Authors: James Patterson,Richard Dilallo
Tags: #Mystery Thriller
“ONLY ONCE BEFORE IN my lifetime have I seen somebody use that clavicle-cracking method,” Troy says.
“I’ve actually never seen it,” I say. “But like Dr. Sarkar said, sometimes they don’t even have to break it. That’s how elastic a baby’s bones can be.”
Troy and I are standing outside the birthing room. It’s only been about forty-five minutes since the delivery. We sip some pretty awful coffee from the electric coffee pot at the nurses’ station.
“This stuff tastes like piss,” says Troy.
“I can’t agree or disagree,” I say. “I don’t have the faintest idea of what piss tastes like. But I assume this coffee is lousy enough to beat piss at its own game.”
“No word from Tracy Anne?” Troy asks.
“Nothing yet,” I say. “Let’s head down to the nursery.”
“Yeah, good idea,” Troy says.
Then I say, “And by the way, don’t think for a minute we’re not going to have a real long conversation about you and Tracy Anne and why you kept that information from me. I may not have looked angry, but—”
“Yes, ma’am,” Troy says. Then he takes both our cups of coffee and pours the contents of them into a huge potted plant in the corridor.
“What the hell are you feeding that plant?”
“Don’t worry, Lucy. These plants are designed to withstand everything—arsenic, motor oil, rat poison—”
“Yeah, but you just gave it something more lethal than any of those. You just fed it some GUH coffee.”
We arrive at the nursery, and I am really pleased to see that three NYPD officers have been posted outside the nursery near the viewing window.
“See that woman over there, the one in the burgundy pantsuit?” Troy asks.
“I can’t miss her,” I say.
“I know her. She’s a plainclothes cop. Her brother Peter is a good friend of mine.”
“That is music to my ears. An undercover cop in the nursery itself.”
I say hello to the nurses at the desk outside the nursery.
“Has the Morabito baby been put into his brace yet?” I ask one of them, a very sharp nurse by the name of Keesha.
“Yes, ma’am. Dr. Sarkar brought the baby down here just a little while ago. He had some other doctor with him. That woman just snapped the brace on the baby in two seconds. Baby Morabito is sleeping happily.”
“We’re going to go take a look at him,” I say.
“Go right ahead. He’s in crib number four, second row on the aisle,” says Keesha.
I’m frightened—for a second or two—that we’re about to find an empty crib.
“I know what you’re thinking,” says Troy.
“Yeah, well, then you’re thinking the same thing as me,” I say.
We follow the aisle to crib number four. It’s clearly marked
. I bend over the sleeping baby, adorable, pudgy, serene, everything you want your baby to be. I reach in and lift his tiny arm and read his tiny wristband:
“I’ve never even seen one of those braces that they got on him,” says Troy.
“Me neither,” I say. “But it can’t hurt very much. He’s sleeping soundly.”
“Do you think they gave him like a teeny-tiny drop of Xanax or something?” Troy asks.
“Are you crazy?”
“I was only joshing with you, Lucy,” Troy says as he laughs.
“One never knows with …” Then I pause. I dip into the crib once more and read the wristband. Yes, it does say
Then I yell. “Jesus Christ, Troy. This is not the same baby we delivered.”
“Are you joking, too, Lucy?”
I walk a few feet to the emergency buzzer and press it fiercely, over and over and over. The NYPD officers enter. The nurse at the far end of the nursery, who’s been bottle feeding one of the newborns, rushes toward us. Keesha enters.
“What’s going on?” Keesha says.
“This is not the Morabito baby,” I shout at Keesha.
“Of course it is,” she says, almost more amused than angry at the accusation. “Just read the electronic wristband.”
“It may be electronic. And it may say ‘Morabito.’ But
somebody’s fucked with it. The alarm didn’t go off. And this sure as hell isn’t the Morabito baby.”
“No, she’s right,” says Troy. He realizes the hideous deception. “Our baby had lots of black hair. This here baby has lots of hair, but not nearly as much as our baby. And this baby’s hair is definitely brown, dark
but brown isn’t black.”
Alarms sound throughout the floor, throughout the hospital.
