"The Small Dark Movie of Your Life" - by Leah Bobet
"Half Angel Half Eagle" © Jane Siberry & Sheeba Records, used with permission.
New York City, NY, June 12, 2011
Today, physicians have many tools to use in trying to keep an individual alive, including the injection of chemicals, manual stimulation, electroshock, surgical invasion, and mechanical supports. Medical technology is improving constantly, pushing back the line of death. The final result of a determination that death has occurred is the release of the physician and patient's family from continuous and burdensome efforts to continue treatment. The question becomes, When should a physician stop such efforts? --The Handbook of Death and Dying, ed. Clifton D. Bryant
So no shit, there I was: Sunday morning in New York City, a coffee shop just off Rector St. station full of bankers and lawyers and the people they send to get their coffee for them; about to take my first sip of a Clover-made double espresso with my five-seed granola square in the off hand and that morning's Weekly World News slopping over the sides of the round Parisian café table.
That's when the nice young blond man staggered through the door, threw up, and dropped like he'd run out of batteries.
The Clover machine slowly hissed through its supply of steam. The bankers sucked in their breaths. I almost, but did not, spill my coffee.
Some habits die hard: In December 2010, an off-duty nurse in Altoona, Pennsylvania, performed life-saving CPR on a fourteen-year-old boy in the parking lot of her local supermarket. In September, a Montgomery County public safety officer responded to the call of a hostage-taking in Silver Spring, Maryland, and was first inside the building, even though he was not scheduled to work that day. So, "Federal agent, stay calm, please," I said, and put down my coffee cup, and moved, quickly but not frantically, between the tables to check the man for a pulse.
It was there, if thready. His eyes were open, dilated like dinner plates; hazel, I noted, after Caucasian, five foot ten, fit, no wedding ring. His mouth worked, and I tilted his head to the side to make sure he didn't choke if he lost what was left of his breakfast. Or I tried to: his neck was locked up tight.
That meant anything from anaphylactic shock to poisoning by Australian sea lion. "Miss," I said over my shoulder to the barista; she was young enough that she wouldn't mind being called Miss. "I need you to call 911."
There was a rustle in the direction of the counter: five people with cell phones and grim, braced faces. "One call, please," I added--it wouldn't do to swamp them with conflicting reports -- and moved two fingers slowly across the man's field of vision.
One pupil tracked. The other didn't, lagging like a tired toddler. The blond young man (good suit, treated with care; no smell of alcohol or cigarettes on him) kicked a little, and moaned. His pant leg slid up. There was something boxy strapped to his ankle: pedometer.
"Hey," I said, and watched to see if his pupils tracked. "Can you hear me?"
He mumbled. I leaned down closer; close enough to feel his shallow, sour breath on my cheek. The murmur resolved: "Should've been listening. Didn't pay attention. Should've paid attention."
"Yeah?" I said real quiet, against the sound of sirens rising, coming steadily into focus against uneasy voices and the wind outside. Likely too soon to be our sirens. It's only on television that the first ambulance you hear is actually for you.
He stirred. "My own fault," he murmured, and his eyes stared at something unreal or far away; something too personal to be visible to anyone separated out by walls of flesh and skin.
"I'm sure it wasn't," I said, mild, and his chin twitched; trying to shake his head no, shake it with utter conviction. A familiar feeling sparked on at the base of my spine: what we in the trade call something definitely hinky in progress.
I kept fingers around his wrist, hand in his hand, for two more minutes; until the paramedics arrived. They came in with a rush of clanking equipment and the standard, "Sir? Sir, thank you, we'll take it from here." I ceded the field, dodged the puddle of vomit; went back to my table. The newspaper had slid askew, and my coffee was cold. I sighted down the barrel of my arm into the cup, squinted, and drank it anyway.
A pair of police officers brought up the rear. The feeling in the room palpably relaxed, breaths exhaling, customers willing to make a noise again: two is what you get for matters of routine seriousness. One circulated, taking names, phone numbers; the other weaved her way to my table and invited herself to sit with a twitch of the hand.
"Sir, you're the gentleman who performed first aid?" she asked. The uniform rode starchy and stiff on her shoulders. New cop, or new enough that she still treated the job with a formal devotion. Academy graduates always wore shoulder-padded jackets on their first day on the job, too.
"Officer," I said, and inclined my head.
