” Celia tapped the floor with the toe of her shoe for emphasis. “Right under here. It was a woman who hasn't been identified yet.”
“A homeless person?” Homeless people and impoverished students slept in secluded nooks all over the university. One of those students had eventually become a successful script writer and a model for all those with no permanent address. It used to be that when librarians came to work in the morning they smelled breakfast cooking in the tunnels under the building. But that problem should have been solved by the new security system.
“Did you have someone in mind?” Celia asked.
“She was evicted last week during the Jorge Balboa reading. I wish I'd done something to help her.”
“I don't know. Told the campus police not to be so rough. Ansia lives a dangerous life. She might have gone into the storage room to sleep and hide over the weekend.”
“Which raises the question of how she got in.” It was Celia's job to assign and protect the security codes that gave people access to the elevator that led to the basement and the stacks. The same security system guarded the rooms where rare manuscripts and books were stored and allowed only staff to enter and leave the library after hours. Celia gave a code to staff members and graduate students who needed one, changing the numbers periodically as staff came and went.
“Let's hope the police find that out,” Claire said.
hope,” Celia replied without conviction.
“How did the woman die?” Claire asked.
“The police haven't had time to do an autopsy yet, but there was heroin in the room. Most likely she OD'd.”
The police didn't get to Claire's office until Wednesday afternoon when a detective named Francine Owen showed up. Her hair was streaked with gray and she wore it pulled up tight like she was trying to give a lift to a tired chin. She had the plump body of a pampered pet, but her eyes had a feral watchfulness.
“Do you have some time to talk?” she asked Claire.
“Good.” Detective Owen settled into a chair.
“Is this about the woman in the basement?” Claire asked.
“Have you identified her?”
“Then it's not Ansia?”
“No. The woman we found did not resemble her and Ansia has been seen on Central since the body was discovered. We're calling the victim Jane Doe. She had a pocketful of twenty-dollar bills. Her plastic bag contained a change of clothes, a toothbrush, a comb, and baby wipes. We found nothing to identify herâno credit cards, no driver's license, no voter registration, zip, nada. Even the labels had been ripped from her clothes. We were wondering if you could help us.”
“How could I help?” Claire asked.
“I have a photo of the deceased. Would you take a look?”
Claire didn't relish looking at a picture of a dead person, but she assumed she had no choice. “All right,” she said.
Owen handed over the photograph. The woman's face was pale and devoid of expression, as if she had been floating in water for days and any trace of feeling had been washed away. The watery thoughts brought back a more distant memory.