Authors: Jane Haddam
Dear Old Dead
Open Road Integrated Media
A Hot Night in the Middle of May
HERE WAS A BANNER
over the masthead of the New York
that night, a banner in red letters that read,
YOU COULD BE NEW YORK’S LUCKIEST FATHER! WIN $100,000 FOR FATHER’S DAY.
Under the masthead, there was a picture of the president of the United States and the word
in thick black letters. Dr. Michael Pride didn’t know what the president of the United States had done to deserve the headline, but, he thought, coming down the stairs from the third floor at a run, leaning over to pick the paper off the floor and throw it in a garbage can, the president deserved it a hell of a lot less than the people he was now about to see. Dr. Michael Pride felt that way about a lot of the headlines the
stuck next to the president of the United States, but he wasn’t a political man and he wasn’t going to complain about it. It wouldn’t have done any good. The
was owned—as this clinic was to a large part financed—by good old Charlie van Straadt, the Citizen Kane of his time. Charlie van Straadt liked two-hundred-foot luxury yachts, one-hundred-room apartments in Trump Tower, and conspicuous charity. He also liked Republicans of the Neanderthal variety. This president was a Democrat and a disaster by definition. But Michael had more important things to think about.
There was a copy of the New York
on a molded-plastic folding chair in the corridor as Michael headed for the back of the building and the stairs that led down to the emergency-room door. The headline said,
and the picture underneath it was of Michael himself. It had been taken two days ago and showed Michael being led to a police car in handcuffs with a group of men who looked as if they could provide a pictorial definition of the word
Behind them, the neon storefront of the place they’d all been in when it was raided said,
HOT BUNS HOT BUNS HOT BUNS
Everything in New York takes place in capital letters, Michael thought, and then he was into it, at the bottom of the stairs, in the middle of the action. It was a Saturday night with a difference.
Actually, it wasn’t even Saturday night, not technically. It was six o’clock in the evening and still more than a little light. It had been an unseasonably hot day and the heat was lingering. Michael was reminded of the first long summer he had spent in the city. He had been an intern at Columbia Presbyterian. He had been able to afford neither the time nor the money for air-conditioned rooms. He had spent a lot of time sitting on fire escapes, letting the sweat trickle down his neck and dreaming about being a rich-and-famous specialist, with a big house in Connecticut and an apartment off Fifth Avenue and a portfolio full of real estate deals for the Internal Revenue Service to worry about.
He could have been a rich-and-famous specialist.
That was one of the things everyone agreed about, even papers like the New York
He could have been someplace else. But he wasn’t.
He was standing in the middle of the small emergency room of the Sojourner Truth Health Center, which he had founded, just off Lenox Avenue in Harlem. He was standing knee-deep in bleeding teenage boys and frazzled nuns. He was wondering how he was going to get through it all this time. Every once in a while, he caught one of the boys staring at him, proof positive that the pundits were all wrong. These kids could read just fine if they had something that interested them to read. Michael would stand back and the kid would look away, ashamed. Ashamed of what?
HOT BUNS HOT BUNS HOT BUNS
. Michael saw little Sister Margarita Rose going by with a tray of instruments and grabbed her by the wide end of her sleeve. Sister Margarita Rose came to an abrupt and panicked stop and only relaxed when she saw who had hold of her. She wasn’t going to last long, Michael thought. She’d only been here since the first of the year, and he wouldn’t give her another three full months.
“Oh,” she said, when she saw who was holding her. “Oh, Dr. Pride. Excuse me. I was on my way to get these sterilized.”
“Stop and talk to me for a minute,” Michael said. “What’s the situation? Has anybody got any news from out there?”
“News?” Sister Margarita Rose said.
“I’ve got news,” Sister Augustine said. Unlike Sister Margarita Rose, Sister Augustine was neither young nor delicate, and she didn’t wear a habit. Sister Augustine was somewhere in her fifties, five feet tall, a hundred and forty plus pounds, and fond of velour sweatsuits. She was wearing one now in bright purple, with a little black veil on the back of her head.
Michael let Sister Margarita Rose go. “Hello, Augie. I haven’t seen you all day.”
“I had four deliveries today,” Augie said. “Never mind about that. The Blood Brothers have the block between One Forty-fifth and One Forty-sixth streets on Lenox blocked off. The Cyclones staged a raid over there about five thirty. The casualties are just starting to come in. The Cyclones have assault rifles.”
“Two police officers dead over at Lenox Hill Hospital not more than five minutes ago. A two-year-old boy dead on arrival here about quarter to six. What do you mean, bad?”
“Right,” Michael said. He looked around the emergency room. People were tense and bustling, but they weren’t really busy, not yet. That would come when the sirens he could hear in the distance were no longer so distant.
