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A serial murderer is prowling Manhattan's Upper West Side, leaving a child's doll at the scene of each brutal crime. ER resident Dr. Evelyn Suttcliffe has seen what the so-called "Babydoll Killer" is capable of--observing his handiwork with the cool detachment her job requires. But after she loses a patient and dear friend to "Babydoll, " she throws herself headlong into the dangerously evil vortex of the killer. 400 pp. National radio & print ads. 125,000 print.
After it happened, I tried to shake it off.
This was New York, after all. Citizens got pushed in front of subways by crazy people, thirteen-year-olds shot one another in Harlem; you name it, it happened. That summer we even had rumors of a new serial killer, a guy who had raped and bludgeoned two women since June, each time leaving a child's babydoll at the scene of the crime. You couldn't pick up the paper anymore without being screamed at by headlines: GRIM FORECAST WAS RIGHT: LAWMEN PREDICTED BABYDOLL KILLER WOULD RAPE AGAIN OR HOW THE MANIAC STRIKES: COPS HUNT ELUSIVE FOE.
So when I was walking up the hill from Riverside Drive on my way to the hospital at 6 A.M. and somebody hit me from behind and sent me flying, the first thing I thought was, Jesus, it's the Babydoll Killer. I tried to get up and he barked, "Stay down!" and before I could recover my wits, he was yanking the tails of my Brooks Brothers button-down shirt out of my chinos and pulling it over my head. Oh my God, oh my God, I thought, panic closing my throat, this is it, this is it --
He's going to rape me.
But he didn't rape me. He pulled my shirt over my head so I couldn't see him.
Then he ran away.
By the time I got myself untangled from my shirt, he was twenty yards off, running flat-out, an athletic-looking man in a T-shirt and running shorts, wearing a backpack. I thought maybe he had seen someone and had been seared off, but when I looked around for a would-be savior, I saw no one. Of course, the moment I took my eyes off my assailant, he disappeared.
Finally the adrenaline kicked in and I was in a familiarmode: Dr. Evelyn Farley Sutcliffe to the rescue; start the theme music, roll the credits. PAN CAMERA across a busy New York City hospital emergency room. ANGLE ON a tall, slender woman: me. Light brown hair cut in a modified wedge, hazel eyes, tortoiseshell eyeglass frames. Mid-thirties; I went to medical school late. I carry all the accoutrements of Welcome-to-the-Big-Time-Medicine. The white coat. The hospital badge with my photo and name in big letters. The stethoscope slung casually around my neck, the tourniquet for drawing blood tied through the belt loop of my chinos, the penlight, the otoscope for looking in people's ears and the ophthalmoscope for looking in their eyes. I have endured medical school, internship, a year of residency with four to go, little sleep, bad hospital food, and patients' vomiting on my shoes. All this shows in my face: eyes and mouth full of exhaustion and concern, mascara smudged, lipstick slightly askew.
But I am usually ready for anything, and I have seen a lot worse in the ER than a woman who has been knocked down and had her shirt pulled over her head. Let's keep everything in perspective, I told myself. At least it wasn't the Babydoll Killer. I assessed the patient: me. Nothing seemed broken. I didn't find any blood. My glasses were a little loose at the hinges, but I had an optician's repair kit in my locker at the hospital. I started to get to my feet, but on second thought sat right back down again, on the front steps of a brownstone. I didn't trust my vestibular responses to keep me upright just yet. Besides, before I went anywhere I wanted to collect a few brain cells and formulate a mental picture of what the guy looked like.
Unfortunately, I hadn't seen much. A glimpse of him after he knocked me down, but I couldn't tell you what color hair he had or what color eyes. I had the impression he had light eyes and hair, but I couldn't swear to it. Running away from
me, he seemed athletic. Well-muscled thighs and calves. But he didn't seem like a big guy. Not bigger than I was, at least. I was six feet tall with my shoes on. I sighed. I could just see myself reporting this: "Well, officer, he was six feet tall and had really nice legs."
Nonetheless, I looked at my watch and noted the time. Six-to-seven A.M. I noted the weather, too: dull, overcast sky, so humid you could take the air and wring it out like a wet washcloth. The regionwide steam bath was expected to intensify, too, with ominous predictions that it would reach the highest humidity ever recorded in these latitudes. It was hot already and would be very hot later if it didn't rain. Nothing like August in New York City.
Finally, I got to my feet -- slowly, dusted myself off, and tucked my shirt back in my chinos. If I didn't hustle, I wouldn't have time for breakfast before rounds. I wasn't hungry, but I knew from experience I'd pass out at the least convenient moment possible if I didn't eat breakfast, especially if there was a code and I wound up in a room with five or six doctors and nurses but only three people's worth of air. I also never knew whether I'd get a chance for lunch or not; breakfast might be the only thing I'd eat until well into the evening.
I started up the hill again toward Broadway, trying to psych myself up for food of any kind.
I was just about mentally prepared for a mozzarella-and-basil sandwich on a nice French roll from Sami's Cafe when I noticed the right sleeve of my shirt felt wet. It was wet, all right: with blood. I rolled my sleeve up, but I couldn't see at first where it was...
Posted June 27, 2011
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