First You Die, Chapter 10: Double Lucky Health Clinic
Rick woke up with a jolt at nine the next morning. He had a dream that Sonia was calling him, trying to reach out to him. She held out her hand and he could almost touch it, but kept missing, grabbing desperately. He dialed Verrone’s number. ‘What’s happening?’ Rick had spoken to the detective so many times in the past night he didn’t bother to say who he was.
‘We went to the Mercer Hotel. The Thais are gone, left, finished.’
‘What about the van?’ Rick heart was pounding.
‘No word on it yet. We have a three-state alarm out on it now. I’ll call you first thing if we find it.’
Rick replaced the receiver. He really didn’t know what to do. He went to the other side of the apartment to speak to the girls. Most were still in bed; they were all awake.
‘Is Sonia home?’ Three or four girls cried out.
‘Sonia hasn’t come home yet.’ Rick spoke softly. Does anyone know anything?’
The girls looked at each other. ‘Please Khun Rick.’ Joy raised her hand. ‘Sonia went someplace two days ago, wear dirty clothes, take from hamper.’
‘What? Are your sure? Why didn’t you tell me?’
‘She come home same day, no problem. Yesterday she go out again, no come back. We scared.’ Joy began to cry.
A few more girls burst into tears. Then a few more, soon all of the girls were crying. Rick walked from the room, brushing back the wetness from his eyes.
He sat down by his bed and picked up the almost empty bottle of Absolute and took a long pull. It burned in his stomach and he gagged but kept it down. Sonia never wore old clothes. Where the hell would she go?
The phone rang. Rick jumped for it. ‘What?’ he shouted.
It was Detective Verrone. ‘We’ve got the car. It’s been impounded. It was being towed that’s why we couldn’t pick it up.’
‘Where is it now? What happened?
‘It’s at the yard on the West Side. Violation of alternate side of the street parking. Sixty dollar fine, one twenty five towing charges, cash only.’
‘Where did they find it?’ Rick spoke clearly and loudly, impatiently. He wanted Verrone to get right to the point.
‘Mott Street where, for Christ sake? Chinatown or little Italy?’
‘We’re going to determine that. We’re trying to locate the ticketing officer now.’
‘I’ll call you back.’ Rick ran into the girl’s side of the loft, holding up his hands and shouting. ‘Everyone goes to work today. Take a cab. Joy-you call Danforth and tell him I may not be in.’
Rick ran down the five flights of stairs and across to the garage. ‘Keys’ he yelled to Rafael, who threw them to Rick as he raced to his Jaguar. Rick ripped out of the garage and headed towards Mott Street.
The traffic was terrible this time of day. Rick drove up and down Mott a few times. It took him two hours and he was annoyed beyond belief. It was bumper to bumper traffic. He turned on Orchard, feeling frustrated and helpless. He didn’t know what to do now that he was here, but he wasn’t going to give up.
He drove in circles for another hour and suddenly there it was, right in front of him. He must have passed it a few times. The Double Lucky Health Clinic. Rick jammed on the brakes and jumped out, leaving the car in the street, horns blaring behind him as he jerked open the storefront door.
‘Who’s in charge?’ Rick called out, striding towards the desk.
The nurse looked up, startled. A huge solidly built Asian man sprang up from a chair and advanced on Rick.
‘You have appointment?’ He said menacingly.
‘Right here.’ Rick reached for the Glock. Fuck- he had run out of the apartment without it. Rick swung a hard right at the man’s face. The big guy turned his head and Rick’s fist glanced off the side of his jaw. Rick threw a left-cross and hit the man squarely in the face. Blood splattered from the Thai’s nose and Rick came up with a right to the man’s chin. The Thai was dazed but he wrapped his arms around Rick and stumbled to the door. Rick weighed about one-seventy-five and the man had at least eighty pounds on him.
The man flung Rick outside. Rick’s body slammed sideways against a parked car, the door handle gouging into his back. Rick fell down, his head smacking on the sidewalk. He felt the dirt and grit pressing into his cheek. Rick rolled over and tried to stand. He looked up to see the Thai pointing a pistol at him.
‘Come again, you die.’ The man kicked Rick squarely in the stomach and Rick fell over making gasping sounds, trying to suck in air but nothing came. Rick held onto the side of the fender, thinking that he would pass out. The Thai was out of focus, hazy, weaving from side to side. Rick squeezed his eyes his shut and then open, trying to see as the Thai put the weapon in his waistband and lumbered back into the store.
Rick managed to get to his and feet leaned against a parking meter. His face felt wet and he wiped it with his hand. It was blood from his scraped jaw. Rick bent over and retched. Nothing came up except a bitter yellow liquid. Rick’s stomach turned again and as he hung his head down he saw that his ninety dollar beige shirt was spotted with blood.
A fellow New Yorker called out to him. ‘Hey jerk-off.’ A delivery van was stuck in back of Rick’s car and the driver was leaning on the horn, shouting at Rick. ‘Move your fucking car.’
Rick got in the Jaguar and drove it to the corner, stopping when he saw a phone booth. He ran the car halfway up on the sidewalk, shoved a quarter in the slot and picked up the receiver. There was no dial tone.
‘Mother-fucker.’ He ran to a newspaper/candy store. It reeked of incense and stale sweat. ‘I need to use your phone,’ Rick shouted to the dark-skinned man behind the counter.
The man slowly looked up from his magazine. He was wearing a black round cap with gold Arabic script and had a black mustache and beard. ‘We are not having public phone.’ He went back to reading his magazine.
