Authors: James Patterson,Richard Dilallo
Tags: #Mystery Thriller
I’VE GOT TO BE honest. Is there a sweeter sight than watching Willie lining up his putt as if he were on the eighteenth hole down in Augusta? Yes, there is. That’s the sight of my crazy messed-up brother trying to help Willie with his grip.
I’m sitting on a bench outside the enclosed “course.” There’s not much of a crowd here at the Hole in Fun: five annoying teenage boys who spend more time hitting one another with their dinky little clubs than they do hitting the ball. I see one mom and her two daughters playing. The mom yells a few times, “Oh, Tiffany, just kick the ball through the windmill door, for Chrissake. It’s almost time for lunch.”
I take out my phone and check my texts and emails. Tracy Anne tells me that Gina Esposito had a baby girl. The last line of the message is:
She’s going 2 name her Stephanie Tracy Anne Esposito.
I text back, Nice. Very nice. And I mean it.
Then there’s an update from Troy: charts and statistics, mother weights and baby weights and appointment times, test results and problem assessments. Then a question from Troy: “Katz’s office called. Wants to know when you’ll be back.” Another email from Troy: “Detective B called four x yesterday. Should I give him your number?”
I respond, only a bit confused, only a bit curious. “Yes, give Blumenthal phone number. Thought I’d already given it to him.”
I look up and see that my son and my brother are fueling up on Coca-Cola and Fritos at the refreshment stand. I know they’re going to want to play again and again. I decide to call my mother and tell her that everything is fine, so very fine. I call her. When she answers, I say, “They’re having a good time. They’re doing well. Best friends,” and then, to my complete surprise, I start to cry.
“What’s wrong, Lucy?” Her voice is understandably nervous.
“Nothing,” I say. “No, nothing really.” I pause. Then I say, “I just wish that … I just wish it could stay like this all the time. Cabot and Willie and you and Daddy. Cabot being calm and Willie being happy. Daddy being … well, alive. You being … you. Busy and bustling around. And … I don’t know. That’s sort of all I want.”
“That’s what all of us want, honey. We want so little. And it’s so hard to get even that.”
I hear the call-waiting hiccup. The caller ID reads
L BLUMEN NYPD.
Then I say the irritating words I hate saying or hearing: “Mom, I’ve got to take this call.”
When I switch over, I say, “Hello, Detective. Didn’t you tell me to take a vacation, stop delivering babies, stop butting into your case?”
“It doesn’t sound like me, but I might have suggested something like that.”
“Then why are you calling me, Detective?”
Then he says the magic words. “Because I need you here.”
Inevitably he answers, “Right this very minute.”
THERE’S QUITE A BIT of negotiating to do with my family in West Virginia before I can return to New York.
First hurdle: persuading Willie and Cabot to cancel another round of miniature golf so we can drive the hour-plus back to my parents’ house and then begin the trip back to New York. I’m successful getting them off the “course” only because I promise that the next time we visit Walkers Pasture they can play at least
rounds of golf.
Yes, I know this basic bribery is not the correct way to raise good children. But I don’t think it’s going to ruin Willie’s future.
Second hurdle: Mom suggests I can go back to New York whenever I want, but Willie should stay down in Walkers Pasture, West Virginia, with her and Daddy and Cabot for another day, as originally planned. I am utterly opposed. Adamantly opposed. So we have an impromptu family meeting
in the living room.
has always been a euphemism in our house for
. We make believe we are the kind of family that always has family meetings; we most certainly are not.
We take our places on the sectional sofa. Mom serves red Kool-Aid in plastic cups. Even Daddy seems attentive to the goings-on.
My first gambit falls flat on its face: “We were planning to leave tomorrow anyway, Willie.”
Willie says, “Yeah, I know, but now I can stay longer and then take the train back to New York. Grandma said so.”
So much for that, Lucy. Nice try.
“What about your friend Devan, Willie? He’ll be lost without you.”
“No way. He doesn’t care. Devan has plenty of bigger kids to hang with. He actually prefers all those big dudes. Devan will not be lost without me,” says Willie. I’m afraid Willie’s right about that.
“What about Sabryna’s new baby? Don’t you want to see her?” It dawns on me that I do not know Val’s baby’s name. When we filled out the million forms, we used the phrase “Baby Girl Gomez.”
Willie says, “Oh, c’mon, Mom. The baby?” He shrugs and looks up at his uncle.
Cabot looks at me and says, “Oh, c’mon, Mom. The baby?”