"The caller indicated that you're a federal agent."
"Retired," I said. Some of the guardedness left her: Not another loony old man. "But I still consult sometimes," I added; both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and one extremely selective motorcycling enthusiast agreed that I wasn't that old.
She nodded to herself. "Then you'll know what I need for a statement," she said, and did sit down after all.
I did. I gave her the statement, in factual, journalistic style. I ordered another coffee.
Once the paramedics had taken the nice young man away, and the police had taken everyone's number, and the coffee shop had reverted to a shaky, sideways-glance calm of people pretending to go about their day, I tugged out my cell phone, thumbed through the directory, and chose a number.
It rang three times, a standard three times, and then the click of a beige receiver lifting. "Reyes," a voice said, clipped and routine.
"Steve," I said, "it's Sol. I might have something for you here."
I was back in my hotel room in thirty minutes, and they had a file ready in an hour. The nice young man was one Joshua Shore, thirty-one years old, a software developer for one of the few Wall Street trading firms that had managed to stay big. No wife, no kids; he had a mortgage on a loft condominium in Tribeca, cosigned with a yoga-instructor-slash-modern-dancer girlfriend, from whence he habitually walked the half hour to work every morning. The intake information from Downtown Hospital, dated fifty-three minutes before, said cerebral aneurysm; nonresponsive.
It came through on my phone with a note appended at the bottom: will call in five, ER. Built-in reading time, I thought, and flipped back to the beginning to read it through closer. This message will self-destruct in three, two, one . . .
It all looked in order. These things happened every day: thirty-year-old entrepreneurs dropped dead of heart attacks in their home offices. Twenty-five-year-old grad students turned up with stomach cancer. Fit young professionals, in the prime of life, did, more often than we thought, just drop dead, or half dead, from cerebral aneurysm. The only reason we don't like it is because it feels unfair; because it offends our sense of narrative to have the young and deserving die young and deserving and the old live on to bury them.
It could very well be nothing.
The phone rang.
"If I'd known," Reyes said to the click of my own line, "I would have got you a Retired badge for your birthday."
I snorted. "That's me. Encyclopedia Brown. Even have a bodyguard named Sal."
"And here I thought you were a tough son of a bitch all your life," he said dryly. He would be in his office then, door shut. Professor Doctor Stephen Reyes didn't swear in front of other people.
"Oh no," I said. "I got beaten up on the playground all the time before she smacked a tetherball into the back of Jim Aldey's head."
"That's all it took?"
"Ten times. She took it off the rope to make sure," I said, and sighed. "So how's this looking?"
Reyes's voice darkened. "They got Shore into ICU fast. He's on full life support and unresponsive."
"It's only been an hour."
"Right," Reyes said. "According to Worth, though, there were no signs or family history of Marfan's, or Ehlers-Danlos, or kidney disease, and he didn't smoke. Blood pressure was high at his last physical, but not out of bounds. He didn't have any of the risk factors or telltales for an aneurysm."
Right. HIPAA, noun: a female hippo. "So this is spooky."
"It's spooky." Reyes sounded like he was trying to reassure. It didn't fit on him very well. "Villette and Worth are looking through NYPD incident reports for similar occurrences in the last couple years. If they find anything like a pattern, Lau will swing us the invite."
"On a hunch?"
He cleared his throat. When his voice showed up again, it was lower. "I take profiler instinct seriously. You know what we're looking for."
I'd also worked long enough with him to know when he wasn't saying everything. "And what's the other thing?" I asked.
"We don't know what long-term exposure to the Anomaly does," he said. "So it might not just be a hunch."
After all this time, the thought still chilled the tips of my fingers. I smoothed down the comforter of the hotel bed. It was serenely, aggressively cream-colored. "Well. I'll tell you if I get a terrible craving for deep dish."
"Right," he said, and my spooky profiler instincts told me the tension in that topic was mostly broken. "What're you doing in New York, anyway?"
I cleared my throat my own self. "Giving two talks, three book signings, and a meeting with my agent's film guy. Since I'm in town and all."
The cell phone let out a dry little hah. "Better watch out. If you step on Beale's lecture tour pension, he'll shiv you."
"In a kindly, grandfatherly way," I said, and signed off. I felt sweaty; dirty and hungry in a way that was only about a hundred milliNams large, but still didn't cooperate with that white, white bedspread.
