Authors: James Patterson,Richard Dilallo
Tags: #Mystery Thriller
THE GENERAL HOSPITAL AREA outside Greta Moss’s birthing room is strangely quiet and almost eerily vacant. Where are the NYPD officers, the GUH guards, the nurses, the photographers, the reporters who turned this area into a wacky circus minutes ago? Where’s that lady with the cameras? The rent-a-cops in cheap suits?
Rudi Sarkar and I step into the birthing room. The bed has been stripped; the floor is still damp from mopping. The bathroom is empty; it smells of disinfectant. Instinctively Sarkar and I walk quickly to the nurses’ station. I am curious, confused, but I am not yet anxious. Dr. Sarkar simply looks concerned.
“Has Greta Moss been moved?” I ask the male nurse at the desk.
“I don’t think so,” says the nurse. “Let me check.” He goes to his computer screen. He looks, he scrolls, he squints. It’s taking too long, so I immediately think that something evil is
going on. He continues to scroll. I’m about to scream. Then he finally speaks, “No. She’s still in birthing room 4.”
“Are you sure?” I ask. Yes, he’s sure.
Then Sarkar speaks. “Try looking for a patient named G. Leonard.”
The nurse scrolls the screen for a moment. “No one listed here with that name,” says the nurse.
“Let’s check the nursery,” I say.
Sarkar and I head toward the magical room at the opposite end of the corridor where the newborns are cared for and displayed.
When we arrive, one of the baby nurses—everyone in maternity knows Rudra Sarkar—immediately opens the security door to the nursery.
“Dr. Sarkar, welcome.”
“Is the Moss and Waldren baby in here?” he asks.
“No, but he should be here soon. We received an update only twenty minutes ago. Good delivery. Healthy baby. Scored a nine on the Apgar test.”
Nine is as close to the perfect score of ten as most babies achieve.
“We’re ready for the kid when he’s ready for us,” says the baby nurse. Then she adds, “I hear the mother is something of—”
“Never mind. Thank you,” Sarkar says. Then he turns to me directly and says, “Let’s go.”
We rush back out to the corridor. I shout to the desk nurse to call Security immediately. “And call that dumb-ass detective, too. His name is Blumenthal, Leon Blumenthal,” I say.
“If this is another missing baby, the Waldren kid …” Sarkar says, “I don’t even want to think about it.”
We begin opening and closing patients’ doors. Babies wail.
Weary-eyed dads and beaming grandparents walk the halls. A few bassinets are being wheeled. A few baskets of flowers are being delivered.
“Lucy!” I hear as we open yet another patient’s room door. The voice is loud, urgent, and familiar. Of course I recognize the voice. It’s Tracy Anne.
I turn toward the sound of the voice.
I thought that Tracy Anne would not be in until much later today, but here she is. She’s running toward Sarkar and myself.
“If you’re looking for the Moss baby, he’s not here,” Tracy Anne says. If she is aware of an emergency, she sure doesn’t show it. She’s as calm and perky as ever.
“Well, obviously we know that,” I say. “Where the hell is everybody? The mother? The baby?”
Please have a good answer. Please don’t let this be another problem.
This one would be an explosion heard
round the world
. A famous couple—a famous model, a football hero—a beautiful new baby …
Then Tracy Anne says, “The Waldren family has been moved to Darlow 12-L. They’re up there now. The whole gang of them, the big crazy entourage.”
“We should have guessed it. The fancy-ass Darlow floor,” I say. Then I ask Tracy Anne, “When did this all happen? Why doesn’t anyone know about it? Why don’t I know about it? Why doesn’t Dr. Sarkar at least know about it?”
Tracy Anne shrugs. She’s not being arrogant. It’s a shrug that seems to indicate that the entire change of rooms was way out of her control. Then she says, “They did it sort of privately. You know, discreetly. At least that’s what I was told.”
Sarkar closes his eyes. Then he speaks softly.
“Khuda ka shukr hai,”
he says. Then Dr. Sarkar opens his eyes.
I say, “What’s that mean?”
He translates for us: “Thank God.”
“Thank God is right,” I say, and I feel an enormous amount of anger well up inside me.
Time for another rant.
“This hospital is exploding. Nothing’s working. Babies are being kidnapped. A woman is viciously assaulted. Now this, a whole group of people change rooms and there’s not even a record of the change. This is insane.”
“I understand how you feel, Lucy. But the staff are not miracle workers. And we must trust Detective Blumenthal is doing his best,” says Sarkar.
Just before I turn and walk away from the doctor I say, “Yeah? Well, he’s going to be doing a lot better once he hears from me.”
And for the first time it strikes me: why is Rudi Sarkar such a supporter and defender of Leon Blumenthal?
