Authors: James Patterson,Richard Dilallo
Tags: #Mystery Thriller
THIS IS THE BLIND date from hell.
Orlov is not at all what I was expecting. I assumed he’d be broad, heavy, brunette. A middle-aged thug. Instead he is slim and fit, almost young. But his hair is white. The shade of Anderson Cooper’s. His suit is light in color, too, either very expensive and chic or very cheap and chic.
We face each other; perhaps a few feet separate us. We stand in a sort of hazy spotlight. Then I realize it is the woman, Nina, who is holding a simple household flashlight on both of us. Orlov’s face betrays nothing, communicates nothing. He has no smile, no sneer, no grin, no wrinkle. I want to take my cues from him, but the man offers no expression. I strike a kind of random pose, hands at my sides, one hip slightly extended. I’m trying to look solemn but accessible, whatever that means.
“You are here with a proposition that in no way interests
me, Lucy Ryuan,” he says, with the same very faint accent I remember from our phone conversation.
“Then why am I here at all?” I snap back at him. I have no idea where my courage is coming from. But I’m certainly happy that it showed up.
“I very much wanted to meet you, Lucy Ryuan,” he says. “I wanted to see the woman who is brave enough to bring babies into this world but cruel enough to be willing to give them away.”
I am ready to give him the planned explanation—I need money, my son is terribly ill, the hospital is about to fire me—but Orlov is clearly in charge of the conversation. Before I can say anything, he speaks again.
“And on the subject of this meeting, you have been fortunate enough to meet my colleague, the indispensable Nina.”
He does not offer a last name. I am struck by the use of the word
My courage continues. “We have met already, before tonight, although she doesn’t know it.”
The beam from Nina’s flashlight quivers.
“No. We have never met, Lucy Ryuan,” she says.
“Oh, but we have. I’ve seen you. Seeing you was as good as meeting you.”
Nina looks alarmed. Orlov’s face betrays nothing.
I continue. “I saw you on film, a security video. I saw you fleeing from the crime scene, the day that you—or some butcher who was with you—slashed Katra Kovac’s belly.”
Nina looks quickly at Orlov. Then she steadies the flashlight.
Orlov looks at me and speaks. “Quite frankly, no one gives a good fucking goddamn about what you’ve seen, what you know.”
I am looking straight at Orlov. So I cannot tell whether Nina shows relief at Orlov’s words.
Sooooo … if they don’t give a good fucking goddamn, does it mean I’ll be safe? Or does it mean that, unlike Nina, I am easily dispensable?
What in hell am I doing here? Where precisely are Blumenthal and Cilia? Why did I agree to—
“Let us return to the subject at hand, Lucy Ryuan. Tell me why and how you can be of service to me.”
“But you just said that you have no interest in my offer,” I say. “I don’t feel like wasting breath.”
He ignores what I’ve just said. He forges ahead. He’s in charge.
“Let us play a game. Let us pretend that I know nothing about you. Let’s say I’m a businessman and you have come to sell me your goods and services. Let’s call your service The Baby Snatchers. There. That’s a name. A good name. You can use it. Free of charge. I’m a little pussycat when it comes to business. You could eat me for lunch. So there, let’s get going. We’re in the boardroom.”
Now he doesn’t stop smiling. The grim and sleazy smile is practically pasted on his handsome face. The forced pleasantness in his voice makes him sound like the sickest bully in the classroom.
Then Nina steps right into the sick drama. She is as obedient as a ventriloquist’s dummy. She speaks with a phony American business-professional accent: “This is our last presentation, Mr. Orlov. Please yourself to meet Lucy Ryuan. She represents The Baby Snatchers, Inc. You have five minutes, Lucy Ryuan.”
This is insane. No, wait. This is beyond insane.
“Please begin,” says Orlov. “You have only five minutes.”
The plan with Blumenthal was that they would jump in
only if the meeting turned dangerous. So we had a plan for
. We had no plan for
Nina suddenly screams out in anger. “Mr. Orlov has told you to begin. So begin. Begin. Begin.”
