Authors: James Patterson,Richard Dilallo
Tags: #Mystery Thriller
A FEW MINUTES LATER—maybe five minutes—I step out of the bathroom and into the patient room.
The room is totally empty. No Troy. No Tracy Anne. Most upsetting, no Val.
I rush into the corridor. It’s crazier than usual. Along with the rolling gurneys and rolling wheelchairs, along with the patients walking with dangling IV packs, along with doctors and nurses and flower deliveries and meal deliveries, there are uniformed and plainclothes police officers, and right in front of me is the head of ob-gyn, Dr. Rudra Sarkar.
but I have never called him by that name. I have never seen Dr. Sarkar flustered or angry. Today is no exception.
Sarkar smiles at me and says, “I hope you don’t mind that I looked in on your birthing procedure today, Ms. Ryuan.”
Along with his good looks, his accent is seductive—slightly British with the tiniest Indian inflection. But I put myself on hold. I’m one of those women who is highly suspicious when
a guy is extremely handsome. No foolish schoolgirl am I when it comes to men, but there is something fairly enticing about Rudi.
Before I can respond, he says, “I have not seen that old-fashioned water breech procedure since I was in Doctors Without Borders in Kolkata.”
. Cool. Cool until I realize his warm observation may actually be veiled criticism.
“Well, it seemed worth a try,” I say.
“And it was surely a try worth taking. Sometimes the oldest methods are the best, when used properly. That’s what you did.”
Now I am feeling a little like a schoolgirl. “Thank you. It seems to have worked.”
“Yes, indeed. You are living proof that in a decade or two all obstetricians will be replaced by midwives. And perhaps that is the way it should evolve.”
That flattery had the annoying scent of bullshit to it. The schoolgirl in me is now vanishing fast. In fact, it is not only vanishing but being quickly replaced by the chief midwife, who hates any sort of main hospital interference.
“Can I ask you something, Dr. Sarkar?” Big smile from Sarkar, big nod also. I continue: “Why would a hospital staff member like you, the chairman of the department, even
look in on
a midwife birthing?”
“Well, I was passing by, and I thought—”
“And you thought you’d take a look and report back to our CEO, Barrett Katz, about how things were going in the crazy midwife world,” I say.
“Not at all. Paranoia aside, Ms. Ryuan, I simply—”
How many times do I have to interrupt before he stops smiling?
“Look, it’s no secret that our CEO has nothing but utter
disrespect for the midwife practice, and I know that I am a midwife who particularly sets him off. He’s used to having people kiss his ass—”
“Now I must interrupt you, ma’am. Perhaps some people court him. I am not one of them. My lack of, as you say, ass kissing has not hurt me.”
I tell him that I’d really like to continue this discussion, but I need to locate the patient, Valerina Gomez, whose twins’ births he just praised. I add that with the current missing baby crisis, nothing unusual can pass unnoticed.
“A wise objective on your part. However, I can put your mind at ease. I thought your patient would be better off in the Addiction Recovery Center. I suggested that to your man, Troy.”
“Let’s start with this. Troy is not
. He is a trusted and professional midwife. Further, you should not even have made that suggestion. It was not a wrong decision. But it was none of your business. It should have been my decision.”
The guy smiles at me. Yes, I could spit.
“Enough,” I say. “Now that you’ve put my mind at ease about Val, I’ve got to get over to Neonatal ICU and see how the second twin is doing.”
Sarkar takes a small step and moves to his side. He stands very close and directly opposite me. “There’s no need for you to go to the ICU,” he says.
“What have you done? Transferred Gomez Baby Number Two to another unit, the way you did with her mother?” I am all-out angry.
Then he hits me with it.
“Please, Ms. Ryuan. Listen to me. Your visit is unnecessary
for the saddest of reasons. Gomez Baby Number Two died within minutes of being taken to Neonatal.”
“No!” I yell, and it takes a few seconds to realize that Rudi Sarkar is holding both my hands in his. Then I do what I can’t help but do. I begin to cry.
I look away from the doctor. He speaks.
“Do not be ashamed to cry, Lucy. It’s a sign that you are a very good midwife.”
YOU KNOW HOW WHEN you’re tired and the tiredness is so tremendous, so achy, that all your mind’s eye can see is … a bed? A big bed, a soft bed, any freaking bed in the world? That’s the tiredness I’m feeling when I walk into my apartment at six o’clock.
The sight of Willie, and a big hug from Willie, revives me for a few seconds. Well, it doesn’t quite
me; it just really, really comforts me. But it also reminds me that I’ve got to fix some supper for the boy.
