Authors: James Patterson,Richard Dilallo
Tags: #Mystery Thriller
TROY DRIVES. I RIDE shotgun. I’m focused on my cell phone’s GPS program like I’m playing Mozart on the piano.
“Not FDR Drive,” I yell. “I don’t want to go to the East Side. Get over to the West Side.”
“Calm down, for the good Lord’s sake,” Troy says. His voice is understandably impatient at my barking orders.
Just about the only thing Troy is enjoying is sitting behind the wheel of an ambu—er, excuse me, a McCoy Miller. The red lights on the ambulance roof are blinking. The siren is screeching. Suddenly Troy throws the vehicle into a sharp U-turn on 57th Street. Well, at least he listened to me. Now we’re heading to the West Side.
“I don’t know what you do for driving directions, Lucy, but when I’m driving to towns in Westchester, near Long Island Sound, I always go FDR Drive,” Troy says.
“There’s been a minor adjustment to our plans,” I say. “But
first of all, I want to apologize for yelling. To say that I’m tightly wound is putting it mildly.”
He ignores the apology. He’s tense now also.
“What’s the minor adjustment?” he asks.
“Detective Blumenthal is heading toward Harrison,
. You and me are going to Harrison,
We drive for a minute or so. Finally, Troy breaks the silence.
“What in Satan’s hell is the matter with you, woman?” he says.
I don’t answer his question. The GPS tells Troy to make a left on Ninth Avenue. “We’re going through the Lincoln Tunnel,” I say.
As Troy speeds left onto Ninth Avenue, he says, “And maybe you’ll tell me why we’re headed to a whole other state than the one Blumenthal and the NYPD and the FBI and the Westchester County police are all going to.”
I say nothing as we maneuver past the other traffic, which barely pulls out of our way, and Troy eventually turns into the loop that enters the tunnel. Now I’m busy again on my phone, trying to get info from the internet on anything even vaguely connected to medicine or medical research or infant care or adoption services in Harrison, New Jersey.
I tell Troy, “By the time we come out on the Jersey side, you’re going to know the whole story of why we’re going to Harrison, New Jersey.”
Troy dials down the siren, but he doesn’t turn off the blinking lights. He roars around the other traffic in the tunnel. The moment we’re on the Jersey side, he says, “Okay, Detective Lucy. Lay it on me.”
As we approach the interchange to 95 south, I tell him what I’ve just learned. “There’s a pharma company in Harrison,
New Jersey. It’s called General Infant Health. The initials of which are—”
Troy jumps in. “GIH.”
“Yeah, Mr. Genius,” I say. “Stunningly similar to GUH. Let’s assume it’s a coincidence. Anyway, GIH isn’t totally unknown, but they’re pretty much under the radar. Privately traded stock. Small group of personnel. No real board of directors. Next to places like Novartis and Pfizer, GIH is really small potatoes. This place we’re going to in Harrison, New Jersey, is their only office. It houses both GIH corporate and GIH R and D. When’s the last time you heard of a pharma operation so streamlined it had both those disciplines under the same roof?”
Troy shrugs his shoulders.
It occurs to me that Troy has never thought about the size of pharmaceutical companies. It occurs to me that until today I had never thought of them, either.
“Anyway, according to what I’m finding online, they’re working on a product for multiple types of infant CHD.”
Turns out, as a trained midwife, Troy knows about CHD. He defines it for me, as if to prove what I already know: this man is smart.
“Congenital heart defects,” he says. “Hard to find a more miserable, awful problem for babies than some of these heart abnormalities.” Then he adds, “How do you know so much about this place, Lucy?”
I don’t answer him right away. First, I tell him, “We’ve got to move a lot faster, buddy. Put your siren on again.”
The noise and the lights let us accelerate, but it’ll still take a while to get there. I’m ready to tell him about GIH and my mother, but even with time enough to say more, I go for the really short version.
“Listen, it involves my mom and me and West Virginia and midwife work and … Please, you’ve got to do what Blumenthal and Sarkar and Cilia never can do: trust me.”
