Authors: Howard Shrier
Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective
“Who is he closest to?”
“In the department? Me, I suppose.”
“No other close friends?”
“We work very long hours here, Mr. Geller. Very long. To be frank, I don’t know what my residents or fellows do outside these walls. I couldn’t tell you which of them is married or has kids. If that’s a failing, I can live with it comfortably. Look, there is a roomful of patients waiting to see me.”
“Can you think of anywhere David might go if he were in trouble?”
“Home to Canada?”
“No. His passport is still here and no one at home has heard from him.”
“Then there’s nowhere else I can think of.”
“Last thing. He wasn’t allowed to moonlight or anything, right?”
“No, his visa doesn’t allow it. Which is too bad, of course. What we pay residents and fellows is practically criminal.”
“We found five thousand dollars in cash in his room. Any idea where that could have come from?”
For a moment, Stayner looked as sallow as one of his patients. He gulped as though he’d taken a large drink. “Five thousand? David?”
“Hidden in his closet. And we think he gave another five to the family of another man who is also missing.”
He crossed his arms and shifted his weight from foot to foot. “I have no idea,” he said. “I’m—I’m frankly stunned.”
“I can see that.”
He looked more than stunned. He looked afraid. “Where would David get that kind of money?” Stayner asked, more interested in the money than in the other missing man. If he wasn’t going to bring it up, neither was I. Yet.
“Did he ever say anything to you about poker?”
“Not that I recall. I didn’t know he played.”
“He did online. Could that account for the money?”
“That seems kind of fantastic to me but who knows? It might be as reasonable as any other explanation.”
Still ignoring any mention of the other man. “You’re chair of the ethics committee, aren’t you?”
“Bioethics, yes. What does that have to do with it?”
“Could David have done something unethical to get that money?”
“What are you suggesting?”
“One of your patients was just telling me how hard it is to get a kidney. Could David have taken money to move someone up the list?”
“First of all, he wouldn’t have a say in that. And he wouldn’t do anything unethical, it’s not in him.”
“Would I what?” he snapped. “Do something unethical?”
“No. Have a say in who gets on the list.”
“Of course not. No doctor does, and I resent the question. The New England Organ Bank handles all procurement and notifies patients based on strict criteria.”
“I’m not going to do your research for you. Look it up on your own time.” His demeanour had slipped a couple of notches, from cool and self-absorbed to snappy. “Now good luck, Mr. Geller. Please let me know if you find out anything.” He walked back behind his desk. Got behind his chair too.
“And you’ll do the same?” I laid a business card on his desktop. He moved it to one side with his fingertips. Then he phoned out to his receptionist and asked her to send in his next patient.
“One last thing,” I said. I took a folded flyer out of my jacket pocket and handed it to him. “Do I have your permission
to put this up by the elevator?”
He unfolded it and was saying, “Yes, yes,” when he actually looked at it. I watched his reaction as he saw Harinder Patel’s face and walked out thinking it was a good thing he didn’t play poker.
enn and I had a late lunch at the hotel coffee shop. I told her about my visit to Stayner and the question of whether David could have taken money to get someone onto, or higher up on, a donor waiting list.
“But Stayner says he couldn’t have,” she said.
“Right. Even he can’t, he says.”
“Are we going to take his word for it?”
“Not a chance.”
“You think he knew more than he was letting on.”
“Something about the money,” I said. “That’s when he flinched, and this is not a man who lets go easily.”
She agreed to stay behind at the hotel and work the phones, to try to get confirmation from the New England Organ Bank about its protocols and track down more people David Fine had spoken to in the days before he went missing. I drove back to Summit Avenue without getting lost and parked near the house he shared with Sheldon. There were a lot of other houses to canvass—too many for one night—so I walked to the plateau of the hill where a dozen or so people stood or sat in the park known as the Corey Hill Outlook. With the trees bare of foliage, there was a striking view of some of downtown’s taller buildings, lit up against the dark spring sky. Three
people sat on a curved stone bench, watching the first evening stars come out. A young boy stood on a large stone sundial laid into the grass, while his father explained how it would work if the sun was out.