Yeah, I could send him downstairs to Sabryna’s for a meal. But how many variations on Jamaican goat stew can a kid handle? He loves Sabryna, but her cooking is sometimes another matter.
“What’s for dinner, Mom?” he asks. I do notice that his question sounds a little too formal, a little too staged. He’s been practicing that question, and he’s up to something.
“Oh, the usual,” I say. “Lobster, roast beef, and Baked Alaska.”
“You know, you’re not too far from the truth,” he says, with a smile that could light most of Brooklyn. He walks a few steps to the cluttered yellow Formica table, the one that had been in my mother’s kitchenette when I was a kid. He sweeps away two paper napkins and reveals two dinner plates, each with a scoop of tuna-mayonnaise salad, a wedge of iceberg lettuce covered in a bright pink sauce—Russian dressing … or did he injure himself cutting the lettuce?—and neatly buttered slices of toast with the crusts removed.
“You are an amazing
Willie. Just amazing,” I say.
“No, Mom. A
is an assistant. I’m the guy in charge of the cold food course. I’m the
chef garde manger
When you’ve got a nine-year-old who knows what a
chef garde manger
is, you’ve got a perfect kid or a future Emeril Lagasse … or both.
Everything about this little supper is perfect. It even erases my incredible tiredness. At least for a minute. But when the first forkful of tuna feels heavy in my hand, and when the first gulp of apple juice nauseates me, I hallucinate about the bed once more.
“Häagen-Dazs chocolate for dessert, Mom,” he says.
I smile, too exhausted to talk.
And then, the phone.
“Lemme get it,” Willie says.
“Only if you know how to deliver babies,” I say weakly.
“I’m a quick learner,” he says. He hands me my cell phone.
“Lucy, it’s Troy,” comes Troy’s voice.
“What’s up, buddy?” I ask. “I’m tired top to bottom. I’m about to pass out.”
“I just wanted you to know … Well, it can wait.”
“Don’t mess with me, Troy. Why’d you call?”
Then he spits it out: “Another baby’s gone missing.”
I don’t scream. I don’t speak. I don’t move. Instead, I cry. That’s it. I just start to cry.
Why? Why the hell? What’s happening?
I should go in. I will go in. I’ll call an Uber. I’ll expense it. But I’m still crying.
“Lucy, you okay?” Troy says.
“No, I’m not okay,” I say quietly. “But I will come in.”
I glance over at the folded-out foldout couch. Then I look down at the crazy pink river of Russian dressing. Then I look at Willie, who’s staring intently at me.
“Mom, you gotta choose the right thing,” he says.
Like I said, he might just be perfect.
“You’re right,” I say. I stand up from the table.
Then I walk to the foldout and almost fall onto it.
Willie smiles. “Good choice, Mom.”
I’M BACK AT GRAMATAN University Hospital the next morning. Early. The chaos and crowds on the sidewalks and entrance roads are overwhelming. It looks as if every newsperson in New York City has shown up to cover the scene. Yep, I guess my boss, Dr. Barrett Katz, could not keep news of the second missing baby under wraps.
“Are you on staff here at the hospital?” asks a preppy-looking guy outside the employees’ entrance to GUH. I assume he’s a reporter.
“Sure am,” I say.
Then, as I begin to walk away, he calls out loud and nasty, “Just hold it, lady. I need ID.”
I hand the preppy-looking guy my ID. He studies it.
“Your department?” he asks.
“I work in the cafeteria. I make the baloney sandwiches for lunch. One-third of them with mayo, one-third with mustard, one-third plain.”
A few other Gramatan employees are backed up behind me.
“Your attitude isn’t helping the situation, ma’am,” the guy says. And you know what? He’s right. I’m acting exactly like the kind of asshole I’d hate to be talking to.
“Sorry, man. I’m just cranky.” A pause. “I’m with the Midwifery Division.”
It’s a good thing I changed my tune. As I slip my ID back inside my wallet, I notice that two NYPD officers are standing on either side of me. They’ve been taking in my whole act.
“Sorry,” I say.
Then I see the all-too-familiar sight of Dr. Katz and Dr. Sarkar. They’re precisely where I saw them yesterday, doing their usual job: stopping hospital staff and giving them instructions.
“Ms. Ryuan, I’ll be perfectly happy if you give out absolutely no information to the media,” says the very harassed Dr. Katz.
“Your happiness is always my goal, Doctor,” I say. I see that a small smile has invaded Sarkar’s lips. Katz ignores the sarcasm. He’s become very good at ignoring me.
“I noticed that you couldn’t even check in without making a scene, Ms. Ryuan. The time has come for you to learn a little respect,” Katz says.
