Authors: James Patterson,Richard Dilallo
Tags: #Mystery Thriller
I GET A TWO-CAR police escort from the Brooklyn Children’s Museum to Gramatan University Hospital in midtown. I am beyond nervous: I am numb with fear.
Halfway over the Brooklyn Bridge the PD radio blasts the news: they’ve got Orlov in custody. We also learn that Valerina’s baby will be getting a total medical examination. They’re bringing the baby over to GUH. Very thorough, very top-level. Top-flight pediatricians. Blood pressure, cardiogram, blood tests. The works. I’m still numb, but
numb, almost like being stoned.
As soon as the car arrives at GUH, we jump out and rush like mad to one of the pediatric examination rooms. This is a big deal, real big. Along with three pediatricians, they’ve got a hematologist, two cardiologists, even a dermatologist, for God’s sake, for my sake, for Tyonna’s sake. Also in the examination room are a social worker, two NYPD officers, and—whaddya know—Leon Blumenthal.
“This baby made it through like a star,” one of the pediatricians tells me.
I’d still like to slap Blumenthal’s face, but I figure one of us has to speak first. And it looks like it’s going to be me.
“I’ve got to call Sabryna,” I say.
Blumenthal nods. It’s quite the conversation.
Then I tap Sabryna’s number on my cell phone. She’s somewhere between frantic and furious.
“Whaddya do with the baby, Lucy, take her on a boat to China?” she says. “Tyonna is my responsibility. Where is she?”
“I should have called. I’m sorry. Tyonna’s at the hospital, my hospital, GUH, with me. Everything’s fine,” I say.
“Well, why wouldn’t everything be fine?” asks Sabryna. “How come you brought her into the city?” she asks, the word
being every Brooklynite’s name for Manhattan.
“No special reason. I wanted to look in on a few things, and I thought Tyonna might want to see where she was born.”
Where’d that come from?
I’m just not good at the task of lying.
“I think you’re a crazy lady, Lucy. You better get her back here right now,” says Sabryna. “You hear me, crazy lady? Right now.” Oh, Sabryna’s angry, but I can tell that she may be calming down a bit. She’s most likely pleased that Tyonna is good.
“I’ll be back there in Crown Heights in less than an hour. I’m sorry. I lost track of time.” Then we say good-bye. Well, I say good-bye. Sabryna hangs up the phone.
I watch a nurse give the baby a sponge bath, put a clean diaper on her, and rub cream on the baby’s pudgy little legs. Then finally Blumenthal speaks.
“Lucky Lucy,” he says.
“What?” I say.
“Lucky Lucy. If you were a boat, that’s what we’d name the boat.” For good measure he repeats the name of the make-believe boat:
“Lucky?” I say angrily. “Two goddamn days in a row I’ve been mugged!”
“And two goddamn days in a row you beat the odds. You got away with a little scratch in Penn Station, and this second time around you still got only a scratch, and—thank you very much—we ended up getting one of the kidnappers.”
If I needed further proof that there is a world of difference between Lucy Ryuan and Leon Blumenthal, this is it. To me my experiences were near-death deals; to him they were
business as usual
I am about to call him a
stupid son of a bitch
when Assistant Detective Bobby Cilia walks into the room. Cilia looks back and forth between Blumenthal and me. Then he starts talking. “The driver’s a wash. Seems to know absolutely nothing, but we’ll see. We can’t get shit out of Orlov. I was with him a half hour in the car and he just kept his mouth shut and stared straight out into space.”
Blumenthal says, “I’ll be at the precinct in fifteen minutes. We’ll work on Orlov there.”
work on him
?” I ask.
“Yes,” says Blumenthal. “You think I’m talking waterboarding here? No, Lucy. Certainly not that extreme. But we need to find out everything he knows.” He pauses, then says, “Are you ever going to trust me?”
“I’d like my answer to be yes,” I say.
Then Blumenthal turns to look directly at me. “Okay, enough. Is there anything else you and I need to talk about?” Blumenthal doesn’t really wait for my answer. He simply answers his own question: “No. I don’t think so. The two
cops who handled the Queens accident from the get-go are talking to my people. And we’ve got Queens and Long Island covered for a sign of this Nina woman.”
A pediatrician approaches. She’s carrying Tyonna. The doctor looks first at Blumenthal, then at me. Blumenthal holds up both his hands in the
“The baby goes to Ms. Ryuan,” he says. Then he speaks directly to me, “Get her back to Sabryna as fast as you can. I’ll get someone to drive you. And take another day of R and R.”