I started with the people on the bench, showing them David’s picture, asking if they remembered seeing him in the area two weeks ago, or at any time. They held the photo closer to the lights that shined down from tall iron stands, but eventually shook their heads and said sorry. I went over to the sundial; standing next to it, I could see a small stone laid in the grass above the twelve like a grave marker, telling how to find the time in different seasons. The twelve had once been gold. Now the one was completely stripped down to grey and the two had only splotches of gilt left. The father told me he didn’t recognize David, either. “Who was that?” the boy asked as I walked away. “It doesn’t matter,” the father said.
A young couple holding hands, leaning into each other at the edge of the grass, thought David looked vaguely familiar but couldn’t place him at any specific time or place.
I tried a cyclist stretching his calves out against a tree, his bike lying on its side beside him. He took one look at the photo and scowled. “The rabbit,” he said.
“You recognize him?”
“Damn right I do.”
He was in his early twenties, tall and lean, dressed in Lycra pants and a long-sleeved shirt that was stained with sweat. Despite the low light of dusk I could see deep shadowed bruises under both eyes and a healing cut on the bridge of his nose.
“Why’d you call him a rabbit?” I asked.
“Because he ran like one.”
My heart started to race a little, the way it does when I know I’ve found something. “From what?”
He pointed to the bruises on his face. Pulled up his
sleeves to show angry scrapes on both elbows. “I ride this hill every day, unless it snows,” he said. “Up one side and down the other, then back again. I’m trying out for Boston College track next fall.”
“When did you see him?”
“Couple of weeks ago.”
“Could it have been a Thursday?”
“Probably was. That Wednesday it snowed, I think, and Friday a bunch of us went to New Hampshire for the weekend.”
“So what happened?”
“I’m coming up the hill, right? The steepest part back there. Killing my lungs, man. I can barely breathe. Then the road starts to straighten out and I reach back for a little extra, get the legs pumping. I hit the plateau and I pick up a little speed. I love to fly down the other side. You feel the wind in your face, drying the sweat—it’s nirvana, man. So here I come, picking up speed, and just as I’m getting ready to roll this asshole throws the door of his van open without looking.”
“Him?” I asked, pointing to David’s picture.
“No, another asshole. I slam into the door, I go ass over handlebars and do a face plant in the street.”
“Where was this man?”
“On the sidewalk. Him and another guy who came out the passenger side. The sliding door.”
“Wait. My guy here, David, he was walking along and these guys both opened their doors? Driver’s side and rear passenger.”
“Like they were waiting for him?”
“Could be. It didn’t strike me at the time. I was lying in the road, trying to figure out how bad I was hurt. There was blood gushing out of my nose and mouth and my arms were scraped to the bone.”
“The passenger, he kind of grabs your guy, whatever, they start arguing about something.”
“Well, voices raised. Some physical contact. The driver, he’s totally ignoring me, he’s going to help his buddy. I start yelling at the top of my lungs, calling him an asshole, hoping the people in the park will hear me. Your guy twists away somehow, gets free and takes off like a scared rabbit. My only witness. I fucking needed him if I wanted to press charges against the driver but he just split on me.”
“Down the path.”
“Summit Path.” He pointed to a sign that was partly hidden behind the branches of a tree.
“Where does that go?”
“All the way down to Beacon Street. Only he wasn’t walking, he was flying.”
“What about the guys in the van, what did they do?”
“Got back in and took off.”
“Did you get a licence plate on the van?”
“I wish. I mean, I tried but it was covered with mud.”
“What kind of van was it, do you remember?”
“Old. Kind of grey. American, not Japanese, like a Safari or something.”
“Did you call the police?”
“What for? They were gone, my witness was gone. And no one gives a shit about cyclists in this town. Especially the BPD.”
“Isn’t this Brookline?”
“Huh? Oh, I guess. I don’t live here, I just ride the hill.”