“And I guess you’ll be the one to teach me respect?” I say.
Katz storms off.
I’m sure this is doing wonders for my career. The hell with it. If he ever touches me, I’ll have ten lawyers, all women.
Now Dr. Sarkar decides to speak. But of course before he talks, he, too, does the traditional eye roll. “Lucy, Dr. Katz is under a lot of pressure. Be nice.”
“To whom? To him? Obviously his solution to this
horrendous, heartbreaking, terrible problem is to hire a lot more security people and warn us not to talk to the media. The media—for God’s sake—can be helpful. People go online. People watch TV. The people—those folks out there—might have information to help us.”
“Of course you’re right. I understand. I agree. There’s going to be a directors’ meeting in a half hour. I’m sure some of the directors will get Dr. Katz to cool down a bit. He’s been awake for twenty-four hours.”
I shake my head gently, and once again I try to find the kind-and-helpful me inside the rude-and-impatient me. “Okay, okay. What can I do to help?” I ask.
“Do what you usually do—just do a great job.”
“Dr. Sarkar, I—”
“Rudi,” he says.
Okay, he calls me Lucy. I should call him Rudi.
“Look. I get it. I really do get it. Katz is thinking about the hospital, its reputation, the bad PR. But you know what I’m thinking about?”
“Yes, I do. You’re thinking about the missing babies,” he says.
Bingo. Sarkar apparently has a good brain on top of that handsome face of his.
“That’s it. Rudi, there are two stolen babies out there—alone, starting life with who knows what kind of maniacs. There are two mothers right here, in this hospital, crying, aching, ready to die for their babies, ready to do anything to get them back.”
Sarkar nods. He’s grim. Then he says, “There’s a police and detective setup down in the residents’ cafeteria. It’s pretty impressive—computers, a lead detective, a few assistant detectives, a big group. NYPD is taking this very seriously.”
“Great, so am I,” I say. “In fact, I think I’ll pay a visit later to this in-house police unit.”
“They don’t know what they’re in for,” Sarkar says with a smile.
I begin to walk away and he calls after me, “Lucy. Speaking of paying a visit, is it okay if I pop by your office later? I have a little favor to ask.”
“Pop away, Rudi. I’m around all day,” I say. “Unless Dr. Katz fires me before then.”
“I hope not, Lucy,” he says. “We need you around here.”
MOST PEOPLE HAVE A good idea of what midwives do. We help deliver babies. But that is only a very small part of the story. Sure, maybe it’s the most dramatic part, maybe even the most important part, but about 20 percent of our time is spent helping bring babies into the world. And we don’t spend the rest of the time waiting around for our moms to go into labor.
So what else do we do? We help women in many other ways, at every stage of their lives. Lots of women find us for prenatal care, but others come for urinary-tract infections, Pap smears, breast exams, IUD fittings—any traditional gynecological procedures. Some pregnant women come to discuss drug abuse, alcohol abuse, physical abuse. In our hospital, we get plenty of those. It’s challenging, but in a weird way it’s rewarding. A lot of women, especially the young ones and the ones with addiction problems, are scared about taking their
baby home. So we talk, and we’re never in a hurry. I’ll listen to them until they’re talked out.
I’ve dealt with abused women, and I’ve dealt with couples who come to every appointment together. I’ve helped poor women find the right social services, and I’ve worked with two famous actresses, two famous authors, and a circus performer who makes her living as a bareback rider. (In her sixth month of pregnancy, she switched to being a clown.)
Today I’ve got a classy Upper East Side gal, as if where you’re from makes anything different in giving birth. This woman, one of my overeducated pregnant patients, is here to discuss the torment of a cyst on her ovary. I know that an ovarian cyst during pregnancy is one of life’s extraordinary tortures. I am truly sympathetic. But there’s not a lot I can do to help. Telling her to feast on binge-worthy TV episodes doesn’t seem like much of a help. I can almost actually feel the woman’s pain.
Sheila Gross talks with tears in her eyes. That’s how much it hurts. “It’s like I swallowed a razor blade. It’s got to be more than a cyst, Lucy. I know it is. I think it’s probably kidney cancer. I was on the internet …”
Ah. The magical phrases:
I was on the internet
I was on WebMD
My cousin told
gynecologist about it
I hold Sheila’s hand. “Listen. I told you before, and I’ll tell you again. It’s a cyst. We have the x-rays to prove it. Yes, it’s just about the most painful thing that can happen during a pregnancy, except for the birth itself. But there’s not a damn thing we can do about it. You could take Tylenol, but that won’t help a whole lot. And it’s actually better that you don’t. Now, eventually—”
Sheila interrupts. “It’s kidney cancer. I don’t want to sound like a crazy lady, but I’m really sure.”
