Authors: James Patterson,Richard Dilallo
Tags: #Mystery Thriller
ASSISTANT DETECTIVE BOBBY CILIA sits on the edge of Blumenthal’s desk. He twists his skinny body so that he is able to face both his boss and myself.
Bobby isn’t just skinny, blond, and young. He’s skinny, blond, young, and good-looking. And he seems pretty happy about it all. I don’t know why I should find this annoying. But of course I do.
“So here’s the deal,” Bobby says, tossing that longish blond hair back as if he were in a shampoo commercial. “Have you ever done any acting, Ms. Ryuan?”
Before I can come up with a wiseass answer, Blumenthal says, “Never start a presentation with a question, Cilia. Get right into it.”
“We want to set up a phone call between Orlov and you,” Cilia says. “You’re going to tell him who you are …
who you really are
… a senior midwife at Gramatan University Hospital.”
“Yeah,” I say in an I-sort-of-understand-it tone. “Go on.”
“NYPD people, of course, will also be on the line. We’ll be trying to track the location.”
Cilia is building up enthusiasm big-time. Somebody should hose this guy down. Cilia stands up, but Blumenthal, clearly having trouble allowing someone else to be in charge, takes over. Ball to Blumenthal.
“So here’s what you do … and we have a script worked out for you. Not a strict script, you know, sort of a guideline. You tell Orlov who you are. You tell him what you do. Then you tell him that you’ve got a terrific deal for him. Instead of his having to chase down women who are willing to hand over their newborn babies, well, you, because you’re a midwife, because you’re in the midst of all the baby action, you tell him that you always know lots of women with unplanned pregnancies. You’re also deep in these gals’ confidence. So you can sniff around. You have perfect access to these women. So you can see if they’d be interested in a deal like Orlov’s. What’s more, you’ll be so helpful,
you’ll even supply him
occasionally with a newborn. And if—and this is an important
—if a woman reneges on her promise, you can facilitate having her baby stolen or find him another one.”
When Blumenthal finishes presenting the plan, he seems pleased with himself, pleased with his plan. This is either the CIA or
I Love Lucy
“So I’ll be offering up myself as the Russian mafia’s dream come true,” I say.
Blumenthal says, “I wouldn’t say that, Lucy. I’d say you’ll be the NYPD’s dream come true.”
“Thanks,” I say. And then I decide to share with Leon Blumenthal and Bobby Cilia exactly how I feel.
“Look, guys, I know I sound like I fit neatly into the
category. But since I heard this little scenario, I gotta tell you: I’m scared as shit.” As if to prove my point I extend my arm. My hand is shaking. “I’m not good at this sort of thing. I’m no actor. I’m no good at lying. I’m … I don’t know …”
Bobby Cilia says, “Hold on, Ms. Ryuan. This is
acting. This is
lying. This is police work.”
Ordinarily I would have simply classified this little gogetter as an asshole. But his passion is so real that I wish I could steal some of it and inject it into my veins.
Then Blumenthal hits me with a sharp left hook. “Lucy, now I’ve got something to say: You wanted to help us. You bitched and moaned. You said NYPD was lousy.”
Cilia adds his thoughts to the issue. “It’s going to be beautiful. We have phony files for you to bring to Orlov, files about pregnant women you’re working with, their due dates. Pics of other babies you’ve helped deliver. All of it is fictional. The files were concocted by the FBI’s CARD team, experts in child abduction cases. It’s going to be perfect.
going to be perfect.”
Nobody speaks for about thirty seconds.
Then I speak. Very quietly. “Okay. When does this happen?”
“We’re set up to do it now, if you’re ready,” says Bobby.
“I guess I’m ready. Or ready as I ever will be.”
Shit. This is exactly the kind of thing I wanted to be involved with. Why the hell am I so frightened?
Blumenthal seems pleased. He’s even got a trace of Bobby’s enthusiasm.