KEESHA CHECKS HER COMPUTER screen while two other nurses quickly check the wristbands on the other babies in the nursery, all of whom are awake and screeching.
Why is crying contagious?
“You’re right, Lucy. The alarm system is down,” Keesha says.
I look through the viewing window and see that the hallway outside is quickly filling up with security guards, patients, pregnant women, smiling visitors, NYPD officers, nurses, doctors. It’s Macy’s on Christmas Eve. It’s hell on earth.
In a few minutes Dr. Sarkar is pushing his way through the crowd. He’s wearing sneakers, navy-blue nylon shorts that go down to his knees, and a sweat-stained white T-shirt. It’s obvious to me that he’s just come from the hospital gym. Funny when you see someone out of uniform—in this case, no rep tie, no Paul Stuart blazer—he can seem so different, so like a stranger.
I tell Sarkar what’s just happened, and his face flushes with
horror and fear. Then he immediately examines the baby’s wristband.
I, of course, am becoming very panicky and a little angry. Nothing ever happens fast enough for my liking.
“For Chrissake, Rudi. Don’t you think we’ve already looked at the wristbands? We assume the wristband ID monitor is down.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” he says. Then he begins unfastening the baby’s shoulder brace. “So this is not the Morabito infant,” Sarkar says. “Then who is it?”
Jesus Christ! That’s a good question.
Fortunately, Keesha has a good answer. “We’re pretty certain it’s the Fontaine baby. We’re going to do a blood test and match footprints and fingerprints in a minute.”
“This brace wasn’t even put on properly,” Sarkar declares as he hastily pulls it off. “And it’s too big. Not that it matters here.”
“The nurse on duty said that you were the one who brought the doctor to apply the brace,” I say.
“I did,” he says. “I brought one of the residents. Veronica somebody or other. I don’t recall her last name.”
I am about to say the obvious, that we can immediately find out Veronica’s last name. But Sarkar is clearly concerned about the crisis in front of us right now.
“Lucy, make yourself useful and call Detective Blumenthal,” he says.
A police officer standing right next to Sarkar hears Sarkar’s request and says, “Don’t bother. Detective Blumenthal already knows. He’s on his way.”
So much for making myself useful.
Then I notice a familiar face in the crowd. Bobby Cilia has shown up. He’s organizing a dragnet throughout the hospital.
We’ve been here before: janitor closets, pharmacies, bathrooms, ORs, ERs, supply closets.
Maybe it’ll work this time. Who knows? Maybe Bobby Cilia knows more about the whole situation than …
In my brain everyone looks anywhere from shifty to evil to guilty, except, of course, me.
“Make sure we have enough men both in the basement and on the roof,” Cilia says. He talks into his cell phone. He seems to be saying “Okay” and “Got it” a lot.
Organizational decisions of who will do what and who will tell who are made. Officers get their instructions and disperse, but they’re soon replaced by new and different people. Officers, G-men, emergency medical techs.
From the far end of the nursery a nurse who is holding a clipboard yells, “People, people, we’re missing a baby. We’re missing Harman, six pounds, five ounces.” The nurse stops talking, pauses for a few seconds. Then she shouts, “We’re short one baby.”
feels as sharp as poison in my ear. The words. The word choice. It sounds so foolish, so much like
We’re short of cash, We’re short of coffee, We’re short of paper
. So simple. So stupid. I’ve got to hold it together. Now is definitely not the time to be a crazy person. My mind isn’t quite working right.
Maybe the baby who Keesha thinks is the Fontaine baby is actually the Harman baby. But with the Morabito baby missing …
Why the hell is this sounding like a hideously unfunny riddle? Why is my head throbbing? Why are my eyes burning?
My confused thoughts are interrupted by one of the police officers. He thrusts a cell phone toward me and says, “It’s Detective Blumenthal. He wants you.”
I say, “Yes,” and Blumenthal starts jabbering.
“Listen, I’m going to loop you in on everything I know. I feel that I owe it to you.”
“No argument about that,” I say.
I didn’t mean to be pouty or petulant. I meant to sound grateful. Wait, I meant to sound professional. No time to stop and explain.
“Listen,” he says.