And speaking of moms, mine says, “Well, it seems to me that this meeting has hit a little bit of a snag. Come into the kitchen, Lucy honey. You can help me make some sandwiches for your road trip.”
Of course I know what she’s about to say. But of course I follow her into the kitchen.
“I know why you’re fretting, and I don’t blame you,” she
says. “You don’t want Willie spending so much time with Cabot.”
“Bingo!” I say.
“You know they won’t ever go three feet out of my eyesight,” she says.
“That’s good to know, because Balboa Littlefield’s car is parked only a hundred feet away.”
“Oh, don’t be such a Little Miss Worry Wart,” she says. “Tomorrow we’ll all drive to Pittsburgh and send Willie home.”
“You know I love Cab,” I say. “But I’m just afraid he’ll be a bad influence on Willie.”
“And you know I love Willie. And what I’m hoping is this: that Willie will be a
influence on Cabot.”
“Bingo!” I say. “You win.”
I TELEPHONE RUDI SARKAR—from his own car—as The Duke lounges along the full length of the back seat, eyeing me. Hands-free dialing. All the caller does is speak into the air and say, “Dr. Sarkar’s office.” I tell Sarkar that I’ll be back in Manhattan around nine, maybe earlier. I want him to know that his car will be ready and available for him. For some reason, I don’t tell him that Leon Blumenthal has virtually ordered me back to New York.
“How were things in Walker Pasture?” he asks. There’s a very significant playful smirk in his voice.
“How’d you know that I …?” I begin, and then I stop.
Of course. I should have thought of it: Rudi Sarkar’s got a tracking system on his car.
“By the way, it’s not Walker Pasture. It’s Walker
Pasture. It’s possessive case but without the apostrophe. I wouldn’t want you to get lost if you ever decide to visit.” As
if the proper spelling and pronunciation of my little town’s name makes any difference.
“Sorry about that,” he says. Then he sarcastically adds, “You know that English is for me a second language.”
This little verbal tennis match has gone far enough.
“Hey, listen, Rudi, I really do appreciate the loan of the car,” I say. And I mean it. I’ve never driven anything this fancy. “Again, I really appreciate it.”
“No problem, Lucy. In fact, it has been a pleasure.”
A few hours later, after a much needed dog-business break out in front of our building, I drop The Duke in our apartment with a bowl of Big Lucy’s tasty pork shoulder. Then I take the Manhattan Bridge into the city and park Dr. Sarkar’s fancy car in his personal parking space at the hospital. As I exit the elevator and arrive at the residents’ cafeteria, I immediately notice that a little redecorating has taken place. Much of the space has been divided up with portable partitions. They’re not exactly floor-to-ceiling, but they do afford a little bit of privacy for some members of the law enforcement group. The remainder of the new setup is basically a bunch of modular cubicles with a few folding card tables on the periphery. These flimsy tables seem to be for assistants and secretaries.
One of the NYPD detectives smiles at me and nods toward a cubicle that has four walls and an actual door. “That’s Detective Blumenthal’s office,” the detective says.
“Fancy digs,” I say.
“It’s good to be the king,” the detective says.
I smile, but I’m thinking,
How good can it be?
Shiny suits from Men’s Wearhouse, Trader Joe’s wraps for lunch, an office made out of rented partitions, and, most of all, kidnappings and an attempted murder case that seems to be nearly impossible to solve.
Blumenthal’s office door is wide open. It’s a relatively small space with a ridiculously large cluttered desk, a filing cabinet stuffed to overflowing with paper, and the world’s largest collection of used disposable coffee cups.
“I love what you’ve done with the place,” I say.
“It’s better than what we had before,” he says. Then without waiting a moment he says, “Look, you wanted to help out, and now we’ve got a really smart plan for you to help with.”
There goes my blood pressure. Simmering to boiling.
“Do you mean that this is a really
plan, as opposed to
plan?” I ask.
“That’s exactly what I mean.” A pause. “Now, may I go on?”
Leon Blumenthal is shameless. Yeah, he may look sort of handsome in that shiny suit, but nonetheless, he remains a shameless, sarcastic bully. And already I’m predicting that within three minutes we’ll be screaming at each other.
Some other woman would have stormed out of the crappy little office already. But that’s not me. I won’t give Blumenthal the satisfaction. Plus I really want to be a part of this.
“Yeah, go on,” I say, and I hope he doesn’t notice the smoke coming out of my ears.
“But first, here’s what went down before we came up with this. Myself and another detective went out to Queens to see your informant, Patrik Kovac.”