I RUN DOWN THE back stairs to the second floor, the floor where the temporary NYPD/FBI headquarters has replaced the residents’ cafeteria. As I take the stairs two at a time, I consider what I might say to Blumenthal, my opening salvo. I quickly settle upon
“I am sick and tired of this bullshit.”
I stop at the entrance. I take in the whole chaotic room—lots of empty Starbucks cups, crappy-looking doughnuts (the cheap little minis with confectioner’s sugar), and of course lots of officers and agents on laptops. It looks like a lot is going on. But my mind says,
You sure as hell wouldn’t know it by the lack of progress on the case
“Detective Blumenthal,” I say loudly as I approach his table. He is, as always, tapping away at his laptop.
He looks up. I’m not sure, but I think he rolls his eyes. It’s the standard
Here she is again
offensive, his usual disinterested, condescending approach to me. Well, this time Blumenthal picked the wrong woman to condescend to.
Shouting, I say, “I am outraged.”
Yes, I know. That’s not what I’d planned on saying. It’s a far cry from
“I am sick and tired of this bullshit.”
But that is what came out of my mouth.
“Yes, I can see that you’re outraged,” Blumenthal says with a dry, sarcastic tone.
“When are we going to see some action from you and your people on this horrendous situation?” It seems like everyone else in the room has stopped to look at us. An uncomfortable silence allows our verbal exchange to really ring out.
“When? When? When? What do you think we’re working on? Don’t try to bully me, Ms. Ryuan.”
“I’m not the bullying type,” I say loudly but more controlled now.
For the first time he displays a bit of emotion. “Are you crazy?” Then he throws his head back and guffaws.
“Listen,” I say. “Since you and your team don’t seem to be taking any action, I’m doing something.”
This time I’m sure Blumenthal is really rolling his eyes. As curious as his group might be, they’re slowly getting back to work.
I reach into the pocket of my slacks and pull out three photographs—screenshots from the surveillance recordings Troy and I had been watching.
Blumenthal takes the pictures and does nothing more than glance at them. He then shuffles them and looks at them briefly again. Then he lays them out side by side on his desktop.
“Okay,” he says. “These seem to be an unidentifiable nurse with a fairly large butt walking down a hallway, most likely a hallway in this hospital.”
I’d like to slug him in the mouth. I want to say,
but instead I decide to seize the moment and
use it. I explain the intrigue of the pictures. “These screenshots were taken from a security video in this hospital on the day Katra Kovac was attacked and mutilated, the day she had her forced C-section. Plus—”
Blumenthal interrupts. “Plus,” he says, “the nurse is wearing very high high-heeled shoes, a very unusual choice of shoe for a nurse.”
“Go to the head of the class,” I say.
Then a tiny bit of a smile from Blumenthal: “I can’t believe anybody uses that expression anymore: ‘Go to the head of the class.’”
A pause. He gathers up the photos. “Where’d you get these?” he asks.
“I told you: from an internal security surveillance video.”
“How’d you get the video?” he asks.
“That’s for me to know and you to find out.”
“You are certainly an encyclopedia of antique sayings.” He tries to hand the three photos back to me.
“Don’t you want to keep them?” I ask.
“I’ve just seen them. Thank you very much,” he says.
“But these could be helpful,” I say.
“I don’t disagree. They
be helpful, very helpful. I’ll keep them in mind.”
Vesuvius explodes again. “Keep them in mind? You’re going to
keep them in mind
?” I shout. And I expect that my pale, lightly freckled Irish face is turning red.
“Look. Our team has studied these exact same recordings. Don’t you think part of our process was to view the footage from every security camera in the hospital? They took screenshots of appropriate moments in the tapes. So we’ve been there.”
“I believe you, but what I don’t believe is that any of
took notice of that woman in the nurse’s uniform wearing stiletto heels. Did they?”
“I really can’t share information about our progress or process with you,” he says, and he is clearly becoming impatient. But certainly no more impatient than myself.
I quickly grab the photos from Blumenthal’s hands. He goes back to his laptop.
Then I say what I’d planned to say when I first walked into the inquiry office: “I am so sick and tired of this bullshit.”
I’M OUT OF BLUMENTHAL’S makeshift office, quickly heading back to the Midwifery Division. In the giant complex of Gramatan University Hospital, this is where I feel safest and happiest. I don’t want to sound like my crazy cousin Margaret Mary, with her shaved head and 1960s love beads, but this is a happy place, a place of simple joy. This is where the midwives and the mothers and the babies all come together. I’m all for women who opt for the kind of hospital birth Dr. Sarkar provides, but I believe there is a difference between the two styles. In the world of the midwife, giving birth is a natural process, not a medical procedure.
