Life blood, p.14
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       Life Blood, p.14

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  Chapter Fourteen

  Before I could ask him what the hell he was talking about, the medicswere ringing the doorbell. They strode in with a gurney, also rolling aportable plasma IV, young guys who looked like they'd be more at homeat a Garden hockey game, followed immediately by two uniformedpolicemen, actually policewomen, one short and heavy, with reddishhair, the other a wiry young Hispanic. (I found out that ambulancescalled out for stabbing or gunshot wounds automatically get a copescort.) In less than three minutes, Lou was in the blue-and-whiteambulance and on his way to St. Vincent's emergency room.

  I rode in the backseat of the squad car as we followed them and triedto explain what little I knew of what had happened. It turned out to bean education in the mindless sticking points of the law.

  Long story short: The fact that I hadn't reported the burglary of myapartment that very same day immediately cast doubt on my seriousnessas a truth-seeking citizen; I had no proof the unreported burglary ofmy apartment (if, indeed, such had actually occurred) was by someGuatemalan military attache named Jose Alvino Ramos; since Lou hadnever seen Colonel Ramos before tonight, he couldn't possibly identifyhim as that burglar either; accusing diplomats of a crime withoutironclad proof was frowned on downtown; and when I stupidly repeatedwhat Lou had said about Sarah's last words (well, he was going to tellthem sooner or later, it would just come bubbling out at some point),the whole case that she was kidnapped went into revision mode.

  By the time we got to the hospital, I was getting questions that seemedto imply that maybe it was all a domestic affair--like most of theircalls: some spaced-out chick who'd run away once and got brought backand then, still unstable and crazy, decided to knife her own dad anddisappear again. Now he was understandably covering for her. Happenedmore than you'd think.

  I kept stressing that Lou was former FBI and not the sort to inventsuch a whopper, but this was listened to in skeptical silence. If itwas a kidnapping, they then wondered aloud what was the motive andwhere were the demands of the perpetrators? I was ready to startyelling at them by the time we parked in the Seventh Avenue driveway ofthe emergency room at St. Vincent's.

  They next made me cool my heels in the waiting room while they wentback to interrogate Lou. They were with him for almost an hour, thencame back to where I was and asked me to read and sign the reportthey'd written.

  A troubled girl, who had emerged from a coma and apparently wassuffering bouts of non-rationality, had disappeared and her father hadbeen stabbed but not seriously. He was the only witness to the incidentand claimed she'd been kidnapped. However, the girl had run away oncepreviously, and there was no physical evidence she'd been taken againsther will; in fact, her father admitted she had declared just theopposite. The whole incident would be investigated further after hecame downtown and made a complete statement.

  "I'm not going to sign this." I handed it back, fuming.

  "Is there anything here that's not factually correct?" The

  Hispanic cop was looking me straight in the eye, her expression cold asAlaska.

  The question made me seethe. Sarah was probably already on her way outof the country, and here I was trying to reason with two women whopractically thought she was the criminal. But I knew a lost cause whenI saw one.

  "Forget about it. I want to see Lou."

  An intern was coming out and I snagged him, announced I was next of kinto a patient, and demanded to be taken through the official door andinto the back. At that moment, the stout cop's radio crackled. Theywere being summoned to a Christopher Street gay bar where somebody hadjust been knifed in a back room. She looked at me, as though to say,"This sounds like a real crime," and then they hurried out for theirsquad car. Christ!

  The intern, a young black guy, led me past a row of gurneys and into aprivate room at the rear of the huge space. Lou was bandaged all aroundhis chest and hooked up to an IV and a monitor. He looked better, but Iwasn't sure he'd be ready for what I was about to tell him.

  "Hey, how're you feeling?" I asked as I walked in, trying to seemupbeat.

  "Fucking cops." He was boiling, his face actually red. "Where do theyget them these days? McDonald's rejects?"

  "Easy, don't get your blood pressure up." I reached over and touchedhis brow. It felt like he had a mild temperature. "Let's all just calmdown and try to think rationally."

  "Yeah, I'm thinking rationally. You saw that fax I got from Williams."

  "You think that was Alex Goddard seated next to her, right?"

  "Who else? When she was in her moonbeam phase, she must have heardabout him and gone up there and ended up in his clutches. But why didshe let him take her down to--?"

  "He told me he has a clinic in Central America. He called it 'a placeof miracles.' And then Colonel Ramos shows up, part of the Guatemalandiplomatic corps. Put two and two together. That's got to be wherethey're taking her."

  "Who knows, but I'm going to get the boys downtown to put out amissing-persons APB nationwide. Gerry'll do it for me if I ask. FuckNew York's Finest. They ain't gonna do crap anyway."