“Get a good look at either guy?”
“Not the passenger, except to say he was white. The
driver too. Tall, a little older than me, maybe thirty. Blond hair. Black leather jacket. That’s really all I took in at the time. I wanted to follow the van but what was I going to do if I caught it? Against two guys? I was fucked up enough already. I just got myself to the hospital, got my nose set. Got my arms cleaned up. Luckily my bike was okay. I don’t have the coin to get that fixed.”
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Freddy Macklin. Yours?”
“Jonah Geller. Listen, thanks, Freddy.”
“I think you might have saved David’s life.”
Summit Path might have been a path at one time but it was a staircase now, wide stone steps heading down with black wrought-iron railings on either side. I walked down the first flight to a gravel laneway and looked right and left. There didn’t seem to be anywhere there to run to or hide. Beyond them was the open space of the park opposite the lookout, not where a man on the run would want to be.
I kept going down another flight, which ran alongside an apartment building. Could he have run down into the parking lot, maybe to a doorway, hoping someone would buzz him in? I tried to put myself in his shoes. He’d been on his way home from work. Minding his own business. Two guys get out of a van, one of whom tries to grab him. Despite the fact that a cyclist is lying hurt in the street, he takes off. Why? Because he knows these guys are after him. He knows what they want. To abduct him or kill him. He gets free but he can’t be sure he’s not being followed. His heart is pounding, his feet flying. He’s not an athlete. He’s not used to this. No, I thought. He wouldn’t stop here. He could wind up trapped, pounding on doors, pushing buzzers, getting only silence in reply. I was sure he’d have kept going. I would have.
The third flight was narrower and ended at a street where cars rushed past going west. I swivelled around, taking in a 180-degree view, trying to see it as David would have. Beyond the street was one more shallow flight to Beacon Street. More options for him there. Maybe a cab, a cop car, pedestrians who might help out. And halfway across the boulevard a trolley stop where a green-and-white car sat as passengers got on at both the front and rear exits. Think, Jonah. What would you do? If there’s a cab, I flag it, whether I have the fare or not. I could always get the cabbie to drive past a bank machine. If there’s a cop car—big if—I throw myself at it, unless there are things I don’t want to tell the cops. If I’m David I know the area, probably better than the guys in the van do. I know how long it might take them to drive down from the top of Summit Avenue.
I probably know this trolley route too. Maybe I’ve taken it to work before, or to class when I was still in school. Maybe I run for it and jump on, blending in with the other passengers, hoping to attain some kind of invisibility. The rear doors had been tantalizingly close.
I ducked between cars and crossed to the trolley platform. It was seven-thirty. Roughly the same time he might have come two weeks ago. Nothing to lose by asking. I lined up behind other commuters and waited for the next car to come rolling along.
The driver was a man of about fifty, a solid gut resting on his thighs, rheumy blue eyes and a few busted veins in his nose.
I paid the two-dollar cash fare, took out one of my photos of David Fine and asked the driver if he had seen him board the car on a Thursday evening two weeks ago.
“You kiddin’ me?” he said. “You know how many people get on and off this route? I don’t even look at faces half the time. I’m checkin’ they’re payin’ their fare.”
“Just have a look at it, please.”
The driver sighed. “What time was this?”
“Probably would have been the car before this one.”
“Any way to find out who that was?”
“Yeah,” the driver said. “Stay on until we get to the end of the run at Cleveland Circle. If you’re lucky, you might catch him before he heads back east.”
I elbowed my way to the doorway so I could be first off, then sprinted to the bay where the eastbound car was boarding. I waited until everyone had paid their fare and found seats before approaching the driver, a black man with a touch of grey at his temples and in his goatee. I showed him David’s photo and asked if he remembered him boarding two Thursdays ago. “He would have boarded at Summit Path,” I said. “And he might have been out of breath like he’d been running.”
“A lot of people run to catch the train,” he said. “Else they have to wait for the next one.”
“He was wearing a skullcap.”
“Muslim or Hebrew?”