I have no appointments listed this afternoon, sort of a minor miracle in itself. Because I have no patients, I’m just a little confused when Troy comes in—without knocking, of course—and tells me, “You’ve got one agitated young lady sitting in your examination room, Lucy. That’s all I’m gonna say.” He pauses, then starts talking again. “Well, I will say one
other thing. It’s someone you may remember from the not so distant past.”
Curious and, because of the current circumstances in the hospital, a little apprehensive, I walk into the examination room.
Valerina Gomez is seated on the examination table. She is dressed in a torn and dirty gray sweatshirt, cheap-looking jeans, and flip-flops.
Val looks about as awful as a pretty woman can look—or like a woman who just gave birth to twins, and lost one. Her hair is oily, unwashed. Her lovely face is marked with bruises and red blotches, patches of acne, and lots of smudged, caked-on makeup. She is shaking: her arms, her legs, her shoulders. As soon as she sees me enter, she bursts out crying.
I put my arms around her shoulders, and during the thirty or forty seconds that I am holding Val I cannot help but consider the dramatic differences between her and Greta Moss.
Each woman is beautiful, but Greta is tall and hyper-styled. Val is small and sexy and, well, hot. Val has been totally screwed by life—the worst of luck in where she grew up, in her finances, in her future. Greta? Well, her fairy tale is told all over the internet every day.
Finally Val is calm enough to speak. “Lucy, they took my baby!” she yells.
I think that yet another baby has been stolen. But I’m understandably being an alarmist. Val quickly clarifies.
“No. She wasn’t stolen, if that’s what you’re thinking. I was supposed to be discharged from the hospital with my baby last night. And that’s when they told me. A doctor or a midwife or a nurse or somebody told me that my baby girl and I are all set and ready to leave. Then a nurse comes in, and
she is all efficient and mean, and she says that the doctor or whoever is wrong. I cannot have my baby. ‘Yes,’ I say. And then they said, ‘No, that is not possible. You yourself can get out of here, but the baby must stay.’”
She brings her hands to the sides of her head. She stops talking, and she cries loudly. I have a good idea of what happened: Maternity Discharge looked at her records and saw that her blood contained a mixture of cocaine, as well as oxycodone and hydrocodone, both powerful opioids. The discharge desk or Nurse Franklin called Social Services, and they put a stop on allowing Val to leave with her daughter.
Val begins to compose herself. She starts talking again. Between sobs and shakes and coughs she explains some more. “They bring a nurse and a social worker and a cop, like I’m a criminal, to see me in the discharge office, and they say what the social worker already told me. I cannot have my baby. They will keep her like an orphan.”
I try to explain to Val that her little girl will not be kept “like an orphan.” Instead the infant will stay in the GUH neonatal nursery until the great jumble of the New York City Department of Social Services sorts things out. I tell her that she can visit the baby anytime she wants.
“But I want my baby now,” she cries. “She is my baby. I do not need the mayor to tell me when I can visit my own baby.”
I have a choice to make now. I make it: I let her have it right between the eyes. I don’t shout. But I am way more than stern. “Look. I tried to get you help. You compromised your pregnancy.”
Val is now sobbing uncontrollably. I’m trying to practice
something I’m not very good at. I’m good at
and I’m good at
. I’m just not good at them when they’re together.
“Why are you so mean to me?” she says. “Why is everybody in this city so mean to me?”
“Because you don’t listen. Do you love drugs more than your baby?”
That lights up her face with horror. “No. I love my baby. I want my baby,” she yells.
“I know you love her. I know you want her. But you have to show and prove that you love her. You do that by cleaning yourself up.”
But I can’t keep yelling at her. The situation is the usual crazy mess for users: heartbreaking and infuriating.
“Where are you living these days?” I ask.
“I think I can stay with my auntie Sofia,” she says. Then she explains that her mother, who I know is a prostitute and a user, won’t allow her back in her apartment.
“Where does your auntie live?”
“On St. Ann’s Avenue, 149th Street.”
Great. Possibly the worst area of the worst neighborhood in the South Bronx. And that’s a contest that’s got a lot of competition.
I tell her that right now we’re going to visit her baby in the nursery. “You’ll hold the baby for about ten or fifteen minutes. Then we’ve got to go someplace else. We need to go to a social service and addiction center in Washington Heights.”
She interrupts me. She speaks firmly. “No, I like the center on East 35th Street. Don’t boss me around, Lucy. I’m in charge of my life.”
I can’t take it anymore. “Listen, you are not in charge. We’re picking a place where they can help you and help you get your baby back.”
I walk out of the room to clear my mind. Under my breath, I say, “Jesus Christ! When will it ever end?”