"Hold my calls, Miss Brant," I told the silent cell phone, and headed for the ridiculous, amethyst-walled bathroom to shower the federal agency, retired, right off me.
The Barnes & Noble in Tribeca had one hundred copies of Life By Misadventure, fifty of Around the Elephant, and fifty of Rear View piled up behind a small folding table. By three that afternoon all three piles were reasonably depleted even with the rain, the fountain pen I found under a bed in the Watergate Hotel all those years back was almost empty, and the green message light on my cell phone was blinking like a kid who had to go pee.
It's me, the text said, signed one Esteban Reyes, mobile edition. We're coming.
It is the height of rudeness to text at a dinner table, on a date, or at your own book signing. I shoved the phone back in my pocket until such time as I was escorted to the back room to shake hands, use the bathroom, and collect my personal articles from the overhead bins.
There was cell signal in the break room. I looked around for enemy agents or general curious bystanders, unlocked the phone, and dialed.
"So you found something," I said when Reyes picked up.
"We did," he replied. The sound wasn't great; outside somewhere. I could hear the wind battering whatever sensitive little chip picked up his voice and carried it to me. "Three priors in the past eight months."
A little bit of breath hissed out between my teeth. It wasn't quite as dramatic as espresso machine steam. "Spooky."
"Spooky," he agreed. "We got in half an hour ago. Where are you staying?"
"They've got me at the W," I said. "There's an ancho chili steak at the restaurant. I've heard nice things."
"We're only the government," Reyes said dryly. "We can't afford nice things. We're at the Marriott down the street. You can come visit."
"We'll have sleepovers," I said, and flicked the orange plush armrest of the bookstore's break room chair. "Should I meet you there?"
"No," Reyes said. "Worth and I are at the scene, and then we're going to the hospital to talk to the family. Everyone else is at NYPD headquarters. It's closer than the precincts."
"Everyone else?" I asked, obscurely and suddenly surprised.
The trickle of cold-packed hinky woke up, rolled over, and yawned.
"Headquarters," I said, mild. "Pretty fancy stuff yourself."
"It's the Wall Street community sheriff's department," Reyes said. "So don't go expecting drinks service on the plane. We'll meet you there."
"Vaya con whatever," I said, and ended the call.
The headquarters wasn't ridiculously far, in New York parlance. I traced lines, wandering routes through my memory; this part of town was iconic enough that mostly, things stayed where you left them.
I looked right, looked left for an exit strategy. The sales floor was busy at three on a weekday afternoon--apparently if business was big enough and some universities were close enough, you could skip out to book signings whenever you liked--but there was a principle to the thing.
"Mr. Todd, can I help you get anywhere?" It was the manager, bright-faced and professionally cheerful in that way you got used to bookstore managers being after you actually hit a fourth or fifth printing.
"Please," I said, and traced that line again, and abruptly changed my mind. "If you could call a cab for me, please? To the W Hotel."
Her eyes widened a bit. It was going to be a bad day for deconstructing the glamorous illusory lifestyle of the working writer. "Sure thing," she said, and sent a minion to the phones.
The bedspread was as intimidating as ever, except now housekeeping had been by and smoothed all the wrinkles free of it. I glared at it for a minute, poured myself a glass of tap water, and turned the fountain pen in my good hand for a minute.
Then I opened the hotel room safe, put the fountain pen in, and took my sidearm out.
Although deeply concerned with clinicians' intentions and actions, proponents of the traditional view do not discount autonomy and the role of patients in making end-of-life decisions. Proponents hold that, in general, clinicians ought not withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatments without the authorization of the patient or a morally valid surrogate. However, proponents of the distinction also argue that the patient's autonomous authorization is not the only condition that needs to be met for a clinician to make morally justifiable end-of-life decisions. For example, autonomous demands for biomedically futile treatments need not be honored. But more importantly, proponents of the distinction hold the deontological view that some acts ought not be done, no matter what the consequences or the preferences of another person. --Daniel P. Sulmasy, "Killing and Allowing to Die: Another Look," Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics, 1998.
There's an inherent sameness to any given police department around the world; in fact, to any courtroom, or late-night greasy spoon: certain forms and habits that come prepackaged with the common purposes of a space. The waitresses will always be tired and sardonic, hair pinned up in ways that are just coming loose all night long. The tables for the defense will always be a little scabbed, the ones for the prosecution immaculate. The cop shop will always smell halfway like the greasy spoon, and be organized like a warehouse-slash-firetrap for solving way too many crimes.