“No. It’s not kidney cancer.”
“I’m sure that it’s kidney cancer. The pain in the back, right where the kidneys are …”
Okay. It’s time to play tough. “Stop it. It is not kidney cancer. It’s a cyst. It’s excruciating. All I can give you for it is my sympathy. And my sympathy is real.”
Five minutes later, Sheila says that she understands, but I know she doesn’t believe me. Or at the very least she thinks I’ve misdiagnosed her. I have to face it. Sheila’s going to spend the rest of her life believing that she had kidney cancer and that it miraculously disappeared after she gave birth.
Funny how arrogant people always think they’re smart people.
By lunchtime, I realize how hungry I am. I had no breakfast. I should eat an apple, a few whole-grain crackers, and a salad with just a disgusting, unsatisfying dash of red wine vinegar.
“Never balsamic vinegar,”
Tracy Anne always reminds me.
“That has a ton of sugar in it.”
I think it over carefully and then decide I will go down to the cafeteria and pick up a frosted doughnut, a bag of Fritos, and a special Lucy Ryuan dipping sauce: mayo, ketchup, mustard, and extra salt. As I’m convincing myself that I’ve worked hard enough to have such a deliciously stupid lunch, there is a knock on the door. Before I can say
the door opens.
It’s Sarkar, of course. I had actually forgotten that he said he might come by.
He smiles. He speaks. “Is this the right office for my internal exam?”
“No,” I say. “We’re only doing bleeding hemorrhoids today. Come in and bend over.”
He laughs. I think I’ve used that joke only a thousand times.
“I am here to beg for my favor,” he says.
For this favor-asking visit, Sarkar has ditched his white coat. He’s spruced up quite a bit. He wears a blue linen blazer with slightly pegged gray khakis. Okay, there’s no point in lying to myself: he looks pretty good. Not hot, just pretty good.
“Hit me with the favor request,” I say.
“I have a patient who is near-term. You may have heard of her. Greta Moss.”
Heard of her? After Melania Trump, Greta Moss is quite simply the most famous model in the world. As a mainstream celebrity, she ranks somewhere between Beyoncé and Jennifer Lawrence on sites like TMZ, Dlisted, and People.com. Greta has fifteen million followers on Twitter, because, after all, what woman doesn’t want to know what kind of two-hundred-dollar seaweed-based cleansing cream should be used to remove your three-hundred-dollar Provençal organic avocado foundation?
“Yes, I think I’ve heard of her,” I say casually. Then, as if I wasn’t sure, I casually ask, “She’s married to that football player guy, right? Plays for the Bears.”
“Hank Waldren. He’s a wide receiver for the Giants.”
Not only is Waldren the male equivalent of his wife in the ridiculously good looks department, but also those hands … only Michelangelo could have sculpted them. Well, he is a wide receiver.
“Anyway,” Sarkar says. “Here comes the favor request. Greta Moss has suddenly decided that she wants to deliver with a midwife, not an ob-gyn. She told me that she wants her baby to be born the way she herself was born: on a kitchen table in Copenhagen.”
“We’re all out of kitchen tables,” I say. “And look out the window. It sure isn’t Copenhagen out there.”
“Come on, Lucy. Please. Greta really wants this,” he says. “And I think the publicity for the hospital, for you, for the midwives, would be great.”
“Well, yeah, maybe, but it would not be good for
schedule. We are booked solid. When is Greta Moss due?”
“Any moment,” he says.
moment, even this very moment?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Forget it,” I say. “It can’t be done.” I’m also thinking,
Damn it, this guy thinks he can waltz in here, ask for a favor, and I’ll do it. He thinks that just because he’s charming and just because I’m a midwife that—
A knock on the door. Tracy Anne’s head appears.
“Katra Kovac has gone into labor. Birthing room 3,” she says.
Rudi Sarkar squints his eyes in a fake-funny evil pose. “Did you have your colleague poised to come in here to show me just how busy you are?”
“Sure. Tracy Anne was listening at the door. There’s really no Katra Kovac. There’s really no scared, unmarried seventeen-year-old girl who’s going to give birth. No, there are only big shots like Greta Moss and Hank Waldren. Sorry, Rudi.”
“Oh, come on, Lucy. For me?”
But before he can say something like
“Aw, c’mon, sweetie pie. Pretty please with sugar on it?”
I say, “Gotta run. New member of the human race is on the way.”