I want to say,
“Don’t you dare tell me what to do, asshole. You’re not my boss,”
but instead I take the sweet-looking, sweet-smelling baby and brush her face gently.
Then I reach into my pocket and remove my cell phone, the phone that has the recording of Orlov and Nina. I’m now holding the baby against me with one arm and holding the phone in the hand of the other arm.
“Will you take the baby, Detective?” I say.
You’d think I’d asked Blumenthal to hold a grenade.
“Babies don’t like me. In fact, they hate me.”
I don’t even bother saying
“I’m not surprised.”
I’m sure Blumenthal knows that I’m thinking it.
I manage to press some buttons on my phone.
“What’s up, Lucy?” he says.
“What’s up is the recording I sent you just this second. When I’m out of here, give it a listen.”
“Give me a preview,” he says.
“No,” I say. “I’ve got a baby who needs a nap.” Then, as the baby and I head toward the door, I say, “Oh, and, by the way, when you listen to the recording, be sure to have a Russian language translator standing by.”
“YOU TAKE MY BABY out for a walk and where’d you walk her? Africa? Canada? Nicaragua?”
“Are all your guesses going to be countries that end with the letter
?” I say.
Understandably, Sabryna does not appreciate my humor.
Loudly she says, “Where you been, lady?”
Here we go. Sabryna is pissed. So much for my thinking that she calmed down. I can’t say that I blame her. I move to hand her the baby. Sabryna reaches out to me and quickly pulls Tyonna into her own arms.
“Come on, Lucy. Start your confession. You owe me a fine explanation.”
I am just no good at lying. When I tell someone a lie, he or she always knows I’m lying. My voice becomes sing-song. My eyes look everywhere except into the other person’s eyes.
“It’s like I told you. I got a call from the hospital. They were
backed up. I thought it wouldn’t do any harm to go there and take the baby with me.”
“Well, you thought stupid,” says Sabryna. “All’s you have to do is call me on your phone and tell me what’s happening. I worried so’s my head was bursting until I heard from you. And I’m not too sure that I’m believing your story even now.”
I knew this wasn’t going to work.
“Tyonna had a great time at the hospital. You know, with all the other babies.”
Sabryna tilts her head. Her forehead wrinkles with a quizzical expression. “What in hell’s wrong with you, Lucy? They’re stealing babies like they were candy bars in my store, and you go bringing Tyonna to a hospital, the place where they’re doing the stealing.”
Okay, my mother was right. Once you tell a lie you end up drowning in it. And, sweet Lord, I am twenty feet underwater.
“Okay, okay. I was wrong.”
No response from Sabryna. But I’m coming up for air.
“In any case, I’m sorry. But tell me. How did Willie and Devan do?” I ask.
“They did just fine. Willie is up in your place sleeping. Don’t worry. I checked up on him thirty minutes ago. He’s fine. Unlike some people,
a very reliable caregiver.”
Sabryna could not have said that last sentence any more emphatically.
“And where’s Devan?” I ask.
“He’s out with his friends, Warren and Kwame. They’re older boys. I wouldn’t let Willie go with them. Because I’m—”
I cut her off and say the line for her. “I know … because you’re a very reliable caregiver.”
She ignores that. No laughing. No smiling. No comment.
“When did this baby eat last?” Sabryna asks.
“I fed her just before I left GUH. Her belly’s full.”
“Yeah,” says Sabryna. “She fell asleep the second she was in my arms. She must be real tired … after her day with all that traveling.”
I’m not going for the bait. Then suddenly Sabryna speaks fairly loudly, a note of alarm in her voice. “Sweet Jesus! What’s this red mark on her poor little foot?”
I look. I know exactly what Sabryna has seen. It’s a minuscule dot where the GUH nurse took a drop of blood for testing.
“I don’t see anything,” I say.
I’ve got to get out of here. I cannot keep up this lying any longer. This is not my talent. I’m going to crack.
I suddenly remember that there’s a small bandage on the back of my neck from the bad fall I took at the playground sprinkler. I check with my hand to make sure my hair is covering it.
“Anyway,” I say, “I’m going to go upstairs, see how Willie’s doing. Then I need to get some sleep. I’m exhausted.”
“And I’ll put this little one down,” says Sabryna.
“Listen,” I say. “I’m sorry I caused you so much worry.”
