An ambulance screams through the Jerusalem’s quiet streets. Inside, a toddler fights for his life, his parents nowhere to be found. With profound shock, an emergency room doctor realizes that the child’s mothera young Americanis already at the hospital, sitting at the bedside of yet another child with traumatic injuries. Devoutly reciting Pslams, she stubbornly refuses to answer any questions, cautioning her children to say nothing.
Brought in to investigate, Jerusalem detective Bina Tzedekherself a young mothercarefully peels back layer after layer of secrets and lies, following a dark, winding path through Jerusalem’s Old City, kabbalists, mystical ancient texts, and terrifying cult rituals, until she comes face to face with the horrifying truth which has held a young American family captive.
Based on true events, The Devil in Jerusalem from internationally bestselling author Naomi Ragen is an eye-opening look at the dangerous predators lurking around the watering holes of those who come seeking spiritual enlightenment.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Naomi Ragen is the author of novels including The Tenth Song, The Sacrifice of Tamar, Sotah, The Covenant, and The Saturday Wife. Her books are international bestsellers, and her weekly email columns on life in the Middle East are read by thousands of subscribers worldwide.Ragen attended Brooklyn College and earned her master’s in English from Hebrew University. An American, she has lived in Jerusalem since 1971. She was recently voted one of the three most popular authors in Israel.
Read an Excerpt
The Devil in Jerusalem
By Naomi Ragen
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Naomi Ragen
All rights reserved.
The siren pierced the early morning serenity of Jerusalem's silent streets, deserted except for an occasional man returning from morning prayers. The ambulance sped down the almost empty road, bordered on both sides by old trees leaning against the aging white stone buildings of 1949 immigrant housing, which gradually gave way to expensive, modern villas with red-tiled roofs. On the right side loomed the Monster, a hill-sized black-and-white head with three bloodred slides spilling from its mouth that delighted Jerusalem's children.
Seeing it, the driver thought of his own small children, shaking his head sadly as he glanced into the rearview mirror at the little boy stretched out and motionless, surrounded by paramedics.
"Hurry!" one of the paramedics called out.
The driver turned quickly into the long, winding road to Hadassah Hospital, barely allowing himself a glance at the spectacular gold spires of the Gorney Convent rising up from the valley of Ein Karem as he concentrated on the road, speeding forward through barren hillsides peppered with dark bushes that flourished between the ancient white stones, barely slowing down even when he reached the hospital's security gates. Instead, he motioned urgently to the guards, who quickly raised the barriers, waving him through.
He pulled to a stop in front of the emergency room, jumping down and scrambling to fling open the back doors. As one paramedic pumped air into the child's lungs and the other held an intravenous drip high above his head, the driver navigated the gurney urgently through the beige and apricot corridors crowded with donor plaques straight into the Pediatric Trauma Center.
"Unconscious child. Heartbeat barely stabilized," the paramedics shouted. A flurry of nurses, almost all of them mothers, pulled around the gurney like metal shavings to a magnet. Slowly, and with a heavy heart, the driver backed away.
A senior nurse split the crowd in half, making her way to the patient.
He couldn't have been more than two or three, she thought. His wide eyes were closed and his round, cherubic face was bloated with scars in various stages of healing, the most prominent a black-and-blue mark on his right temple. The nurse placed a stethoscope under his little pajama top: "Get Dr. Freund!" she shouted.
An intern pushed his way through. "What's the history? Where's the mother?"
No one responded.
When the senior doctor arrived, the nurses drifted reluctantly back to their stations, shaking their heads slowly as they glanced briefly over their shoulders, their troubled eyes catching each other's glances.
The child was wearing soft, fuzzy Carter pajamas — an American brand not found in Israel — in a pale shade of blue with tiny yellow bunnies, Dr. Freund noted with the practiced eye of an experienced grandfather sent on numerous solo shopping trips before and after medical conferences in San Diego and New York. Gently, he lifted the top over the child's chest, then drew down the bottoms. What he saw made him catch his breath. After so many years of intimacy with the human body in every condition, he had assumed himself to be impervious to shock.
But this ...
He cleared his throat, taking off his glasses and pinching both sides of his nose to discreetly remove the moisture that had gathered there.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" he said, gathering himself together. He held out one hand for the paperwork and scans, while with the other he pinched the child's finger and felt his chest, testing him for some response. There was none.
"How old is he? How much does he weigh?"
"Almost three. Weight approximated ... there was no time ...," a paramedic answered.
Dr. Freund looked up. "Where is the mother?" he asked, repeating the intern's unanswered question. Again, there was silence.
"Well, then, who brought him in here?"
The paramedic holding the intravenous bag leaned forward. "We got a call about four in the morning. Took us ten minutes to get there. He was on the floor. His heart had stopped and he wasn't breathing. There was no mother or father, just some older siblings and a Hassid, no relation, who said he was a friend of the family. He told us he was baby-sitting when the child started crying and suddenly collapsed. We got him stabilized, then took him to Shaare Zedek for a CT scan."
