Dr. Molly Boudreau finished out her day with a satisfied buzz in her veins. Holding new life in her hands had helped eclipse the bleakness that threatened to swamp her earlier, had pushed the dissatisfaction back behind the black curtain.
Finally, the last patient was out the door and she was free to go to the hospital and see Sarah and the baby. She was as excited as she’d been when she’d gone to see her nephew, Riley, for the first time. Having coaxed Sarah’s baby’s first breath, it was hard not to think of Nicholas as family.
The weather hadn’t improved over the past hours. The instant Molly stepped out the door, sleet pelted her like tiny needles, stinging her cheeks and bare hands. She had to squint into the wind to protect her eyes. Despite Carmen’s frequent applications of ice-melt on the walk outside the clinic, Molly didn’t dare to lift her feet off the slick concrete; she did a shuffle-skate toward the parking lot at the side of the building. The sleet made a silvery halo around the street light that sat at the edge of the lot.
The lock was iced over on her car door. She gave it a couple of thumps with her fist to break the icy film so she could insert the key. Luckily all of the freezing had been on the outside of the lock and it opened fine. The cold interior creaked and crackled as she settled in the driver’s seat.
“Why didn’t I go to California or Arizona to med school?” she asked, her breath forming a cloud in front of her face. She could easily have relocated after graduation, but she’d stayed here in Boston, where she felt like she’d laid the groundwork for her career. What a misconception that had turned out to be.
Once the defroster had cleared the windshield enough to see, she pulled out of the near-deserted parking lot. The tires spun before they finally gripped the road; she inched along testing her brakes every so often to see how slippery the pavement was. Even though it was only seven o’clock, she found herself virtually alone on the streets. She should just drive home, forget the stop at the hospital. Even as she thought it, she turned right at the stoplight, toward the hospital, instead of the left that would take her home. She came up behind a salt truck and poked along behind him, hoping for a marginally safer road.
It took her twice as long to reach the hospital parking garage as normal. She was glad to drive inside the structure and onto the first dry pavement she’d seen all day.
She stopped in the gift shop and bought flowers; every new mother should have flowers. The thought of Sarah alone with her baby, not having anyone to share this moment, broke Molly’s heart.
Stopping at the nurses’ station in maternity, she asked for Sarah’s room number. The duty nurse looked up from the medication cart, then shook her head as she double checked her roster. “No Sarah Morgan registered.”
“Maybe they haven’t moved her up here yet.” Even as Molly said it a chill crept over her heart. “She delivered at my clinic today. EMS brought her here.”
“You want me to call down and check?”
“No, thanks.” The nurse was clearly in the middle of getting meds ready to dispense. If Sarah was downstairs, she’d have to go down there to see her anyway.
Worry kept Molly’s stomach in her throat as the elevator slowly descended to the first floor. She followed the familiar corridor to the ER. Walking past the registration desk, Gladys Kopenski called, “Dr. Boudreau! You’re on duty tonight?” She looked quickly at her schedule. Gladys had manned this desk for more years than Molly had been alive. The woman ran a tight ship. It really threw her to have an unexpected face show up. Molly smiled. “No. Looking for a patient. What on earth are you doing here at this hour?”
Gladys’s lips pursed and she shifted in her chair. “That Cindi didn’t show up again. I’m pulling a double.”
Molly nodded in sympathy. Gladys had advised to put it in mild, professional terms against hiring Cindi Forbes in the first place. Hadn’t called her anything but “that Cindi” since the first day. Gladys took a no-nonsense approach to her job and Cindi’s most remarkable credentials were an impressive set of hooters which, ironically, was the location of her last job. Dr. Michaels, director of emergency medicine, who was smack dab in the middle of a midlife crisis complete with red Porsche and new gym membership, felt Cindi was the “most qualified candidate.” But Cindi had missed at least half of the work days since she’d been hired three weeks ago.
