By Richard DiLallo
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To Senior Midwife Lucy Ryuan, pregnancy is not an unusual condition—it's her life's work. But when two kidnappings and a vicious stabbing happen on her watch in a university hospital in Manhattan, her focus abruptly changes. Something has to be done, and Lucy is fearless enough to try.
Rumors begin to swirl, blaming everyone from the Russian Mafia to an underground adoption network. Lucy teams up with a skeptical NYPD detective to solve the case, but the truth is far more twisted than a feisty single mom could ever have imagined.
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IT’S MONDAY. IT’S AUGUST. And it’s one of those days that’s already so hot at 6 a.m. that they tell you to check on your elderly neighbors and please don’t go outside if you don’t have to. So of course I’m jogging through the stifling, smelly streets of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, with a dog—a dog named The Duke. Yes. Not Duke, but The Duke. That’s his name. That’s what my son, Willie, who was four years old when The Duke was a puppy, wanted. So that’s what we did.
The Duke is a terrific dog, a mixed breed German shepherd, terrier, and God knows what else from the Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition—BARC—animal shelter. He’s cuter than any guy I ever dated, and Willie was instinctively right about the dog’s name. He’s The Duke. The Duke is snooty and snobby and slow. He actually seems to think he’s royalty. His Highness belongs to Willie, but for forty-five minutes a day, The Duke condescends to be my running buddy.
The Duke doesn’t seem to know or care that I’ve got places to be. I’m a certified nurse-midwife, so I do my work by the schedules of a lot of pregnant women. On a normal day like today, I’ve got only a small window of time to exercise before getting breakfast on the table, because although Willie is now nine years old, he still needs a lot of looking after by me, his single mom. Then it’s a half hour subway ride into midtown Manhattan. Back to work, although I’m tired as hell from delivering a preterm last night. (Emma Rose, the infant, is doing just fine, I’m relieved to say.) Yeah, I’m beat, but I love my job as much as I hate running.
Get away from that rotten piece of melon, The Duke. Those pigeons got there first!
I tug hard on the leash. It takes The Duke a full city block to forget about the melon. Don’t feel bad for the dog; he’ll find some other rotten food to run after. If not, there’s a big bowl of Purina and some cold Chinese takeout beef and broccoli waiting for him at home.
I turn up the volume in my headphones. Okay, it’s the same playlist I listened to when I was a teenager, but Motörhead’s Ace of Spades never gets old, does it? Willie says that every band I like—Motörhead, Korn, Cake—is “definitely old school.” He’s right. But, hey, you like what you like, right? And, hey, old school isn’t so awful. At least not for me.
No, no, no. We’re not stopping to talk to Marty…“Hey, Marty, how ya doing, man?” No, no, The Duke, we don’t need any cocaine today. Keep moving. Keep moving.
Pep talk to self: Come on, Lucy Ryuan, you can do it. Keep moving. Even on just four hours’ sleep, you can do it. A little bit more. One more block. Then one more block.
And now we’re moving into Grand Army Plaza, into Prospect Park with all the other runners. God bless them. They’re all an annoying inspiration.
I’m strangely and amazingly awake on so little sleep. Now I’m into a running groove, and everything feels good, until the music suddenly stops. My cell is ringing. It’s one of my assistants, Tracy Anne Cavanaugh, a smart, energetic young woman.
“Lucy, I’m sorry, really sorry, to bother you. I know you must be—”
“What’s up, Tracy Anne?”
“Valerina Gomez is here at the hospital. Her brother brought her in. She’s at eight centimeters…”
I roll my eyes at The Duke, for God’s sake. Valerina Gomez has been trouble from the get-go. A druggie, a smoker, a drinker, and I’m afraid to think how she makes her living. Plus, just her luck, she’s carrying twins.
“Handle her till I get there. You can do that, Tracy Anne.” And, yes, there’s a very impatient tone to my voice. But Tracy Anne’s great. Tracy Anne can handle her just fine.
“I will, I will,” she says. “But there’s something else…”
“A newborn baby has gone missing.”
