Life blood, p.12
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       Life Blood, p.12

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  Chapter Twelve

  I arranged with Patrick Mooney to have his sister in Queens, afull-figured woman named Rosalyn, come in and finish the job ofreconstructing my wrecked home. She arrived an hour and a half later,and was hard at work when I left. I also agonized over thepolice-report issue, but finally decided to forgo the bother. Lou wasright: It would be a two-hour ordeal of futility. Besides, I had betterthings to do with my time. I was going to return the favor of aninformation-gathering expedition.

  Alex Goddard had said he'd be absent from Quetzal Manor--who knows forhow long--and this time around I was going to do the place right, thenext step in my undercover research. The first, and main, thing Iwanted to do was explore the new high-tech clinic that sat nestled inthe woods across from the old building. Everything about it was theexact opposite of a "Manor." Not a shred of New Age "spirituality,"just a lot of digital equipment and ultrasound and . . . what else?Chief among my questions: What was behind that big, white door?

  Maybe I was being impulsive, but I was completely wired and the truthwas, I wasn't going to sleep till I knew a lot more than I did. And ifI went late tonight, Sunday, I probably wouldn't have to deal withRamala.

  I called Roger Drexel, my unshaven cameraman, and asked him to come upand meet me at Applecore. It was Sunday and he was watching the thirdquarter of a Knicks game and into his second six-pack, but he agreed.After all, I was his current boss.

  All I really wanted was his Betacam and some metal tape, which would bebroadcast quality. (I'd wanted to do it yesterday, but now the time haddefinitely come.) We met at the office, and he unlocked the room withthe camera gear and loaded in a fresh tape. With any luck, he made ithome for the end of the game.

  I then had a sinful cheeseburger and fries at a Greek diner two blocksdown the avenue. It was my idea of a courage-bolstering indulgence.

  My watch read six thirty-five and daylight was waning when I revved myold Toyota and started my northbound trek back to Quetzal Manor. When Iwas passing the George Washington Bridge, the first drifting flakes ofa freak late-season snowstorm began pelting my windshield. Good Ithought, turning on my wipers, the less visibility, the better. Atleast I believed that till the road started getting slippery and I hadto throttle back. It was only then I realized I'd been pushing eightyon the speedometer, passing a lot of cars. Lou's warning not to goanywhere alone was still filed in the back of my mind but I kept tryingnot to think about it. Sometimes there are things you've just got to do.

  The highway grew more treacherous the farther north I went, but thetraffic was thinning out and by the time I reached the turnoff toQuetzal Manor, total darkness had set in, in addition to which thepaving was covered with at least an inch of sparkling-new pristine snow.

  As I eased up the roadway, my headlights made the trees around meglisten with their light dusting of white, like frosting on the tips ofa buzz cut. I switched off my lights as I made the last turn in theroad but not before catching a glimpse of Quetzal Manor, and I mustconfess to feeling a shudder, of both anger and apprehension, runthrough me as I watched its magisterial turrets disappear into thesnowy dark.

  I parked my car at the back of the lot and retrieved the flashlight I'dbrought, a yellow plastic two-battery model. I hadn't realized there'dbe snow when I left home, so I was just wearing some old sneakers, butthey'd do. I then sat there in the dark for a long minute, listening tothe silence and thinking. The first thing was to find out if anybodywas guarding the place. The next was to get some video of the newbuilding.

  I grabbed the bag carrying the Betacam, tested my flashlight againstthe floorboard, and then headed up the snowy driveway. I marchedstraight through the open arch that was the front door, and I was againin the drafty hallway where I'd met Ramala Saturday morning. It wasempty and dark now, no lights anywhere, not even out in the courtyardbeyond. The stony quiet--no music, no chants--felt unnatural, but italso suggested that Alex Goddard's adoring acolytes were safely tuckedaway. Early to bed . . . you know the rest. So maybe I really had comeat the right time.

  A chilly wind was blowing in from the far end of the hallway, and Ifelt like I'd just entered a dank tomb, but I tightened my coat andpressed on. When I got to the end and looked out, the snowy courtyardwas like a picture postcard. And completely empty.

  All right, I thought, move on to what you came for.

  But when I turned and headed back down the hallway, toward the entryarch, I caught a glimpse of a furtive form, dark and shadowy, lurkingjust outside. Shit! I froze in my tracks, but then the figure steppedinside, wearing something that made me think of Little Red Riding Hood,like a tiny ghost in a cowl.

  It was Tara, Alex Goddard's spacey waif, who was moving so oddly, Ithought for a moment she might be sleepwalking.

  She wasn't, of course. She'd just been out strolling around thedriveway in the snow. I soon realized she lived her life in somethingresembling a trance, as though she were a permanent denizen of thespirit world. For her it was a natural condition.