Molly said, “I’m looking for a patient brought in by the EMS around one-thirty this afternoon. Sarah Morgan, she’d just delivered a baby.”
Gladys frowned. “I remember when she came in. She should be up in maternity by now.”
Gladys started shuffling paperwork. “Things did get pretty crazy this afternoon. I hope they didn’t leave that poor woman parked in a cubicle all this time.” She got up and headed through the double doors, looking like she was going to extract a pound of flesh from whoever had thrown a wrench into her well-oiled machine.
Molly followed, flowers clutched in her hand. Occasionally, she’d been the recipient of Gladys’s ire; it was much more entertaining when the woman had another target.
Molly’s amusement quickly disappeared. Sarah wasn’t in the ER. Apparently, she’d disappeared at some point in the afternoon when the victims of the bus accident, the overflow from Mass General, had flooded this facility. No one had seen her leave.
Had Sarah simply gotten up and carried her child out into this storm? Molly picked up the chart from the foot of the gurney. The clipboard was empty. Apparently, Sarah had had the presence of mind to take the paperwork with her. The woman really didn’t trust to leave a trace of herself, even a confidential hospital record.
“Do you have an address in the computer for her?” Molly asked Gladys. She could go back to the clinic and look it up herself. But that would take another thirty minutes.
“Yes. But that’s about all.”
They returned to Gladys’s desk. Molly laid down the flowers to make a quick notation of the address. Then she snatched them back up in a tight fist and headed to the garage. About half-way there, she realized she was swinging the bouquet at her side as she steamrolled her way toward her car, knocking the heads of the flowers against her coat, leaving a shower of petals in her wake. She felt just like Gladys had looked just minutes ago ready to rip someone’s head off. Why in the hell would Sarah put herself and her baby at risk like this?
It took Molly forty minutes on the slick streets to get to the address on Sarah’s chart. When she pulled up and stopped, she slammed her fist against the steering wheel. This was no residence. It was just one of those mail box places. She sat there for a few minutes, listening to the sleet clatter against the car and the windshield wipers thump back and forth. Had Sarah made it safely to wherever she was going? A shiver coursed down Molly’s body. Somewhere in this big city, a new mother huddled with her child against loneliness and the storm. Molly prayed to God they were all right. It was the only thing she could do.
That sense of sad isolation, of cold detachment, once again covered her like an unhealthy skin. Finally, she turned around and headed home, to her own fight against loneliness.#
The next day the sun shone brightly, glinting off the icy tree branches like diamonds. The cheerfulness of it didn’t begin penetrate Molly’s mood. Worry had kept her awake most of the night. This morning’s roads had been reduced to nasty, yet relatively safe, slush. She concentrated on its gray ugliness instead of the fairyland created by the sparkling ice coating on everything else as she drove to work at the ER.
Throughout the day she hoped against hope that Sarah and Nicholas would appear. Three different times she called the clinic to see if they’d shown up there or at least called to tell Molly they were all right. Carmen assured her that she’d call the instant she heard anything.
She never called.
By the end of her shift, it was beginning to sink in that Molly might never see either one of them again. She left work with a growing sense of loss. By the time she was warming up a can of soup for her solitary dinner, she’d managed to fall into a perfectly disgusting quagmire of self-pity.
It wasn’t that she didn’t love medicine. She did. But living like this wasn’t enough anymore. The past days events had shone a bright light on the fact that her personal life consisted of no more than a visit home at Christmas and a single, watered-down friendship with a woman she barely knew. She really needed to rethink her life, reassess what she really wanted.
As she was going to bed, she decided tomorrow she would decide. She would have the whole day to herself. She’d take stock, then take hold of her life and set it on a course that would deliver the fulfillment she was currently lacking. Deciding to decide delivered a measure of calm. She went to sleep certain that when she awakened her future would begin to take shape.#
Just as Molly was stepping out of her morning shower, a frantic knocking sounded at her apartment door. She grabbed her robe and tied it around her as she hurried to answer it, wondering if the building was on fire. Instead of fireman with an ax waiting for her when she opened the door, she was stunned to see a nervous-looking Sarah holding Nicholas.