"So why is he here?" Dr. Freund asked. But he already knew. Shaare Zedek wasn't equipped to handle extensive brain injury. His eyes narrowed and his breath quickened as he studied the CT scan. "Call the pediatric anesthesiologist. Tell him it's urgent. The child must be intubated immediately."
"Someone will need to sign. ... Isn't anybody here from the family?"
The paramedics shrugged.
"Well, do you at least have a name?"
"An older brother said the baby's name was Menachem — Menchie — Goodman."
A passing nurse stopped. "Goodman? Are you sure?"
Dr. Freund looked up at her.
"It's just that ... There's a Daniella Goodman who came in a few hours ago with another child. A four-year-old. He had extensive third-degree burns on his legs. We sent him to the burn unit. I think they said he's going to need skin grafts."
"Get on the phone," he told her, "and call the police."CHAPTER 2
Dr. Freund found her sitting silently by the bedside, a slim, petite young woman with blond brows and gentle hands, wordlessly mouthing psalms from a small book she held in one hand, while with the other she clutched the space over her heart. For some reason, he felt surprised by her youth, guessing her to be in her early twenties. He would have been startled to learn he was off by more than a decade.
She didn't seem altogether present, swaying slightly, her eyes barely open, her head swathed in a white headscarf. The rest of her clothing — a skirt that touched the tops of her shoes, a clavicle-covering, wrist-length blouse — was also white, the kind of outfit devout women wore to the synagogue on Yom Kippur eve as a plea to a compassionate God to bleach their sins "though they be as scarlet." What dark sins did she hope to whiten? he wondered.
She seemed oblivious to his entrance, neither lifting her head to turn in his direction nor allowing her moving lips to rest. In general, she presented a picture of a pious mother pouring out her heart to God to heal her injured child. He would not have guessed that the only thought going through Daniella Goodman's head at that moment was, Don't tell, don't tell, don't tell.
"Mrs. Goodman?" Dr. Freund ventured, peering at her warily.
"Rebbetzin," she corrected him, still not looking up.
"Rebbetzin," he repeated, holding back his contempt at this vain and wildly inappropriate demand for respect as he reached for the chart on the bedside of yet another horrendously injured child.
The boy was four, little more than a year or so older than his brother, a painfully thin, dark-haired child with silky long side curls. He lay quietly in bed, his eyes open vacantly, his calves covered in bandages, not uttering a single moan or cry. He seemed almost unconcerned, apathetic, Dr. Freund thought in surprise, which slowly turned to astonishment bordering on fear as he studied the child's chart.
"My God!" suddenly burst from his lips.
Only then did she raise her head and look at him.
"I'm Dr. Freund."
"You're not the doctor I saw before. I asked him when we can go, but he didn't tell me. Do you know?"
She spoke Hebrew fluently but with a pronounced American accent, he noted, which would explain the baby's clothing. "Go? You want to go?" he answered incredulously, his eyes never moving from the chart:
... burn wounds on scalp, neck, chest, and right and left arms. A long scar on the upper abdomen, judged to be the result of a heated object held against it because of the clear perimeters of the scarring and the various changes in skin color....
The list of injuries went on and on and on. But the worst were:
... two deep, wide third-degree burns the entire length of the backs of calves fitting the profile of burns caused by either a hot liquid poured on them or they were placed into the liquid, or a burning object strongly and forcibly held against them. The burns are mirror images, probably caused by an identical process. As for the age of the wounds, it is difficult to assess given the influence of numerous factors: infection, scratching, various attempts at healing. The damaged skin requires surgical intervention and extensive skin grafts.
Dr. Freund lifted the blanket off the child, examining his battered body and extensively bandaged legs. The chart indicated both legs were infected, yet the child wasn't displaying even mild discomfort. Morphine would explain that. He guessed a relatively high dosage. One really didn't like to drug such small children, but in a case like this ... But morphine wasn't listed. In fact, aside from ibuprofen, he couldn't find any pain medication at all on the chart.
"I ... I'll ... return in a moment," he murmured, more out of habit than a desire to communicate with this strange, stony presence at the child's bedside. He hurried out the door looking for a nurse. Outside, he found two waiting men, one in police uniform.
"Dr. Freund? I'm Detective Morris Klein, and this is Officer Cohen. We're responding to your call."
Dr. Freund held up his hand, gesturing to them to hold on a minute. Hurriedly, he cornered a nurse. "I can't find the pain medication on the Goodman child's chart. What is he taking and in what dosage?"
She looked down, shaking her head. "He's not taking anything, Doctor, except ibuprofen. And that only when we insist."
He couldn't move. "What?"
She shrugged. "He isn't showing signs of distress, so we ..."
The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. "It's impossible."
"I know," she said. "No one can believe it. Even when we change the bandages over his raw skin, he doesn't cry or even complain. He seems ... indifferent."
For a moment, a cold current of fear raced up his spine. He had once seen a veteran combat soldier reduced to a howling animal clawing the walls during bandage changes on similar burns. And this was just a little boy, a baby, really.
It was unimaginable. It was unnatural. It was, he realized — even to a veteran practitioner of the medical profession who specialized in treating children with traumatic injuries — inexplicable. He had never come across anything remotely similar.
"Did you talk to the mother? Has she said what happened?"
