Authors: Faye Kellerman
A PETER DECKER/RINA LAZARUS NOVEL
For the Three Musketeers—Jess, Rachel, and Ilana
And for my D’Artagnan—Aliza Celeste
Her first sound was more bleat than wail, but she…
Six pairs of beaming eyes greeted him. Even across the…
It wasn’t as if she was narcissistic or anything as…
It tasted like wet sand. Decker didn’t know if it…
Cindy wiggled her fingers at the pink bundle with the…
The kick aroused her from a dull sleep. She opened…
The shaking of his shoulder brought Decker into a groggy…
Cindy woke up with a start, her body pinched from…
After she vomited, she felt much better. Mack was nice…
Darlene edged the last of the layettes into its space…
Like the old dance marathons, it was an endurance test.
Nose pressed to the glass, Decker stared at the newborns…
It didn’t matter what she said.
Too much rush, Tandy thought, had to slow down. Remember…
The temperature was climbing as Decker pulled out of the…
Sitting in the hospital cafeteria, Marge pondered why all institutional…
Standing on the edge of a thousand-foot drop, Decker…
A shower, a shave, a sandwich, a half-hour catnap…
The Golden Valley Home for the Aged in Arcadia was…
Leek had gone on break by the time Marge completed…
Marge bit into her hot dog, mustard squeezing out the…
Expecting turmoil, Decker was surprised to find the house in…
A scheduled meeting brought out the nesting instinct in Meecham.
Before killing the motor, Decker turned on the dome light…
Sleeping through the six o’clock feeding, Decker thought, Some mother…
First the low one went away.
Marge tossed the magazine in the passenger seat of the…
The house was cemetery quiet as Decker came through the…
By the time Decker finished lunch, Rina was happily cuddling…
Since Decker was feeling benevolent, he let McKay pick the…
“Pseudocarp, pseudocarpous, pseudoclassic, pseudomorph, pseudonym…” Decker bit his lower…
It was cool.
At six-thirty in the morning, there was plenty of…
“How many times do we have to go over this?”…
Inside the interview room, Decker paced. “I can’t believe I…
“Where’s the camera?” Leek McKay looked around the interview room.
Marge slammed down the receiver and clapped her hands. “They…
Highlighted by the moonlight streaming through the barred window, Marie’s…
Her first sound
was more bleat than wail, but she had ten fingers and ten toes, and that was all Decker cared about. Wrinkled and red, her skin covered with something akin to cold cream, she seemed perturbed by the world rather than scared by it. Decker watched as Georgina, the labor nurse, scooped his daughter from the obstetrician’s arms into her own. After rubbing the infant with a towel and giving her a quick exam, the nurse swaddled her in a blanket. The baby was finally presented to Papa for inspection.
She had a mottled face, her nose scrunching as she beeped rather than cried. Her eyes were closed, lids as thin as onion-skin. Downy fuzz covered her scalp. Decker took a gloved index finger and placed it on a tiny palm. Slowly, soft pink digits encircled his finger. It brought tears to his eyes.
“Is she okay?” Rina’s voice was anxious.
“She’s perfect, darlin’,” Decker answered. “Just…
“Of course she’s
!” Georgina folded thick arms across her bosom. “We only deliver perfect babies here.”
Decker shifted his attention from his daughter to his wife. Rina’s eyes were red-rimmed, her lips moving in silent prayer. Damp black tresses lay across her forehead. Never had she looked so beautiful.
“She’s perfect, Rina.” Decker’s throat was clogged. “Just like you.”
Rina gave him a weak smile, and Decker suddenly became aware of her exhaustion. But he knew such fatigue was normal after childbirth.
, Madame Decker!” Georgina’s stubby finger stroked Rina’s arm. “Just hang in a little bit more, and then you take that much deserved nap.”
“Close your eyes, Rina,” Decker said.
She nodded as her lids fell shut. Then she jerked them open and started breathing rapidly.
“Everything okay, Dr. Hendricks?” Decker asked.
“So far,” the obstetrician answered. “She’s expelling the afterbirth now. The contractions won’t go away until she does.”
Then Rina stopped panting as suddenly as she’d started. Decker watched Hendricks as he tended to Rina. Most of the doctor’s face was hidden behind the surgical mask, but his eyes were visible and clouded with concentration. He placed his palms on her abdomen and pushed down. “Rina, do you feel strong enough to nurse the baby?”
Rina whispered yes. So
“That’s great, doll,” Hendricks said. “Let Nature help us along.”
“Help with what?” Decker asked.
The doctor didn’t answer. Georgina took the baby from Decker’s arms and placed her on Rina’s chest. Cradling the infant, Rina watched a little wet mouth bob along her breast until it found the nipple. With a little encouragement, the baby pursed her lips and began to suckle.