When it's also the police headquarters for a major metropolitan city and is undergoing major renovations besides, all the rules go out the window.
The team had commandeered a boardroom from New York's Finest by the time I got to the station, far enough away from the sound of concrete and metal being wrestled kicking and screaming into shape to possibly get some work done. Folders were spread liberally across a faux-wood veneer table, Daniel Brady was setting up a pair of laptops in one corner, and a whiteboard lingered lonely as a cloud against one institutional painted wall. It had four faces on it already. I recognized Joshua Shore's, but barely; it looked different, smiling.
Esther Falkner was writing names and dates beneath the photos in the tidy, crabbed hand that would get her labeled precise, structured, hyperfocused if a graphologist happened to wander by. She looked up, smiled briefly. "Sol. Good to see you."
"Es," I said, and waved a hand. "Maybe you guys should get me that put-out-to-pasture badge after all. I had a real time getting in," I said, and dropped my shoulder bag on the nearest chair.
"I don't blame them," Falkner said. The range of documented responses to trauma, social or personal or institutional, is fairly small; all of them involve means of exercising control over an unpredictable environment. Compared to Langley Collyer, dates 1885 to 1947, who handled his father's abandonment of the family (or teenagers throwing rocks at the windows of his Harlem house, or his brother's blindness and slow mental and physical decay) by setting booby traps and hoarding decades' worth of newspapers, carding at the door to the cop shop was mild and downright reasonable.
"Neither do I. I'm just too young for that kind of touching on the first date." I commandeered one of the chairs and flipped open the top file. "So we have victimology?"
"Young professionals," Falkner said. "Pretty, successful, rising star types of young professionals. Lau's out finding a map we can ruin to find his borders."
"So there's enough to suppose a he. "
Falkner raised an eyebrow. "We always suppose a he, right?"
"Unless we suppose a she, " Brady added. "Which is possible in this case. Hi, Duke."
We exchanged short little nods. Doing things the manly way.
"But yes," Falkner said. "There's enough to presuppose a gamma. All four of our victims were treated at New York Downtown Hospital. Because all of them fell ill inside a two-mile radius. Not one of our cases so far occurred north of Canal Street."
That? Was spooky.
"That sounds like a comfort zone to me," I said. "Or the world's first case of crippling sewer-based alligator knockout gas."
"I'll go with the comfort zone," Falkner said, and shoved some very thin files my way. "Our first trick will be to fill these people's lives out, since there was never a police investigation on any of the incidents."
"Since there was never a crime," Brady added ironically, and lowered the lid of the laptop. I reached for the first file, opened it up: Jenny Xieli Chan, thirty-one years old, sharp haircut and designer suit jacket and a sharper look in her eye, stared back at me.
Chaz Villette pushed the door open with his hip, hands full of brown paper bags sporting some very intriguing grease stains at the bottom. "Duke," he said, and wrestled one to the floor. "Chinese. I got you Buddha's Delight."
It was only four. Long-term planning was a bad sign; it meant everyone was expecting a long, long night. At least this part of Manhattan was stinking with Starbucks locations. I ran a couple mental calculations; a not-that-old-yet man needing four hours of sleep a night to be reasonably functional has a meeting with his film agent at one the next afternoon, and there is a case traveling towards him at 60 mph. Should he cancel his appointment until further notice?
The door opened again, and "Map!" Nikki Lau said, waving it like a trophy. "Manhattan and environs. You wouldn't believe how hard this was to find."
"They don't sell them in the bookstores anymore, do they?" I said, and she shot me a strange look.
"They don't. But the tourist kitsch stands still have them," she replied. "Use wisely. I'm not getting another one."
"Yes ma'am," Chaz said. "All right. Map," and spread it out across the foot of the table. "Your coffee shop was here, right?"
I squinted down at the squiggles and green patches and lines; cities look so orderly on paper, in the theoretical mode. "Yup. He made it halfway through the door."
Chaz nodded with the terse satisfaction of an academic researcher on a scent and marked a red dot over the coffee shop. "His apartment is here," he said, and marked another several blocks northwest, not far from the bookstore. "And there are a very limited number of routes from here to there."
