Authors: James Patterson,Richard Dilallo
Tags: #Mystery Thriller
TWO HOURS LATER, LEON Blumenthal, two NYPD assistant detectives, and myself are seated around a banged-up metal lunch table in the residents’ cafeteria. This room is no longer a cafeteria. The area has been clumsily transformed into a law enforcement investigation center at Gramatan University Hospital. Clusters of plastic forks and squeeze bottles of ketchup and cafeteria trays have been replaced by computers and wires and files and cameras and TV screens. Eager young residents have been replaced by eager young assistant detectives and NYPD officers.
Blumenthal is talking to NYPD personnel as they stream in and out. I am on my laptop giving updates and fielding questions from Troy and Tracy Anne and other midwife staffers. Katz walks nervously in and out of the conference area. We are all nervous, tired, and essentially ignoring one another. Then, into this insane police center, comes a very important visitor, Dr. Rudra Sarkar.
At this moment Rudi Sarkar is not his usual calm and dapper self. To put it bluntly, Sarkar looks like shit. He is exhausted, sweaty, red-eyed. He practically limps toward the table. His scrubs are splattered with blood. There is blood on his bare upper arms and the V-shaped exposed area of his chest. His disposable paper slippers are bloody.
We all reflexively stand when we see the doctor.
Sarkar says, “I am happy to tell you that Katra Kovac has come through this event very, very well.” He adds, “I think that perhaps the patient’s condition appeared much worse than it actually was.”
I think Sarkar is being modest. Or he’s being crazy. A C-section performed viciously, under unsanitary conditions, without anesthesia …
Come on, Rudi, it was a horror show, and this is a miracle.
For a moment I think I will say something, but somehow cheerleading and praise seem inappropriate at this moment.
I can hardly wait to get to the recovery room and see Katra Kovac. I know Katz wants to get his PR people churning out their brand of blather to the media. I can only imagine the gangs of reporters roaming outside the hospital.
But one thing I predict is this: Blumenthal must, of course, have his own agenda for continuing the investigation as quickly as possible.
The usually quiet detective spins around like an athlete and faces the group.
And I’m right.
“I … want … your … attention!” Blumenthal is just a decibel short of shouting. Suddenly he moves to his right and looks fiercely at Katz. “Get off the phone … now!”
Katz looks both startled and scared. I don’t think the
CEO is going to try to play the CEO card again. He quickly whispers into the phone, “I’ll call you right back.”
Blumenthal lowers his voice just a bit. But the energy and anger are still there. “Listen. This is a doublebarreled investigation. The challenges are … there’s no other word … overwhelming. Okay, our victim lives. Super thanks and congratulations to Dr. Sarkar. That’s number one. That’s great, but it also means that we’ve got a person or persons who need to be brought in for attempted murder, some fucker or fuckers who butchered a pregnant woman. I know everyone is as disgusted and angry as I am. But as you all know, part two of the case is this, and it’s just as bad: there’s another brand-new stolen baby out there. The same pervert who slit open the baby’s mother has that mother’s baby.
“And now I’ve got to tell you just one more thing, one more thing you may already have figured out, and many of you know. Because these are kidnappings, we’re dealing with a federal crime. That means the FBI is already crawling up our butts. A few members of their CARD team, the Child Abduction Response Deployment folks, have already been brought up to speed. They could be a help. They could be a hindrance. But whatever it turns out to be, it
a fact. They’ll join us here. And we’d be idiots not to welcome their help. So there’s no need to speak any further on that subject.
“This is my last thing. Then I’ll shut up. I want to give you what else we’re doing here in New York City. FYI, there are NYPD detectives and soon FBI agents at every hospital—
hospital—in every borough in New York. Lenox Hill. Beth Israel. Bellevue. This goes from Richmond Med Center on Staten Island to Montefiore in the Bronx, and everything in between. They’re assigned to walk-in clinics, to fancy-ass private cosmetic surgery places. Hell, the commissioner is so
into this, I think he’d stick police guards at every doctor’s office in New York City if he could. On and on. He’s with us every inch of the way. There’s no need to go into everything else, but we have all the police labs open. We’ve interviewed anyone who might have seen something. The entrance and exit security was extremely tight. So it could have been an inside job.”
