Authors: Bonnie Rozanski
“Hello?” she said.
“Who is this?”
In the background, I heard that same deep male voice say, “Rhonda, how many times do I have to tell you not to answer it if you don’t recognize the caller?”
“It’s about your daughter,” I managed to yell, hoping she’d hear it before she clicked off.
A moment passed, during which I heard the noise of city traffic: car horns, whistles, sirens – LA, I guessed - before the voice resumed.
“Who is this?” the woman asked.
“I’m Detective Donna Sirken of the New York City Police Department, Ma’am,” I said.
“Am I speaking to Rhonda Pollack?”
“Is there something wrong?” the woman asked, a little quaver in her voice. She never answered my question as to who she was, but I didn’t press it.
It was Rhonda’s cell phone, after all.
“Who is it, Rhonda?” the male voice asked in the background.
That clinched it.
“I’m afraid your daughter Sherry was the victim of an attack,” I told her.
“She’s in the hospital.”
it, Rhonda?” the same voice repeated, louder.
“But we just…,” she said, before the phone was, from the sound of it, ripped out of her hand, and the male voice got on.
this?” he growled, a man obviously used to getting his way.
I repeated my name and department.
In the background, I heard Rhonda softly whimpering.
I pictured her husband waving her away.
“And what is this about?” he demanded against the far off sound of a jack hammer.
I repeated what I had told his wife.
“Is my daughter alive?” he asked, nothing if not to the point.
“Yes, but in a coma.
Sherry was lucky enough to have been found by her boy friend and rushed to
In the distance I could hear his wife wailing, “How could this have happened?”
“Do they know who did this…this awful thing?” Dr. Pollack asked.
“But will she wake up?” Rhonda wanted to know in the background.
“Shhh,” he told her.
“No, but it’s early yet,” I replied.
“No, I’m afraid not, Dr. Pollack.
But I’m giving this my full attention.
Can we meet?
Do you think you’ll be able to fly in?” I asked.
“I’m sure you’ll want to see your daughter, and we could use some background information on Sherry.”
“Of course,” Dr. Pollack said.
“We’ll make reservations right away on the red eye flight to
“But Phil,” I heard in the background.
“If you give me a flight number, someone can pick you up,” I offered.
“No, no need at all, detective.
We’ll see you at the hospital tomorrow morning.
The next morning I slept in till eight. The only red eye flight I had found coming into
from LA was an Air Tran stopping in
and getting in eight thirty at LaGuardia.
Figuring on no delay, no baggage, and no trouble picking up a cab, they could theoretically be at the hospital by nine thirty.
I took a shower, dressed, and reckoned I could grab a coffee at the Starbucks at 168
I’d planned on taking the Q train to 42
Street and catching the Seventh Avenue local to 168
, saving the precinct a few dollars.
But by the time I was ready, it was near nine, and I knew I’d have to ditch the Starbucks and grab a cab.
Unfortunately, by the time I got downstairs there was a steady drizzle along with a gusty wind.
Pedestrians had their umbrellas unfurled, and the cabs were all whizzing past, lights off, none stopping.
I pulled my rain hood up a notch tighter, and walked down to the light at 64
I stood there steadfast with my right arm out like a Nazi salute while cabs continued to speed past until the light changed, and they had to stop.
Four cars down was a northbound cab, light off, but no passenger inside as far as I could see. I ran over and wrenched the door open.
“I’m off-duty,” the cabby announced, not looking back.
I stood steadfast in the threshold, drenched, rivulets running off my hood until he looked back at me.
After a moment of standoff, he waved me in.
“Where to?” he sighed.
’s Hospital,” I said, closing the door. He stepped on the gas and set off into the wet street, past the dozens of people with their umbrellas blown inside out, waiting in puddles for cabs that wouldn’t stop.
I walked into Sherry’s hospital room at 9:27, surprised to find that Dr. and Mrs. Pollack were already there.
Their flight had either been early, or the cab driver had wings on his wheels.
Or, perhaps, who knows, maybe they had hired a private plane.
I hadn’t considered that before, but from what I had found by googling Phillip Pollack, he was one of the most highly regarded plastic surgeons in the country.
Most likely money would be no object if he decided to speed to his daughter’s bedside.
They didn’t notice me at first, hunched over Sherry’s bed as they both were.
There was some s
niffling, nose blowing, muffled whispers.
Look, Phil. She turned toward me!
I think she hears us!”
“Don’t be silly, Rhonda.
She’s in a coma.”
She just recognized your voice.”
“You’re jumping to conclusions.”
“I’m not jumping to conclusions, Phil.
A mother knows,” Rhonda said, touching her daughter’s pale cheek.
Sherry?” her father said.