"So if he ran into our UNSUB on the way, the space he had to do it was relatively small," Brady added.
"I'll get Detective Phelps to start up a canvass, then," Falkner said, and slid out the boardroom door.
"Not only that," Chaz continued, "but the UNSUB's hunting grounds are going to intersect with the routes of our other three victims." He drew a wide, black circle around the hospital, perfect as a protractor.
"So we see if they were just as regular about their commutes," Brady said. "And connect the dots. Old-fashioned police work," he drawled. It was entirely too cheerful.
"I guess that means we need some dots," Chaz said, and commandeered one of the laptops. I went for the other; retired federal agent was enough to impress fresh new beat cops in the coffee shop setting, but on an actual case in the field it meant taking the desk duty before desk duty was thrust upon you.
It was a Bureau machine, tricked out with all kinds of databases and special clearances and the informational equivalent of a line of flames painted down the side. And luckily enough, my password still worked, thank you Stephen Reyes. I logged in, balanced a pen on the file folder to hold it open, and studied that confident, chin-out picture while everything booted to life. JD graduation, maybe. Or first day called to the bar. There were trees in the background that looked like a faraway memory of academia.
The laptop beeped. I stretched, opened up my Buddha's Delight, and started poking my fingers into the lives of what used to be three of America's future achievers.
It is not as easy as the man on the street thinks to stalk someone on the Internet if you are not Hafidha Gates.
Yes, Virginia, there are databases devoted to every niche thing a body does in the United States of America. They told me that Jenny Chan got her law degree at Harvard, but her bachelor's was in music history, and she played the violin, and, according to New York City Public Health, had a license for a corgi, twenty-five pounds, legal name Foxy Euripides Chan, and that she had signed insurance releases for hot yoga classes three quarterly semesters in a row. But that's official existence: the game face we put on to look nice and nonthreatening for the other nonthreatening mammals. It didn't tell me where she went to be alone.
The thing was, Jenny Chan and Joshua Shore were both frequenters of Facebook, LinkedIn, several professional forums, and Twitter, and each and every one of those were sealed tighter than the last beer in the house.
"Y'know, I'll say this for Facebook," I said over my shoulder. Chaz grunted idly: Proceed. "No identity theft threat ever made people lock up their personal data online as well as realizing how much their ex could find out."
"Their boss," Chaz said, and paged down through another screen of old credit card purchases; over his shoulder I could see MAC, Starbucks, Duane Reade, Trader Joe's, Starbucks, Starbucks, Starbucks. "The first rule of Fight Club is to take down all those drunk pictures and set everything to private before the job interviews."
"Don't trust anyone over thirty," I said. Chaz snorted dryly; there wasn't much moisture in here, not even with construction wound down for the day. I reached for my chopsticks, and they came up holding a delicious piece of air. Drat.
Chaz uncapped a green marker with his teeth, eyes still on the screen, and marked a few new dots on the map: Jenny Chan's favorite coffee shop. Her grocery store. Places she went between five p.m. and home. South Manhattan looked like a rainbow-colored starfish, one that had lost an arm to some wandering, malicious shark and had yet to regenerate itself well.
Chaz's cell phone buzzed, a tinny digital cluster of sirens and clangy chords: the Emergency! song. He sat up straight, slapped at the screen until the music stopped. "Hello?"
"I'm putting you on speaker," he said after a second, and set the phone back down on the table, fiddling with buttons until the hollowness of a half-empty line came pouring out.
"We're at Downtown Hospital," Worth said. Her voice was crackly on the cell phone's speaker: too much interference. Too many words in the air, bouncing off tall buildings and around the cellular towers. "The boss man wanted to interview Joshua Shore's girlfriend, so I went to chat up the medical records staff. Quicker than hitting up the insurance companies, after all."
"You ever want to become a muckraking journalist, you call me," I said. "Those FBI boys don't love you anyway."
She chuckled; a little huh. "Not like it'd get them anywhere. Thing is--"
"Thing is?" Chaz put in just fast enough.
"Not only did all four of our victims show up at Downtown with the same kind of aneurysm, without any of the risk factors, being otherwise in the prime of health? But all four of their families had to"--she paused fractionally; a half-comma's pause--"take end-of-life decisions."
For one short second, I saw Chaz Villette's face go slack. "He made them pull the plug?"