Rina closed her eyes again, beads of sweat dotting her brow. At the bedside, Decker dabbed her face with a washcloth. He glanced around the labor room, taking in the surroundings for the first time. The place was papered in a chintz print—some sort of small vining flower. A handloomed rug had been thrown over an institutional tiled floor. The hospital bed was framed in wood, stained to match the wicker of a
Sydney Greenstreet chair planted across the room. The homey decor was supposed to give the illusion that the woman was giving birth in her bedroom. But Decker couldn’t block out all the medical machinery standing idle against the wall, the I.V. stand tucked into the left-hand corner.
Definitely a hospital.
He had been there for nineteen hours that had somehow been compressed into minutes. Now time was moving in slomo. The hands of the wall clock showed him only ten minutes had passed since his daughter had been born. The baby was still sucking on Rina’s breast, but her eyes were closed—nursing in her sleep. Pink heart-shaped lips working Mama’s nipple as thread-sized veins pulsed in her temple. Decker knew he was biased, but she
a beautiful baby.
His eyes drifted to Rina’s face. Her lips were pale and parched.
“Can Rina have something to drink?” he asked.
“Not quite yet,” Hendricks said, talking under his mask. Once more he pressed on Rina’s stomach.
“Can she at least suck on some ice?”
This time the doctor didn’t answer. Decker felt a headache coming on. Maybe he was just hungry—ten hours since he’d last eaten. Again Rina went into her Lamaze breathing. Decker held her hand, offered words of encouragement. Before the arrival of the doctor, he’d felt particularly needed. Now he was an appendage—useful but not indispensable. Rina stopped her labored breathing and wearily closed her eyes. Her voice was a whisper.
“I’m very tired.”
“I bet you are,” Hendricks said. “How about we give you a rest? Georgina, put the baby in the incubator and wheel her into Infant Recovery.” He looked at Decker, and smile lines appeared at the corners of his eyes. “You’ve got a beautiful, healthy daughter, folks. She shouldn’t be in Recovery more than an hour or so. Then they’ll move her to the nursery and you’ll be able to show her off to the family.”
“That’d be nice,” said Decker, smiling.
“Grandparents all excited?” Hendricks asked.
“Yeah, they haven’t held a newborn in a while.”
Neither had he, he thought.
years. My God, it seemed like yesterday since Cindy was born. And then, sometimes, it seemed like a thousand years. Georgina loaded the baby in the incubator. “Be back in a minute.”
Decker nodded, and the room turned quiet. Rina’s eyes were closed, her mouth slightly agape. Decker wanted to tell her how much he loved her, but he didn’t want to disturb her rest. A few minutes later, Georgina returned. She placed a hand on Decker’s shoulder.
“How’re you holding up, Pop?”
“Not too bad for an old guy,” Decker said. “Mom’s resting.”
“Yeah, she needs some peace and quiet.”
Hendricks said, “Georgina, set up a twenty-milligram Pitocin drip, please.”
Anxiously, Decker looked up at the labor nurse. She flashed him a smile of crooked teeth, but the expression wasn’t cheery. Then she liberated the metal stand from the corner and opened a cabinet door. Out came a plastic bottle that hung on a rack. Georgina hooked the I.V. line up to Rina’s left arm, then adjusted some valves. A moment later, Decker saw clear liquid run through plastic tubing. Again the doctor pushed on Rina’s abdomen. A soft moan escaped from her lips as she attempted to control her breathing. But fatigue was taking its toll. She cried out. Decker looked at Hendricks.
“I’m pushing with some pressure,” the OB said calmly. “It doesn’t feel comfortable, but it should help Mom along. Georgina, increase the rate of the drip.”
“Right away, Doctor.”
Decker didn’t like the military cadence in the labor nurse’s voice. It had gone from jocular to professional. He felt his heart race.
“Is everything okay, Doctor?”
“She’s having a bit of trouble expelling the placenta.”
Hendricks paused. “I can feel it, but…the Pitocin should help. Does it hurt, honey?”
Again Rina nodded.
“Honey, I need to keep pressing on your uterus. Just keep on with your Lamaze breathing.” He turned to Decker. “Just help her like you did in labor.”
The doctor compressed her stomach wall. Rina’s face contorted with pain.
“Try to breathe, Rina,” Hendricks said.
“Breathe, Rina,” Decker said. “Squeeze my hand if it hurts.”
Rina took his hand. Her fingers held no strength, and her complexion had become wan. Hendricks clucked his tongue and shook his head. Decker felt his stomach drop.
“Georgina, get a gurney and see who’s available for OB Anesthesiology,” Hendricks said. “Also, get me point two-five milligrams of Methergine and a BP cuff.”
“What’s going on, Doc?” Decker said.
Hendricks ignored him.
?” Decker repeated.
“In a moment, Peter.”
Decker was silent, his gut a tight, wet knot. His body ached with tension. He forced himself to rotate his head, releasing a symphony of creaks and pops from his neck. Georgina returned, carrying a metal tray with a needle on it. Hendricks took the syringe and injected the medicine into Rina’s shoulder. She didn’t even wince.
“I love you, Rina,” Decker whispered.
A nod was her answer.
A petite woman in scrubs entered the room, a gurney in tow. Hendricks pushed the gurney until it abutted Rina’s bedside.
