Authors: James Patterson,Richard Dilallo
Tags: #Mystery Thriller
I REALIZE AS WE enter Midtown Precinct South of the NYPD, I’ve never been in a real New York City police station before. Oh, I’ve been in a few jailhouses back in West Virginia, always to bail out my brother, Cabot. But those places looked like the little marshal’s offices you see on old television westerns. This precinct looks like a smallish office building, and it is dull and ugly inside. Gray painted walls, cheap aluminum desks, dirty linoleum.
In a small room, we go over the recent events with the officers. One officer tells me that “yes, occasionally they use old storage rooms along the passageways to the subway.” She seems unconcerned.
I try not to seem concerned. But for me, the whole world is fast becoming a crime scene.
After Willie and I spend almost two hours flipping through about five hundred photos and sketches on a computer
screen, men and women who’ve previously been involved in crimes, a very bored detective says we can leave. When I suggest that the NYPD might want to put up the cost of an Uber trip, they agree to take us home to Crown Heights in a police car.
I tell Willie that the impact of the awful event might not hit him right away. “You know,” I say. “Sometimes reactions to traumatic events sneak up on us, like someone dying or a car accident.” I’m waiting for him to react to what I’ve said. He does.
“Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll keep an eye on you.” Only Willie.
The police car pulls up in front of our little building.
“Hey, look,” Willie says. “The lights are still on in the store. They’re open late.”
Sure enough, even though it’s close to nine o’clock, Sabryna’s crazy little Jamaican jumble of a store looks like it’s open for business.
Willie says, “Cool. I hope Devan is around.”
I, of course, am imagining some criminal nastiness in the store.
Why are the lights on? Why is there no one behind the counter? What the hell’s happening here?
The store door is locked. Willie knocks on the glass.
No answer. The police car has already driven away.
“Keep knocking,” I say. “Sabryna could be in the back room, cooking.”
Suddenly Devan appears. He has a big grin on his face, and he actually runs to the door, unlocking it from the inside. As soon as we step through, Willie and Devan greet each other as if they had been apart for twenty years, not a few days. Hugs and arm punching and up-in-the-air hand slaps.
“How you been doing down there in East Virginia, man?” Devan asks.
“I did great. I am great. And it’s
Virginia,” Willie says.
“Damn, you’re still an asshole. ‘East Virginia’ was a joke, dude,” says Devan, and the arm punching begins again.
Then Sabryna yells from the rear of the store, “Well, lullaby and good night yourselves, Young William has returned.” She comes out carrying her new charge: Valerina’s baby. The baby wears nothing but Huggies on this hot night. Sabryna has tied the tiniest red-and-yellow striped scarf—a ribbon really—around the baby’s adorable head.
“Are you open or closed?” Willie asks.
“I’m not quite sure,” says Sabryna. “I figure if I’m up with little Tyonna anyways, I might as well sell something.”
“Tyonna? Where’d you get that name from, Sabryna? Valerina said she was naming the baby Anna for her great-grandmother.”
“Valerina can call her baby anything she wants. She’s the mama,” says Sabryna. “But as long as the baby’s with me, I’m calling her Tyonna. In Jamaican, Tyonna means
. And that’s zactly what this little one is, a princess. The yellow-red headscarf ’round her head will be just a practice crown for the little princess later in life.”
There will be no arguing with Sabryna. And actually, I think both names—Tyonna and Anna—are beautiful in their own different ways. Perhaps the name Anna Tyonna Gomez will happen.
I say to Sabryna what she always says to me when I’ve come home tired and rattled and baggy-eyed from a tough birthing or long day at the hospital.
“You are looking sure enough spent, lady,” I say.
“You don’t zactly look like a festival queen yourself,” says Sabryna. Then she touches the baby’s cheek and says, “She’s finally nodded off. This baby fights sleep.”
“That’ll come in handy when she gets a little older and she’s studying for exams up at Harvard,” I say.
“No, Lucy. We all need our sleep time. Every one of us. I sure wish I had more of it.”
“Yes, ma’am. Like I said, you look sure enough spent.”