Sarah didn’t hesitate, but stepped right in. “Close the door.” Molly did. “What’s wrong? I’ve been so worried about you two.” She looked at Sarah. Even with cheeks reddened by the chill air, the girl looked like the walking dead, exhausted beyond normal new-mother exhaustion. “Sit down.” Molly pointed to the only piece of furniture in her living room, a futon.
Sarah sat and laid the baby next to her on the futon. She unwrapped him from thick blankets. Molly looked closely at the child to assess his health. His appearance was the opposite of Sarah’s, good color, alert, bright eyes.
Sarah didn’t look at Molly when she said, “I need your help.” She raised her blue eyes then, and the deep purple smudges beneath them were even more evident. “I need you to keep Nicholas for a day or so.”
Molly drew a deep breath to silence the What! that was about to pop out of her mouth. Then she sat down on the floor next to Sarah’s feet and said, “Tell me what’s happening.”
“I just have to take care of a few things and I can’t have the baby with me.” Again, Sarah’s gaze skittered away from Molly’s probing expression.
“This has to do with Nicholas’s father?”
Sarah nodded and ran a pale finger along the baby’s cheek. Then she looked Molly in the eye. “He can’t know about Nicholas. That’s the only way I can protect him.”
“Sarah, don’t you have someone.”
Jumping to her feet, Sarah threw her arms in the air. “Don’t you think if I did…” She stopped herself and took a breath. “I understand how much I’m asking. I don’t have much time and I don’t have anywhere else to turn. Once I get this taken care of, Nicholas and I can start over … safe.”
“My God, what kind of man is this?”
The way she said it made Molly’s blood run cold. She decided if she was going to do this, she deserved more of an answer. “How could you have gotten involved with.”
“He’s not what he appears. He’s very convincing in his lies. The ugly truth is buried so deep … when I found out, it was too late. All I could do was run to protect the baby. But I can’t run anymore.” There was a chilling finality in her last statement.
Molly had the odd feeling she was caught up in a weeknight television drama. “Why not? If you’ve stayed away from him this long, why can’t you just leave it this way?”
“Because I’m a liability. He can’t afford liabilities. It’s just a matter of time.”
“You make it sound like he’ll kill you.”
“He will.” Her voice was flat, as if fear had ground away all emotion until there was nothing left.
“If he’s dangerous, you should go to the police.” Molly grasped Sarah’s hand; her flesh was as cold as a corpse.
Sarah looked down at her and ignored the statement. There were tears in her eyes. “Will you take him? I don’t have a lot of time.”
“What if I can’t?”
Sarah’s eyes closed briefly and she drew a breath. “Then I’ll have to leave him somewhere else.”
“With someone else?” Even as Molly said it, she knew that wasn’t what Sarah meant.
“No. Abandon him somewhere where they’ll take care of him like the hospital … a church.”
Molly shot to her feet. “You’ve got to be kidding! You’ll never get him back.”
Sarah blinked and a tear rolled down her cheek. “But he’ll be safe.”
Somehow Molly kept herself from saying, Don’t bet on it. She had seen plenty of kids from foster care end up in the ER. It had happened again just this week. “I’ve got two days off. Can you be back here before my shift on Friday at three?”
Sarah grabbed her into a quick, fierce hug. “Thank you.” Then she stepped an arm’s length away. “Promise me you’ll protect him … no matter what. Keep him from his father.”
Molly looked at her sternly. “If I knew who his father was, that’d be a whole lot easier to do.”
Sarah stared hard into Molly’s eyes. “No. Just the opposite.”
Molly tore her uneasy gaze from Sarah to look at the baby who’d fallen asleep on the futon. She could not let this child get swallowed up in the system.
“You’re sure the father doesn’t know?” Molly asked.
“I still think you should go to the police.”