"He didn't make them," Worth said, and her voice was strung tight like a wire. "The condition resulting from the injury was such that the families and medical personnel had to choose."
A coffeepot in the other room gurgled. The silence between them deepened to the point where, if I hadn't known better, one might have thought that they'd forgotten I was here.
I coughed. Chaz's head came up like a motion-sensor light. "So if the UNSUB is going to get his jollies off the resulting suffering, he's got to be near the hospital. If the families are the target, and not the victims."
"I don't think that's it," Worth said. The funny sound wasn't out of her voice. "There hasn't been escalation, and there should have been."
"Because he didn't get what he wanted last time," she said, and expelled an echoing breath. "Jenny Chan's still alive."
Scene: A nondescript, if large, residential-style building in Long Island, set back behind the shark-infested waters of a cracked grey asphalt parking lot. Enter two FBI agents, FALKNER and WORTH, low heels muffled by the carpeted floors.
(I'm not there. I'm only projecting; this reconstruction of events is based on witness interviews and historical data, meticulously assembled by our experts yadda yadda and so forth.)
An admitting NURSE greets them at the front desk, and FALKNER flashes her badge.
FALKNER: Federal agents. We're hoping to ask you a few questions about one of your patients.
The NURSE's eyes widen, in the manner of people who've got something to hide or just watch way too many procedural shows on Wednesday nights. She reaches for a phone, and her hand stops halfway, trembles.
NURSE: I'll have to--I can't--hold on, let me call the manager on duty.
FALKNER and WORTH withdraw quietly as the NURSE holds a short, barely audible conversation on the other side of the desk. Despite the state of the parking lot, the lobby area is clean and lush; no cracked vinyl upholstery and out-of-date magazines for this crowd. The chairs for visitors are fat-stuffed burgundy leather, and the lighting is clear but demure under the shades of standing lamps.
WORTH: It's like Idlewood won the lottery.
FALKNER does not reply.
The manager the NURSE has referred to is through the double doors between the lobby and the rest of the building in under five minutes. He extends a hand and introduces himself as DOCTOR SANCHEZ. His handshake is steely with concern.
SANCHEZ: How can I help you?
FALKNER (smiling reassuringly): We're here to inquire about one of your patients in connection to a case we're investigating. Ms. Jenny Chan?
They have received clearance from the family on the way. Their colleague, LAU, is still with MR. and MRS. CHAN--stepmother, not the mother--going over the background to JENNY's hospitalization. All of their paperwork is in order.
The relief in SANCHEZ's face is palpable. The agents are ushered in.
Things are--as always--less dressed up beyond the double doors. The floors are tiled for easy cleanup of spills, both accidental and bodily. The doors to each room back down from real wood to a more standard painted pressed board. The tingle of antiseptic, always at the back of one's throat in the institutional setting, creeps in to make WORTH's nose twitch. Overall, WORTH notes, the home is very neat and well-kept. This impression will be later backed up by the inspection results of the New York State Department of Health in their 2011 report, which will give the home a ranking well below the national average in the matters of percentage of patients with bedsores, pain, excessive weight loss, and loss of bladder/bowel control.
Jenny Chan's room is something between a nursing home bed and a children's hospital room: a vigil of battered stuffed animals, approximately twenty-seven to twenty years old, line the windowsill: horse, dolphin, four more FALKNER recognizes as Hello Kitty characters still extant in her youngest daughter's bedroom. There is a fat violin case gathering dust atop a dresser, which is also gathering dust, and a chair pulled up to the side of the bed. The warm afterimage of regular visitors is pressed into its back, the sag of its seat cushion. A radio hums Brahms on the nightstand.
WORTH eyes the stuffed animals; adjusts the paw on a scowling penguinlike thing. Something-Maru, FALKNER thinks. Her husband Ben started calling it Kobayashi Maru seven years and four months ago, and she hasn't been able to remember the proper name since.
WORTH: Doesn't seem like her.
FALKNER: It's the parents. You never stop seeing your kids as kids even when they can talk back about it.
WORTH nods. As would be apparent from her telephone logs and educational history, her father is not the sort to coddle; standard profiling techniques applied to a database of her previous remarks on children and child-raising would indicate that she likes to think that if she has children of her own someday, she would not be either. But she understands how illness, grave and immobilizing and voice-robbing illness, infantilizes.
