Authors: James Patterson,Richard Dilallo
Tags: #Mystery Thriller
WE RIDE SILENTLY FOR a few minutes. For blocks and blocks and miles and miles, the only sound is the classical music coming from the speakers. He turns up the volume. Someone is sitting in my ear playing a cello.
As you might guess, I have absolutely no idea what the pieces are. Who wrote them? Who is playing them? My musical knowledge goes back no further than Michael Jackson and Phil Collins.
As Dr. Sarkar turns onto Roebling Street, far to the north, he shouts very loudly, “Back!”
I twist my neck slightly and try to look behind me.
“Back!” he shouts again.
I’m confused. For a moment.
Then he says, “Listen, Lucy. Cello Suite Number One in G Major.”
Mercifully, I finally figure out what he’s saying. “Oh.
” I say. “Now I get it. Bach.”
Sarkar smiles, and we drive south again, now along Nostrand Avenue, as Yo-Yo Ma’s cello comes pouring out of the speakers and into the car.
As we get closer to my neighborhood, Dr. Sarkar slows the car significantly. Then he suddenly pulls the car over and parks in front of Family Dollar.
“Are we going to go in and buy some polyester pillows?” I say.
“No. We are going to talk.” He is not smiling. He is not being his usual charming self. Sarkar looks quite serious.
My late grandmother had an expression:
“I was so scared that I thought a flower was opening up in my stomach.”
Right now, I’m feeling that a whole garden is opening up in mine. What are we going to talk about? Romance? Sex? Life? Death? Medicine? The hospital? No. Those subjects don’t seem, well, I don’t know, appropriate to the place we’re in right now.
“Okay, Lucy. I have an important question for you. What in hell are we going to do about this goddamn Detective Blumenthal?”
Phew! I guess. I am a little scared that Blumenthal is the subject, but I’m pleased at the question. It mirrors my own concern.
“You mean, what are we going to do about Blumenthal dragging his ass on this case?”
Sarkar’s response is fast and eager. “
You said it earlier.
Child snatching. Kidnapping. Attempted murder. This is not a stolen bicycle or a purse snatching. This is the horror of horrors.”
This passion from Sarkar is pretty unusual. All I’ve ever known is his joking, teasing.
“It’s all I could think about while I was stitching up that poor woman,” he says.
could think about while you were stitching up that poor woman.”
“By the way,” he says. “I got a text message from Blumenthal’s assistant, some detective type, Bobby somebody or other. Two of the surgical nurses during the op do remember my asking Helen Whall to leave the room during the procedure. I apologize for not having remembered properly.”
“Pressure. Tired. A million things,” I say. “I can’t remember what I had for breakfast.” As a joke, I add, “Oh, wait, it was nothing. But yesterday it was Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds.”
His smile is small but warm. He leans toward me—no, not for a kiss, just for closeness. Secret. He’s going to tell me secrets. Or so I hope, but I have to admit, as he moves closer to me, I am not unaware of the fact that he has the cleanest, sharpest features I’ve ever seen, that the bronze color of his skin is completely irresistible, that …
God damn you, Lucy, get back into the conversation
. Blumenthal. Katra. Babies. Blood.
Shift gears, Lucy.
Sarkar starts the car up again as I begin to talk. “I don’t know. One thing is, Blumenthal seems very slow and unconcerned, but I think that could just be his style.”
Sarkar gives a little shrug and his eyes widen. “I don’t know, either. I should tell you that I have checked him out.” When we pull up in front of Sabryna’s little store on Nostrand, the GPS announces, “You have reached your destination.”
Before I say thank you, I say, “Rudi, did I give you my address?”
“No,” he says. “I confess, I looked it up. I was hoping I would use it someday.”
I am flattered—and not a little bit turned on—but it also makes me a tiny bit nervous.
“Lucy,” he says. “How about we continue our conversation about Detective Blumenthal right now, over drinks, or even dinner?”
I tell him the truth. “My son, Willie, is waiting for me. I’ve got to feed him, and I need to spend some time with him … I
to spend some time with him.”
“He can join us,” says Rudi.
“No. It’s what Willie and I call
. He needs it. We both need it.”
When Rudi speaks again, his voice is fast, crisp, and downright unfriendly. “Very well. Whatever you care to do. But I must tell you that I’m quite disappointed.”
For a moment I think he’s putting me on, faking the anger.
“Please get out of the car,” he says.
“Rudi, come on, enough teasing …” I begin.
“Damn it, Lucy. Get out of the car.”
He’s not teasing.
THE NEXT DAY BEGINS like any other. I’m taking the number 3 subway train from Crown Heights into midtown Manhattan, and of course my cell phone is not getting service. Everyone around me on the train is listening to music or playing games, but I’m sitting there reliving my ride home with Dr. Sarkar. The ride, and the oddly unpleasant ending.
As soon as I get aboveground, two blocks from the hospital, I go to my cell and check the hospital page labeled “Daily Staff Locations.” I look first to see what’s up with Troy and Tracy Anne. Troy is “on call, in hospital.” Tracy Anne is “in hospital after 5 p.m.”