  "It's so beautiful like this," she mumbled dreamily, as though we'dbeen in the middle of a lifelong conversation. "I just love it." Hervoice was barely above a whisper, but in the silence it seemed toricochet off the stone walls. "I want to take them out, show them God'spaintbrush. Will you help me?"

  "Take who out?" I asked, immediately deciding to go with the moment.

  Finally she looked directly at me and realized whom she'd been talkingto.

  "You were here before. I tried to give you herbs to help you, but thenhe came and . . ." Her voice trailed off as she walked back through theportico and out again into the drifting snow. Then she held up herhands, as though attempting to capture the flakes as keepsakes. "I sowant to show them. They've never seen it before." She glanced back atme. "Come on. Let's do it."

  As I followed her out into the drifting white and across the parkinglot, the accumulation of snow was growing denser, enough now to startcovering the cars, but still, something told me the flurry was going tobe short-lived. I took a long, misty breath of the moist air andclicked open the case holding the Betacam, readying myself to take itout the minute we got inside.

  Well, I thought, maybe I've gotten lucky. She was headed for the newclinic, which was exactly where I wanted to go. It was nestled in thetrees, up a winding pathway, and as I slogged along I could feel thesnow melting through my sneakers.

  When we got to the front door, large and made of glass, she just pushedit open.

  "We never lock anything," she declared, glancing back. "It's one of ourrules."

  The hallway was dark, silent, and empty except for the two of us.Still, I felt a tinge of caution as we entered. At some level this wastrespassing.

  "Come on," she said, casually flipping a switch on the right-hand walland causing the overhead fluorescents to blink on. "He's away now, andeverybody's in bed. But I'll bet they're still awake in here. It's aperfect time."

  I didn't feel anything was perfect, but I did know I wanted to learnwhat was behind the door I'd seen when I was leaving. It was at the endof the hallway, wide and steel and painted hospital white. And, sureenough, that was exactly where Tara was heading.

  She just kept talking nonstop, in her dreamy, little-girl voice. "We'vegot to try and make them understand it's okay. That it'll be just for aminute."

  She shoved open the door without knocking, and my ears were greeted bythe faint strains of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," one of myfavorites. For an instant I was caught up in the music, a poignantmoment drawing me in.

  The room itself was spacious, with a row of white bassinets along oneside and subdued lighting provided by small fluorescent bulbs along thewalls. It was, I immediately realized, a no-frills nursery. Alongsidethe bassinets were tables with formula and boxes of Pampers andHandi-Wipes. Two short women of indefinable nationality--they lookedvaguely Asian--were in attendance, and at the moment one was facingaway and bouncing a baby on her shoulder. Her infant looked like aboy--or was that just my imagination?--and I felt my heart go ou
t. Thelight was dim, but I could tell he was a gorgeous sandy-haired kidplump and peachy, so sublime in his tender vulnerability as he gazedaround with eyes full of trust. He was staring directly back at me andbefore I could stop myself, I gave him a little wave and wrinkled mynose. He stared at me a second then responded with a tiny smile. Hey, Ithought, I've got the touch.

  "Come on," Tara said ignoring the women, "let me show you. They're allso beautiful."

  By then my eyes were adjusting to the subdued light, and as we walkeddown the middle of the long room, I confirmed my assumption that thebassinets next to the tables all contained infants. I'm no expert onbabies, but I'd guess they were all around six weeks old maybe a coupleof months at most.

  This is the nest, I thought. Ground zero. Kevin and Rachel were bothprobably in this room at one time too. . . .

  "Aren't they wonderful?" Tara was saying, still in her squeaky,spaced-out voice.

  I was opening the Betacam bag when the first woman, the one holding andlightly bouncing her little boy, absently put her hand under his quilt,then spoke to the other in deeply accented English.

  "He's wet again."

  It was the first words either of them had uttered. Then she turned tome in exasperation, assuming, I suppose, that I was one of AlexGoddard's flock. "And I just changed him." Again the accent, but Istill couldn't identify it. She made a face, then carried him over to aplywood changing table in the center of the room.

  I felt a great baby-yearning as I moved over beside her, but she wasbehaving like a typical hourly wage-earner, glumly going about her job,and I just stood there a moment, vainly wanting to hold him, thenturned back to Tara.

  "Where do all these children come from?"

  "Ramala says they're orphans or abandoned or something. From overseasor wherever." She sighed. "They're so perfect."

  She was completely zombied-out. It felt like talking to a marshmallowon downers.

  "But how, exactly, do--?"

  "People bring them here." She seemed uninterested in the question, justplunging on as she wandered on down the line of bassinets.

  I'd finally come to my senses enough to take out the Betacam, thoughthe light wasn't actually enough to really work with, certainly notbroadcast quality.

  She stopped and picked up one of the infants out of its bassinet, thenturned back to me, her eyes turning soft as she hugged it the way shemight a small puppy. "Isn't this one cute? I'd so love to have him."