He pauses for a few seconds. He looks at the ceiling, then quickly around the room. Now when he starts to speak, he sounds somber and sad.
“Look. We just don’t know enough. I’ll be here for the next twenty-four hours. At least.”
He pauses again. Then, “Go about your business. Except for you two …” Blumenthal is looking directly at me and Dr. Sarkar. “I need to talk to you two. Everyone else, thank you. And, Dr. Katz, if you need a cigarette, go outside and smoke.”
“LISTEN, YOU TWO. I don’t have a helluva lot of time,” says Leon Blumenthal, “so you’ll have to forgive me if I put my nice-guy personality on ice.”
Sarkar, who looks like he could collapse from exhaustion at any moment, nods.
I say, “Sure,” and I try to remember a time in my short relationship with Blumenthal when I ever witnessed that “nice guy personality.”
We sit, and Blumenthal leans in toward us from the other side of the cafeteria table.
This is the closest I’ve been to him physically. His hazel eyes are rimmed with red. He needs a shave, and his haircut looks like one of those ten-dollar jobs you get out in my neighborhood.
He’s also—and I’m surprised and embarrassed to be thinking this—cute as hell … in that grumpy dad-bod way.
Blumenthal looks directly at Dr. Sarkar and speaks. “Is
there anything, anything at all, anything you remember—any little thing that was slightly out of the usual during the surgical procedure on the victim, on Kovac?”
Without hesitation, Sarkar says, “No. Absolutely not. It was difficult. But I have dealt many times before with people who were assaulted—stabbings, domestic violence, slashings, vehicular accidents. This one was particularly brutal, and the fact that it was immediately postnatal didn’t make it easier. But I cannot supply you with any further information.”
I decide that my opinion is needed here. “I don’t think Dr. Sarkar can minimize the seriousness of working on a patient who was in her ninth month. The uterine wall … the … What else, Rudi?”
I don’t know why I spoke the name “Rudi,” but as soon as I say the word, Blumenthal’s eyes widen, for a split second. He looks back and forth once between Dr. Sarkar and myself, clearly trying to evaluate what the deal is—personal, professional, friendly, romantic—between the two of us.
Sarkar must sense it, too. The doctor brings the conversation right back to business. “With the exception of the uterine-wall damage, it is all very typical—muscle damage, arterial damage, blood loss.” Sarkar is starting to sound as if he is bored. It is clear to me that he just wants the interrogation to be over. All he wants is an icy martini and a nice long nap.
Blumenthal, however, is not yet finished. “Going back to the operation itself for a moment. Was there anyone’s behavior that you would call unusual? For example, did anyone excuse herself, or himself—in other words, did anyone leave the room?”
I decide once again to jump in. I guess
is the right expression. “Well, of course. People often leave the room, rescrub, and then come back. People have to use the bathroom
or they don’t feel good or they’re tired and need a short break—”
“Thanks for the clarification, Ms. Ryuan, and, yes, that’s what I mean by unusual. Now maybe you can allow Dr. Sarkar to answer.”
“My answer is no,” Sarkar says. “One of the nurses became fatigued. So she left, and a few minutes later a sub came in for her. A few minutes after that a sub came in for the gas man.”
Blumenthal looks up from his laptop. “The gas man?”
“The anesthesiologist,” I explain.
Blumenthal gives a minuscule smile, then says, “Is there anything else? Even the tiniest thing. Someone made a passing comment. Someone had something to say about the victim. Someone had something that, damn it, we could honestly call a clue.”
The devil in me surfaces for a second. This might be an opportunity to implicate Nurse Franklin, but that’s just my own petty irritation. And making up lies is not my biggest talent.
“Please think, Dr. Sarkar,” Blumenthal says.
Sarkar is starting to show some of his annoyance at the constant prodding.
So of course I speak. To no one in particular I say, “What about Helen Whall?”
“Helen Whall?” Sarkar asks.
“Yes, the plastic surgeon,” I say.
With a speck of anger in his voice, Sarkar says, “I
who Helen Whall is, Lucy. What about her?”