“And I’m sorry that I went off at you,” she says.
“Thanks,” I say, and I give Sabryna and Tyonna each a gentle kiss.
“But just so you know,” Sabryna says, “I know there’s more to today’s story than what you’re telling me. I’ll get it out of you.”
“I’m sure you will.” And I really am sure she will.
I CLIMB THE STAIRS to my apartment, where The Duke barely opens his eyes to greet me. Of course the first thing I do is check on Willie.
All is well. He has fallen asleep with his Nintendo Switch console. I once told him that he should just have that damned thing surgically attached to his hand. He actually said that was a
I think he was joking.
I take a shower and wash my hair. I think about putting moisturizer on my face. I think about emptying the dishwasher. I think about … Who the hell am I kidding? I’m just too damned exhausted to do anything but go to bed.
I glance at the open sleeper sofa. All I’ve got to do is clear away a few piles of clothing, a half empty container of chicken lo mein, a laptop, one television remote control, one Roku control, and assorted snail mail. Instead of trying to find the energy to clear an actual space for myself on the
bed I fall onto a small pile of sweatshirts (clean sweatshirts, by the way).
And of course all of a sudden, precisely when I close my eyes, I feel wide-awake. And of course I can think of nothing but the kidnapping and mugging at the park. I see Orlov, his white-blond hair, his firm grip on Tyonna. I see Nina’s fashionably unfashionable shoes. I can almost feel the sprinkler water on my face. I see Tyonna’s happy little face. Then the knife, I see Orlov’s knife.
I’ve got to stop. I’ve got to sleep.
Instead I see the black Mercedes pulling away. I watch Blumenthal’s cold, unmoving face as he icily orders me around. I worry about Sabryna and our friendship. I haven’t had a friend as close as Sabryna since grammar school.
I consider popping an Ambien. I consider popping a Xanax. I consider pouring myself a small glass of special-occasion Chivas. Then a brainstorm, what the shrinks call
I realize what might really put me at peace: knowing what Orlov and Nina said to each other in that recorded conversation.
I grab my cell phone and call Leon Blumenthal.
“Lucy, what are you calling for?”
No hello. Just that.
“This is important,” I say. “Did you get that Russian conversation between Orlov and Nina translated?”
“Of course I did.”
“So what were they saying?”
There is a pause.
“What were they saying?” I repeat.
There is a shorter pause. Then Blumenthal speaks. His voice is quick and quiet. “I can’t tell you. It’s classified.”
“I can’t believe you said that. You’ve got to be kidding!”
“No, I’m not kidding.”
“Well, just give me a general idea of the conversation.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t,” he says.
“You’re not sorry,” I say. “You’re just an asshole.”
“Lucy, listen … this is official NYPD info. This—”
“‘Official NYPD info’ … Bullshit. And even if it is ‘official,’ it’s NYPD info that I supplied,” I shout.
I’m furious. I call him an asshole once more. I stammer a bit and say, “This was
My voice is so loud that I’ve woken Willie. He and his game console are standing at the bedroom door. I click off my phone and take Willie into my arms. We hug.
“I’m sorry, sweetie,” I say. “Mom was having an argument.”
“Yeah, I sorta thought so.”
“I’m sorry I woke you.”
“I’m not,” he says.
Then I walk him back to his room.
As I tuck Willie under the sheet, I get an idea, a very smart idea.
AFTER I FINALLY MANAGE some sleep, at 5 a.m. I text Sabryna.
Please keep an eye on Willie. I’ve got something really important I must do
Of course Sabryna’s already awake, down in the shop. She texts back.
No problem. Go solve your problems, lady.
At 7 a.m., I’m getting off the Q train. The air is warm, misty, yet strangely refreshing. I’m only a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean.
Even at this early hour a few hundred people are sitting or running on the boardwalk at Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. This area of Coney Island is called Little Odessa because Odessa is where many of the first immigrants hailed from—at least that’s what I was once told. Now the immigrants come from all parts of Russia. It is crowded and busy and very foreign, very, well, Russian.
I walk along the boardwalk. On my left is the beach, where later in the day the older heavy women will be wearing one-piece black bathing suits with little black skirts attached. Some of these old girls will even wear old-fashioned rubber bathing caps. The shapely younger women will be wearing barely-there bikinis. To my right are the shops and restaurants, most of them now shuttered.