“Who was the detective you brought?”
“Bobby Cilia, he’s a good guy. You don’t know him.”
“Isn’t he the detective who followed up with Sarkar and Dr. Whall about who told who to leave the operating room?”
“Yeah, but how about for now I finish briefing you.”
I nod. I like the word
. It sounds so official. Blumenthal continues.
“Anyway, Patrik Kovac totally cold-shoulders us. Bobby
and I ask questions. Patrik just keeps saying, ‘You are confusing me perhaps with another man.’ I tell him what you told me. I tell him that I was the first-responding detective when his daughter was attacked and her baby stolen, and I can tell by the way Patrik looks away from us and the way he stutters and stammers all over the place, well, I can tell he’s either bullshitting us or just totally afraid to cooperate.”
I nod. I say nothing. Sure enough, Blumenthal starts to say what I’ve been thinking.
“It’s possible that …” he begins. He hesitates and begins again, “It’s possible that …” He is reluctant to admit that he did something wrong.
I just can’t help myself. I help him finish his sentence. “You mean that it’s just possible the Russian mob got to Patrik Kovac and scared the shit out of him before you got it together to reach out to him.”
Blumenthal snaps his index finger at me and nods. “Exactly,” he says. “But hold on, Sherlock. On the surface of it, it seems that our interview with Patrik Kovac didn’t come to anything.
Cilia and I did get something good, something we could use.”
Again, I can’t help but interrupt. “I bet I know. You got some helpful info from the woman at Immaculate Conception, the mother over there who had her baby stolen.”
“Son of a bitch, Lucy Ryuan, you are smarter than a person needs to be.”
I don’t tell Blumenthal that this is the exact phrase my mother often used when I was a precocious kid. Only when my mom said it, she would smile and say,
“You are smarter than a person needs to be, you annoying little pug-nose brat.”
Blumenthal is sounding like a coach at halftime. He’s enthused, intense, and angry, all at the same time.
“The mother of the kidnapped baby is named Hannah Neal. You can imagine what a mess she was. Eighteen years old. Heartbroken, just heartbroken. The tears, the screaming. It was grim. Sad. Really unbelievably sad.”
“Yes, I can imagine that,” I say.
“But we did get some good stuff from Ms. Neal. It turns out that she dealt with a guy who had a stupid name. At least the name was straight from Central Casting. Fyodor Orlov. Sorta like the names on
The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.
You know, the villains, Boris and Natasha.”
“Jesus, Detective. What year were you born?” I say. “Rocky and Bullwinkle?”
He ignores me and keeps going. “Anyway, Hannah is in the exact same situ as Katra. Hannah Neal is just eighteen. Pregnant. The baby’s father disappears. A friend tells her about Orlov. Just like with the Kovac girl. Orlov and Hannah meet … Oh, and by the way, the first time Hannah meets with Orlov, he’s with a woman, and before they even talk, the woman gives Hannah Neal a pregnancy test, the kind you do yourself.”
“The kind you do yourself?” I say. “I didn’t think the woman showed up with an ultrasound machine.”
I know that Blumenthal is telling me this to remind me that a pregnancy test would be the first thing I would’ve had to do if I’d shown up posing as a pregnant woman.
Blumenthal ignores my sarcasm and starts talking again. “At first we thought Hannah Neal had a pretty decent description of the man and woman. So we had her sit with a department sketch guy, but nothing came of it. The more changes she told the artist to make, the more Hannah said it didn’t look like the guy. Finally, we gave up on that.
“But here’s what we do have: not just Orlov’s name and
description … This is the best … Hannah Neal talked with Fyodor Orlov by cell phone. So now we have his cell phone number.”
“And that helps how exactly? Are you going to arrest him with a text message?”
Blumenthal once again ignores my witty line. He says, “Maybe you’re
as smart as a person needs to be.”
“Leave the insult humor to the professional comics, Detective.”
Blumenthal smiles slightly, then he picks up his cell, punches a button, and says, “Bobby, get over here. I’ve got Lucy Ryuan with me.”
Thirty seconds later a skinny young guy practically runs into Blumenthal’s office. He’s going to be someone else capable of making my blood boil. I can tell. This kid is just too damned enthusiastic for my taste. Cilia and Blumenthal together may just cause me to explode.
“Lucy, Bobby. Bobby, Lucy,” says Blumenthal. Then Blumenthal adds, “Brief Ms. Ryuan on what we want her to do.”
Okay. I’m ready to hear this.