  I listened wondering how to impress my bright idea upon him. Thechances were Ramos was taking Sarah back to Guatemala. Probably rightthis minute. For some kind of unfinished business. Or just to hold herthere as an insurance policy that Children of Light would never bementioned in my picture.

  "I seriously doubt a missing-persons alert is going to do any good Lou,because I seriously doubt she's going to be walking the streets of thiscountry. That bastard Ramos is taking her where he knows he can hideher."

  "You mean . . . Jesus." He stared at me as though the idea had nevercrossed his mind. I think he'd just repressed it. "What are we goingto--?"

  "The only thing we can do. I'm going down there. I'm going to gostraight down there and locate Alex Goddard."

  "That's an exceptionally lousy thought process." His voice seemed to becoming from a great distance.

  "Why? Give me one good reason why. You think the police down there aregoing to bring charges against a colonel?" I really could have usedsome encouragement. "It's the only way--"

  "Morgan, you've always been high-strung." He sighed and then winced."Ever since you were a kid. I worried about you then and I'm worriedabout you now. I don't want you to go down there and get into trouble.Because believe me, that's a seriously wrong place to get crosswayswith the pricks who make the rules. You don't know your way around thatThird World craphole. Wouldn't be that hard to end up a statistic. Wecan alert the embassy. Have them start looking for her."

  "Listen, there's a lot more going on between Alex Goddard and me thanyou know." This was definitely not the time to tell him about thebabies, or about Carly and the threats. "Trust me. I'm going downthere. In the morning, if I can. Who knows? Sarah and Ramos might evenbe on the same plane."

  As I was finishing that pronouncement, two nurses came in rolling agurney and announced that his room was ready. Then they gave him asedative.

  Was I being irrational? The thing was, though, what would you do? I wasabsolutely sure Ramos had taken her. So it was obvious that was wherehe would go next. He was a "diplomat," apparently, so he could easilyfudge the passport formalities.

  As the nurses were helping Lou onto the gurney, I stood there holdinghis hand and thinking about what lay ahead. Steve was in Belize andmaybe not even reachable, but I decided to start by giving him a callthe minute I got home.

  Then a middle-aged WASP, with dark hair, slightly balding, strode inthe room. The photo ID on his chest read "Dr. M. Summers."

  "So, how's the patient?" he enquired cheerily, ignoring me as heimmediately began checking the chart at the foot of Lou's bed.

  "Felt better," Lou said, not being taken in by his pro forma cheer.

  "Well, we're going to make sure you get a good night's rest." Dr.Summers finished with the chart and started taking his pulse. "What'sleft of it."

  "How long am I going to be in here, Doc?" Lou asked, flinching as thenurses removed the IV stuck in his arm.

"A couple of days. For observation. To make sure there're nocomplications." He smiled again. "You're a lucky man, Mr. . . .Crenshaw. Just a superficial cut. But we don't want you out playinghandball for a few days." He turned and gave me a conspiratorial wink,then glanced back. "Okay, up we go."

  "Can I come with him?" I asked, not optimistic but hoping.

  The doctor looked genuinely contrite. "I'm really sorry, but he's goingto be fine and visiting hours are long past. You can call in themorning. And you can come up anytime after two P.M. tomorrow. Let's lethim get some rest now."

  I walked around and took Lou's hand, hot and fevered, feeling soagitated.

  "Don't think about anything tonight, okay? Worrying won't help. Justget some sleep. I'm going to find her, I promise you."

  "Don't--" He mumbled some words, but I think the sedative the nurseshad given him was seriously starting to kick

  "Look, you can call down to 26 Federal Plaza tomorrow. See what theycan do. In the meantime, let me follow my nose."

  He tried to answer, but he was too far gone. I then watched wistfullyas he disappeared down the sterile alley of beds.

  After I stopped by the desk and helped them fill out the insuranceforms, I caught a cab downtown to retrieve my Toyota. The time was nowtwo-fifteen in the morning, but I still had plenty to do. When I gothome, the first thing I did after I walked in the door was grab a phonebook and call American Airlines. They had a flight, in the morning atnine-thirty. I gave them my credit card specifics and made areservation.

  I no longer thought that Alex Goddard's Children of Light and itsGuatemalan accomplices were merely doing something shady. My hunch nowwas that it was completely illegal. They were getting hundreds of whitebabies in some way that couldn't bear the light of day, and they wereprepared to do whatever it took to prevent me from highlighting them inmy film. And with the Army involved, and now Sarah taken, their gamewas beginning to feel more and more like kidnapping. They certainlyknew how.