I ask the question that every shocked person asks: “Are you kidding me?”
Tracy Anne doesn’t even bother to say no. Instead she says, “The hospital is going crazy. The cops. Detectives. They’re all over the place. They say this has never happened here before. I mean…I’ve heard once or twice somebody got the wrong baby to take home. And I know that—”
“Listen, don’t you go crazy, too, Tracy Anne. Just cooperate, do your job, and—”
“Lucy, what are we gonna do?”
Then, with my head aching, sweat dropping from me like rain, my stomach churning, I say something absolutely stupid.
“What are we gonna do, Tracy Anne? We’re gonna help them find the baby.”
SHOCKINGLY, THE DOG SEEMS to know that this is an emergency. He runs with me at an unusually un-The-Duke-like pace. Once inside our little building, he takes the stairs to our third-floor apartment two steps at a time. I’ll show him who’s boss. I take the steps three at a time. When we hit the third-floor landing it’s a close call as to which of us is sweatier and smellier.
Willie sleeps in our one tiny bedroom. The living room with the foldout sofa is mine. This is particularly convenient today because there is a large selection of my clothes on both my unfolded foldout and the steamer trunk that doubles as a toy box and a coffee table.
I now begin trying to do three things at once. One, I start to get dressed. No time for a shower. A wet washcloth under my arms, a few swipes of deodorant, and a generous helping of Johnson’s Baby Powder will compensate. Two, I try to find information about the missing baby on my laptop. Nothing. Where are you, Twitter, when I need you? Three, I keep yelling toward the bedroom, “Willie, wake up!”
Within a few seconds I’m slipping into a pair of slightly stained jeans and a less-than-glamorous turquoise V-neck T-shirt, also slightly stained. Both are victims of the Chinese beef and broccoli, which The Duke is noisily eating right now.
I try searching an all-news website.
Great. I guess.
Missing baby NYC and missing baby hospital news info brings me one news brief that “an underage patient at Gramatan University Hospital (GUH) has been reported missing.”
Underage? The freaking baby is one day old. That’s PR for you.
I head back into Willie’s room. He is snoring like a 300-pound drunk. I’m surprised he doesn’t wake the neighbors, and I’ve got to wonder how somebody that little can make a noise so loud.
“Willie, get up. Come on. You’ve gotta get down to Sabryna’s. Right! Now!” Well, that sure didn’t work.
I stand in the little bedroom, and then I waste a few seconds just staring at my fine-looking son, asleep on Bart Simpson sheets. I tousle his hair. No reaction. I tousle it somewhat harder. One eye opens. Then a mouth.
“You’ve got a really huge stain on that T-shirt, Mom.”
“I know,” I say. “I haven’t had time to do laundry. And the stain is not huge. It’s medium.”
Willie now has both eyes closed again. He’s gone back to sleep. I move into very-loud-but-still-not-yelling volume.
“You’re going down to Sabryna’s in your underwear if you don’t get up right this minute. I repeat: Right. This. Minute.”
Sabryna and her thirteen-year-old son, Devan, are our downstairs neighbors. She is originally from Jamaica, and her voice still has the beautiful island lilt to it. That lilt, which Sabryna can turn on and off like a faucet, also adds a note of authenticity to the small Caribbean grocery store she runs on the ground floor. The store is a jumble of goods: baskets of plantains and bunches of callaloo greens, as well as Pringles, Skittles, cigarettes, and New York Lottery tickets.
Sabryna’s store is open from five in the morning until seven at night. She works hard, and she works alone, except for some reluctant help from Devan. Sabryna, who is hands down my best friend, also is my go-to babysitter when I’m called out suddenly.
A buzz, a beep, a phone text from Tracy Anne: R u on way? Hosp nurse about 2 interfere.
Let me explain something here about how things operate in my professional world. The nurse-midwives are entirely separate from the medical staff at Gramatan University Hospital. We’ve trained for three years—intensely, some of us at the best teaching hospitals in the world: Johns Hopkins, University of Chicago, Yale. I honestly believe we’re only a few steps away from being doctors. I say that with just a touch of arrogance. I don’t want you to think we’re a bunch of former hippies who stand and sing over a screaming woman giving birth on a kitchen table. The hospital setting is around us only in case of an emergency. So when Tracy Anne uses the word interfere, my blood starts to boil.