“I know I do, but I’m lovin’ it. Th’ only thing I miss is my time with you know who,” and she nods in the direction of Devan, who’s busy challenging Willie to a contest of who can eat a bag of potato chips the fastest.
Sabryna rocks Tyonna Anna in her arms. For a moment the two of them look like a couple slow dancing.
Sabryna lowers her voice. “Devan comes home sometimes, and I know he’s been smoking ganja. His eyes are bugging out, and he’s angry that he’s got to help out in the store.”
“Okay,” I say. “I’ve got an idea. I’m not going in to work tomorrow.”
“I wish I could steal your day off,” Sabryna says.
“I tell you what. I can’t give you the day off, but I can help you out. I’ll take the baby for most of the day tomorrow. That way you don’t have to be watching her
watching the cash register. I’ll take her.
I’ll leave Willie to help you and Devan. Maybe you can even get a few hours of sleep time.”
“I can’t say no,” says Sabryna. “It sounds too much like paradise.”
I begin humming, then singing. It’s one of the Bob Marley tunes Sabryna loves:
Sun is shining, the weather is sweet
Make you want to move your dancing feet.
Sabryna begins dancing gently, holding the baby against her cheek. Willie and Devan look up at us. They seem if not genuinely delighted at least a little amused.
As she dances, Sabryna smiles and speaks. “There are two things I need to say to you, Lucy girl.”
“Okay, say what you need to say.”
“Number one. Thank you. I so appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome. And what’s the second thing?”
“Promise me this is the last time you ever try singing a Bob Marley song in public.”
IT WAS AT THE top of the closet in Willie’s room.
No. It was behind the pressure cooker that I was always too afraid to use. No. It was hidden under the Scrabble Junior box. Damn. It must be packed not so neatly between a rolled-up yoga mat and a large papier-mâché Easter bunny that had missed the last five Easters. Finally, I found it. It was the little yellow Snugli.
Not so many years ago I carried Willie all over New York City in that little yellow Snugli. My baby boy and I would walk to Brower Park, where it was shady and cozy, and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum was right nearby if we needed a bathroom. Best of all, the park had a gentle spray sprinkler for kids. On the hottest days, I’d carry Willie under the sprinkler, and even though he was only a few weeks old, I could swear that he laughed when I splashed a tiny bit of water on his beautiful little face.
“You’re a peanut! You’re a delicious little peanut.” That’s what I’d say to Willie, and that is exactly what I say today to Tyonna. I open my mouth wide and pretend that I am going to eat her up. In case she doesn’t know what’s happening, I tell her, “I’m going to eat you up. Grrrrrrrr.” This new baby almost looks up at me. I imagine she’s already thinking, just as Willie once did,
Who the hell is this crazy lady?
Tyonna smiles. No one else would be able to know that she’s smiling, but I can see it. And I tell her.
“I see that smile. Yes, I see that smile. I do.”
It’s early afternoon, and soon Tyonna and I are sitting in that same Brower Park on a metal bench, a foolish modern design with no back to lean against. I take a bottle of baby formula out of the insulated bag. It’s been resting against an ice pack, and I worry that now the bottle may be too cold. I rub the bottle against my arm.
I can almost hear my mother say,
“Stop worrying about it. Just go ahead. She’ll take the bottle. The baby knows what’s best for her. Don’t wait till she starts fussing.”
My mother, even absent, is right. Tyonna happily takes the bottle. She’s hungry.
I hold the baby close to me. I tap her back gently. The burp. Oh, the wonderful sound of the baby’s burp.
I see if she wants some more. No. I try for another burp, but she’s done.
On this summer day, even here in the shade, the heat is oppressive. I look around and see people surrendering to the heat—women fanning themselves, men with bandanas around their foreheads, people pouring cold beers down their throats. But I also see children defying the heat—shirtless boys playing soccer, girls and boys jumping, splashing, screaming under the spray sprinkler.
“You want to go swimming, Peanut?” I say. I touch her nose again. “How about we go for a quick dip in the sprinkler to cool off, and then we’ll go into the museum and get changed, and then we’ll head home to see Auntie Sabryna.” The
title is my idea. Sabryna will go for it. I think.