“Okay,” Michael said. “We better assume a full disaster and set up to process to Triage. Can you get me six nurses down to OR in five minutes?”
“I’m going to need both Jenny Kaplan and Ben DeVere. Jenny’s supposed to be having the day off. You’ll have to find her.”
“I already have.”
“Find Ed Marchiano, too. I know he’s only a medical student, but we’ll just have to fudge a little. It’s that or watch people die on the floor. He’s supposed to be teaching a health class to the mother’s group at six thirty. You can find him there.”
“I’ll send Sister Margarita Rose.”
“Right,” Michael said. Then he looked around and shook his head. “Are we ready for this? Didn’t we promise ourselves the last time that we’d be more ready for this? What’s happened to New York?”
“Oh, New York.” Sister Augustine was dismissive. “This hasn’t been New York for years. This is Beirut. Are you all right, Michael?”
“Newspapers haven’t been bothering you?”
“I’m fine, Augie. I really am.”
“I don’t care if you get arrested, Michael, but if you keep this up, you could get AIDS. Or just plain killed.”
Michael was about to tell her that it didn’t make any sense to practice safe sex through a glory hole, just to see if she knew what that was, just to see if he could shock her—but he knew he couldn’t. He didn’t because the bell started to go off and the staff started to run in from everywhere at once, pulling back the double doors to let the stretchers in, standing back while one white-sheeted casualty followed the other in a confusion of sterilized cotton and stainless steel. Michael grabbed a box of disposable surgical gloves from the nearest shelf and started heading for the OR.
“Demerol,” he shouted back at Augie over the crowd. “I need Demerol for post-op.”
“Coming,” Augie shouted back.
Michael saw Sister Margarita Rose and thought it might be a lot less than three full months. The little nun looked paralyzed. She looked as if she wanted to be dead.
Michael himself felt fully alive for the first time all day—for the first time in weeks, really, in spite of that ill-fated excursion down to Times Square. He felt alive and clear and healthy and energetic and smart and beautiful and perfect. It was as if he had been taken completely out of the world and transformed and returned to it. It was as if he had reached that state desired above all others by every graduate of the Harvard Medical School: the state of being able to do no wrong.
He smashed through the double swinging doors to the back hall where the OR was and started to jog. He passed nuns and center volunteers and surgical nurses in OR green who stopped to stare at him. He knew what they were all thinking and he didn’t care.
He could see himself, a tall, cadaverously thin man with a face too lined for his forty-six years, beginning to lift up off the floor and swim with effortless grace through the air.
HARLES VAN STRAADT KNEW
, almost as soon as he sat down in Michael Pride’s office, that he had come down to the center at a bad time. That he had come down to the center at all he thought was perfectly understandable. Charles van Straadt was a very rich and a very powerful man, and a very old one. He had reached all three states on his own and by virtue of superior cunning. He had never given himself credit for superior intelligence. Charles van Straadt was no Michael Pride, and he knew it. He could never have graduated from high school at fifteen or MIT at eighteen. He could never have made it into the Harvard Medical School, never mind out with a
summa cum laude
and an internship at Columbia. What Charles understood was much more basic. Charles knew why the New York press was dying and what to do about it. He knew what people everywhere were willing to pay to hear. He understood populist politics, local television, working-class aesthetics, and the art of the headline. He understood these things so well that he was now the major newspaper player in sixteen cities across the world, from London to Melbourne, from New York to Milano, from Miami to Athens. He was seventy-eight years old and still in excellent health. He attributed his longevity to red meat and fried potatoes and owned a steak house in every city where he owned a newspaper. He made the covers of gossipy magazines in pictures that showed him smoking a big cigar and scowling into the camera. He was an eccentric of the first water and getting more eccentric all the time—but he understood that, too. It had been a long, hard life, but he had loved every minute of it. Lately, he had been expecting to find out he was immortal.
Now he sat in the big plastic-covered easy chair Michael kept just for his visits and looked around at the usual mess, at the papers strewn everywhere, at the charts tacked haphazardly to the wall and notes stuck to the side of the telephone with messages like
“call Augie @ cattle cultures”
written across them. Charles van Straadt had decided to provide major funding for the Sojourner Truth Health Center seven years ago, and in those seven years he had scrupulously kept his promise to Michael Pride not to interfere in operations, with one exception. Charles van Straadt paid for Michael Pride’s secretary, and paid well. He couldn’t stand the thought of the chaos to which Michael’s life was reduced when Michael was left to organize it alone.
Charles’s granddaughter Rosalie—his favorite one, the one he kept around him all the time—was standing on the other side of the office, looking out the windows onto the street. She wore a black turtleneck sweater and black slacks, like a Beatnik girl from the 1950s, and it was a measure of just how pretty she was that she looked good in them. Her dark hair was pulled up on her head in a knot. Her fingers were full of gold and silver rings.