فصل 02

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فصل 02

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Chapter two

Metropolitan Hospital

After a few inquiries at the main reception desk, we were finally given the location of Jose’s room at the hospital. Eventually, when we reached the floor, it was obvious that gaining access would be no simple matter. There was a bored-looking police officer sitting outside. I thought I might start with a little gentle persuasion. It can sometimes work, even on police officers. I should know - I used to be an NYPD officer before I set up my own business.

“Excuse me,” I said, showing the officer my investigator’s license. “I represent Mr. Jose De La Cruz. Would it be possible to speak to him? The lady here is Ms. Delgado, sister of Mr. De La Cruz.”

The officer was unimpressed. He looked me up and down and said flatly, “Sorry, sir. No one’s allowed in. And that’s official.”

I wondered if he was going to be one of those people who get their job satisfaction by creating difficulties for others. I wasn’t going to take ‘no’ as the final answer. “Come on, now. Just a quick word. Won’t do any harm.”

“No,” replied the officer sharply. “This guy’s a suspect. He’s wanted for questioning.”

“Suspected of doing what?” I demanded. “Has he been charged with any crime?”

“Don’t know, and no.”

“Thanks for all your co-operation. Give me the name of your boss, will you?” I asked.

It was Captain Oldenberg. A familiar name. Oldenberg and I had worked together at the NYPD. That was over fifteen years ago, when we’d both been patrolmen on the streets of the Lower East Side. Since I’d left the NYPD to become a private eye, Oldenberg had risen through the ranks and had now been promoted to captain. Every now and then our professional paths crossed. Oldenberg was the sort of guy you didn’t forget in a hurry. He could be bad- tempered, loud, and dominating at times. Despite that, he was basically a good cop. I’d need all my charm to deal with him, though.

“Thanks. I’ll be back,” I said.

Stella was looking furious. “Nat! Exactly what is going on here?” she demanded as we walked away from the room. “Are you just going to take ‘no’ for an answer?”

“Stay calm, Stella. In this situation we need friends, not enemies. I’ll call Oldenberg.”

I phoned police headquarters and was put through to Oldenberg’s office. He wasn’t exactly pleased to hear from me. That was normal. He was even less pleased when I asked if Jose was free to leave once the doctors had given him the all clear.

“You’ve got to be joking, Marley!” he shouted. “There’s no way I’m going to let that guy out on the streets. He’s being held on ‘reasonable suspicion’. I’ve had a crime scene team examining the car De La Cruz was found in, and I’m waiting for the results of forensic tests.”

Tests to examine what? Bloodstains on clothes? DNA? A weapon? I tried my charm on Oldenberg again.

“I’d be interested to know what those tests would be for,” I said.

“Sure you would. Marley, you know I can’t reveal any details of evidence until the suspect has been charged.”

It was the answer I’d been expecting. No harm in having another try.

“Have you established who was the owner of the vehicle?” I asked hopefully.

“Same as my previous answer,” he replied bluntly.

I got the impression that the captain was enjoying himself. One last attempt to make some progress.

“OK, Oldenberg. I know your position. Rules have to be obeyed. But if my client hasn’t been charged, why can’t I speak to him? I have his sister with me and she’s upset in a big way. Just ten minutes? And I’ll agree to the police officer being present too.”

“All right, Marley. Have your ten minutes. I’ll call the officer and tell him to expect you.”

We hurried back to speak to Jose. The officer showed us into his room. Jose was sitting up in bed, with a bandage around his head and an IV drip attached to his arm. There was a hopeless expression on his face. Stella went over to him, took his hand, and spoke to him gently.

“How are you feeling, Jose?”

“Not great. I’m full of painkillers, but I can still feel my head spinning,” said Jose. “Stella, it’s real good to see you. Are you going to get me out of here? I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“You and I both know you haven’t done anything wrong,” she said. “Remember what I told you, Jose. You’ve got to keep holding on.”

“So what’s the cop doing here, huh?” asked Jose, glancing in the direction of the officer.

“We had to agree to the officer being present. Jose, this is my boss, Nat Marley. He’s going to help you.”

“I’m sure glad to see you, Nat,” said Jose.

“If we’re going to help you, you’ve got to give us the whole story. Don’t hold anything back.” I said. “Everything that happened from the time you left home yesterday until you woke up in this hospital bed.”

Jose, with his two friends, Miguel and Carlos, took the subway to Coney Island to find work. The boss at the diner offered him a job as a cook and Jose’s buddies were taken on as waiters. Jose showed Miguel and Carlos around the sights of Coney Island during the afternoon. After stopping for food, they moved on to Brighton Beach to celebrate. By early evening they’d had several drinks in bars on Brighton Beach Avenue, in the heart of the Russian community. He had a confused memory of waking up in a bar. His buddies had gone. Then nothing. The next thing he remembered was waking up in Metropolitan Hospital.

“You don’t remember anything else?” I asked.