“Okay, Willie. You’re going downstairs in your tighty-whities,” I yell. I toss a pair of khaki cargo shorts on top of him.
“Wait. I need a shirt, and I need to go to the bathroom, and I need—”
“And I need to help a woman give birth to twins. Downstairs! Right now, buddy boy. Right now!”
WHAT’S GOING ON IN my world this morning is really not at all unusual. My life seems to always be a great big blur of chaos. It’s the collision of my very intense job, my adorable but somewhat demanding kid, my unbearably messy home, and my dog. Yes, of course I love my son. He is smart and charming and usually quite cooperative. Yes, of course I hate my life. I don’t have enough time, and I don’t have enough money. I often think if had more of either of those things I’d be able to manage, but I’m smart enough to know that isn’t true.
As Sabryna says, “Money is a necessity, but it never is a solution.” I guess. Sabryna’s folk wisdom catchphrases always sound right, but I’ve never really put them to the test. Like the one that she loves about raising children: “Don’t pester your children with lots of discipline. Allow room for the good Lord to raise them.” Okay, sounds good, but I’m not buying it. And I’m certainly not going to test it out on Willie.
“Where you off to, Lucy?” Sabryna asks as she stacks cans of gungo peas. I can smell the frying of onions and goat meat coming from the tiny kitchen in the back. Devan is stacking cigarette packages on the shelf slowly…very, very slowly. His face lights with a smile, however, when he sees Willie. They exchange one of those complicated handshakes that only young people seem to know how to do.
“I’m sorry. I have an emergency,” I say.
“No worries, girl. We always got use for an extra pair of working hands, no matter the size of the hands,” says Sabryna.
Now it’s Willie’s turn to roll his eyes.
“Didn’t I hear you coming up the stairs early this morning?” Sabryna asks.
“Yeah, I went out running with the dog and then I got a call about an emergency,” I say.
“Some lady-mama is ready to pop?” she asks.
“That’s one way of putting it.”
“You might as well live at that hospital of yours,” says Sabryna. Then she adds, “Well, you practically do. Pretty soon Willie-boy’s gonna think that I’m his mama.”
I laugh at the joke, but a part of me, just for a second, is sad at even the funny truth of it.
My own slightly bossy mother, who should be canonized a saint, lives a long, long car ride away, down in West Virginia, so I can’t lean on her for help. I’ve read all the online advice for the single mother, the working mother, the single mother with two jobs, the single mother with two children, the single mother with no family, the single mother with a bossy mother of her own. With all this advice available, why does it usually feel like I’m making it up as I go along?
“The Duke’s up in the apartment. I’m not sure he did his stuff when we were out. I’ve lost my memory completely,” I say.
“Not a worry. I’ll get the boys to take him out later.”
My cell phone buzzes. I know it will be the frantic Tracy Anne. I don’t even bother to look at the screen. Instead I stoop down and hug Willie. “Do whatever you can to help Sabryna,” I say.
Sabryna jumps in immediately. “You can start by unpacking that sack of Scotch Bonnet chili peppers.”
“A Scotch Bonnet. What’s that?” Willie asks.
“Not some rich lady’s hat. They’re the hottest peppers on earth, just about. You touch your eyes after handling the Scotch Bonnets, you’ll be blind for three days or maybe even forever.”
I kiss Willie on his forehead, what we call a head kiss.
“See you later,” Willie says. Then he glances at the small burlap sack of peppers and adds, “At least I sure hope so.”
TWO NEW YORK CITY police officers are at the employees’ entrance of GUH.
What the hell is going on? And then, of course, I start to think about the missing baby. I’d been so focused on getting here for the birth of Val’s babies that I’d managed to forget the horrible news.
It takes a full minute of plowing through my bag to find my employee ID card. Both officers glance back and forth a few times between my face and my card. One of the guards says, “Okay. Go to second check.”