  Was she on some kind of drug that suppressed curiosity? I found myselfwondering as I panned the camera around the room. There must have beenat least twenty bassinets, all just alike, wicker with a white lacehood. A couple of the babies were sniffling, and the one Tara hadpicked up now began crying outright, much to her annoyance. The roomitself smelled like baby powder.

  "And then what happens?" I asked finally, zooming in on one of thewomen.

  "What happens when?" Now Tara was twirling in a circle, hummingfutilely to the shrieking child. "You mean, after they come here?"

  "Right." God, getting answers from her was making me crazy.

  "The girls here take them to their new mothers." Her eyes had turnedeven more dreamy as she lightly bounced the bawling bundle she washolding one last time, after which she returned it to its bassinet.Then she gazed around the room. "It's so sad to see them leave."

  Did Paula and Carly get their babies that way? I found myselfwondering. Probably, but it was one more thing I'd neglected to ask.

  "Come on," Tara continued. "Let's take some of them out. He makes thenurses try and speak English around the children, but they don't reallyknow much. Maybe you could figure out a way to, like, explain--"

  "Tara, I don't think taking any of these babies out into the snow is avery hot idea. Not tonight. Maybe in the morning." Stall her, Ithought. She's completely out of it. Then I looked at the womanchanging the baby. Sure enough, I was right. It was a boy.

  "But I want to." Tara turned crestfallen. "To show them how beautiful--"

  "Well, I don't speak whatever language they're speaking," I said,cutting cut her off. "I'm not even sure I could make it soundreasonable in English. So you'll have to do it without my help."

  Then I turned to the woman who'd been changing the baby.

  "Do you know where this child came from?" Why not take a shot?

  She just stared at me, alarmed, then turned away. Nothing. She clearlywasn't going to tell me anything, even if she could. She and the otherswere just cheap hired help, probably illegal immigrants without a greencard and scared to death for their jobs. They weren't going to be doingan in-depth tell-all to anybody.

  I thought about the situation for a moment, and decided I'd seen what Icame to see. This was pay dirt. Alex Goddard was running a full-scaleadoption mill, just as Lou had suspected. He was collecting beautifulwhite babies from "overseas or wherever," and selling them here atsixty thousand a pop.

  Which went a long way toward explaining why he didn't want Children ofLight to be featured in my film. And the Guatemalan colonel who'd justtrashed my home was almost certainly in on the operation. Alex Goddardmight be a New Age miracle worker rediscovering ancient Native Americanherbal cures, but he also was running a very efficient money machine.

  Still, the big question kept coming back: Where did he get all thebabies? To extract any more information about that from Quetzal Manor,I'd have to break into an office somewhere, and I wasn't quite up tothat yet. I didn't have the nerve of Colonel Jose Alvino Ramos.

  "Tell you what, Tara, I think I'm out of here." I was returning theBetacam to its bag. Nothing I'd shot was remotely broadcast quality,but I did have proof of what was going on. My "undercover"investigation was making some headway.

  "Okay." She sighed her expression increasingly glazed.

  I took one last look around the room, at the row of bassinets, thengave her a parting pat and headed for the exit.

  "Look," I said turning back as I reached the door. "Don't say anythingto anybody about me being here tonight, okay? Can we just let it be oursecret?"

  "Sure, whatever." She shrugged absently. Like, why not.

  "And Tara, do yourself a favor. Get out of this place."

  "But there's nowhere else I can go," she said sadness in her eyes. As Islowly closed the door, the last thing I heard was the sound of theBeethoven sonata dying away.

  What a day . . . and night. As I walked down the hallway carrying thecamera bag, I tried to process my new information. I'd just seen someof the most incredibly lovable babies ever. That part of it was abeautiful experience, one that pulled at my heartstrings more stronglythan I'd ever imagined something like that could. The part thattroubled me was, the babies were so alike, so fair, and . . . they allcould have been perfect siblings for Kevin and Rachel.

  No, I told myself, surely that was my imagination. Though they did lookamazingly related. . . .

  As I moved across the parking lot, I thought I saw a movement in theshadows just inside the entry archway, a quick change in the pattern ofdark. Was it Ramala or one of the girls, I wondered, or was it just myparanoia?

  Keep walking, I told myself. Lose yourself in the snow. The only waythey can stop you from exposing this racket now is to kill you.

  When I got back to my car, I gazed up at the imposing turrets ofQuetzal Manor one last time, wishing there was enough light to filmthem, and collected my thoughts. Was the story about the babies beingorphans or abandoned children or "whatever" really true? I didn'tbelieve it, not for a minute.

  But as Carly Grove said, Alex Goddard could "make it happen." Theproblem for me was, he wouldn't tell me where he got the children, andnobody I'd talked to so far seemed to want to know, not really.

  I wanted to know.

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