Authors: Howard Shrier
Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective
“Hebrew. Clipped to his hair.”
A light came into his eyes when I said that. “You know what? Two Thursdays ago—yeah, a young guy, not too big, maybe thirty? I remember him now and you know why? He came in the rear door, just as I was about to pull out. Huffing and puffing like you said. Which ain’t so unusual, I told you. So he gets on all out of breath, walks up to the front and pays his fare and—why I remember it—he gets off at the very next stop. See, we got a problem with fare jumpers on this line. It’s the only one you can get on at the rear and we’re supposed to keep an eye on them, make sure they pay. So I eyeballed him in the mirror when he got on back there, made sure he paid, which he did, but only rode one stop. This is an honest guy. He could have hung around the back door and just stepped off. Plus I wondered, why run like that to catch a train when you’re getting off one stop later.”
“You sure it was him?”
“Pretty sure. He had a briefcase too, I remember that now. Clutching it to his chest.”
“He say anything?”
“Nope. Just paid his two bucks, stood there till we got to Washington Street and got off.”
“You see which way he went?”
“Man, you want your money’s worth.”
“He’s been missing since that night. I’m trying to find out what happened to him.”
“Missing, huh? From here? No shit. I mean, I’m only surprised ’cause Brookline’s not a bad area, compared to some. Where I’m from, Mattapan? You could fill a whole lot of milk cartons with everyone goes missing from there.”
“You were gone a while,” Jenn said. “I was getting a little antsy.”
“You could have called me.”
“I did. Your phone was off.”
“You need to stay in touch.”
“Don’t worry so much. I have a mother for that.”
“Consider me her stand-in. So what happened? Find anyone who saw him?”
I filled her in on my talks with the cyclist and the trolley driver. When she had taken in all the details, she said, “So, someone really tried to grab David that night.”
“But he got away.”
“For the moment,” I said. “They could have tried again and succeeded.”
“Or he found a good hiding place and doesn’t want to come out.”
“Not even to call his parents? He’d know they’d be worried sick.”
“I know. I’ve got a couple of things on my end,” she said. “I called the New England Organ Bank and spoke to a woman named Wendy Carroll who confirms what Stayner told you. There’s no way a doctor can manipulate the waiting list for a transplant. When an organ becomes available, the bank evaluates the candidates on the list as far as their health, their readiness for surgery, the severity of their illness, etcetera, and they contact the hospital. It doesn’t work the other way around.”
“So David didn’t get that money for influence peddling.”
“No. Have you signed your donor card, by the way?”
“Good. Me too. ’Cause I’ll tell you, the numbers are scary. There’s over five thousand people in Massachusetts alone waiting for organs, mostly kidneys, and maybe one in five will get one. Cadavers are hard to come by.”
“Not in Mattapan, I hear.”
“Next,” she said. “Carol-Ann Meacham.”
“The one who called David all those times.”
“And vice versa. But when I asked her about it, she couldn’t get off the phone fast enough. And I don’t think it was just a matter of being busy. These are all busy people. I just mentioned David’s name and boom, she shut down. Said she couldn’t help me. Pretty much hung up on me.”
“You get the feeling they were dating?”
“I’d like to ask, if we can get some face time with her.”
“What does she do again?”
“According to the hospital website, she coordinates a gene study there.” She called up the web page on her laptop, then swivelled it so I could see the screen.
It was a year-old news release announcing that Sinai Hospital would be asking all patients seeking treatment to provide a blood sample for genetic testing, with the results to be used to build a massive genome database.
According to the release, the research team hoped to collect samples from a hundred thousand patients, even those seeking routine care, and follow them over time to see how their genetic makeup, lifestyle and environment affected their health.
At the bottom was a contact number for media relations. I called it, got voice mail and left a message saying I wanted to interview Carol-Ann Meacham about the gene study as soon as possible. Then Jenn and I went over other options for the next day.