Rick pulled the first bill he came to from his wallet. It was a twenty. ‘Do you have a mobile phone I can use?’ He said, pushing the twenty towards the man.
‘Is it being local call?’
Rick grabbed the man’s neck with both hands and pulled his face close to his own. ‘Give me the fucking phone.’
‘Okay, okay, taking it easy please.’ the man’s voice pitching a few octaves higher.
Rick dialed Verrone’s number. ‘I found it, the health clinic. I think Sonia’s inside. Can you get down here?’
‘Where are you?’
Mott, near Orchard, I’ll be in the street.’
‘Hold on, don’t hang up. Dutcher grab a car,’ Louis jumped up from his desk. ‘Keep talking. What health clinic?’
Rick had forgotten that he hadn’t told Louis about the missing girl and Jip’s investigation in Bangkok. It was twelve thousand miles away and he couldn’t imagine it was connected until now. Rick told Louis about Nui’s missing sister Porn, and Jip checking Rainbow at Nana Plaza.
‘Stay calm, we’ll be there in a few minutes.’
Rick went back down to the Double Lucky Health Clinic. The Thai man was outside now. He had his arms folded across his chest and was leaning against the wall next to the door, his biceps bulging against his shirt.
A beat-up sedan screeched to a stop in front of the store. Verrone and Dutcher jumped out. The big Thai stood in front of the door and held out his hand. ‘You have appoin—
‘Get the fuck out the way.’ Dutcher slammed into him, knocking him back against the wall. Dutcher punched him in the gut and the man went down gasping, grabbing inside his jacket.
‘Go ahead, pull it, you cocksucker.’ Dutcher had his hand close to his hip.
The Thai hesitated and Dutcher kicked him in the face. The Thai’s gun clattered on the sidewalk.
Rick ran into the store with Verrone, brushing past the nurse and into the back room.
The doctor sprang from his desk. ‘What do you want?’
Rick grabbed him, ‘Where’s Sonia?
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Take it easy.’ Louis pulled out his badge and gripped Rick’s arm. ‘Detective Verrone, we’re investigating a missing persons. Mind if we look around?’
‘Go ahead,’ the doctor ran a hand down his jacket, smoothing the wrinkles.
Verrone pulled open a door and whistled. ‘Pheweee, look at this.’ He was staring at a fully equipped hospital operating room, gleaming white tile and stainless steel. A young Chinese man was mopping the floor.
‘Pretty fancy stuff for a dump like this. What do you do here Doc?’
‘No? The sign on the window says pre-natal care and fertility treatments. What are you? A dick doctor?’
‘If you are having a problem with impotency Detective, I can schedule you for an appointment or you might try fondling the barrel of your gun. I understand that’s helpful for people in your line of work.’
Rick jerked open another door and a blast of icy air wafted over him. He stared at a dozen stainless steel cylinders as tall as he was. They looked like giant scuba diving tanks. Cardboard crates stacked from floor to ceiling filled the other side of the room. The boxes were tightly sealed with flat metal bands. A few lines of Thai script were printed in black ink on the boxes.
‘What’s this?’ Verrone eyed the doctor.
‘We import herbs.’
‘Like what?’ Verrone was annoyed and sounded it.
‘Chinese teas, dried plants and herbs used in Oriental healing, of which you know nothing about.’
‘Please keep the door closed.’ The doctor pushed past Rick and shoved the door shut.
‘What’s in the tanks?’
‘Oxygen, anesthesia, nitrous oxide, the usual thing. The doctor shrugged his shoulders.
‘Why’s it so damn cold in there?’
‘You want a lesson in pharmacology, go to school.’
Verrone nodded his head ‘What’s with the hood outside with the gun?’
‘This is not the safest of neighborhoods. There have been a few robberies lately.’
‘Mind if we look through your files?’ Louis pointed to an old metal cabinet.
‘You have a warrant?’
‘No, but I can get one.’
‘I doubt it. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.’
Louis pushed Rick towards the door. ‘Come on, we’re done here for now.’
‘Is that it? Rick said, walking past the nurse’s desk.
Louis put his hand on Rick’s back, nudging him along. ‘That smart assed prick. There’s not much we can do here now with out authorization.’
They walked outside. The large Thai had his hands cuffed in back of him; his head leaning against the wall and his feet spread apart and as far back as he could get them.
Dutcher had the man’s pistol. ‘He’s got a permit but I’m going to take him in for interfering with an officer, be out tomorrow, but what the hell.’ Dutcher kicked the man’s feet out from under him. The Thai slammed face first onto the cement, his nose spurting blood on the sidewalk. Dutcher picked the man up and threw him in the back seat. ‘Never-ever try to F-U-C-K with the N-Y-P-D.’
Verrone hardly noticed. ‘Want a ride?’
Rick shook his head. ‘I have a car. Listen to me, there’s something wrong with this place and you know it. When did you ever see oxygen tanks that huge; they were to the ceiling for Christ sakes?’
‘Get a search warrant. Go through the place with a fine tooth comb. Find out what’s in the tanks.’
‘There’s no probable cause. We’d never get one. Go home and try to relax.’ Verrone hesitated for a minute. ‘Look, maybe I can get Joe Nizzer down here to poke around. I’ll ask him to wear his regular clothes. The way he dresses, he fits in down here with out a disguise. That’s the best I can do. The doctor looks like a legitimate business man to me.’
Rick nodded to Verrone, got in his car and drove towards his apartment. He had one more person to call.
Excellent, as always.