SANCHEZ: She's in a persistent vegetative state. But she's better than she has been.
SANCHEZ: She was comatose for the first few weeks. The neurological damage was sufficiently severe--
(And he pauses, compressing medical terminology, diagrams and shunts and blood and spit and percentages, into layman's terms.)
SANCHEZ: --for the emergency doctor to consider recommending withdrawal of life support. But the family refused, and had her moved here for long-term recovery.
Had the resources to have her moved here, both FALKNER and WORTH fill in. Jenny Chan's savings before her aneurysm, two months ago, were substantial. They will continue to be substantial even after she wakes up, in another seventeen days, and shapes her first mangled, tracheotomy-choked word. It will be hot. She will be too weak to kick off her blankets. The NURSE will run for the attending physician. It will be eight minutes before someone takes the blanket off.
FALKNER requests the two things they've come out this way for: the visitor logs for Jenny Chan's room, and her updated medical files. These things could have been scanned and e-mailed over, but in some tasks it is important to use the personal touch. There is always the thing out of place, the thing said in passing; the thing other people won't notice.
There is also, as in journalism, the question of bearing witness.
The visitor logs are varied at first: family, friends, coworkers perhaps. FALKNER pockets a copy for analysis back at the precinct: people to inspect or rule out or cross-check into the lives of Joshua Shore, Macy MacIntyre, Genevieve Scranton. Jenny Chan may be unfinished business. There might be something.
WORTH collects the medical file from the attending NURSE. Her hands are no longer shaky, but she will not meet WORTH's eye.
NURSE: Do you want her activity book?
WORTH lets out a breath. Of course; a log, for the patients with neurological issues. When they react strongly to things, what words they use regularly or don't use. The equivalent of bronzed shoes, locks of clipped hair, a hint of progress for the families.
WORTH: She's spoken, then?
NURSE: Not since she was admitted, no. But the stepmother told us what her last words were.
WORTH gets a tingle down her spine: spooky.
WORTH: Yes, can you find that for me?
NURSE: Oh, no need. That's easy. She said, "I didn't listen. I should have listened."
The NURSE tilts her head and smiles, quizzical, at the sober-suited professional profilers.
NURSE: Have any idea what that means?
Brady and Reyes returned from the canvass after nine, tired and monosyllabic. I looked up from my laptop screen--now featuring the entire current complement of the New York Downtown Hospital, cross-referenced for staff working at least three of the four nights in question or conspicuously missing from all of them, and the background checks thereof--and raised an eyebrow.
"Got it," Brady said, and sat heavily in the nearest chair. His shoes came off posthaste: one, then the other.
"Call Poison Control," Lau said from her corner, and ducked elaborately away from a shoe that never came. "What'd you get?"
"His route," Brady replied, and wheeled jerkily to the map. "The newsstand vendor saw him here"--a pointed finger--"and then a construction worker here, and then the coffee shop." He lifted the finger as Chaz uncapped a green marker and filled in the route behind it.
"Based on when his girlfriend said he left home and how many steps the pedometer had on it." Reyes added, "He didn't take any detours or stop to talk to anyone either. And nobody saw anything suspicious or out of the ordinary until he opened the coffee shop door and fell."
Chaz traced circles with his finger, frowning a little. "That intersects with Genevieve Scranton's financials here. She stopped at the vitamin store around the block the day of her aneurysm."
"She would have had to interact with our UNSUB that day," Reyes said, and pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers. Also, we would have to know how to define interaction in the context of this UNSUB's mythology. And any kind of connection to build a victimology on except geography, age, and the having of money, in a neighborhood where everyone except the baristas and the cleaners had money. And a pony.
At least when you were hunting needles in haystacks, you knew you were looking for the sharp shiny metal thing.
The door opened and presented us with Esther Falkner and Daphne Worth. Falkner waved a sheaf of paper to and fro for inspection, and presented it on the table like a barn cat's latest kill. "Jenny Chan's updated medicals. They haven't gone digital yet, apparently."
They were both grim-faced; not grim-faced enough for a body, but that twitch Worth got with her fingers was alive and wakeful: a tug at the collar, down to the pocket. Probably the paramedic's equivalent of spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch.
"What's the other thing?" Reyes asked.
Worth nodded. "Jenny Chan's last words. Which were suspiciously similar to Joshua Shore's."