“With luck,” I said, “Karl will get David’s computer open and we can find out more from his email and browser. I also want to talk to Gianelli again, tell him about the attempted grab.”
“The alleged grab, he’ll say.”
“The problem is all the different police forces at work here. The fact that Mr. Patel is missing too, that would normally stir some interest, but one’s in Brookline, the other’s in Somerville. Can you imagine Toronto working this way?”
“I’m just trying to imagine Toronto working,” she said.
erard van Vliet, of the Sinai Hospital media relations squad, called just after nine the next morning. I told him I was writing a feature on genome studies at leading American hospitals, which I hoped to sell to the
Globe and Mail
“Oh, yes,” he said brightly. “Well, I’m glad you picked Sinai Hospital. We are certainly at the forefront of this type of research. If you like, I can set up an interview with the lead researcher, Dr. Tim Sellers, who’s a cancer specialist here.”
“I thought I’d start with the coordinator,” I said. “Dr. Carol-Ann Meacham?”
“Ms. Meacham isn’t a physician,” he said. “She can’t really speak to the medical aims of the project. But she could give you an overview of the structure and process.”
“Great,” I said. “Once that’s done, I’ll be able to speak to Dr. Sellers from a more informed point of view.”
“Good plan. Where can she reach you? At the number I just called?”
“Let me call her office then. Our policy is that she’ll return your call within one business day.”
“The earlier the better,” I said.
“I know, I know. Deadlines. I used to be a reporter myself. Let me see what I can do.”
While we waited, I called Mike Gianelli and told him what I had found out the night before.
“This cyclist,” he said. “Why didn’t he call us?”
“Because the guys took off and he didn’t think it would be taken seriously.”
“Or he wasn’t sure what he saw. It’s tainted either way.”
“I’m just telling you what he told me. It looked like these guys were waiting for David and jumped out of their van as he was coming up the sidewalk.”
“Looked like. They could have been getting out for any number of reasons.”
“One of them grabbed David.”
“Maybe he just wanted his briefcase. And the cyclist, he didn’t get a licence plate?”
“Says it was covered with mud.”
“It’s more than you had before.”
“There’s something else,” I said. “Another missing person.”
“No. Somerville. But they’re connected.”
“David had a copy of a flyer about this man in his apartment. An Indian man who owns a grocery store. I went there and spoke to his son. The father went missing a week before David.”
“That’s not exactly—”
“David went there the day before he disappeared.”
“To the store?”
“Yes. And it wasn’t to shop because nothing they have is kosher.”
“I still don’t see—”
“You think you could talk to your counterpart in Somerville about this other man? See if they have any leads? I know he’ll tell you more than he would me.” I wished I could tell him about the money that linked the men so surely in my mind, but that’s where that had to stay for now.
He sighed. “All right. I know one of the detectives there pretty well. We were on the Boston beat together. I’ll see what he’s got. But don’t get your hopes up, Geller. Even if some connection pans out somehow, they’ve both been gone too long.”
“For there to be any good news.”
Carol-Ann Meacham was around thirty, dangerously thin with dull brown hair and a pinched mouth with turned-down corners that she stretched into a smile cold as tundra. A face we’d call
in Yiddish. It generally means plain, veering into ugly. She was easily that and, by the look of her, not a woman who approved of much.
Her office was in a warren of small offices in the north end of the hospital. Grey metal cabinets lined both walls, and cardboard boxes of files were piled on top of them. More loose files were piled on top of those. One match in that room would have sent up a fireball.
We settled into chairs opposite her desk. Jenn got out our digital camera and took a couple of test shots to see if there was enough light in the office to get away without using a flash. There wasn’t.
“My colleague will take some candids while we’re talking,” I said. “And then maybe we’ll pose a couple.”
“You said this is for the
Globe and Mail?
“I looked it up this morning to prep for this. You don’t have any bylines with them.”
“I’m freelance,” I said quickly. “I’m hoping this will get my foot in the door.”
