The haunt of Grand Central Station was a small girl with matted hair and dirty clothes. She appeared only in the commuter hours, morning and evening, when the child believed that she could go invisibly among the throng of travelers in crisscrossing foot traffic, as if that incredible face could go anywhere without attracting stares. Concessionaires reached for their phones to call the number on a policeman’s c ard and say, “She’s back.”
The girl always stood beneath the great arch, pinning her hopes on a tip from a panhandler: Everyone in the world would pass by-so said the smelly old bum-if she could only wait long enough. The child patiently stared into a thousand faces, waiting for a man she had never met. She was certain to know him by his eyes, the same rare color as her own, and he would recognize young Kathy’s face as a small copy of her mother’s. Her father would be so happy to see her; this belief was unshakable, for she was a little zealot in the faith of the bastard child.
He never came. Months passed by. She never learned.
Toward the close of this day, the child had a tired, hungry look about her. Hands clenched into fists, she raged against the panhandler, whose fairy tale had trapped her here in the long wait.
At the top of rush hour, she spotted a familiar face, but it was the wrong one. The fat detective was seen in thin slices between the bodies of travelers. Though he was on the far side of the mezzanine, Kathy fancied that she could hear him huffing and wheezing as he ran toward her. And she waited.
One second, two seconds, three.
When he came within grabbing distance, the game was on-all that passed for sport in the life of a homeless child. She ran for the grand staircase, shooting past him and making the fat man spin. Sneakers streaking, slapping stone, the little blond bullet in blue jeans gained the stairs, feet flying, only alighting on every third step.
At the top of the stairs, she turned around to see that the chase was done-and so early this time. Her pursuer had reached the bottom step and could not climb another. The fat man was in some pain and out of breath. One hand went to his chest, as if he could stop a heart attack that way.
The little girl mouthed the words, Die, old man.
They locked eyes. His were pleading, hers were hard. And she gave him her famous Gotcha smile.
One day, she would become his prisoner-but not today-and Louis Markowitz would become her foster father. Years later and long after they had learned to care for one another, each time Kathy Mallory gave him this smile, he would check his back pocket to see if his wallet was still there.