Sarah gave Molly a quick hug. “Everything he needs is in the case. I’ll be back before your shift on Friday.”
“I’m worried about you,” Molly said gravely.
“Don’t worry about me. Nicholas is the one who matters.”
Putting her hand on the door knob, Sarah paused and looked back at the baby one last time. Molly couldn’t help but think she looked like a sad fairy princess; fair and beautiful, yet caught in a nightmarish tragedy.
Sarah said, “Thank you,” once again, and slipped out the door.
Molly stood for a long moment, just staring at the closed door, an impotent fear filling her throat.#
Dean Coletta drew himself up to his knees on the floor of his room in the Al Bahara Hotel. This was the third night in a row that he’d been rocked out of bed by one form of explosion or another. It seemed journalists had become the newest preferred target in this war-torn Middle-Eastern city. His magazine had ordered him to evacuate the country last week. An order he’d been compelled to ignore. The locals had no choice but to stay and suffer the swings in political control, the ravages of conflict. If all of the journalists left, who would tell the world what was going on here? Plus, unlike so many others working here, he had no wife and children back in the States depending upon him.
He ran his hands over his face, then checked his fingers for blood. It was a drill he was becoming accustomed to, much too accustomed. The room’s large window had been shattered two nights ago; reducing the danger of flying glass at least.
Plaster dust, shaken loose from the building by the explosion, clung to his sweaty skin. He rubbed his hair roughly to get the debris out. He saw, but could not hear, the sprinkling shower as dirt rained down and hit the floor; his hearing too dulled by the blast for such a gentle noise. From experience he knew it would be an hour before he had a full range of hearing again. He shook his head, then coughed and snorted to clear his nose.
“You all right in there, chap?” Nigel Clifford, from the BBC, yelled through Dean’s open doorway. The latch had long since broken on the door. In a city where grenades and bullets were frequent, hotel robbery was the least of anyone’s concern. An emergency light in the hallway backlit Nigel and a cloud of gray dust.
“Still in one piece.” Dean got to his feet. At that same moment, he saw the tiny red dot of a laser sight track across the far wall of his room. “Down!” He threw himself on the bed as shots whistled through the air and pinged against the building. A searing heat cut across his neck.
He heard Nigel grunt and lifted his gaze just in time to see the man’s silhouette crumple in the hall.
A rapid succession of automatic rifle fire erupted again. Shouts rose in the street. Dean rolled off the bed and belly-crawled over to Clifford. The man was face down.
Remaining out of rifle range on his stomach, Dean struggled to roll him over. “Cliff! You okay?”
Clifford didn’t answer. It was easy to see why; a neat round bullet hole in his forehead. The lack of flowing blood made the wound look like something a make-up artist had created.
Damn. Why hadn’t the man left last week? Dean knew he had twin five-year-old sons and another child on the way. Telling the story was important, he thoroughly believed that. But not at the expense of leaving your own children fatherless.
As he closed his friend’s eyes, he noticed his own hands were covered with blood. The hot poker remained in his neck. A quick glance at the floor confirmed the blood was indeed his own; a puddle had begun to form beneath his chin. It was a big puddle. Rapid blood loss.
There was no one else in the hall, no one else left living on this floor. It could take at least an hour for a floor by floor search to reach him. The blood was coming fast. He’d have to get to the lobby if he was going to find help in time. He put pressure on the wound in his neck, but had no idea if he was doing any good. There was already so much blood, there was no way to gauge if he’d staunched the flow.
Struggling to his feet, his head spun. The walls appeared to undulate before him. The floor felt as if it tilted with the shift in his weight. He stumbled down the hallway, supporting himself against the wall. The warm trickle of blood slid down his chest.
Grayness forced its way into his vision. He had to keep moving.
Where were the stairs? He should have reached the stairs by now. Looking around, he couldn’t focus his eyes, couldn’t get his bearings.
It was his last thought before his knees buckled and he fell face down on the floor.