“No point in waiting,” says Blumenthal. “Strike while …” He and Cilia high-five each other. Blumenthal doesn’t even finish the cliché. And nobody offers me a high five.
Bobby hands me his cell phone and says, “Okay, take a look at the outline we wrote for you. We’ve put together a
kind of a rough script for you. I think that’ll help you with Orlov … Just press 5-2-2-3.”
I press the buttons. A script appears. I read from it out loud. “Hello, may I please speak to Fyodor Orlov? This is Lucy Ryuan calling.”
Then I look up at my two new police partners.
“I love your opening line,” I say. My voice drips with sarcasm. “Sharp. Original. Insightful. We’re off to a really good start.”
THE SCRIPT IS IN my estimation a fairly foolish masterpiece of wishful thinking. Sentences like:
Don’t be impatient, Mr. Orlov.
Yes, it is a good idea—no, great idea.
It’s been a real pleasure talking to you.
Finally, I say, “Let’s go do this quasi-entrapment thing before this script makes me change my mind. It sounds like it was written for Barney the dinosaur.”
“Who?” says Blumenthal. I assume the man is not a father.
Bobby Cilia says, “Okay, let’s get started.” Then he adds that we’re going to make the phone call from Blumenthal’s office. But apparently not before three more people are added to the audience. Cilia and Blumenthal invite an annoyingly pretty FBI agent named Oriana; a plainclothes detective whose name is Chub-o for reasons that are fairly obvious; and a middle-aged black guy whose facial expression says,
Done it all, seen it all, nothing can surprise me
. His name is Fred, and he wears
bright green clip-on suspenders. I think the suspenders are meant to be a fashion statement.
And of course there’s me. And I’m still nervous as shit.
I ask Bobby Cilia for a Diet Coke. He brings me a regular Coke. “The sugar will be better for you.”
Why the hell does every man in New York know what’s better for me?
The phone makes a noise.
“You’re getting a text message,” I say to Bobby. After all, it’s his phone.
“Just answer it,” Blumenthal says.
I read it quickly. Fortunately, I read it silently.
LUCY, IT’S GOING 2 GO GREAT. LB
It takes me a second to realize who the text is from.
is Leon Blumenthal. I look at Blumenthal. He winks at me. He freaking winks at me.
Who winks at anybody anymore?
But there’s something nice about it. He’s telling me, in his own awkward way, that he knows I’m nervous as shit, that I should stay calm, that this will be fine.
Who knew that one wink could communicate so much?
“Let’s get moving, people. We got to get moving on this. It’s late. Even the Russian mob goes to sleep sometime,” Bobby yells. This kid can’t wait to be in charge of the place.
Goddamn, I’m nervous. How the hell did I end up here?
This is just what I wanted, but come to think of it, maybe it isn’t.
“Lucy,” Blumenthal says, “remember, the script is just a rough map. Use your instincts. You’re smart. Trust your instincts. Just keep it all very
and very natural.”
“Ready, Lucy?” Bobby asks.
A woman’s voice. “Yes?”
“Hello. This is Lucy Ryuan. May I please speak to Fyodor Orlov?”
“Just a moment.”
That was a lot easier than I expected. I hear no voice, no speaking, no noise as I wait on the phone. Blumenthal gives me a few nods, a few gentle hand gestures.
Stay calm. It’s going to go all right.
Now a man’s voice on the phone. “You are Lucy Ryuan?”
“How do you know?” I ask.
He simply says, “Please respond to my question.”
I detect a very slight Slavic accent—Russian, as Patrik said, or perhaps somewhere else in Eastern Europe.
“Yes, I am. Is this Fyodor Orlov?”
“It is. How may I help you?”
“Well, I’m a supervisory midwife at Gramatan University Hospital.”
“I know who you are. You were supposed to deliver the Kovac baby.”
I’m thrown. I hesitate. Blumenthal nods gently. He holds out the palms of both hands in his own
“Yes, I was supposed to deliver it,” I say. “The baby’s mother was attacked, and the baby was stolen.”