TYONNA AND I HEAD on over to the spray sprinkler area. I put the diaper bag in easy reach and easy view of where we’ll be standing. We stand only a foot away from the edge of the small drainage outlet.
“Let’s get wet!” I say to Tyonna.
I hold Tyonna precisely the way I held Willie when he was a baby, so the water doesn’t sprinkle on her directly. The spray hits my face and hair, and I shake my head so a few drops fall on the baby. I swear that I see Tyonna smile. I swear I hear her chuckle over the noise of children squealing and steel drums clanking.
Then it happens.
Sometimes people say,
“It happened so fast that I don’t really remember how it happened.”
How can that be? I know everything that goes on around me. I do. I really do. But I am wrong. It erupts so quickly, so horribly, that I don’t precisely remember how it even started.
I see the two of them—a blond man in a light-gray suit, a woman in a tight black skirt and high-heeled shoes. They stand at the edge of the sprinkler area. They are initially right next to our diaper bag. Then the man in the suit walks toward me. The sprinkler water cascades on the man in the suit. A few people from the crowd watch the pair getting wet.
I know them. The vaguely handsome man—yes, it’s Orlov. Then I recognize the woman’s shoes before I actually recognize the woman. I hold the baby closer. I eye the diaper bag at the water’s edge.
Orlov is near me. Orlov is now next to me. I hold Tyonna even closer. She is crying.
“Hold that baby, tightly, Miss Ryuan. Try to quiet her down, if you will. And please remain quiet yourself.”
In this split second I am certain that I see sympathy in Nina’s eyes.
So make a scene. What difference will it make if I scream?
And then I see the difference.
Orlov holds and hides a knife in the palm of his hand. I know almost nothing about knives, but I happen to know that this one is a Laguiole en Aubrac Shepherd’s Knife. It is a favorite glamorous Christmas gift for dads and big brothers back in Walkers Pasture. The knife is both sharp and beautiful. It is especially grotesque when held near Tyonna’s beautiful little face. My mind flashes to Tyonna’s neck sliced almost through, her tiny head dangling from her tiny shoulders.
I look at the woman. “How can you, Nina? Are you a mother? Don’t do this.” For a second, she locks her eyes with mine. I think I see understanding.
Nina says something in Russian to Orlov. I, of course, have no idea what her words mean, but as Orlov answers her I find the courage that only real fear can bring on: my voice memo
app is, as almost always, open and easily accessed, since I use it frequently to take notes about patients. So I slip my hand into the pocket of my shorts and press the Record button.
At least I think I do. I hope I do.
Orlov and Nina exchange a few angry sentences in Russian. And then—
And then suddenly I wake up on the concrete ground. My face is swollen. My right knee aches. Tyonna is gone.
A young woman helps me sit up. Then I struggle to my feet. My knee feels as if it’s on fire.
I can see Orlov and Nina in the distance. They are not running, but they are walking fast, disappearing fast. I should scream for help. But the knife …
I have no chance of catching up to them, but I stand and hobble in their direction. I watch Nina and Orlov slip into the back seat of a big black car.
I stand where I am and cry. I am trembling. I am cold and wet and hot and dry, all at once. Strangers have gathered around me. A few of them have already called 911. In the mumble-grumble of the crowd, I hear, “The baby. The woman had a baby.” And “They took the baby. They took this woman’s baby.” I am crying.
For the first time I am in a total panic. I am alone. I screwed up so badly.
A young black man is speaking to me. “I got just the beginning, the beginning of the license plate is ‘W7.’ That’s all I got. I’m sorry.”
Me, too. W7. That’s all I got.
Leños Bar Restaurant
Jackson Heights, Queens, New York
OFFICER DIAS RESTROPO AND Officer Matias Moreno are partners. No, not in the marriage sense of the word
. They are just two ordinary guys, two ordinary cops. If asked, they would tell you so. They would say simply: “We’re just cops. Not good cops. Not bad cops. Just cops.” If asked how good the Restropo-Moreno team is, their sergeant would give them the most common Yelp review: “Good but not great.”