“I’m going to move you to a delivery room, Rina,” Hendricks said. “At the count of three, I want you to slide your backside onto the gurney. Think you can do that?”
Rina moaned a yes.
On three, Rina raised her body as Hendricks and Georgina lifted her onto cold, brushed metal. Up went the side rails, Georgina locking them into place. The flaps of Rina’s hospital gown had unfolded, exposing her breasts. Decker drew them back together and wiped Rina’s forehead with the washcloth.
“Peter, I want to keep a close eye on Rina until she delivers the afterbirth,” Hendricks said. “It may take a while. At this point, it’s no emergency. But she is bleeding a tad more than I’d like to see. I’m sorry, but you won’t be able to be with her now. Don’t worry. And get some rest.”
“Why can’t I come with her?” Decker said. “I’m already suited up—”
“No, I’m going to have to insist you remain here.” Hendricks’s voice was firm and taut. “Georgina, could you please escort Sergeant Decker back to the waiting room.”
Before Decker could get words up from his throat, Rina was whisked away. He felt a sudden chill and shuddered. Pressure on his elbow—Georgina’s hand.
“This way, Sergeant.”
“Why…why is he—”
“Just like he said, Sergeant. He feels safer if she’s in a delivery room—”
“You mean an operating room.”
is he taking her there? Can’t he deliver a placenta here?”
“It’s a precaution.”
?” Decker shouted.
“Sergeant, would you like to come this way, please?”
“No, I would
like to come this way, please! I’d like to know what the
is happening with my wife!”
Georgina said, “Sergeant, you know as much as I do.”
“Aw c’mon, lady, you work here. Surely, you have some inside
Georgina was quiet. Decker began to pace.
“It’s fine, Sergeant. I understand.”
Decker trod the floor. “He said something about her bleeding. Does he mean
? Or does he mean
“Sergeant, I don’t know.”
The room became still. Decker covered his mouth and blew out air. His eyes began to burn, and he rubbed them vigorously. Georgina managed a tepid smile and placed a fleshy hand on his shoulder.
Decker remained rooted. “When will I know what’s going on?”
“Sergeant, I’m sure the doctor will speak to you just as soon as he can. These changes in plans happen all the time. It’s usually nothing.”
Decker bit his thumbnail. “You know, in my profession, I give that kind of bull…that kind of line all the time. I see a distraught parent whose kid is missing. I say, ‘Hey, it happens all the time. Usually, it’s nothing.’ But sometimes, it’s something.”
Georgina didn’t answer.
“Right?” Decker raised his voice. “Sometimes it is something, isn’t it?”
Georgina lowered her eyes, then looked up. “Yes, sometimes it is something, Sergeant.”
“Well, if it would be something, what…” Decker cleared his voice. “What could it be?”
“Sergeant, I’m just not qualified to diagnose your wife’s condition.”
Decker was silent.
Georgina sighed. “Sergeant, do you have any family with you?”
Family. Rina’s parents. The
Decker felt his knees go weak. He sank into the Sydney Greenstreet chair and ran his hands down his face. Wordlessly, Georgina handed him a
glass of water. He downed the glass too quickly and felt his stomach rock with nausea. His skin felt prickly and gelid. It took him a minute to find his voice.
“They’re waiting in the lobby…my daughter, Rina’s parents…” Decker swallowed hard. “Rina’s sons, too. What should I tell them?”
“I’ll walk you out and talk to them.”
Decker shook his head. “No, it’ll scare them—the boys. Their father died about four years ago.”
“Oh dear, I’m very sorry.”
“You can understand why I don’t want to alarm them.”
“Absolutely. I didn’t realize…”
Decker stared at his empty glass. “How about a little guidance here?”
Georgina thought a moment. “Be low-key and tell them the truth. That the doctor is still with Rina but just as a precaution. She’s having a little trouble expelling the afterbirth.” She patted his hand. “I know this is going to sound a little cavalier, but you’re getting worked up over nothing, Sergeant.”
“What happens if she can’t deliver it?” Decker asked.
Georgina frowned. “You’re very persistent.”
Decker shrugged helplessly.
Georgina sighed. “I shouldn’t be telling you this, because I don’t know your wife’s individual situation—”
“But sometimes the placenta has an obnoxious habit of sticking to the uterine wall. Sometimes to get it all out, the doctor has to go in and do a D and C. It’s done under anesthesia, and that’s probably why Dr. Hendricks wanted an anesthesiologist.”
“Oh.” Decker felt his shoulders relax a fraction. “A D and C’s kind of a routine procedure, isn’t it?”
Georgina paused. “I shouldn’t be telling you anything. Pretend we didn’t have this discussion, okay?”
“All right.” Decker blew out air. “Thanks. Really, it helps.” He ran his hand through thick ginger hair. “Is there any way you can peek in and—”
Slowly, Decker rose to his feet. “I’m okay.”
Decker nodded. Georgina gave him a bear hug.
“Now you go in there and smile. Your wife’s in very good hands. You go tell the family the good news about your new little daughter.”
His new little daughter. Decker had forgotten about her.