Troy glances at me and we continue on in silence for a time. When the GPS finally announces, “Exit next right onto Essex Street, continue to Harrison Avenue,” I say, “Got that?”
Troy nods toward the exit sign ahead as he again douses the siren.
“Blumenthal has got it wrong. Maybe Tracy Anne’s boyfriend has got it wrong. My gut tells me that the people we want are in Harrison, New Jersey, the place that shares a name with the green lawns and country clubs of Harrison, New York. This GIH place, I’m gonna bet, is harvesting our newborns for something other than selling them to rich parents.”
“What the hell do you mean?” Troy asks.
“It’s probably what you can guess.” I pause, to let Troy try to guess. Then I tell him what I think this operation may entail. “I think they’re getting healthy newborns into a lab to do experiments on them. They call it ‘human research.’”
Troy actually looks away from me in shock and horror.
“As my mom would say, it’s the devil’s work. They start with white mice. They move on to rabbits. Then they need to get into the real world.”
Troy looks at me with a combination of amazement and sadness.
I glance down at my phone’s screen and begin reading aloud a travel blurb about the town:
Harrison is experiencing a residential renewal, particularly along the Passaic River. The new Red Bull Arena is New Jersey’s premier soccer stadium. Hotels and restaurants are being built to rival Manhattan’s …
I stop reading when Troy says, “Look at this place. It’s pretty much a dead old mess.”
Troy is correct. We are driving through downtown Harrison, New Jersey, just across the river from Newark. Its main street is composed of a few abandoned stores, along with a small hardware store, a Popeye’s chicken place, and three deli-type bodegas.
“Turn right on Passaic Avenue,” the GPS announces. As soon as we make the turn, the voice says, “In five hundred yards you will arrive at your destination.”
“I’ve got a suggestion,” says Troy as he flicks off the ambulance’s lights and slows to the speed limit. “And you’ve got to listen to me.”
“Hmm,” I say. “I love you like a brother, Troy. But maybe your best move would be to keep your suggestion to yourself.”
He ignores my advice, as I knew he would. He simply says what he wants to say. “I think we should call Blumenthal right now, tell him where we are and what we’re doing.” There’s a touch of anger and fear in Troy’s voice.
He’s right, and he’s serious, and I’m not going to do it. “I don’t think so. Blumenthal and his pals are way up in the hills of Westchester County. They’ve got their lead. And we’ve got ours.”
“You’re wrong, Lucy. Very, very wrong,” Troy says. “This is no time for battling teams.”
“Yes, it is, if one of the teams is dead wrong and being stupid,” I say.
There is a short pause. Then Troy speaks again. “Maybe. We’ll see. You are one stubborn lady.”
Troy is now interrupted by the sickly sweet GPS voice from the cell phone: “You have reached your destination.”
THE BUILDING THAT HOUSES General Infant Health looks like a dreary suburban high school circa 1955. A low-slung two-story building, a rectangular box of fading yellow brick. I usually don’t notice fancy things or even a lack of fancy things, but I can’t help but notice that there is absolutely no landscaping—not a shrub, not a bush, no flowers, no trees. Large neon initials—GIH—hang over the front entrance door. Somehow I don’t associate neon signs with medical research.
A red-and-white metal signpost points us to the parking lot, only a few hundred yards from the Passaic River. In keeping with the bleak architecture of the building, the parking lot is muddy and unpaved, sparsely sprinkled with gravel. I do notice that most of the fifty or so cars parked in this lot are BMWs and Mercedes, high-end models of each type. Two red Ferraris, one gray Rolls-Royce.
Troy and I formulate a rough plan. We decide that I’ll go into the reception area and try to bluff my way back into the offices and labs. Meanwhile, Troy will walk around and survey the campus.
“Yeah, good idea,” he says. “No one’ll notice a 300-pound black man strolling around the grounds in the middle of the day.”