In an unexpectedly calm voice—colorless but conversational—I begin. “Myself and my carefully chosen colleagues will be able to help you in a variety of ways. Those of us who work daily in the Gramatan Hospital midwifery unit have access to probable and predictable delivery dates of many pregnant women. Many of those newborns are going to be placed in foster care or put up for adoption. I can facilitate for you and your organization—”
Orlov lets out the kind of laugh—a cackle really—that I associate with childhood nightmares of witches and warlocks. He seethes with a diabolical anger. And he has no problem showing that anger. “This idea is stupid, stupid beyond my comprehension, clearly stupid beyond your comprehension.”
I stick my hand quickly into my leather bag and randomly pull out a bunch of infant files. I thrust the files toward Orlov. “Here,” I say. “Here’s the proof. Here are actual midwife reports of real mothers with real babies, babies on the way, babies just born.”
I watch as Orlov turns his head toward Nina. She gives a small
Maybe this is for real
shrug. Orlov apparently thinks otherwise. He grabs the files from my hand and scatters them on the ground. He then steps forward and puts his face only a few inches from my own.
“I want you to report to the NYPD that I will
do business with them. Do you understand me?”
Astonishingly—or not—I find that I am not frozen in fear, and I decide that my one bit of revenge will be to ignore him.
He expects me to buckle under his orders. I am determined that I will not.
“I asked if you understand me,” he says.
I continue to say nothing.
“Do you understand?”
On the nearby pathway a parked car, a car that I never noticed in the darkness, turns on its headlights.
It must be Blumenthal and Bobby Cilia. With any luck, it just might be the whole goddamn cavalry.
Orlov glances in the direction of the car. He says to Nina, “The driver is ready. Let’s go.”
Orlov and Nina walk quickly to what is instead their own waiting car. Orlov turns and looks at me. He yells, “The question. Again. Do you understand?”
I don’t remember answering. I don’t remember movement or noise or voices.
What I remember next is Leon Blumenthal hugging me, my head against his chest. Blumenthal says, “We wouldn’t have let them hurt you. You know that, Lucy. You got some great stuff out of them. You were absolutely terrific.”
I say, “But they said nothing … they …”
“We’re going to get them,” Blumenthal says. “You’ll see.”
“We’re going to get them”? “Terrific”? What the hell?
I guess I’ll never understand police work.
AFTER A FEW HOURS of rough sleep, I’m tired as hell the rest of the day. And I’m not in the mood for big decisions. The only significant choice I make is to wear my eyeglasses instead of my contacts. On the subway into Manhattan, I miraculously get a seat, and I miraculously make it to Gramatan University Hospital without falling asleep in that seat.
I notice six NYPD officers instead of the usual three standing outside the main entrance. I also can’t help but notice a small crowd of spectators and a larger crowd of TV cameras.
I head for the employees’ entrance. Only two officers are there. Inside I have to show my hospital ID to two different check-in detectives. I also get to be frisked (first time that’s ever happened here) by a woman with a security wand. The rear entrance lobby is crowded with the usual mix of nurses and orderlies and doctors.
“Over here,” I hear, Tracy Anne’s voice.
I quickly find her face in the group. She’s standing with
Dr. Sarkar. He’s wearing his white coat with his official badge:
R SARKAR, CHIEF OB-GYN
“What the hell’s happened now?” I ask. I’m ashamed to admit that I wish I had worn my contacts.
Tracy Anne looks bad—bad under any conditions but particularly bad for her. Her hair, which is always, always, always perfect, is a total grease-bag of loose ends and frizz. Tracy Anne and Sarkar look at each other. Then Tracy Anne looks at me.
“You haven’t heard?” she half asks, half states.
“Two more infants have gone missing,” adds Sarkar.
Anger erupts in me. “‘Gone missing’ sounds like the newborns got up and walked out on their own. Don’t use those words. Call it what the media calls it. Say they’ve been kidnapped or stolen.”
“Lucy, you’re exhausted. From last night at the cemetery,” Sarkar says.
Before he can continue, I say, “Last night? How the hell do you know about last night?”