"She hasn't said anything. Not since they were brought in."
"Brought in? You mean she didn't call the ambulance herself?"
"No. Apparently social services did. They brought him in against her wishes."
"About what time was this?"
"I think the ER sent him up here yesterday, about five p.m."
And only a few hours later, his brother was brought in! Dr. Freund was glad, then, he'd involved the police, any residual guilt disappearing.
He returned to the officers. "Please, follow me."
Daniella looked up at them, closing her book of psalms and setting it aside.
"Ima!" the child suddenly sobbed at the sudden crowding of strangers, his small hands clutching her desperately.
"Who did this to you, Eli?" the detective suddenly demanded. "Who burnt you?"
"Don't talk!" she warned the child, even as he buried his head in her bosom. "Don't talk, don't talk, don't talk. ..."
The contrast between the child's obvious attachment and love and the mother's pitiless words left all three men reeling.
"Would you mind coming with us for a few moments, Mrs. Goodman?" Detective Klein asked politely.
"Rebbetzin," she replied, pulling the child's hands off her and standing up.
To their surprise, the child made no move to protest, obediently crawling back beneath the covers. She was walked down the corridor flanked by the detective and the police officer, trailing the doctor, who led them into an empty conference room.
"Would you sit down, please? I'm Detective Klein and I need to ask you a few questions."
"Open the door!" she demanded.
All three men glanced at each other in confusion.
"Why?" Dr. Freund asked.
"A married woman is not allowed to be in a closed room with men who are not her husband, father, or brother. Even with a son, it is questionable. ... It's a religious prohibition, yichud," she said piously.
"Look, lady, cut the crap!" Detective Klein ordered with sudden harshness. "Tell us what happened to your children! Who did this to them?"
At first, she didn't hear the word "children." Perhaps because she was so focused on what she would say — what the Messiah wanted her to say. She had practiced it, rehearsed it like a child about to go onstage in a school production, still unsure of her lines. She put her hand into the pocket of her skirt, searching for the paper on which it had all been written out for her in case she forgot. But she wouldn't forget. She would rather die.
"There was a fire in our apartment in the Old City. A blanket too close to an electric heater. The child was hurt. We took him to a private doctor. His wounds are healing — anyone can see that."
"How long ago was this?" Dr. Freund asked.
"Two weeks ago."
He jumped up. "You mean to say he has been walking around with those burns for weeks!"
"I took him to a burn expert! Someone we all go to in our community."
"An 'expert' or a doctor?" Detective Klein asked pointedly.
"I didn't ask to see the degree."
Detective Klein looked down at his papers. "And who is Rabbanit Chana Toledano?"
She lifted her head sharply. "A friend, a healer, who agreed to look after him."
"Why did you take your four-year-old to a friend instead of looking after him yourself?"
"I told you. There was a fire. We needed to move out temporarily. He needed rest. She took him in as a chesed, a kindness."
"She is the one who called social services. She says she asked you for your medical insurance card so she could have his wounds treated at a hospital and that you refused. She says you came and picked him up that same day and took him away. Is that true?"
"I thought I knew better how to take care of my own son than she did, a stranger."
"I thought you said she was a friend. Why would you leave your injured son with a stranger?"
She looked down, her grip tightening around her book of psalms.
"What's your answer?" Detective Klein pressed.
"I don't know what you want from me."
"Why not try the truth for a change?" the policeman cut in.
"I take care of my children! I'm a good mother! I took care of my son!"
"I'm sitting here in the hospital with him, aren't I?"
"Only because social services sent the police to your house after Rabbanit Toledano called them to report her suspicions," the detective said dryly. "But we'll get to your son and his burns later. Tell us, Rebbetzin Goodman, why is your other son, your three-year-old, lying in the emergency room unconscious?"
She looked up, stunned, her distress real and overwhelming. "Menchie? My Menchie?"
For the first time, the doctor and the police saw something human and recognizable in her face.
"I must go to him!" She jumped up, starting for the door. The policeman barred her way.
"Where's your husband?" the detective asked.
"Which one?" she said softly, looking down.
The men raised their eyebrows. "Maybe you didn't hear us. We asked about your husband," the detective probed.
"Have you remarried?"
She hesitated for a surprisingly long time before finally shaking her head no, a fact that did not go unnoticed by Detective Klein.
"Your ex, then. Could he have done this?"
"I told you. It was an accident. Besides, I haven't seen Shlomie ... in ..." She suddenly stopped, as if changing her mind about what she wanted to tell them. "Can I go now to see my baby?"
"No." The doctor shook his head. "Not until we get some answers. Sit down!"
"Please! What answers can I give you? I've been here all night!"
Detective Klein and the police officer exchanged a glance, raising their shoulders in a slight shrug. That at least was verifiably true.
"Let her go," Detective Klein told the doctor.
"If you say so," Dr. Freund agreed reluctantly, feeling disgusted and angry, like a moviegoer who finds himself confronted by scenes of sickening violence to which he had no idea he'd bought a ticket.
Excerpted from The Devil in Jerusalem by Naomi Ragen. Copyright © 2015 Naomi Ragen. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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