Why does he always begin something he’s going to say to me with the word
? And why the hell should I care?
“I’m listening,” I say.
“Tracy Anne’s former boyfriend showed up here a half hour ago. He was busting to talk. He knows a lot more shit than even Troy knows. According to the boyfriend, Tracy Anne kicked him out of her life last month, so he’s in a big get-even mood.”
“What’d you find out from him?” I ask, even as I’m wondering if Blumenthal can hear my voice over the siren of his car.
“Ask Cilia. He knows everything I know. Cilia was there for the whole interview. He’ll fill you in. Stay calm, Lucy. We can close in on this thing if we just trust each other.”
So much for long good-byes. And I’m suspicious about
“trust each other.”
I immediately look around the room and spot Bobby Cilia. He’s talking to Dr. Sarkar. They’re close in, very face-to-face. I immediately join them.
“I just spoke to Blumenthal,” I say. “He says you can fill me in, Bobby.”
“He sure can, Lucy,” says Sarkar. “That’s what Assistant Detective Cilia just did for me. This story is incredible.”
“I’m ready,” I say.
But before Cilia can start talking, Sarkar looks at his watch. Then he says, “I’m going back to my office to change clothes. Then I’ll try calling our leader in hiding, Dr. Katz. Thanks for taking the time to report to me, Detective.” Then Sarkar is gone.
I look at Bobby and say, “Now would you repeat for me the same astonishing info you just shared with Sarkar?”
Bobby begins plowing through his material quickly, passionately, yet methodically.
“Here’s the deal. We had a very sweet conversation with Tracy Anne’s boyfriend. Tracy Anne recently dumped the guy, and he was more than happy to give up some pretty dramatic info on his former lady friend. He was one pissed-off former boyfriend. He even brought himself into the precinct. Once the guy started to talk, it looked like he might never shut up. The guy’s an out-of-work actor, but I don’t think he was acting with us. He was angry, angry as hell. Anyway, he knew everything that she was up to. Everything.”
“Does this guy have a name?” I ask.
“I think his name was Eric. Yeah, Eric, Eric Storm, a real actorlike name. Anyway, this Storm guy tells us that Tracy Anne and two ‘Russian assholes’—his words, not mine—had a racket going, supplying babies to rich couples up in Southern Westchester. It’s sort of what you and Detective Blumenthal suspected.
“Eric Storm says the town Tracy Anne always mentioned was Harrison. I named a few other rich-people towns up in Westchester, like Rye and Scarsdale. Eric said they sounded familiar but that Tracy used to say—more than once, mind you—Harrison was the ‘real gold mine.’ That’s the quote. A ‘real gold mine.’”
My turn to talk. “So I’ll bet your boss, the great Detective Blumenthal, is heading up to Harrison now.”
“You got it, lady,” says Cilia. “He’s already connected with the Harrison PD. Plus he’s taking along three guys from the FBI. They’ve connected with their counterparts in White Plains, the Westchester County seat. This thing is on fire, Lucy.”
Suddenly I feel calm, simple, tough. Lucy is Lucy again. I have one of those hunches that’s actually a lot more than a hunch. And that kind of hunch is either a breakthrough or a disaster.
I pull out my phone and press the speed dial for Blumenthal.
“I’ve got to talk to you before you head to Westchester,” I say.
“Too late and too bad,” says Blumenthal.
I hate the guy. And for once I say so out loud. “You know, you’re a real son of a bitch. I’ve got an idea that could really help, and you say ‘too bad.’”
Blumenthal speaks. “Listen, Lucy. I don’t have time. I literally do not have the time.”
“I’m telling you, Detective. I’ve got an idea that could really help us.”
“Yeah? I’ve got an idea, too. Here’s my idea. You stay put. You do your job and … you’ll see. It’s all going to work out.”
I AM WILLING TO bet my New York City ass that this whole thing is all going to work out just fine. Here’s why: because I’m jumping fast and deep into the situation. Blumenthal won’t be happy. Bobby Cilia won’t be happy. Hell, it’s even possible that I won’t be happy. But I can’t run the risk of
getting involved and then end up hating myself for the rest of my life.