“Forget it, Rhonda.
She can’t hear us.
Let’s go get a cup of coffee.”
I cleared my throat, and they turned toward me.
I walked toward them, hand out.
“Hello, Dr. Pollack.
I’m Detective Sirken,” I said.
“Sorry to have to meet under these….”
“It can’t be helped,” Phillip Pollack replied, shaking my hand.
He was powerfully built; with graying hair and steel blue eyes that seemed to take my measure in a single scan.
Behind him, beautifully dressed but with eyes rimmed in red, Rhonda stood holding the limp hand of her daughter, who, head bandaged, eyes closed, connected by a fan of colored wires and tubes to screens and devices, lay very still.
By the window stood a single chair.
I pulled over another from the other side of the room to face it.
Dr. Pollack sat in one.
I offered the other to his wife, but she just shook her head, turning back toward her daughter on the bed; so I took it myself.
“Did her boyfriend do it?” Pollack asked the moment I sat down.
From what Jackman told me, he had never met the parents.
In fact, Sherry rarely talked to them; hadn’t gone back in five years, and as far as Henry knew, they rarely came to visit her.
I wondered why.
“Do you know Sherry’s boyfriend?” I asked.
“No, but she’s talked about him.
A ne’er-do-well as far as I can determine.
Works in a rundown pharmacy and has no ambitions beyond that.
She said they’re just friends, but he wants more.
I told her she should break up with a character like that…” He trailed off before adding, “But since Sherry was a little girl, she always went her own way....”
I waited for more, but he was finished.
“When did you last talk to Sherry, Dr. Pollack?” I asked.
“A few weeks ago,” he said.
“On the phone, of course.
Sherry always had some excuse - usually it was her work – about why she couldn’t fly out and visit.
We haven’t seen her much in the past five years.”
“Do you come out here?”
“When did you last see her?”
“Rhonda,” he called, “when was it we saw Sherry last?”
His wife, gazing down at her pale, still daughter, hesitated, then said softly, “Last April, I think.”
“Yes, yes,” Pollack agreed.
“It was Sherry’s birthday.
We flew in to
to take her out to dinner….But what about this boyfriend?
Have you checked him out?
She told us he has a nasty temper.”
“Really?” I said.
That was the first I heard of that.
“Sherry told you that?”
“She said he could fly off the handle at the smallest things.
She told us she was afraid of him.”
“Really?” I said again.
“Well, I’ll certainly look into that.
As of now, we’re considering a number of individuals, but no one is a formal suspect.”
Sherry’s father stood up and walked over to Sherry’s bedside.
His back to me, he said, “Then there’s this Ryan fellow, who works with her.
I met him once. Very shifty character.
Something about him stealing credit for Sherry’s work.” He turned back.
“Have you talked to him?”
“We know of him, Dr. Pollack, and have plans to question him.”
I wanted to wrest the conversation away from possible suspects and back to Sherry’s background.
Fact is, I already knew Sherry came from a wealthy family; raised in
, the father a successful plastic surgeon; mother a homemaker.
But I wanted to get the story from him.
“You mentioned that Sherry always went her own way,” I began.
“Why did she leave the West Coast in the first place?”
Phillip’s face turned dark.
“She’s headstrong, that’s why.
I thought we had agreed that she would go to med school.
Her grades were excellent.
She had her pick of any of them: Stanford, UCLA, anywhere, even Harvard, if she insisted on going to the East Coast.
I had contacts at all of them.
But, no, she decided against them all.
She wanted to go someplace where I had no contacts, where she could get in on her own merits.
Vandenberg, she tells me, at the last minute!”
world-renowned,” I said.
“She did it to spite me…,” he said, sitting back down.
“You’re being hard on her again, Phillip,” I heard from across the room.
“Don’t be silly,” he said, glaring, and Rhonda turned away.
“I see,” I said.
There was obviously some bad blood there.
Sherry left home some five years ago, and never went back.
Rarely talks to her parents.
Hints of disagreements between Sherry and her father; maybe expecting a lot but never giving her the praise she may have craved.
So she gets a fellowship to the Vandenberg Institute – thinks that will please him.
But he wants her to do it his way.
They lock horns.
“But, still,” I said, “you must have been very proud of her when she discovered that blockbuster drug, Somnolux.”
“Of course we are,” Rhonda said from across the room.
Not a peep from her husband.
I think I get the picture.
Rejected daughter goes on to prove herself, but the father will never be satisfied, and the mother is too timid to get in the middle between them.
It explains her high level of ambition: always trying, at least in principle, to please a father who can’t be pleased. A recipe for success but not happiness. Unfortunately, it explains Sherry’s psyche but not who or why she was attacked.