Blumenthal reads from his computer screen. “Helen Whall, respected surgeon, GUH staff member, enters 4:17. Says Sarkar and team guardedly optimistic. Adds—”
Rudi perks up considerably. He says, “I don’t recall Dr. Whall leaving the OR, and I certainly don’t recall asking her to update anybody on my patient’s condition.”
“Rudi,” I say, “Helen Whall implied that you asked her to let us know what was going on, that she was out there because you wanted her to tell us how Katra was doing.”
“Possibly you simply don’t remember doing this, Doctor?” asks Blumenthal. “You were under a great deal of stress.”
“No,” he says, and he is firm in his answer. “I would have remembered asking Dr. Whall to do that. She was standing by primarily for the wrap, the suturing. As it turns out, we didn’t need her. But I’m still glad I brought her in.”
“We’ll talk to Dr. Whall,” says Blumenthal. Then he adds, “And my guys are also doing follow-up investigations of everyone who was involved with the surgery.”
Sarkar barely nods, and then Blumenthal says, “So I guess that’s it for now.”
I can’t help it. I say very loudly, “That’s it? You’ve got to be kidding, Detective.”
“Lucy, please don’t start,” says Sarkar.
If I had a dollar for every time a man said to me,
“Lucy, please don’t start,”
I’d be the richest woman in New York.
But Blumenthal’s casual attitude is, in fact, making me crazy-angry, and I just can’t hold it inside me. I raise my voice. “A baby is missing, stolen, kidnapped, maybe murdered, Detective Blumenthal. A woman is practically murdered, left for dead. And you say, ‘that’s it for now.’”
“Thanks for your opinion, Ms. Ryuan,” Blumenthal says. “But I don’t think you’re precisely qualified to advise on a New York City crime.”
“Yeah, I think I am,” I say. “My uncle was a policeman, a
damned good policeman. He brought energy and courage to his work—”
Blumenthal interrupts. “Your uncle, was he with the NYPD?”
“No, my family is from West Virginia,” I say.
With a touch of mild sarcasm, Blumenthal says, “I see …
“Yeah, that’s right. West Virginia has more opioid problems than any place in America.” As I say the words, I realize that, even though it’s true, it has nothing to do with the case at hand, in this hospital, in this city.
Am I turning into a crazy lady?
I’m as tired as Sarkar looks. And Sarkar performed dangerous surgery. All I did was fail at doing the
jumble. I give myself some advice.
Shut up, Lucy,
Just shut up.
But it doesn’t matter. Blumenthal puts a definite end to the conversation. He simply nods and says, “Okay, we’ll stay in touch. And I’ve already texted two of my people to follow up immediately with Helen Whall.”
Sarkar rubs his face and then says, “Thank you, Detective.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” says Blumenthal.
Next thing you know these two will be going out dancing.
Blumenthal has one final good-bye line: “And really, I appreciate your help, both of you. Like I said, we’ll stay in touch. My cafeteria door is always open.”
The three of us laugh softly, then exchange another quiet round of thank-yous.
As we walk to the exit of the cafeteria-office, Sarkar asks, “Are you going home now?”
“Yeah. If I don’t go home, I may just fall asleep standing up right here.”
“Let me give you a ride to your house,” he says.
“No way. You live all the way on the Upper East Side, and
I’m out in Brooklyn,” I say. “Plus, you look like a guy who’s just completed a marathon.”
The fact is I just want to be alone, to get one of those end seats on the train, to listen to my music mix.
“I insist,” Sarkar says.
A series of “No, really,” followed by a series of “I insist, really,” eventually ends with Sarkar saying, “Okay, meet you in ten minutes in the doctors’ parking lot. Look for a handsome man driving a blue Lexus.”
“I’ll just look for a blue Lexus. That’ll be enough,” I say.
HERE’S THE THING ABOUT modern luxury cars: When you see the commercials, the cars look really stupid and cheesy. And the commercials themselves are really annoying. They all look like they could have been shown on television in 1970. But once you get inside one of those luxury cars—the big seats, the complicated control system, the absolute quiet—you wonder how you can ever get back inside your 2008 Hyundai again.
Sarkar’s Lexus has something called an ignition fob. To me it looks like a small remote control for a television, but as soon as he touches that fob, the big blue Lexus starts purring like … well, like a big blue Lexus is supposed to purr.