“Leon Blumenthal told me,” he says.
Tracy looks away from the two of us, as if she’s heard something she should not have heard. I’ll have this confidentiality argument in a moment, but for now I have a more important question.
“Does Blumenthal know about this latest kidnapping yet?” I ask.
“Yes, we called him immediately, around three thirty this morning, when the incident was reported to Security,” says Sarkar.
So Blumenthal knew about this while he was watching me with Orlov and Nina. He knew this when he was hugging me and congratulating me, when he told me I had been
And then Bobby Cilia drove me home while Blumenthal rushed back to GUH to jump into the new kidnapping investigation. And I was snoozing alongside The Duke in my apartment? Son of a bitch!
“Who are the babies? Who are the mothers? What’s the situation?” I say as fiercely as I can.
“They’re twins,” says Tracy Anne. “Twin boys. They came in at good weights. They were a planned C-section because they were a multiple. You know the mother, Dolly Korest. She and the husband are … like … like … your perfect Upper East Side couple. They’re—”
Sarkar jumps in. “The Korests are apoplectic, as you might expect.”
“Yeah, as I might expect,” I say.
The lobby suddenly seems much more crowded than when I first walked in. It’s also far noisier. All these people seem to be walking faster than normal. I’m used to the pace and the crowd of GUH. When you work at GUH—or any big hospital complex, for that matter—you get used to big crowds. It is a place with hundreds of doctors and med students and nurses, thousands of patients, visitors, technicians, custodians, cooks, ER people, paramedics, ambulance drivers, physiotherapists.
But this? This looks almost like a crowd surging out of a stadium after a football game. I feel as if the crowd is pressing in on Sarkar and Tracy Anne and me. Then, another surprise from the crowd. They all begin parting into two groups, forming a sort of cleared passage in the middle. I look at the central point of the passage and see Leon Blumenthal walking quickly. Next to Blumenthal, trying to keep up with him, is Dr. Barrett Katz. Katz is in his usual blue Brooks Brothers button-down shirt, but his tie is askew, his collar unbuttoned.
His suit jacket is missing. I realize I’ve never seen our CEO without a suit jacket before. On the other side of Katz is a uniformed police officer, a woman. Behind this officer is another officer, a man. It seems as if everyone but this group of four is holding a cell phone in the air. It looks like all the phone cameras are aimed at Dr. Katz.
I break through my area of the crowd, and I rush toward Blumenthal and Katz. I push myself into Blumenthal’s face. Katz and the officers look at the two of us, but they keep on moving.
“Not now, Lucy,” Blumenthal says. He tries to move past me, but I stand firmly in front of him. He bumps into me. But I’m going to hold my ground.
“What’s happening, Detective?” I ask.
“I’ve got to go,” he says. He looks over my head. I assume he’s looking for Katz and his escorts. Then I realize that Blumenthal and I have attracted attention, a small group of men and women with cell phone cameras and other recorders are aiming them at us.
I say as quietly as I can, “You lied to me last night. There were two other babies taken … kidnapped. You knew that. And you sent me home like a little kid.”
He grabs me by the shoulders. “I sent you home because you were exhausted and confused and in a state of shock. I did it for you,” he says.
“That’s bullshit,” I say. I know he’s lying. But I’m exploding with questions.
“Whatever’s happening with Katz, does this have to do with the missing babies?” I ask.
Blumenthal says nothing. Then comes a barrage of questions from the small group of reporters who have not followed Katz but instead stayed to watch Blumenthal and me.
“Can you tell us what this is all about, miss?”
“What’s your role in the unfolding story here?”
“I understand you’re the supervising midwife.”
My own cell phone is suddenly alive with texts.
One from Blumenthal.
Will xplain all Trust me LB
One from Troy.
Teen girl w preemie need u or TracyA NOW T
And one from my mother. Mom’s text is, of course, written like a letter.
Hi, Lucy. Willie boarded the Pittsburgh train at 7:30. It arrives at Penn Station at 4:56 this evening. All is well. I think Willie has a bit of a cold. He says he doesn’t. Kids! He’s as stubborn as you were when you were his age. OOXX, Mom.