“You fight the war with the soldiers you’ve got,” I say as he parks the ambulance.
Troy looks at me skeptically. “I don’t quite think what you just said makes any sense.”
Then we move on to discussing our plan. He’ll start at the river, which even at a few hundred yards away is letting off a nauseating scent.
“Something tells me the river is not going to be sparkling clean for swimming,” Troy says.
“Yeah, well, if you change your mind and you do decide to dive in, watch out for human bodies and human waste,” I say.
“You always give your people really good advice, Lucy.”
We are now at a point when Troy needs to walk toward the slope leading down to the river and I need to walk straight ahead to the steps going up to the building entrance.
“Lucy, look, before we split—” Troy says.
“Troy, I’m nervous as hell. Don’t bug me. I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to tell me I should call Leon Blumenthal. And I’m not going to. And I’m telling you, Jesus, I am really nervous, and I’m not sure what to do about it.”
“Lucy, okay, okay. Just calm down. Just
to calm down,” he says.
I always hate it when people say things like
Oh really? I shouldn’t worry? Thanks. I hadn’t thought of that.
But when Troy tells me to calm down, well, for some reason I actually do calm down a little. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m still scared, but not as scared as I could be, maybe not even as scared as I should be.
TROY STARTS HIS WALK down toward the river, and I push through the big, and unwashed, glass doors of the main GIH entrance.
Okay, I’ve got it. They purposely designed this place to look like a piece of crap.
Stained, worn gray linoleum, and I know it’s real linoleum because the same stuff was on the floor of every kitchen in Walkers Pasture. Two sofas face each other, covered in a dirty beige-and-brown tweed, perfect for showing off spills and stains. Yep, these two couches have more stains on them than a menu at a greasy diner. Jesus. This dump is a pharma company. If this were the only place that manufactured aspirin, I’d just as soon keep my headache.
Behind a long metal table—not unlike the metal dining tables in the residents’ cafeteria at GUH that the NYPD used—sit two classic “big guys.” They wear identical white short-sleeved shirts with black clip-on ties.
“Yes, ma’am?” the larger of the two says to me. His attitude is neither pleasant nor rude, merely robotic.
Nervously, of course, I say, “Is this GIH Pharma and Research?”
He ignores my question. He looks at his colleague. They both smile as if they just heard a lame joke. Maybe they have.
After the very uncomfortable pause the second guy finally says, “How can we help you?”
“Like I asked your friend, is this GIH Pharma?”
The first guy speaks. “Are you here to see someone?”
“I’m here to see Mr. Eagleburg.” My mouth is so dry that I’m amazed I can even speak.
“Eagleburg?” the guy says. “Did you mean Eagleton?”
Oh, Mom. I wish you would’ve remembered the right name.
This could get me thrown out before I even begin. But there’s no going back now.
“Yes, I’m sorry. I’m exhausted from all the driving to get here. Yes, Mr. Eagleton.”
Another pause, and the second guy taps something into his laptop. After a few moments, he says, “They’re expecting you.”
I can’t help myself for spitting out, “They’re
“Ms. Ryuan?” the guy says.
Now my mind and heart are truly flooded with worry and confusion. I should have listened to Troy. I should have called Blumenthal. I should have stayed home today. I should have gone to law school. I should have …
The second guy comes out from behind the table. He gently takes me by the elbow. “Come along, Ms. Ryuan. General Infant Health extends to you a warm and hearty welcome. Keep calm.”
“I am calm,” I say, not at all convincingly.
To him. To myself.
“Good,” the guy says. “Now I’ll take you back.”
THE SECURITY ESCORT AND I stand at a metal door that leads out of the reception area. He punches a very long code into the electronic lock near the doorknob. Then urges me forward again by my elbow as he opens the door. It was hardly worth the time or trouble for him to touch my elbow. As soon as the door opens, we take two steps, and we are then standing in a room about the size of a small walk-in closet, no larger than four feet by four feet, with another door on the opposite wall.