No, I am not here to look for Nina, and I’m certainly not looking for anyone who might be her hidden accomplices. I am also not looking for men in cheap suits, men who might be members of the Russian mafia.
I am looking for a fish store, called Seafood King. When I find that fish store, I should also find Irina and Nik, the owners. Irina is a mother whose baby I helped deliver about two years ago. It was a tough birth, almost fifteen hours of labor. When it was time for Troy to relieve me, Irina and Nik pleaded with me to stay. Irina said I was her good luck charm. I agreed to stay. The result? A midwife almost as exhausted as the mother. And a terrific baby boy, Pavel, nine pounds, two ounces. Ouch.
According to Google Maps, Seafood King is near the water and not far from the New York Aquarium. I see the aquarium ahead. Seafood King should be just off the boardwalk on the right.
Irina is at the wooden display cases in front of the store. She shovels heaping loads of chopped ice on top of the flounder and bluefish and shrimp. I call to her, and she freezes in place. It’s how I imagine the saints reacted when the Blessed Virgin appeared to them. Her eyes are wide open. Her hands cover her mouth.
I rush toward her. “Yes, it’s me. It’s Lucy!” I shout.
she shouts back at me. It means “God have mercy.” Irina taught me this Russian saying when I was yelling
“One more big push”
during Pavel’s birth.
We hug each other. Nik joins us. Pavel joins us. We hug. We kiss. And of course there is an immediate offer of food. I hold Pavel.
“I’ll get us some good smoked belly salmon,” says Nik.
“No,” I say. “It’s too early for me to eat a thing. Some of that nice strong tea you used to bring in the thermos. Do you have any of that?”
“We always have that ready,” says Nik. “And I will bring some smoked salmon and black bread in case you change your mind.”
When he returns with the tea and salmon, we talk. We all agree that, one, Pavel is handsome and strong, two, Pavel looks exactly like Irina’s grandmother (whose photograph Irina wears in a locket on a chain around her neck), and, three, I must have come all the way to Brighton Beach for a specific reason.
“Yes,” I say. “There is a reason. I have a favor to ask of you.”
“Of course, anything,” Nik says. “I will move the sun and the stars for you.”
“Well,” I say, “it won’t be quite that challenging.”
“Let her talk, Nik. Let her talk,” says Irina.
“It’s a small favor, but it’s important to me,” I say.
“Like Nik says, anything, anything,” says Irina.
I take my cell phone from my bag. I explain that they will be hearing a brief conversation on my phone. It’s spoken in Russian.
“What I need is for you to translate it for me,” I say.
“For a translation you needed to come all the way out to Brighton Beach?” Nik asks.
“As a matter of fact, I did. First, you are the only Russian speakers I know, and, second, I want it done, shall we say, discreetly.”
“We are Russians. We know how to be, like you say, discreet,” says Irina.
I’m not quite sure what she means, and for a split second I worry that she could somehow be caught in the web of Orlov and Nina and … Ridiculous! I’m here. Nik and Irina are the best people in the world.
“Ready to listen?” I ask.
When they nod yes, I press the button, and in a few moments we are all listening to the angry conversation between Nina and Orlov.
“Play it again,” says Nik. And I play it again. And again. And again.
“You know,” says Irina, “they are not speaking Russian.”
My heart drops. I never thought of that possibility.
“What is it? Polish? Hungarian?” I ask.
“No,” says Irina. “It is Ukrainian. But not to worry. They are very similar languages.”
“Don’t scare me like that,” I say. They listen to the conversation one more time.
Irina explains: “The woman is saying, ‘This is stupid and crazy. If we get caught we will be dead, finished.’ Then the man says, ‘I am in charge here. You will do as I say.’ Then there is a moaning sound. I do not think it is the moaning of the woman.”
“No, it’s not,” I tell her. It is at this point that Orlov or Nina must have pushed me to the ground.
Irina continues: “The woman is saying now ‘I cannot be a part of this. The baby belongs to this woman.’”
Nik says, “Then the man says for her to ‘shut the hell up so
we can get this baby and get out of here. Our customers need a baby right away. Now!’”
There is background noise. Children shouting. I think I hear the two kidnappers walking off. But who can tell in all the chaos, with all the people.
But what does it all mean? Not much, I think. We already know Orlov is the boss. I always suspected Nina has some maternal sympathy for the mothers she’s stealing from. And finally, the only interesting thing to emerge from this translation is this, the use of the word
customers. “Our customers need a baby right away. Now!”