Book Blurb: A badly burned body with a fresh incision and a missing kidney leads Walt into the clandestine world of an organ trader ring that has set up shop in Kansas City.
Walt is determined to bring to justice the bootleggers, who purchase body parts from the disadvantaged and sell them to people with means, until a relative from Maggie’s past turns up needing a kidney to survive.
Once again, Walt discovers that very little in his world is black and white.
Excerpt of Chapter 1
The black SUV pulled up to the curb in front of the Three Trails Hotel on Linwood Boulevard and honked once.
Leroy Grubbs stepped out onto the front porch carrying a small suitcase. He tried to slip by old man Feeney who was peacefully rocking on the porch swing, but it wasn’t to be.
“Hey Leroy! Sorry about the stink in the #4 crapper this mornin’. Too many tamales off Jim’s cart last night. Shoudda knowed better.”
Leroy grimaced as he recalled the stench in the #4 toilet. Twenty sleeping rooms shared four hall baths and it was just his luck that the other three were occupied and he had to follow old man Feeney, famous at the Three Trails for his aromatic deposits.
“No problem — I survived.”
Feeney pressed on. “Mighty fancy ride out there. You headed someplace special?”
Indeed he was, but Leroy wasn’t about to share the information with Feeney, whose mouth was as notorious around the hotel as his rear end.
“No, just a ride to a temp job. Nothing special.”
That seemed to satisfy Feeney. He knew that Leroy had been working out of the day labor pool since he lost his job.
Leroy slipped into the back seat and as the SUV pulled away from the curb he took one last look at the flop house he had called home for the last six months.
With the money he would be receiving today, he would finally be able to afford a decent apartment. In fact, he had put a deposit on a small studio just a block off Broadway. It wasn’t much but at least it had a private bath and a small kitchen. Compared to the Three Trails, it would be like living at the Hilton.
Two weeks ago, having his own place wasn’t even on the horizon. Then one day, after waiting at the labor pool unsuccessfully for hours for a job to open up, he was approached by a stranger who offered to buy him a sandwich and a cup of coffee for a few minutes of his time. He figured that he had nothing to lose, so he followed the guy to Denny’s.
That meeting changed the course of his life.
During the time it took Leroy to devour a Grand Slam, the man told Leroy that he represented the interests of a wealthy businessman that was dying of renal failure and that he had been authorized to offer a willing donor twenty thousand dollars for a viable kidney.
Leroy was speechless as he tried to process the offer. His first thought was, “But isn’t that illegal?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” the man replied, “but such transactions take place all of the time. It’s illegal to smoke marijuana but I’m willing to bet you have some acquaintances that use it on a regular basis.”
Leroy had to admit that he did. In fact, he had taken a few puffs off a friend’s toke one evening after a particularly brutal day.
“So how would this work?”
“The first step would be a visit to the free clinic on Eighteenth Street. Do you know the place?”
Leroy knew it all right. He had sold blood there several times to come up with the forty bucks to pay for the next week at the Three Trails.
“Yeah, I know the place.”
“Good! There will need to be some tests run to see if you are a compatible donor.”
“And if I am?”
“Then if you’re still willing, we will proceed.”
“And if I’m not?”
“Then this conversation never took place.”
Now, two weeks later, all the tests had been run and the bogus consent forms signed where he swore that he was a willing donor and not being paid or coerced.
In a few hours, he would wake from the anesthesia, pocket the twenty grand and get a new lease on life.
The SUV headed downtown and took the 12th Street Viaduct to the West Bottoms.
As the driver pulled up to an overhead door, Leroy noticed the faded name painted on the side of the old three-story structure, Armour Meat Packing Company.
He smiled at the irony of the situation. The abandoned stockyards, just a few blocks away, had once been the hub of the meat slaughtering business in the Midwest. Companies such as Armour and Swift processed the beef and pork carcasses in buildings like this one. Now it was being used for meat processing of a very different kind.