My escort and I practically fill the entire space. There is a very creepy sense of intimacy. It is at once frightening. I could be killed here—he could molest me, abuse me, rape me. All of those things, some of those things.
Within a few seconds I realize there is a small window in the little room, too. A pretty young blond woman is looking at us. She smiles at the guard; he smiles at her. Then she nods and mouths the word
. The guard holds a small
plastic card up to a minuscule black dot on the new door. As expected, the door opens. A tall, dark-haired woman stands in a slightly larger room.
She speaks to the guard. “Thank you, Carl.”
“She’s all yours now, Nina,” the guard says.
Nina—I am stunned. I try to get a closer look at this woman. Of course this is not the Nina from the video or the cemetery or the surveillance photos.
I think for a nanosecond that perhaps the original Nina has been transformed by plastic surgery and hair coloring, or …
Oh, what the hell is wrong with you, Lucy?
The guard leaves, and New Nina opens another door behind her. There’s no electronic code or card needed to open it.
When the door opens, our little space is flooded with light, pouring in from the new room. We step into that room, which is big and so stunningly bright that my eyes require some blinking and rubbing in order to adjust. Within a few seconds I see that everything is painted a traditional office color—a soft pale blue. The ceilings have industrial white cork. The floors are black-and-gray spattered white tiles. Of course it looks just like a hospital. In fact, with a few minor adjustments of space and color it could be the maternity floor of GUH.
New Nina and I stand in front of a huge glass viewing window. Behind the window, at the far wall are two women and a man. Their backs are to us. The three of them are wearing blue hospital scrubs, and all three are bent over a PC that seems to be fascinating them. Of even more intense interest to me are the many other human beings in the room. The babies. Babies and babies and babies.
I estimate roughly fifty high-tech-type cribs. It looks as if each crib holds a baby.
Even more fascinating and frightening are the wires and tubes and electronic monitors that run in and out of all these cribs. These wires seem to feed into some wall monitors displaying charts and numbers and letters and graphs.
New Nina suddenly raps hard with her knuckles on the vast glass nursery window. One of the women—a doctor, nurse, biochemist?—turns toward New Nina and nods, a wisp of annoyance on her face. That annoyance immediately disappears when New Nina gestures in my direction. The woman says something to her colleagues. I think at first she is walking toward the door to meet me, but instead she stops at one of the cribs near the window. With her back to me she removes a syringe from her pocket. It looks like she’s about to thrust it into the infant’s stomach. Then she hesitates and seems to change her mind. She looks flustered, nervous.
The second woman turns and looks at her colleague. In a voice loud enough that I can hear it through the window, she says, “Oh, for Chrissake, Bobbie. I’ll get the sample myself,” and she marches sternly toward the first woman. This tough-acting woman grabs the syringe from Bobbie.
I look away from the scene, and New Nina seems to sense my discomfort. “You obviously find watching this very upsetting,” she says. “We have a room where you can wait for your host. You’ll be better off there.”
In what seems to be a standard GIH technique, she takes my elbow to lead me. Her grip is a bit stronger than the guard who brought me in.
“Not so tight,” I say.
“I apologize, but I want you to go quickly. For your own sake. It will only be a moment,” she says.
I turn a bit and look back through the nursery window. Now all three of the people in blue scrubs—the two women
and the man—are leaning over the crib. The first woman, Bobbie, who failed to take the sample, lifts the infant from the crib. She holds the infant while the other woman pierces the baby’s little belly with the syringe. I turn away again. When I look back, the woman with the loaded syringe is walking toward one of the doors, which she opens. In a moment the first woman places the screaming baby back into the crib and rushes to the door herself.
The two women are suddenly standing with me and my escort. Back inside, the man leaning over the crib seems to be poking around in it. A few seconds pass. Then the man looks up from the crib. He turns and faces the glass window.
I see his face. I pull my elbow away from my escort. I push quickly past the other two women and rush through the open door. I move toward the man. He smiles at me. I know him.
The man is Dr. Rudra Sarkar.