I walk about ten yards and run into Caspar, the hospital guard who usually sits weekdays at the employees’ entrance.
“Morning, Caspar,” I say. But this is serious business.
Caspar, who is usually full of jokes and smiles and weather predictions, is stern. “May I please see your identification card, Ms. Ryuan?” He usually would have just called me Lucy, but these are clearly dangerous times.
I smile. Caspar does not. I realize that Caspar’s only doing what he’s been told to do, and that it makes no difference that fifteen seconds ago I presented my ID to two New York City police officers.
Caspar looks at my ID. He says, “Thank you, ma’am.”
“‘Thank you, ma’am’?” I ask. “Caspar, it’s me. Lucy.”
“Sorry, orders from Dr. Katz. We gotta do it all by the book.”
I walk a few more yards and…Hold on, what the hell is this?
At the end of the entrance corridor stands Dr. Barrett Katz himself, the pompous, self-important, arrogant, despicable—Am I making my feelings clear?—CEO of Gramatan University Hospital. Katz has been called the Invisible CEO. He is almost always in a meeting, in conference, with an important donor, out of town. Right now he is flanked by two other physicians: Dr. Rudra Sarkar, one of the hospital’s few male ob-gyn doctors, and Dr. Maureen Mahrlig, a radiologist who may or may not be on track to becoming the fourth Mrs. Katz.
A short line has formed in front of this gang of three. The line moves quickly, and whatever Katz is telling each individual brings a serious expression and a strong nod of the head from each person. Most of us never see Dr. Katz regularly, and until today, none of us, I venture, has ever been greeted by him on our way into work.
“Ms. Ryuan,” Katz says. “I’m telling every employee that it’s very important that there be no communication with the press about the absent patient.”
I can’t resist. “You mean the missing baby or are you referring to the ‘absent patient’ that somebody kidnapped?”
“Do not try to corral me into an angry, sarcastic discussion, Ms. Ryuan, and in the future, I’d ask you to leave your bad attitude in the parking lot. Whatever the circumstances,” he says, his eyes filled with the irritation that always shows up during our very rare encounters. “Discretion is very important while the police investigate the absence.”
Again, I can’t resist. But this time I’m serious. So serious that I ignore my buzzing cell phone. “I’m no expert, Dr. Katz, but I’d think the more information that’s out there, names and photos and facts, then the better the chances of somebody who knows something coming forward and helping us find—”
“Thank you for your thoughts, Ms. Ryuan, but as I just said, there’s no need for a discussion. Right now everything is in the very capable hands of—”
“Lucy!” I hear someone shout. Then almost immediately again, even louder, “Lucy!”
Within seconds Tracy Anne Cavanaugh is standing next to me. Young and blond and almost too perfectly pretty, Tracy Anne completely ignores Katz.
“I’ve been trying to reach you. I’ve been calling and calling. Val is ready to go. And Troy is with her. But there’s a problem, a real problem, with Val.”
Great. Now my problem is that Val has a problem.
Tracy Anne and I take off. If we had left a cloud of dust, Barrett Katz would be covered with it.
“WHAT THE HELL IS this?” I shout as Tracy Anne and I rush into Valerina Gomez’s birthing room. I am truly struck by the horror of what I see before me. Val has been shackled with wrist and ankle restraints. She looks like a woman forced into admission at a mental hospital during Victorian times. Val is screaming, sweating, struggling. Her wrists and ankles are red from the shackles. Her hospital gown is way up above her breasts.
I look at Troy Jackson. He’s a strong, hefty African American guy, and both my assistant and one of the best midwives I’ve ever worked with. He’s efficient, organized, and kind, and he can be as tough as a large pit bull when he decides to.
“How the hell could you let them do this, Troy?” I yell at him.
The tone of his voice matches the anger in mine. “You think I let this happen? Don’t you think I did everything but punch them to prevent it? And by ‘them’ I mean that nurse over there. She said if we didn’t restrain the patient, she’d call Security. You sure as hell didn’t think this was my idea, didja?”