Restropo and Moreno patrol the area between Roosevelt Avenue to the south and Grand Central Parkway to the north. An occasional free Colombian lunch at Leños Bar Restaurant is as close to a kickback as they ever take.
They both come from South American families, both are Colombian, and they think today would be a fine time to tap Dias Diego, the owner of Leños, for a nice meal of
the deep-fried pork dish that is perfect when paired with a cold Coke and a large order of red beans and rice.
Before the fried pork arrives, Dias Diego visits the police officers’ table.
“I don’t know whether this is of interest to you,
but there’s been an automobile accident across the street. Nothing serious. You can take a look at it from the window near the bar.”
Both Restropo and Moreno have a similar thought: in the time it will take them to walk to the window, evaluate the situation, and, God forbid, go out and get involved, the crispy breaded crust of the
will be soggy, and crispness is the whole delicious deal. So they do what they often do: they shoot Rock, Paper, Scissors—best two out of three. Moreno loses. And moments later he is standing next to the neon Schlitz sign at the front window, watching a small crowd gather around a black Mercedes S500. From Moreno’s deduction, it looks like the Mercedes sideswiped a light-green gypsy cab, a nondescript Toyota. The Toyota driver is arguing with the people from the Mercedes: two men, along with a woman who is holding an infant.
Meanwhile, lunch is getting cold. Moreno returns to the table, breaks open a can of Coke, and tells Restropo, “Just some stupid fender bender.”
No sooner has Moreno taken a gulp of his Coke than they hear the clear, clean whizz of a bullet and the sound of the crowd yelling. Both cops jump up and run to the window.
The Toyota driver is on the ground, bleeding from his right thigh—not a great location to take a bullet. As the two cop partners rush out the restaurant door, Restropo notices the woman quickly place the infant into the arms of one of her companions. The woman then begins to run east on Northern Boulevard. The two NYPD officers are more
concerned with the wounded man on the ground and the crowd around him.
The expected “Stand back! Stand back, everybody!” Then the expected call for “Significant backup. Urgent. 8015 Northern Boulevard, Jackson Heights. Urgent. Shooting. No fatalities.”
God bless 911. Paramedics show up in five minutes. The female paramedic cuts the wounded man’s pants leg at mid-thigh while her partner begins tight-suturing near the wound. Another paramedic fixes an oxygen mask on the wounded guy, then secures his head in a neck brace.
Moreno and Restropo try to sort out the scene. The cast of characters: two men—a good-looking blond and a heavyset guy in a dirty white shirt and a pair of baggy black pants. The blond guy is holding the baby.
“The woman shot the driver,” says a teenage boy, pointing to the victim on the ground. “She shot him and ran like hell, over that way.” He points in a general easterly direction.
“That’s bullshit,” says the blond man. “Someone in this crowd shot him.”
Restropo and Moreno work fast. The hell with lunch. By now the Coke will be warm and the fried cutlet will be soggy. Restropo calls in an APB and gives the description of the runaway woman to the police desk: “short black skirt, white shirt, red shoes. A little on the fat side, I guess.”
“Fuck that!” yells the blond guy. “Check the crowd right here for weapons.”
Yes, the blond guy, the guy holding the baby, the guy yelling, he has a slight accent.
Moreno kneels next to the female paramedic. She gives him an update on the wounded man’s condition. “He’s gonna be okay. Whoever shot him missed the femoral.”
Sirens. More sirens. Another ambulance. Two more patrol cars. A social worker takes the infant.
“We’re taking the baby to the hospital for tests.” The social worker gets into the second ambulance.
One of the newly arrived officers moves to the rear of the big Mercedes, then throws a thumb signal to Restropo. “Come here,” he says. Then he shows Restropo the screen of his cell phone:
FRAGMENT PLATE W7 at child abduction? Check.
Restropo looks down at the actual license plate. W7656445.
“Holy shit,” says the new cop on the scene. “Looks like you and Moreno landed a big one.”
And they have. Fyodor Orlov is under arrest. The driver, the big guy in white shirt and black pants, is also booked. Best of all, Valerina Gomez’s baby is safe.
Only Nina, the female accomplice, is still on the loose.