I’VE ONLY BEEN TO Penn Station about two million times, and every time I’m there it looks uglier than the time before. Trash cans overflow. Fluorescent lights flicker on and off. I read a newspaper article that they don’t fix the broken chairs in the waiting room because they think they’re going to rebuild the entire station soon. Great idea, but I’m pretty sure I read that article about fifteen years ago.
I’m early to meet Willie’s train. It’s scheduled to arrive at 4:56, and I’m there at 4:54. For me, that’s early. I look at the
board and see that it’s listed at
. On time? This must be my lucky day. And it is, until I arrive at track 12 and see a large handwritten sign by the
TRACK CHANGE. PITTSBURGH 4:56 ARRIVAL
Story of my life. Too good to be true. Eventually, after a search that sent me from one staircase to another, I am standing outside track 17, which bears another handwritten sign:
. That’s it. Four other people seem to be waiting—an old man in a heavy black woolen coat, a young black woman in what appears to be native African dress, and two teenage boys smoking some very unpleasant-smelling weed.
A few minutes later track 17 begins discharging passengers. Estimated count? Fifty people. I push my way into the crowd and scan for Willie. The crowd thins down, and I don’t see him. I do what any normal mother would do: I panic and picture myself sobbing to Big Lucy that
“I should never have listened to you! I should never have let him take the train alone!”
So maybe this is not my lucky day at all. I walk toward the train. I’m about to panic, but I know that in thirty seconds, if there’s no Willie, I’ll start yelling at everyone in sight. Then …
“Hey, Mom,” comes the familiar shout.
Thank you, God. I’ll be a good person from now on.
I turn to my left, the direction of Willie’s voice. He is standing in the doorway of one of the train cars.
Behind him is a very pretty girl of about seventeen. Her black hair is tied in a ponytail. She wears a white T-shirt with the logo of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and her smile is beautiful and broad. She is holding Willie’s hand. With her free hand she pulls a wheelie suitcase.
Willie breaks away from the girl when he sees me. We hug and kiss and exchange the usual: “How was the trip?” “Good. I had a tuna sandwich.” “How was the time with Grandma?” “Great. Uncle Cab and I played more Call of Duty. I always won.”
And then Willie says, “This is my friend Diane. I was in the bathroom, and she helped me.”
“Were you sick?” I ask.
“No, I was stuck,” says Willie.
Diane, whose voice is as sweet as her face, explains, “I was leaving the train just now, and I heard this little voice coming from somewhere I couldn’t quite place.”
“It was me,” offers Willie.
“It was coming from the bathroom. I guess Willie might have done something with the lock,” she says.
“You always tell me to lock the door, Mom, in a public place,” Willie says.
Diane says, “Your mom is absolutely right. Anyway, we found a conductor, and he had this little doodad that unlocked it, and here we are. A little late but present and accounted for.”
“Diane is the only person I talked to on the train except for the man who sold me the sandwich and a Kiwi Strawberry Snapple.”
“Willie’s a good boy, Ms. Ryuan,” Diane says. “You’ve got him well trained.”
I ask Diane if she lives in New York.
“Bed-Stuy, in Brooklyn,” she says. “Right near you.”
“I told her we live in Crown Heights,” says Willie.
“I’ll treat us all to a cab,” I say.
Diane goes through the proper “Oh, no, I couldn’t.”
Willie goes through the predictable “Oh, come on, of course you can.”
And I say the obvious “I insist.” Then I order an Uber.
I look at the screen on my phone, and the price is so high that I can’t help but say, “My God. They want ninety dollars!”
“Surge pricing,” the ever-smart Willie says.
“Why don’t we just take the number 3 train to the Kingston stop?” says Diane. “We can get it just downstairs.”
“Awesome,” says Willie.
I tell our new friend Diane that Willie is the only kid in New York who prefers the subway to a taxi.
“I sort of agree,” she says. “The subway’s the fastest … if it’s on time.”