The overhead door groaned on its rusty tracks and the driver pulled inside to a loading dock where refrigerated trucks once hauled the processed meat to local grocers.
As he ascended the concrete stairs to the dock, he noticed rats as large as small cats scurrying into the dark corners.
“Not exactly the Mayo Clinic,” he thought.
But when he opened the door to the building’s interior, it felt as if he had stepped into a different world.
Bright lights illuminated white walls and glistening tile. The unmistakable smell of whatever chemicals that hospitals use filled the air. The far end of the room was hidden behind curtains like he had seen in a hospital emergency room.
A man dressed in hospital scrubs emerged from behind the curtain.
“Mr. Grubbs, I’m Dr. Vargas. I will be performing your surgery today. Are you ready to proceed?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Good! My assistants will get you prepped and ready to go. You remember, of course, that you will be spending the night with us — just to be sure that everything’s okay.”
“Yeah, I remember,” Leroy said, holding up his small suitcase.
“Splendid! Then let’s get started.”
“Hold on just a second,” Leroy protested. “What about my twenty grand?”
“Ahhh, of course,” the doctor replied with a smile. “How callous of me.” He nodded to an assistant who disappeared into another room and returned with a satchel.
Dr. Vargas opened the satchel exposing neat stacks of hundred dollar bills. “It’s all here. Count it if you like. It’s all yours when we release you tomorrow.”
“That’s okay,” Leroy said, peering into the satchel. “Let’s get this over with.”
Leroy was led to a small room where he undressed and donned a hospital gown. He climbed aboard a gurney and was wheeled behind the curtain into the operating area. He noticed another curtain and he surmised that the recipient of his kidney was on the other side. He had been told from the beginning that both he and the recipient would remain anonymous for obvious reasons.
“We’ll be administering a general anesthesia,” Dr. Vargas said. “My assistant will place a mask over your face. Please count backward from 100.” He nodded to the assistant.
Leroy heard the ‘hiss’ as the anesthesia filled the mask. “One hundred — ninety-nine — ninety –.” It was the last thing he remembered.
Dr. Vargas made the incision and carefully exposed the kidney. After it was successfully removed, Dr. Vargas carried it to the other side of the curtain. “Clean him up and close him up while I get started over here.”
The assistant nodded.
A few moments later, Vargas heard the assistant mutter, “Oh, crap! We’ve got a problem!”
“I’ve got a bleeder! Clamp! Somebody get me a clamp!”
“Son-of-a-bitch! I’ve got another one. Blood pressures dropping! We’re losing him! Doctor, I need you! Now!”
“Can’t! I’m at a critical point. We can’t risk losing them both. Do what you can.”
When Vargas was finished, he returned to Leroy’s bedside.
“We lost him,” the assistant muttered.
“Damn shame,” Vargas said, shaking his head. He summoned two men that had been waiting outside the curtain. He nodded to the body. “Take care of this.”
“Same as usual?”
“No, let’s do the car thing this time.”
“You got it, boss.”
Vargas slumped into a chair and watched as Grubb’s body was wheeled out of the operating area. He hated losing a patient, but sometimes, under these conditions, it was unavoidable.
But the day hadn’t been a total loss. Grubb’s kidney had been successfully transplanted into the wife of the CEO of one of Kansas City’s largest corporations.
Thankfully, his mortality rate had dropped considerably since he moved his operation from the Philippines to Kansas City.
While he could operate openly in the Philippine clinics, thanks to the considerable sums he had given to local officials to look the other way, the facilities left a lot to be desired.
Using the money he would have spent greasing Philippine palms, he was able to open and staff his own clinic in the old warehouse.
There had been a lot of water under the bridge since that day, many years ago, when he stood at the bedside of his sister who died of renal failure while waiting for a kidney from the transplant list.
He remembered the vow he had taken as he held her frail hand — a vow to become a surgeon so that he could help as many families as possible avoid the pain and loss that he was feeling.
Little did he know that vow would lead him to a deserted warehouse in Kansas City’s West Bottoms where he would hide like a common criminal.