  Sarah had become a pawn, and all because of me. I almost wondered ifI'd been unconsciously led to him by her, though that was impossible.Whatever had happened, the remorse I now felt was overpowering. It was,in fact, an intensified version of the guilt that had dogged me for thepast fifteen years, the horrible feeling I'd somehow let her down, notdone enough for her. I could have flown back for her high schoolgraduation, but I was cramming for grad school finals and didn't takethe time. Things like that, which, looking back, seemed terriblyselfish. And now I'd brought this on her. God.

  Okay, I thought, glancing at the clock, time to start making it up toher. Screw up your courage and wake Steve.

  The problem was, Lou had been right about one thing. It'd been yearssince I'd been to Guatemala, and I wasn't sure I knew beans about howthings operated down there these days. I was high on motivation andonly so-so in the area of modus operandi. I needed Steve's help inplying the tricky waters of that part of the planet. He was busy, butthis was definitely "us against the world" time, so maybe he coulddrive over to Guatemala City and help.

  I picked up the phone again and punched in the number of his hotel inBelize City, which seemed to be embedded permanently in my brain. Thatwonderful accent at the desk mon, and then they were ringing his room.I had no reason on earth to assume he would be there, but . . .

  The click, the voice, it was him.

  "Sorry to call so late, love. You said you missed me, so I've decidedto find out if it's true. Your coming attraction is about to arrive."

  I guess I was trying to keep it flip. After our talk that morning, Iwasn't entirely sure where we stood anymore.

  "Who . . . Morgy, is that you? God it's two . . . Are you okay?" Thenhe started coming around, processing what I said. "You're coming . . .Honey, that's great."

  As I noted before, he always knew how to give a good reading, soundsincere, no matter what the occasion.

  "Actually, I've just made a plane reservation, and I'm going to be inGuatemala City tomorrow, just after noon." I hesitated then thought,why beat around the bush? "Care to meet me there?"

  "That's terrific," he declared coming fully awake. "But why don't youjust come to Belize City? Can't you get flight? It's actually notnearly as wild here as the travel books--"

  "Well, I've . . . Look, I'd rather not talk about this on the phone.But do you think you could get free and drive over I really could useyour help. I've got a situation."

  "Well . . ." He paused. "I could be there by late tomorrow assuming myrented Jeep still operates after last week and the roads haven'ttotally disintegrated. Where're you going to be staying?"

  "I don't know. Got any suggestions? I want to keep out of thelimelight."

  "Then try the Camino Real. It's like a Holiday Inn with plastic palmtrees. Definitely low maintenance and low profile. Hang on, I'll getyou the number."

  Which he did, though I could hear him stumbling around the room in thedark. Then he continued.

  "But listen, here's the bad news. I've got to be back here day aftertomorrow. I just got a special permit to do some night shooting in thejaguar preserve down by Victoria Peak--you remember the rain forest Itold you about?--but it's only good for one night, and I hear rumorsthere's an off-season hurricane forming in the Caribbean, which meansI've got to stick to schedule. After that, though, I'm free again."

  "We'll work it out." I was thrilled he would just drop everything andcome. Maybe we were over the rough spot about the baby.

  He didn't bring that up and I didn't either. Instead we killed a fewminutes, and then I let him go back to sleep. I wanted to say I loveyou, but I didn't want to push my luck.

  After that I called the hotel he'd recommended. The exchange was moreSpanish than English, but they had a room. Apparently lots of rooms.

  Next I rang Paula Marks, even though it was terribly late. She musthave had the phones off, but I left a message telling her to becareful, with a postscript that I'd explain everything later. Juststick close to home.

  Finally I called David's voice mail up at Applecore. I told him I had apersonal crisis and was going to Guatemala City. I'd try to be back bythe end of the week, hell or high water, but no guarantees. And if hetouched so much as a frame of my work print while I was gone, I'dpersonally strangle him.

  I don't remember much of what happened next. I basically went onautopilot. It's as though I dropped into a trance, totally focused. Ipacked my passport, a good business suit, the tailored blue one, andalso a set of mix-and-match separates, easy to roll and cram in.Finally a couple of pairs of good (clean) jeans, a few toiletries, andthen, thinking ahead, I also threw in my yellow plastic flashlight. Ialmost always over pack, but not this time.

  Oh, and one other thing. For airplane reading I grabbed a Lonely Planetguide to Central America that Steve had left behind--I guess he figuredhe was at the stage of life to start writing them, not readingthem--that turned out to be very helpful, particularly the map ofGuatemala City and the northern Peten rain forest. I then collapsedand--images of Sarah's emaciated face haunting my consciousness--caughta couple of hours' sleep.

  The next thing I knew, it was 9:20 A.M. and I was settling into windowseat 29F on American Airlines Flight 377--next to a two-hundred-poundexecutive busy ripping articles out of the business section of _ElDiario_--headed for Guatemala City.

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