Wednesday, 2:15 p.m.
LaTralla had wanted to question Katrina in the apartment, but Tagliotta was a big proponent of using the station house as a means of intimidation.
“I want lawyer,” Katrina said.
“Why do you need a lawyer?” Tagliotta asked. “Did you do something wrong?”
“I can have lawyer. Government pay for lawyer.”
“You’re absolutely right, Miss Lebchenko. When you’re arrested, you’re entitled to a lawyer, which the taxpayers pay for. You do know what a taxpayer is, right? Or maybe you don’t, since you don’t pay any taxes on the salary the Van Horns pay you.”
Katrina was taken off guard but stood firm. “I want lawyer.”
“OK, we’ll get you a lawyer. But first we’ll have to arrest you. In fact, why don’t we do a double arrest? I’ll arrest you right here for the kidnap and murder of Marius Van Horn. Detective LaTralla, call the IRS and have them send down an officer. He can arrest Miss Lebchenko for tax evasion at the same time.”
As LaTralla made a display of leaving the room, Tagliotta began unhooking his handcuffs from his waist.
“I love Marius, I do nothing wrong,” Katrina said firmly.
LaTralla jumped in at the perfect time—as always. “Miss Lebchenko, if you didn’t do anything wrong, then why would you choose to be arrested? Don’t you know how tough the government is getting with immigrants? Let’s suppose you’re innocent, which I’m sure you are. Do you really want an arrest on your record? And believe me, the Internal Revenue Service isn’t forgiving when people come to this country, use our services, and don’t pay any taxes.”
She’d said the magic words. Like Tagliotta, she’d never met a suspect who didn’t break when threatened with deportation or the IRS.
“No arrest. I will talk with you.”
“Katrina”—LaTralla had switched to a first-name basis for greater intimacy—“we have all the facts from the Moscow police. You were hired to care for Vassily Lednev. He drowned while in your care.”
“Bad things seem to happen to kids while you’re around,” Tagliotta put in.
“It was accident. I loved Vassily, he was like son to me.”
“But I’ve read the files,” Tagliotta said. “Everyone the police talked to said how much you hated Mr. and Mrs. Lednev. And the best way to get revenge on people you hate is by hurting their children.”
“It is true, I hated Lednev family. So much money, he was member of nomenklatura, they have huge apartment, big Mercedes, maid, cook, nanny, while my family starve, eight people in one-bedroom apartment! But I loved Vassily.”
“The police couldn’t prove he drowned by accident. They said someone could have held his head under the water.”
“That police man hates my family. He is enemy of my brother, he hates Sasha because Sasha date his sister but refuse to marry her because she is crazy. He likes to make trouble for my family.”
“So he made the whole thing up?” Tagliotta asked dryly.
Katrina glared at him. “You don’t know Russian police work. Ask anyone from Russia, they tell you. Police man try to embarrass me, ruin my family. My father have to sell everything to keep me from prison and send me to America.”
“Why don’t you tell us exactly what happened?” LaTralla asked gently.
“We all go to beach resort for vacation. Mrs. Lednev go shopping every day with rich wives, Mr. Lednev meet with Russian mafia to get and give money. I take Vassily to beach, he is playing with other little boys. The sun is very hot and bright, I fall asleep on beach. Vassily was good boy, he let me sleep. All people leave to go for dinner, and while I sleep Vassily decide to swim one more time. And while I sleep, he drown. Police arrest me, Mr. and Mrs. Lednev want police to execute me, my brother’s enemy help them.”
“Why didn’t you tell us this yesterday?”
“Why should I tell you? It happened long ago, it was terrible accident. I have family emergency in Brooklyn, I leave notes for Mrs. Van Horn, I call her FOUR times, I call Mr. Van Horn TWO times, I call Cassandra THREE times, I do everything I can to see that Marius is safe! I love Marius, but I love my family too.”
LaTralla secretly believed Katrina. And Katrina’s story had checked out. She had been in Brighton Beach all of Tuesday. The testimony of family had been corroborated by hospital staff who’d talked to Katrina because her English was so much better than her aunt’s and cousins’.
Tagliotta jumped into make some trouble, one of his specialties.
“What do you think of Dr. and Mrs. Van Horn?” he asked slyly.
Katrina narrowed her eyes. “They pay me on time.”
“They pay you on time? Their only son has been kidnapped, and you comment on their regular payment of your tax-free salary?”
“I do not get involved with employers. I care for boy. Parents do not matter to me.”
“Is this your way of saying you don’t like them?” LaTralla asked.
“I do not think about them.”
“Come on, Katrina,” Tagliotta said impatiently. “You hate their guts. In fact, you don’t like anyone who’s better off than you. You didn’t like the Lednevs because they had all the money and the nice place to live. You don’t like the Van Horns for the same reasons. You live in their home and you take their money, but you hate their guts.”
Katrina turned to stare Tagliotta directly in the eye. “And do you like the man you work for? Maybe I do not like the parents, the mother with her drugs and her laziness, and maybe I do not like the father with his greed. But I am HAPPY to live in their home. Yes, I am! And why? Because Marius needs person to talk to, friend to listen to him and walk with him. I did not kidnap Marius, I rescued him from parents every day!”
LaTralla glanced at Tagliotta; and she knew that he believed Katrina’s story.
“You’re free to go,” Tagliotta said to Katrina. “But let me give you a piece of advice. If you want to take care of kids for a living, you’d better get used to the idea that only wealthy people can afford a nanny. If you’re sick of working for the moneyed class, get yourself a job in a day care center, where you can make minimum wage and take care of kids whose parents go to work every day.”
Wednesday, 4:00 p.m.
How funny to find oneself in a part of the city one has spent one’s life avoiding, she thought, as she cruised along East 137th Street in her old Toyota Corolla.
She’d originally thought she’d call from a pay phone somewhere in the north Bronx, but that was a little too close to home. So then she’d planned to call from Inwood or Washington Heights, but then she thought the police might think: She made the call from Inwood because she didn’t want to call from the Bronx, which might lead them to start looking for her in Westchester. So here she was, in East Harlem.
She spied what appeared to be a working pay phone on MLK Boulevard. After circling for ten minutes, she found a parking spot on East 145th. An obese man was yelling at someone loudly on the pay phone. As she walked past him, he abruptly slammed the phone down and stalked off. After he turned the corner, she put on a pair of driving gloves, strode purposely to the phone, took a kerchief out of her purse, and wrapped it around the mouthpiece. Then she put two dollars worth of quarters into the slot and punched in the number.
The phone was answered on the fourth ring.
“Don’t worry,” she said, attempting to make her voice husky and masculine. “Your son is fine. He’ll be home soon.”
“Is Marius alive?”
She continued speaking as if she hadn’t been interrupted, as if the detectives weren’t encouraging Nicholas Van Horn to keep her on the line as long as it took to trace the call. “You need to do just three things to get your boy back. Number one. The mother stops playing tennis and kicks the habit. Number two. The father stops taking on so many older patients. Number three. They both go on the news in the next 24 hours and apologize to their son.”
She hung up the phone, her heart beating a mile a minute. She walked quickly back to the Toyota, which remained unvandalized in the place she’d parked it. Less than an hour later, she was back at her comfortable home in Chappaqua, New York.
The boy was playing computer games when she walked in. She reached out and touched his hair gently.
“What do you feel like for dinner, Marius?”
“Pizza! Pizza!” the boy said.