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Chapter 27
We had one critical task to perform before leaving New Yorkthe following morning. Max Freyberg, the cosmetic surgeon andpotential biological father of Rosie, who was ‘booked solid’, hadagreed to see us for fifteen minutes at 6.45 p.m. Rosie hadtold his secretary she was writing a series of articles for apublication about successful alumni of the university. I wascarrying Rosie’s camera and would be identified as aphotographer.
Getting the appointment had been difficult enough, but it hadbecome apparent that collecting the DNA would be far moredifficult in a working environment than in a social or domesticlocation. I had set my brain the task of solving the problembefore we departed for New York, and had expected it to havefound a solution through background processing, but it hadapparently been too occupied with other matters. The best Icould think of was a spiked ring that would draw blood whenwe shook hands, but Rosie considered this socially infeasible.
214/290She suggested clipping a hair, either surreptitiously or afteridentifying it as a stray that would mar the photo. Surely acosmetic surgeon would care about his appearance.
Unfortunately a clipped hair was unlikely to yield an adequatesample – it needed to be plucked to obtain a follicle. Rosiepacked a pair of tweezers. For once I hoped I might have tospend fifteen minutes in a smoke-filled room. A cigarette buttwould solve our problem. We would have to be alert toopportunities.
Dr Freyberg’s rooms were in an older-style building on theUpper West Side. Rosie pushed the buzzer and a securityguard appeared and took us up to a waiting area where thewalls were totally covered with framed certificates and lettersfrom patients praising Dr Freyberg’s work.
Dr Freyberg’s secretary, a very thin woman (BMI estimatesixteen) of about fifty-five with disproportionately thick lips, ledus into his office. More certificates! Freyberg himself had amajor fault: he was completely bald. The hair-plucking approachwould not be viable. Nor was there any evidence that he wasa smoker.
Rosie conducted the interview very impressively. Freybergdescribed some procedures that seemed to have minimal clinicaljustification, and talked about their importance to self-esteem. Itwas fortunate that I had been allocated the silent role, as Iwould have been strongly tempted to argue. I was alsostruggling to focus. My mind was still processing thehand-holding incident.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Rosie, ‘but could I bother you for something todrink?’
Of course! The coffee swab solution.
‘Sure,’ said Freyberg. ‘Tea, coffee?’
‘Coffee would be great,’ said Rosie. ‘Just black. Will you haveone yourself?’
‘I’m good. Let’s keep going.’ He pushed a button on hisintercom.
‘Rachel. One black coffee.’
215/290‘You should have a coffee,’ I said to him.
‘Never touch it,’ said Freyberg.
‘Unless you have a genetic intolerance of caffeine, there are noproven harmful effects. On the contrary –’
‘What magazine is this for again?’
The question was straightforward and totally predictable. Wehad agreed the name of the fictitious university publication inadvance, and Rosie had already used it in her introduction.
But my brain malfunctioned. Rosie and I spoke simultaneously.
Rosie said, ‘ Faces of Change.’ I said, ‘ Hands of Change.’
It was a minor inconsistency that any rational person wouldhave interpreted as a simple, innocent error, which in fact itwas. But Freyberg’s expression indicated disbelief and heimmediately scribbled on a notepad. When Rachel brought thecoffee, he gave her the note. I diagnosed paranoia and startedto think about escape plans.
‘I need to use the bathroom,’ I said. I planned to phoneFreyberg from the bathroom, so Rosie could escape while hetook the call.
I walked towards the exit, but Freyberg blocked my path.
‘Use my private one,’ he said. ‘I insist.’
He led me through the back of his office, past Rachel to adoor marked ‘Private’ and left me there. There was no way toexit without returning the way we had come. I took out myphone, called 411 – dir-ectory assistance – and they connectedme to Rachel. I could hear the phone ring and Rachel answer.
I kept my voice low.
‘I need to speak to Dr Freyberg,’ I said. ‘It’s an emergency.’ Iexplained that my wife was a patient of Dr Freyberg and thather lips had exploded. I hung up and texted Rosie: Exit now.
The bathroom was in need of Eva’s services. I managed toopen the window, which had obviously not been used for along time. We were four floors up, but there seemed to beplenty of handholds on the wall.
I eased myself through the window and started climbing down,slowly,216/290focusing on the task, hoping Rosie had escaped successfully. Ithad been a long time since I had practised rock climbing andthe descent was not as simple as it first seemed. The wall wasslippery from rain earlier in the day and my running shoeswere not ideal for the task. At one point I slipped and onlyjust managed to grasp a rough brick. I heard shouts frombelow.
When I finally reached the ground, I discovered that a smallcrowd had formed. Rosie was among them. She flung herarms around me.
‘Oh my God, Don, you could have killed yourself. It didn’tmatter that much.’
‘The risk was minor. It was just important to ignore the heightissue.’
We headed for the subway. Rosie was quite agitated. Freyberghad thought that she was some sort of private investigator,working on behalf of a dissatisfied patient. He was trying tohave the security personnel detain her. Whether his positionwas legally defensible or not, we would have been in a difficultposition.
‘I’m going to get changed,’ said Rosie. ‘Our last night in NewYork City. What do you want to do?’
My original schedule specified a steakhouse, but now that wewere in the pattern of eating together, I would need to select arestaurant suitable for a sustainable-seafood-eating ‘vegetarian’.
‘We’ll work it out,’ she said. ‘Lots of options.’
It took me three minutes to change my shirt. I waiteddownstairs for Rosie for another six. Finally I went up to herroom and knocked.
There was a long wait. Then I heard her voice.
‘How long do you think it takes to have a shower?’
‘Three minutes, twenty seconds,’ I said, ‘unless I wash my hair,in which case it takes an extra minute and twelve seconds.’
The additional time was due primarily to the requirement thatthe conditioner remain in place for sixty seconds.
217/290‘Hold on.’
Rosie opened the door wearing only a towel. Her hair was wet,and she looked extremely attractive. I forgot to keep my eyesdirected towards her face.
‘Hey,’ she said. ‘No pendant.’ She was right. I couldn’t use thependant excuse. But she didn’t give me a lecture oni............
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