“Mmm, sounds familiar. Precisely how may I help you? Or even more precisely, what the hell do you want?”
The accent is almost buried, and his English is perfect. He’s done a lot of work to mask his origins.
“I’ve had a thought, something you might be interested in.”
“I doubt that very much. In fact, I am virtually certain that you are participating in a scheme to trap me. You see, I know how incredibly stupid the police of New York City can be. With that in mind, I know that if I cannot bribe the police, then I just wait. They will screw themselves over.”
Blumenthal is motioning me to
and suddenly, like an actress feeling her stage fright evaporate, I speak with strength.
And I’m as surprised as anyone.
“Mr. Orlov, listen to me. Here’s the deal. Please listen.”
There’s silence from Orlov’s end, so I keep talking.
“I can guarantee you a supply of healthy babies from my hospital, Gramatan University. I can do it all very discreetly. I can do it neatly. Frankly, I can make it a lot easier for you to even obtain babies. The pregnant women trust me. I’m sure you have some connections at hospitals already. But I can assure you, none of those connections will be as helpful to you as I can be.”
There is a pause, a long pause. I am determined to wait Orlov out. I will not speak again until he speaks.
Finally. “I would be a fool to trust you, Ms. Ryuan, but I have had people watching you, and I know a few things about you—a single mother, a poor family, a drug-addicted sibling with a criminal record. So I am not certain. Perhaps we can work out something. I have the phone number of your assistant. I will—”
I am shocked. “Troy? Troy is working with you?”
Orlov laughs. “Of course not. All I said was that I had his contact information. I have much information on you and your colleagues … and your son, young William.”
I am suddenly too sick to speak. My eyes feel hot and salty.
Orlov continues. “So here is how we will proceed. I will text this Troy person, and I will give him the address of where you and I might meet. A place. A time. Intimate. Secret. And please keep in mind that I know so very, very much. It would be silly for you to have a group of stupid New York cops hiding in the bushes.”
Orlov hangs up. The room fills with words like “Great job,” “Good setup,” “Very nice, very nice.”
But Leon Blumenthal knows that I am very scared—mostly for my boy, but also for my mom, my brother, for myself.
When the room empties, leaving only Blumenthal, Bobby Cilia, and me, Blumenthal says, “So what do you think, Lucy? Are you still willing to go through with the meeting, on your own?”
I simply nod my head in fear and confusion.
Blumenthal speaks quietly. “Depending on where Orlov wants to meet, we’ll have NYPD strategically placed … Not quite ‘hiding in the bushes,’ but hiding somewhere nearby. And of course we’ll work with a decoy or two, but you’re basically going to be on your own.”
I nod my head. It means two things at once:
I’ll do it
“Are you sure? We can always scrap this,” Blumenthal says.
My own cell phone rings. I answer. It’s Troy.
“Where are you, honey?” he asks.
“I’m back in New York,” I say softly.
“Well, you must be having one hot romance cooking,
it looks like I’m going to be your secret little helper. I just got a text, which I’ll read to you:
Urgent. Tell Lucy. Meet me 3 AM Crane Hill Cemetery Sunnyside Equipment House 3. Thx 4 yr help. Boy Sam.”
“Thanks, Troy,” I say.
“This stuff makes sense to you, Lucy girl?” he asks. “Your man’s name is Sam?”
I don’t answer.
Troy speaks again. “I’m only asking, Lucy. Do you understand all this? Does this message make sense to you?”
“Yes,” I say. “It makes complete sense.”
AT TWO THIRTY IN the morning an Uber drops me off at 48th Avenue in Sunnyside, Queens. I’ve been followed at a safe distance by two detectives in a dark-blue Toyota Camry. They’re followed—or so I’m told—by Leon Blumenthal, Bobby Cilia, and two FBI agents. God only knows what Russian is following them.