Troy is pointing at floor supervisor Nurse Deborah Franklin.
“Get her undone. Get my patient undone,” I yell. “Hurry up. Jesus, leave someone alone with general hospital staff and this is what happens.”
Troy and Tracy Anne begin removing Val’s restraints. They know the nurse isn’t going to mess with me.
Val is yelling with delivery pain. I take two giant steps toward Deborah Franklin, who stands with her arms folded.
“What the hell were you thinking?” I say to her. I practically spit the question out.
“I ordered the restraints as a precaution,” Franklin says.
“GUH staff should not be anywhere near midwife services unless they are requested. What are you even doing in here? Get out. Just get the hell out,” I yell.
Franklin doesn’t move. I could continue my battle with Franklin or I could shut up and work with my patient. That’s an easy decision for me. If the decision is easy, the execution takes a lot of willpower on my part. Okay, get strong, Lucy. Be the best there is. From this moment on my concern is completely aimed at Val.
“Let’s relax, Val. Let’s just relax,” I say. I take Val’s hand. She’s shaking, not quite uncontrollably but way more than a woman in labor should be. Tracy Anne dabs at Val’s face with a damp lavender-scented cloth. Lavender is about as hippie as we get at GUH Midwifery.
Then, through barely clenched teeth, Troy speaks to me softly, “Lucy, I did everything to stop Franklin.”
“I’m sure you did, Troy,” I say. And I mean it. “Let’s stay focused now. This is going to be tough, and we are off to a very bad start.”
Tracy Anne pulls up a screenshot of Val’s most recent sonogram on the bedside PC. Nothing new. Twins. The second baby is in complete breech position. That means the feet want to come out first, and the head wants to come out last. We knew this for the past two months. There was not much we could do except fight off anyone who said we should perform a C-section. But any discussion and planning are in the past. Now the difficult circumstances are nonnegotiable. Now we’ve got to deal with them in real time. First things first: I need to have a very intense discussion with the very screwed-up mother-to-be.
Tracy Anne is helping Val with her breathing and her counting. The tremors from Val’s hands have spread to her arms and shoulders. She is shaking even worse than before. All the lavender cloths in the world are not going to absorb the perspiration that’s streaming out of her.
I hear Deborah Franklin say, “Now perhaps you can see why I ordered restraints. Your patient is going through withdrawal. She should be delivering under general anesthesia. I’m going to call OB for help.”
“You call OB, lady, and you better call orthopedics, too. You’re gonna have some broken bones to tend to,” Troy says.
“Ditto,” I say.
Honestly, I don’t think Nurse Franklin is frightened of me. But Troy, one of the nicest, gentlest people I know, can look absolutely terrifying, weighing in at just under 300 pounds, and with steely eyes that look as if they could flash fire if he wanted them to blaze.
“You people are living in another world,” says Franklin. She can rant all she wants. All I know is that she’s not moving to call OB. And I wouldn’t put it past Troy to try to stop her physically.
From here on in, I just ignore Franklin. I kneel on the delivery bed and hold down Val’s shoulders.
“Listen,” I say firmly but not unkindly to Val. “Like it or not, you’re about to have two babies right now. It’s going to be tough.”
Okay. Yelling back at this frail mother will get me nowhere. I move into soft gear.
“Just stay calm. Concentrate. Just do what I say. We’re in this together. I’ll do my job. And you do yours.”
PUSHING. SCREAMING. HOWLING. “EVERYTHING’S looking good with the first baby,” I say to Troy. “But once we start with the second one, we’re gonna need—”
Troy finishes my sentence, “I know…an on-call doc in case we need a C-section with the breech. I already notified OB surgery. Thought I’d best get them ready rather than count on that crazy-ball Nurse Franklin.”
“Good man,” I say.
Deborah Franklin, who has yet to leave the room, says, “C-section, huh? I thought you guys never did those.”
“We hate ’em, but we hate dead babies even more,” Troy says.
- On Sale
- Aug 11, 2020
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Grand Central Publishing