I live the sort of life I could pretty much only have in New York City. I’m a senior forensic pathologist in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and, in my spare time, I write professionally about food, review video games, and collect Victorian taxidermy. Cricket’s a medical examiner, too: She did fine art at Vassar, then went to medical school. After a residency in anatomic pathology (moles and polyps), she came to my office to train in forensic pathology (gunshot wounds and blunt trauma). Although she now supports herself, Cricket grew up wealthy; my childhood was, if not wealthy, comfortable—in the proud tradition of British education, my parents sent me away to boarding school when I was 11.
We are both, then, a certain type of New Yorker: Manhattan professionals with an artistic bent, our lives filled with work and vaguely obsessional hobbies. We are unmarried and we each live alone. And, like many of our type, we don’t have children, we have pets.
Because I travel a lot and because I’m a little too delicate for the whole spectacle of public stool-handling, I have cats. Cricket has dogs, and her relationship with them is more intense. She got Scout, a rambunctious Chow–black Lab stray, while in medical school. Bean came later, a sweet little puggle—a pug-beagle mix, one of the new semi-pedigreed mutts currently blighting the language with names like “Labradoodle” (Labrador retriever–poodle) and “shit-poo” (Shih Tzu–poodle).
I defy anyone to not love Bean. She’s small, dark around her muzzle and ears, with soft brown eyes and a dizzyingly cute way of cocking her head when curious—a warm tornado of manic tail-wagging and face-licking. When she and Cricket go out walking, people stop to comment freely on just how adorable she is. At night, they sleep together, Bean a cozy little lump snuggled next to her under cotton and cashmere.
In September, Cricket had to take her board exams in forensic pathology in Tampa, Florida. Although she had flown happily in her dad’s private jet as a child, things changed after 9/11. She was a medical student at the time, and after the towers came down, she went to ground zero to give first aid to responders, rinsing out burning eyes and reminding people to keep up their fluid intake. Over the following months, she worked with us frequently at the medical examiner’s office as we tried to recover and identify the victims of the disaster. By the spring of 2002, she was no longer able to fly.
We decided to drive down and take a little holiday after her test. We’d go to the beach, visit the Everglades, shoot guns at the local range, then have a leisurely drive back to New York. Cricket arranged for the dogs to be cared for by her neighbors, one of whom used the front room of her apartment as a studio where he cut hair.
The drive to Florida was the typical twenty-hour marathon familiar to many New Yorkers: Exxon, Cinnabon, Cracker Barrel, Gas’n’Go, Waffle House, a hotel where the smell of mold was barely hidden behind the scent of room deodorizer. Cricket spent a day studying, then left to take the test, which started at 8 a.m. and would last all day. At about 10 a.m., a friend sent an urgent message: She’d seen a LOST DOG flyer at the Union Square dog run featuring a puggle named Bean.
I called the number on the flyer and got one of Cricket’s dog-sitters. He was terse. The dog had gotten out somehow; workmen had been renovating, a door had been left propped open, she was gone. Vets had been notified, as had the pound. I didn’t ask him when they’d been planning on telling Cricket.
I found her in the hotel bar after the exam. We left immediately; she was too distraught to take the wheel, so I drove, Cricket on her cell throughout, calling her dog-sitters over and over. She had them make new flyers, putting in her contact numbers. And there was to be a reward: $5,000. We argued—she couldn’t afford that. I bullied her into making the reward $1,000. At midnight, we found a motel with Internet access, and she got online and posted notices on Craigslist. She wasn’t eating, wasn’t sleeping, just smoking. When I woke at 5 a.m., she was still perched on the side of her bed, constantly refreshing her mailbox to see if anyone had responded.
If you say you’ll pay $1,000 to recover a lost dog, people respond. And not just good people.
As Cricket sped up I-95—she insisted on driving, because I wouldn’t go 90 mph—she leaped to answer her phone each time it rang. The first call came from a man who asked if we’d lost a dog in the Gramercy area. We said we had, and he said, “I know where she is! I know where your dog’s at! She’s … ” and then hung up the phone. When Cricket tried to call back, she found that his number showed as only four digits. She tried to have AT&T trace the call but only managed to confuse the operator. I told her that I thought this was a prank caller and that if he had information, he’d call back. He didn’t.