Or even worse—and this is wishful thinking—let the case absolutely fail and then hear Blumenthal say something infuriating like,
“Why the hell didn’t you just ignore me? You always do. For Chrissake, Lucy, this time you could have been a hero … er, heroine.”
Okay. Back to reality. Game on.
I grab Troy and say, “Get your car. We have to move fast. Go get your car right now.”
Uh-oh. Glitch one in my plan. Troy says, “Lady boss, I’m a subway guy. I don’t even own a car.”
This inspires my decision to act like a maniac CEO type. Ignore reality. Just give orders.
“Get a goddamn car, Troy! Just get a car!”
He looks at me like the true crazy lady I’ve become. “You are a woman possessed,” he says. “I’ll just assume that the Lord himself is talking to all of us through your screams.”
Troy runs to the exit stairs. “I’ll call you as soon as I know what I’m driving, and where you should wait for a pickup.”
“Great!” I say. “Now just move. Move … your … ass.”
“I always wanted to be somebody’s sidekick,” he shouts, and he disappears down the stairs.
As for me, I don’t ever remember being so freakin’ worried. I’m getting ready to follow a long-shot hunch—a good hunch, a smart hunch, but, like I say, a long shot.
I need to focus on my hunch. So of course I call my mom. This time, however, it’s for info related to this case. “Mom, I don’t have time to waste. Remember that story you told me the other day about the man a few years ago who wanted you to help him get a few babies?”
“Well, yes. I do remember. He was a handsome fellow. He had a very nice suit jacket with—”
“Mom, I’m in a real hurry here. Did he say that he needed the babies for people in Harrison, New Jersey, or Harrison, New York?”
I don’t get a sense of true certainty when she answers. “Well, I’m pretty sure he said it was New Jersey. But those states are all one big blur to me.”
Okay. I’ve got to go with a
I say good-bye and disconnect.
I drop two phone chargers and an iPad charger into my purse. I fill my water bottle and then grab two Diet Cokes for Troy. I check the face of my cell phone every ten seconds—
as if I might possibly miss the call from Troy telling me where to meet him.
A nervous mind is a crazy mind. At least it is in my mind. I envy the likes of Blumenthal and Sarkar—people who can sort and file their thoughts. Compartmentalize? Move on with one project at a time? That’s just not me. My brain works on the crashing roller-coaster blueprint—fast-moving, out-of-control cars that almost collide but, with a little bit of luck, never fall off the track. The problem is this: I really believe that life assigns you only a limited amount of luck—your fair amount. And you don’t want to use it up too fast and too soon.
The images of the important cast members of the case—Nina, Orlov, Blumenthal, the cemetery, Tracy Anne—are exploding in my brain. My mind is flipping through the possible rats who are aiding and abetting Orlov and Nina. And then it hits me. I know exactly who the guilty party is. It’s everyone. Of course it’s The Constitution according to Lucy Ryuan: everyone’s guilty until proven innocent. Everyone, that is, because the loony old Irish skeptic in me is totally unable to eliminate anyone.
Tracy Anne has already been identified as Judas. Bobby Cilia seems to have shown up out of nowhere. Troy seems to be our informant, but he was also Tracy Anne’s confidant. Our scum-bucket CEO, Dr. Katz, is certainly not above crime. Then there’s this Barbara Holt woman. Sarkar weaves way too smoothly in and out of everything. And why does Blumenthal make me keep my distance from the center of the investigation? Could Blumenthal actually be …?
Nah. Well … why not? Of course not. Of course. Yes. No. Maybe. Yes.
While I’m shuffling these ideas—ideas with no answers, no substance—around in my brain, my cell phone rings.
“I’ll be at the Third Avenue Medical Waste Pick-Up entrance in two minutes,” Troy says, his voice breathless, intimate, maybe even a little frightened.
“What kind of car are you driving?” I ask as I rush down the corridor to the side stairwell.
“I got me a McCoy Miller heavy-duty Type III,” he says.
I’m completely baffled by Troy’s answer. “What the hell is a McCoy Miller heavy whatever?” I ask.
“It’s what the Office of Transportation Requisitions calls an