“And that’s a big if,” I say. Then I add, “I suppose we have to go back upstairs to the big station area for the subway entrance.”
Immediately Willie says, “No. Look. There’s the number 2 train.” He points to a sign that indicates where the 2 and 3 trains stop.
“Go left at the short passageway next to the Auntie Anne’s Pretzels,” Diane says. “It’s faster. As long as we don’t stop for a pretzel.”
“I can’t make any promises,” says Willie.
The tunnel bears right. It seems to become a little darker. Two teenage guys pass us, obviously in a hurry. The tunnel has very few people in it, and ahead of us is a sign that says
DOWNTOWN, WALL STREET, BROOKLYN.
We head toward that sign. On our left is an open metal door. I wouldn’t notice that door except for the loud groaning coming from inside.
Diane speaks, her voice full of urgency, “Oh, my God. It looks like somebody’s hurt.” She stops. All three of us walk through the door into what appears to be a small storage room. A man, possibly a homeless person, is lying on the ground. To my surprise Diane yells, “Fuck, man. This guy is bleeding.”
Did she just say
The door slams. The lights flicker. Then Willie yells, “Mom. No lights.” And immediately a deep hard pain spins across the front of my head.
“Mom!” I hear. I fall on top of the homeless man, who squirms out from beneath me.
“Somebody got the kid?” the man shouts.
I hear Diane’s voice. “I got the boy.” The front of my head is throbbing. Blood drips into my right eye and nose. My eye burns. I taste the blood. Then the room is flooded with light.
The homeless man doesn’t look very homeless anymore. He is standing. He’s a big guy—football-lineman-size. He wears a crisp white shirt and black pants.
Then I see Diane. She has an intense hammerlock on Willie.
“Let go of him,” I shout.
Willie struggles. He’s a tough, wiry little guy, but he is, after all, just a little guy.
“Let go,” I yell, but then the big asshole grabs me tight around my waist with one arm. With his other hand he turns my purse upside down and empties its contents onto the floor.
“Pick up the wallet and give it to me,” the man says, and now I see that he is holding a very small pistol against my ribs. For all I know it’s really a toy, but I’m not about to test that theory.
He loosens his grip on me and I bend down but with the gun still jammed against me. I lift my fake-alligator wallet—stuffed with credit cards and coupons and photos and notes and, of course, two hundred dollars fresh from the ATM machine—and I hand it to him.
“Give me those pills,” the guy says. He’s pointing to two CVS prescription bottles. One is a bottle of Lexapro, an antidepressant that every other person in New York City takes. The other is Lipitor, an anticholesterol medication.
“These won’t do any good for you,” I say about the Lipitor.
“Give me the goddamn pills. We’re not a team, you and me.” He pulls the necklace from my neck—a cheap
yellow Murano glass bauble on a five-dollar chain. Then he shouts, “Go.”
Diane lets Willie out of her grip. The door opens and closes within seconds. The room is plunged into almost complete darkness.
Willie and I hug each other. I cry a little. Willie doesn’t.
I say, “Are you okay?”
Then he says, “Are you okay?”
How can we possibly be okay, but of course we both tell each other that we’re fine.
I yank out my cell phone from my jeans pocket. I call Blumenthal.
“I think these people may have something to do with Orlov,” I tell him.
Of course he thinks I’m wrong. “Listen, Lucy. I’m not trying to play down the fact that you were in danger, and your son was in danger, and … but anyway, what happened to you has been going on for a few weeks at Penn and Grand Central and Port Authority. These muggings. They get a kid, and then they hijack the kid, and if the kid is traveling with a woman, they … you get it.”
Willie opens the door to the unlighted room, the room where he and I were just mugged. Three officers immediately crowd their way in. Two of them have their guns drawn.
I speak into the phone. “The cavalry is here,” I say.
“Yeah,” says Blumenthal. “I notified them about a minute ago.”
“Can I ask what you all are doing about these ‘Welcome to New York’ muggings?”
“All I can say is that we’re doing our best, Lucy,” Blumenthal says.
“Yeah,” I say. “And we all know how great that is.”