“Nothing. It’s the honest truth, Nat,” said Jose. “It’s all a black fog.”

“Brighton Beach? Kind of an unusual night out for three guys from Upper Manhattan, huh?” I asked.

“You’re right. At first it felt kind of strange for us to be there,” said Jose, “but people were nice and didn’t mind three outsiders having a night out. One bartender got friendly when we asked him about all the different vodkas.”

“Now think hard, Jose. Can you remember anything else?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he replied.

“What happened to Miguel and Carlos?”

“I can’t remember.”

It didn’t look good. Jose had been found unconscious at the wheel of a car that wasn’t his. He had no memory of what had happened after passing out in a Brighton Beach bar.

“Jose, I know you don’t have a driver’s license, but can you drive?” I asked.

“No way, Nat. I’ve never tried. And even if I could, I’d have been too drunk to drive.”

The police officer interrupted us: “Time’s up, Mr. Marley.”

There wasn’t any point in asking for more time. I didn’t think we were going to learn anything more of value. As to what had actually happened, it was still a complete mystery. Was Jose the victim or was he the guilty party?

My impression of him from our brief talk was of a harmless ordinary guy; a guy who had gotten into some sort of trouble and had no explanation for what had happened.

It wasn’t looking good. There was some small hope though, since I’d gotten clients out of worse situations than this. Jose needed a lawyer, urgently, and I knew just the woman for the job: Lena Rosenthal. She was capable, intelligent, and tough; someone who could stand up to Oldenberg. As soon as Jose was charged with a crime, then we would have something concrete from the NYPD. Otherwise, we were just operating in the dark.

Stella had to get back to her family, so I gave her the rest of the day off. I just wished I could say something that might give her some comfort. But I knew whatever I said would be inadequate. Once I had more information, then I might be able to offer her some hope.

The next day, the temperature was close to freezing. A layer of frost covered the windows of cars parked on the street overnight. I’d arrived at the office early and was just putting the breakfast coffee and donuts down on the desk when the phone rang. A familiar voice barked at me - Captain Oldenberg.

“Marley? Just calling to tell you that your client De La Cruz is still being held at the hospital. I wanted to get him moved to headquarters for further questioning, but the doctors insisted he be kept under observation. I’m still waiting for the results of the tests on bloodstains found on his jacket and a wallet in his possession.”

Oldenberg had given away a few more details. Bloodstains? Things were getting more serious.

In desperation I said: “Oldenberg, my client can’t drive. And what’s more, the alcohol level from the blood tests should indicate he’d have been incapable of driving anyway.”

“Marley, don’t make me laugh,” he replied.

“My client needs to consult his lawyer. With your permission, I’d like to take her over to the hospital this morning. Any objections?”

“Be my guest, Marley. I’ll call the officer on duty and tell him to expect you.”

By now Stella had arrived. I told her the latest developments. She took it all in silently then sat in front of her computer with her head in her hands. I arranged to pick up Lena Rosenthal.

Later, as our cab headed up First Avenue towards the hospital, I gave Lena all the details she needed about Jose’s case. I also explained how I was involved.

“Lena, this isn’t just a routine case for me. This guy’s the kid brother of my assistant, Stella Delgado. Stella’s been working for me so long that she’s like part of my family. I feel responsible for both Stella and Jose. You could say it’s personal this time.”

Lena nodded. “Thanks for telling me, Nat. Anything else I should know?”

“I should warn you about Captain Oldenberg. He has a reputation for being aggressive and insensitive.”

“Oldenberg and I have met before. I know what to expect,” replied Lena.

At the hospital, before we saw Jose, a doctor took us aside.

“Excuse me. Are you family?” she asked.

“We represent Mr. De La Cruz. The name’s Nat Marley, private investigator,” I replied, flashing my I.D. at the doctor. “This is his lawyer Ms. Rosenthal. We have permission from the NYPD to visit our client.”

“Thank you. I’m Dr. Ericson. Mr. De La Cruz has been under my care since he was admitted. His condition has been giving me cause for concern. In the accident, he received a heavy blow to the head. So far his condition has been stable, but there have been some symptoms that worry me. He’s complained about seeing double images and he has twice lost consciousness, though very briefly. And also there’s some memory loss. So, I must warn you not to put Mr. De La Cruz under any unnecessary stress. He’s been through enough already, and with any further stress…”

“Understood, Doctor. We’ll take great care.”

Before seeing Jose, Lena turned to me. “It would be a good idea not to mention anything about the forensic tests. This guy sounds scared enough already.”

I nodded my agreement.

Eventually we were allowed in to speak to Jose. He looked at us with dull eyes and raised a hand to acknowledge us. I could see the despair in his eyes. Lena went over exactly the same questions as I had asked before. There was nothing more that Jose could add. We had made no further progress. As we were leaving, Jose cried out hopelessly: “Nat, for God’s sake, get me out of here! I’m going out of my mind.”

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