I’ve been fitted out with a wire. The
is different from anything you or I have ever seen in a movie or TV show. It is just a piece of flat round metal with Velcro on the back. A minuscule bit of plastic protrudes from the rim. The whole deal is barely the size of a dime.
It is attached by the Velcro inside a pocket of my black jeans. The whole fastening procedure took about five seconds.
I walk the two long blocks to Crane Hill Cemetery. The streets are empty except for a truck unloading cases of laundry detergent in front of a Met Foodmarket. Closer to the cemetery gate are three young men. They look threatening, but I’m
not afraid. I know that both the guy unloading the truck and the three gangland-looking guys are police decoys.
Bobby Cilia initially suggested the decoys be two cemetery groundskeepers and an elderly widow visiting her husband’s grave.
“Are you nuts?” was Blumenthal’s reaction. “At three in the morning only psychos are visiting graves.” The eager Cilia kid has a lot to learn.
I feel curiously … free? Like an actress on a big movie set. I wear a loose shirt and carry a very large purse. It holds nothing but dozens of make-believe files about make-believe babies.
I’ve thoroughly studied a detailed map of the cemetery, so when I pass through the entrance gate, I know exactly where to find Equipment House 3. I pretend to be confused. I look left and right and left and right and then I nod to myself, as if I’ve newly discovered the small, flat brick building where I’ve agreed to meet Orlov.
The big black painted wooden door is unlatched, and I walk into a very dark room.
Strangely enough, I’m not particularly frightened. I’m nauseated by the sickly smell of lawn chemicals and fresh-mown grass clippings and fertilizer, but it’s as if I’m walking through my dramatic acting class role, a woman in a cemetery. I’m just another actress in another movie. This room is just another movie set. The gaffers are about to move the lights. I’m rehearsing my lines.
“Can I get you anything, Ms. Ryuan? A bottle of water?”
says an imaginary assistant. My agent is betting on this one. Maybe … I’d better stop this craziness.
Back to reality. Should I look for a light switch? I run my hand over the wall near the door. All I get is a small but nasty splinter from the molding.
Then I am startled by a woman’s voice. I think it’s nearby.
“Please, Lucy Ryuan, you can go back where you came from,” comes the voice, which has a Slavic accent.
Now I’m scared. And confused.
“Go back where you came from.”
Does she mean West Virginia or Brooklyn or Gramatan Hospital?
“Where?” I say. My voice is urgent. Or I think it is urgent.
“Go to the outside. Go to the pathway and walk left. You will meet someone. You will hear a voice call to you,” she says.
“Orlov?” I ask.
“Who is it?”
“Is it Orlov? Tell me.”
I hear what sounds like a Russian word of exasperation, then, “Just do what you’re told, Lucy Ryuan.”
So I do what I’m told. At least I’m trying to do what I’m told. I leave the shed, and I follow the pathway. When I come to a barely discernible fork in the path, I hesitate. That’s when I realize the woman who gave me my initial instructions is still walking close behind me.
I hear her voice. “I told you to turn left. Don’t you listen?”
I follow the pathway to the left. I am walking among a field of gravestones—elaborate mausoleums, simple concrete crosses, even simpler ground markers.
Suddenly a man’s voice calls. “Here, over here.” He then says, “2499 to 3500.” What the hell kind of secret code is this?
“Stop, Lucy Ryuan,” comes the woman’s voice. I still hear her walking behind me. Then she stands next to me.
“Follow me,” she says. Now she steps in front of me.
I notice two things. First, a brass sign with an arrow. It simply says
2499–3500. As I follow the
woman, I look down. The second thing I notice are her feet. I realize she is wearing precisely the same shoes Troy and I saw on the hospital security video. I am pleased, I guess, but I am not surprised.
“Is the woman with you?” I hear the man’s voice. We are much closer to him.
“She’s with me,” the woman says.
“Good. Bring her over here, Nina. I’m right where you left me. I’m just over here.”