“The best way to get to my place is to take—” I start to say.
“Yes, I know,” he says with a smile.
“Sorry,” I say. “Not everybody knows how to get out of Manhattan and into Brooklyn. Or if they do know, they usually don’t know how to get to Crown Heights.”
“I only know Brooklyn because of two events,” he says. “The first event is the invention of the GPS system, so I rarely get lost. The second event is my divorce.”
“Uh, okay,” I say. “The GPS I get. On the other thing, the divorce, well, would you like to explain what you mean by ‘the second event is my divorce’?”
He laughs. “Of course. Obviously I was trying to be provocative,” he says. “Instead I ended up just being confusing. And possibly quite irritating.” Then he turns a bit more somber. He talks as if he is almost telling a story about someone else, not him.
“When my wife, Priya, and I first married it was, as they say, heaven on earth. She was younger than I, but, also as they say, she was wise beyond her years. Plus, she was so beautiful. A perfect shape, magnificent skin, a smile that …” He pauses, as if he is recalling the shape, the skin, and the smile. “And then, merely a few months into the marriage, while I was an ob-gyn intern at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, she became pregnant. Could there be better news for a couple who loved each other so much? We were joyful. A baby girl. We named her Devangi, a goddess.”
Sarkar slows down his driving, and he completely stops his story.
I feel that he wants me to ask the question that I ask: “So what happened?”
He pauses, then, “I returned one morning—three o’clock, after a difficult delivery. My wife and Devangi were missing, gone.”
“My God. Where to?” I ask.
“The police in New York were totally not interested in the case. I think they believed we were just peculiar foreigners.
So then I thought maybe Priya had gone back to her mother’s. I hired two different investigators in Northeast India. A waste of money. The most and the best that I have heard is that my wife and child have crossed the border into Nepal.” Sarkar spits the word out again: “Nepal! Nepal! Of all places. That bitch Priya might as well have gone to the moon. Or she might as well have taken the baby into hell itself. That is how impenetrable Nepal is.”
Sarkar is once again silent. I have noticed that he ignored some of the GPS suggestions, and I think we are driving somewhere in Brooklyn’s East Flatbush section, an area as impenetrable to me as Nepal is to Sarkar.
When Sarkar speaks again, he speaks quickly and honestly. “I traveled to India. I hired detectives. Nothing. My wife and my baby have left the face of the earth, at least they have disappeared from my part of it.”
I now speak as slowly as he has spoken fast. “I am truly sorry for your problem and your loss.”
“Thank you, Lucy. And I know you well enough that I suspect you mean what you say.”
Suspect? He suspects? He’s not certain? WTF?
I say nothing, and Dr. Sarkar moves on to the story’s wrap-up.
“So … when my wife and daughter vanished, I would wake up very early, and most usually I was waking up all alone. Most days I was, of course, going to the hospital, going to work. But on Sunday mornings I felt terribly lonely, and for some reason I would drive into Brooklyn. Brooklyn seemed to lift my spirits. I don’t know why. I’d buy a buttered bagel and black coffee and park near the Botanic Garden and relax. It worked like magic.”
He looks at me, and we both smile.
“Well, at least can we stop and get a few of those magical bagels?” I ask.
“I am certain the bakery has since closed.”
For some reason the fact that the bakery has closed makes me feel incredibly sad. We drive in silence for a few minutes.
What’s wrong with me? Why am I fighting back tears?
“That’s it. That’s the story. It’s not much, I know. A lonely guy wakes up, decides to hide out in Brooklyn, smokes cigarettes in a beautiful garden, drives around interesting places—Park Slope, Bed-Stuy, sometimes as far as the Atlantic Ocean itself, down at Brighton Beach. But the ride through Brooklyn usually calmed me down. Plus, I learned a lot. I was an eyewitness to the gentrification of Williamsburg. I watched weekly progress on the construction of Barclays Center. And I discovered a great deli in Mill Basin. And … I think I’ve talked enough.”
I only say, “Thank you for sharing.”
And Sarkar says, “I’m very glad I told you about my wandering Sundays, and I’m very glad you at least pretended to care.”
That certainly pisses me off. “I was not pretending!”