“Let’s start with the research parameters,” I said.
. I am such a quick study. “Your goal is to collect a hundred thousand samples?”
“And how many would you say you have so far?”
“At the end of the first full year, we had a little over twelve thousand.”
“That seems low.”
“It’s bound to grow as it becomes better known.”
“Not everyone likes getting stuck with a needle.”
“Of course not. And there’s a consent form, of course, and not everyone is comfortable with that. There are literacy issues with a large segment of our population. But we are confident the compliance rate will improve over time. And a new initiative we launched last month extends the study to visitors as well.”
“Really? You think people coming to visit will give blood samples?”
“Not without compensation, of course. Anyone who volunteers gets their name entered in a draw with some great prizes. A trip for two to the Bahamas, a new car, golf clubs, Red Sox tickets. All donated by hospital supporters. In fact, it would be great if you’d mention some of their names in your article. You could even give a sample yourself. Your colleague could take a photo of that.”
She looked at Jenn and gave her a colicky smile. Jenn quickly flashed her and she flinched. She was off-balance. Time for a low block to shake up her legs.
I asked her, “Was a man named Harinder Patel one of your participants?”
Loved her reaction: eyes widening, tendons in her throat sticking out like harp strings.
“I—I can’t comment on any individuals,” she sputtered. “That’s confidential. And why would you—”
“Because he and David Fine are both missing.”
“Who are you? You’re not a reporter.” Then she looked at Jenn. “You. Are you the woman who called me yesterday?”
Jenn didn’t say a word. She just pointed the camera and flashed Carol-Ann again.
“Stop that! No more pictures. And no comment. Get out of my office, both of you.”
“You called David repeatedly before he disappeared,” I said. “And he called you. I’m going to go out on a limb and say you weren’t lovers.”
“Lovers! Are you mad? Get out, before I call security.”
“How about the Brookline police? Want to call them too?”
“What are you talking about?”
“They’re investigating David’s disappearance,” I said. “And they know about Mr. Patel too.”
“Know what? What is there to know?”
“Come on.” I said. “He was a patient here. His son told me so.”
“So what? We have hundreds of thousands of patients here.”
“How many go missing?”
“You really need to leave now.”
“No. You really need to tell us what you know about David.”
“Nothing! Okay? I don’t know anything about him. He just left one day.”
“We’re pretty sure he was abducted.”
Her face went as grey as the cabinets behind her. “What do you mean? Who would abduct David Fine?”
“Why don’t you tell me? That night, he told his roommate he was stopping at a lab on his way home. Around six. You might have been the last person he spoke to. Was he here?”
“You have no basis for this—this interrogation.”
“You think this is an interrogation? Wait until the cops bring you in.”
Her complexion, like the song, was a whiter shade of pale. “I don’t know what happened to him! I—I wish I did. But I swear, he never said a word to me, not a word, not about leaving or anything.”
“But he was here.”
“Just to look at sample results. Morbidity and mortality statistics.”
“Why all the phone calls between you two?” Jenn asked.
“They’re recorded in his phone, Carol-Ann.”
Her face grew tighter, as if strings were being pulled inside. “All right,” she said. “He did ask me out. I liked him and we talked a few times on the phone, okay?”
“Why didn’t you tell us that before?”
“Because it’s none of your business. But I can see that you’re not going to leave me alone until I tell you the truth, so I’m telling it. We were making plans to go out on a date and that’s all there is to it.”
“What did you decide?” I asked.
She hesitated before coming up with, “Dinner and a movie.”
“Near David’s apartment.”
“Which restaurant, Carol-Ann?”
“Sichuan Garden, okay? Right on the corner.”
“All right,” I said. “Thanks for clearing that up.” I turned to Jenn. “I think we have everything we need, don’t you?”
Being the devil she is, she set off the flash again, right in Carol-Ann Meacham’s lying face.
“Now we do,” Jenn said.