Then I click on what I really want to see. Is Rudi Sarkar in today? Here it is: “SARKAR A/D GUH GC.” This means that he’s spending all day (A/D) at the Gramatan University Hospital (GUH) clinic on the Grand Concourse (GC) in the Bronx.
Like most other New York City assholes who use their
cell phones while they’re walking on the street, I bump into someone who reminds me that
am an asshole.
I make my way through the employees’ entrance security. This time, I don’t get into an argument with anyone.
Then I head straight for Katra’s room. She’s out of recovery and in a maternity patient room adjacent to the midwife area. The first thing I notice is this: a two-officer police team is standing outside Katra’s door. And a plainclothes female detective sits on a folding chair very close to the NYPD officers. The detective seems to know who I am. She says, “Go right in. One of your guys is in there, and the patient’s parents have been here overnight.”
Katra is in bed. Quiet, scared, teary, but not bad, considering she had her body sliced open and stitched back up less than twenty-four hours ago. She’s even had some time and energy to apply a little very pale pink lipstick.
“Katra’s doing good, by my evaluation,” Troy says, “really good, Lucy, but she’s not in the mood for talking.” He positions himself in such a way that I’m the only one who can see his eyes roll and his eyebrows arch up.
I look at Katra and then say to Troy, “I’m not surprised that she’s doing so well. She’s a strong woman.” I say it loud enough so I can clearly be heard by Katra and her parents.
Then more directly to Katra I say, “Everything should be okay, sweetie. Everything. The police are all over it.”
Katra turns away from me. Troy hands her a tissue and a plastic cup filled with ice water.
Then I hear a woman’s voice. It is hesitant, with a foreign accent, “And the baby. What of the baby?”
I look at the slim blond woman, carrying a ripped-off version of a red Hermès Birkin bag. She must be Katra’s mother. It is clear where Katra got her good looks. The
parents really can’t be a helluva lot older than myself. They both wear jeans and have kinda hip haircuts.
Then the man speaks. “My wife ask you about baby. What you will say?”
“I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry. I don’t know.”
“The cops, they tell us nothing. ‘Not their department,’ they tell us,” Mr. Kovac says.
Before I can answer, before I can even give the standard
“Everybody’s concerned and everybody’s working on it,”
a giant scream comes from Katra.
She is facing away from us. She is raised on one elbow. She holds a fistful of hair in her right hand.
“She pull the hair,” Katra’s mother says.
We all move in toward the bed. One of the officer guards enters the room. Katra screams again, and she pulls out another small chunk of hair. I unclench her hand from the new cluster of hair she’s holding.
For a second, I consider calling for additional help or restraints or both.
But now Katra suddenly turns calm. She begins sobbing gently.
I pull up her chart on the bedside computer. “They didn’t load her with any special meds,” I say.
“I don’t know what’s happening,” Troy says. “The lady’s calm for about fifteen or twenty minutes. Then she goes to sleep for about ten minutes. Then she wakes up and gets all riled up again.”
“Get a post-op doc in here. Let’s see what he or she can tell us,” I tell him.
“But what of the baby?” asks Mr. Kovac. “We must learn of the baby.”
“We are all trying to find the baby. We are also trying to find
the person who hurt your daughter. We will do everything in our power.”
Katra turns onto her back and looks toward her father. Her eyes are filled with fear and frustration.
I say the only thing that comes to my mind. “Really, Mr. Kovac. We
Yes, I’m speaking the truth, but it’s also a delaying tactic, and I don’t think the handsome Mr. Kovac is buying it.
Kovac says something to his daughter in a language I don’t understand. Serbian? Hungarian?
Katra keeps nodding as her father speaks. Then she decides apparently to speak to me.
“Lucy, my papa says that you say you will try. Try. Try. Try. He understands your heart is big. But he says that
is good, but is not good enough.”
I nod. I tell her that I understand.
Troy walks toward me. He holds his iPad in my line of vision. “Take a look. The news media is all over us,” he says.
I look down at the screen.
“Let me borrow your iPad,” I say to Troy. “I’m going to visit our leader.”
Five years ago
ONLY TWO PASSENGERS FLEW on the private plane that left Saratov, Russia. They were a man and a woman, each about forty years old. They were not linked romantically. In fact, they did not particularly enjoy each other’s company. But their supervisors had put them together. They would work as a team.
Fifteen hours later, they landed on a small airstrip somewhere just west of the Jersey shore. Two cars then brought them to a very small cottage—a shack, really—in Cranbury, New Jersey. One of the cars, a decrepit 1998 Toyota, was left with them.
After a week in Cranbury, the man told the woman that their “patrons” in Russia had emailed him. She was to take a job they had arranged for her. She would be clearing tables at the Molly Pitcher Service Area on the New Jersey Turnpike.
The woman was outraged. “I am a trained pediatrician.
Now they want me to watch people eat hamburgers and cinnamon buns and then clean up their shit. No.”