I lowered the fold of the laptop screen. There'd been an ache in Shore's voice, just so, when he'd said it. The ragged edge of something passed from hand to hand and fingered so often its molecules lived in your own skin. He'd looked so young for that kind of regret.
Brady frowned. "Is that a usual thing for people to say when they're dying?"
"Last words are kind of a conceit," Worth said, and flipped hair out of her face; another step on the stations of the cross. "Yeah, people have regrets, people say things, but the actual last words aren't as profound as everyone thinks. Usually it's something to do with a glass of water or that pain in your hip."
"I once knew a guy whose last words were Et tu, Brute? " I said, distracted.
I shrugged a little. "California Shakespeare festival, 1984. Had a heart attack and dropped right in the middle of the stage. Got a standing ovation until Cinna realized he wasn't breathing. Ironically, the guy playing Brutus had been paying court to Caesar's boyfriend, and it rattled him so bad he moved across the country."
"So he knew," Chaz said.
"No," I said. "That was just the line."
Worth raised her eyebrows. "Thing is, Joshua Shore's were I should have listened. I should have been paying attention. Right?"
I closed my eyes; spooled back the imperfect little tape recorder in my head to grasp at the last one. "He said it was his own fault."
Worth's eyebrow hit its peak. "Makes you wonder what Macy MacIntyre and Genevieve Scranton said before they lost consciousness."
"Doesn't it," I agreed, and ambled over to the whiteboard. They had a nice selection of dry-erase markers here; nice to be the New York City Police Department and have a budget. I picked one up and inked Should have listened/own fault into a discreet corner. It was a glaring purple.
It couldn't be their own words. It's only in Agatha Christie, attempted posthumous government coups (see; Rodrigo Rosenberg, Guatemalan lawyer, who ordered his own assassination in 2009 and conveniently left a videotape blaming President Alvaro Colom for it lying around), or a rousing game of Clue that people reach up one bloodied hand and give you the last-minute clue. Nobody's sense of structure is that good. Only Caesar's, and that's because he read the stage directions; he knows that the story is about to end.
Worth caught my eye, nodded. She'd seen people die, a lot of them. She got it. Falkner frowned. "That's worth finding out. We have to interview the families anyway," she said, and tipped a nod to Lau. Set it up.
"Right," she said, and picked up her phone.
Reyes motioned with his chin: Outside, Solomon Todd. I got up--creaking knees--and followed him to the doorway, out into the quiet bubble between the noise of a precinct winding down and a boardroom just gearing up for the evening's work.
"Hit the sack," Reyes said. "Tomorrow's going to be a long day."
I must have gotten a look on my face.
"Because I need you rested," he said, and he knew why, and I knew why. So I just nodded, and tucked my head back through the door and said, "Bedtime for old men," cheerfully, and took the aggrieved groans with a bright and simulated good grace.
I logged off the laptop--we couldn't have anyone sending dirty pictures from government e-mail in the downtime, after all--and collected my jacket. Security was tight going the other way too, which was smart: There were all kinds of things you could have a field day with in the streets of New York if you'd been in an evidence room. I took my pat-down, showed my concealed carry permit--again--and slipped out the front door, knees aching, into the hot New York summer night.
The hotel was close enough to walk: twenty minutes, maybe, past Pace and the hospital and maybe a shortcut through the St. Paul's churchyard if I wanted to handle going by Ground Zero tonight. I stretched my legs--really needed to stop spending so much time in front of a computer--and wandered east, deeper into the downtown.
I was at Fulton and Broadway when "Spare change?" floated up from down by my knees; a heap of sweaters and peeling shoes with a beard and sunburn and voice. Homeless men, like teenaged vegetarians, are frequently cold in summer temperatures: the combination of protein deficit and a lack of body fat. The hand holding out the battered coffee cup was bony.
I dug into my pocket and pulled out a few dollar bills, dropped them into the cup. They landed softly on a sparse bed of pennies, nickels, quarters. I was cancelling a meeting with a film agent tomorrow morning. I could in fact spare the change.
"Thanks," he said, crackly and soft.
I stopped, looked down at him. He was younger than he sounded: thirty, thirty-three. "Take care of yourself, man," I said. And then walked west through South Manhattan, through the darkening streets, to the ridiculousness of my hotel room.