The man responded quietly but firmly. “They have told me that if you don’t take some kind of job, we will be sent out of the country. Or even worse, sent to prison. And listen,
you will not be working any harder than myself. My job is terrible.”
That was true, and the woman knew it. Almost every day the man drove into the city of Trenton and talked his way into homeless shelters or women’s shelters. He went to the areas behind the railroad station and near the transient hotels where prostitutes gathered to meet clients, to shoot up, and often to perform their services right on the streets.
It was at those places the man searched for pregnant women, women who might be persuaded to sell their babies when they were born. The women—often addled by fear or drugs, or both—usually accepted his proposal.
So his partner angrily agreed to take the job. Every night after he worked in Trenton, he would pick her up at the Molly Pitcher Service Area. They would sit in the 1998 Toyota and dine on the food she had sneaked from the fast-food restaurants—cold, chewy shish kebabs, Coca-Colas without fizz, hot dogs without buns.
This happened every night of the week except Wednesday. Wednesday was delivery night. That night he would come screeching into the parking lot, she would jump into the Toyota, and then she would pick up the swaddled bundle on the back seat.
The bundle always contained an infant. Sometimes there were two infants.
The woman would take a stethoscope and examination
light from her purse and carefully examine the babies. Then she would write careful notes.
“Less than four pounds.”
“Enlarged rear head.”
But most often her notation was “Perfect.”
These notes were attached to the swaddling cloth around each infant.
Then the man and the woman and the baby, or babies, would travel along the back roads of northeastern New Jersey. Eventually the car brought them to the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge on Staten Island. There they would meet a man and a woman driving a small white van. The back of this van was outfitted with emergency medical supplies and oxygen tanks.
The people from the van took the infants, changed their diapers, powdered them, wrapped them again carefully, and read the doctor’s notes. Then the white van drove off.
This ritual occurred every Wednesday evening for eight months until one night when the man pulled into the Molly Pitcher parking lot and said to the woman, “No more Trenton. We’ve been transferred.”
“To where? What happened? Tell me!”
He smiled. “They’re moving us to Manhattan.”
She exclaimed in surprise.
“Yep. Like they say in America, this is the big time, baby.”
“I WANT YOU TO take a look at CNN
NY1 online.” I am now practically screaming at Dr. Katz.
He holds out his hand like a traffic cop. “Who the hell allowed you into my office?” he yells.
I ignore the question. I yell just as loudly at the man: “Take a look at what’s going on in the news, Dr. Katz.”
“I’ve already seen it, Ms. Ryuan. I don’t depend on you for my news. Now answer my question. How did you—”
I continue to ignore him and begin to read out loud the report from the internet:
The very place that people go to get healed has turned into a place where people go to get kidnapped, even killed. Gramatan University Hospital is now being called the Hospital of Death. In the past forty-eight hours, three newborn infants have been kidnapped from the hospital’s maternity ward. What’s more, the mother of one of the kidnapped infants was
viciously attacked and left for dead in a basement storage room. CEO Dr. Barrett Katz issued a statement saying the hospital was cooperating fully with the FBI and NYPD. Chairperson of the hospital’s maternity division, Dr. Rudra Sarkar, was away from the hospital and unavailable for comment. Leon Blumenthal, the NYPD detective heading up this shocking criminal investigation, would say only that the inquiry was ongoing. Further—
“Enough, Ms. Ryuan,” Katz says. “Are you here to tell me what I already know?”
“No, I’m here to tell you that sooner, rather than later, we won’t have a functioning maternity ward, or more importantly, we won’t have a viable Midwifery Division. No pregnant woman in her right mind will want to come here to deliver.”
Katz sits at his handsome steel-and-glass desk, more of a dining table than a piece of office furniture. He folds his hands, and it is obvious to me that he is struggling to stay calm.
“The statements that we issued are completely accurate. There’s not much more we can do. You’ve seen the security. It’s like the Pentagon around here.”
He could have chosen a better security comparison than the Pentagon—Fort Knox, maybe—but I decide to say nothing about that.
I do still have a lot to say.
“I think we could have twice as much security. I think we could have more cops. I think this Blumenthal character could move more aggressively. I think a lot of things.”
Katz now speaks quietly. “I know you do. And here’s what I think. I think you should be back in your office or in one of your hippie-dippie birthing rooms.”
He is almost scarlet from trying to suppress his anger.
As for me, now I’m determined to get more involved in everything. I’m not quite sure how, but I will figure out something. Troy is smart as hell, and when it comes to passion and energy, he’s got unlimited resources. If Sarkar and I ever reconnect and “make nice” with each other, he might be of some help. He might be able to light a fire under Blumenthal.
“Now, if you’ll please leave, Ms. Ryuan,” I hear Katz say.
My mind wandered. I’m standing in the big boss’s office.
Oh, who the hell cares?
I look at him as if he is just some annoying stranger. And in a way, he is.
“Thanks, as always, for your help,” I say sweetly. Then I walk out.