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The Last Gift
By La Belle Rouge Poetess Of The Heart
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Rated "PG13" by the Author.
It Was Her Last Gift To Him...
The Last Gift
La Belle Rouge
Sirens screamed through the inky midnight. In the city, thousands of sirens had heralded the sufferings and injuries of countless midnights. Tonight their eerie wails signaled the death of one who deserved to die much older and in a more dignified place than the cardboard appliance box leaning against a pylon of the James River Bridge.
“You folks will have to step back now, you’re interfering with official police business. Step back please. It’s all over, you need to leave now.”
Patrolman Sam Reed extended his muscular arms and gently pushed back the group of onlookers. Most of the people in the crowd were dirty and poorly dressed for the biting cold December night. Sam wondered which one of those who called the shelter of the bridge home would be the next he would be called to protect while waiting for the ambulance to pick up their cold, stiffened remains. Being a cop wasn’t easy. Being a cop on this beat was torture. What a way to spend Christmas Eve!
Sam pulled his heavy coat around his chest and zipped it up. The damp wind off the river could chill a man through to his bones. He remembered the hot coffee and warm pastries that used to be waiting for him at the end of a cold shift like this one, and then dismissed the thought quickly. He arranged the woolen scarf more tightly around his neck, his fingers lingering on the soft wool. The scarf was a Christmas gift from Keyla two years ago, one of her last gifts to him. She had crocheted it herself, to protect him on cold nights by the river. His chest ached dully as he remembered how she had slipped it around his neck, holding both ends in her hands and pulling his face down to hers for a soft kiss.
He quickly removed his hands from the scarf and his mind from the memory. Shoving his hands into his heavy leather gloves, his mind returned to the grim job at hand. Sam was only 30, young in years but seasoned in experience. There wasn’t much an officer could face in the line of duty that hadn’t crossed his path, usually more than once. He was ruggedly handsome, with small laugh lines around his eyes and a few gray hairs among the dark brown ones at his temples. His warm bronze eyes betrayed the deep emotions of a sensitive man, hidden behind the professionalism of a badge.
Sam aimed his flashlight at the lifeless body lying face down in the drifted snow. She lay just outside the cardboard box that had been her home. It looked as though she had crawled away searching for help. The pitiful figure was slim, but rounded. She was dressed in torn blue jeans and a thick red sweater. A luxurious mane of hair spilled out around her like a golden web. Minute trails of blood stained the snow around her blue fingertips that had been torn by frantic clawing at the ice-covered snow.
He could only hope that she felt no pain at the end when she slipped into eternal unconsciousness. He fought back tears as he turned back toward the thinning crowd of watchers. Older officers had assured him that it gets easier, but five years had failed to temper the pain that shot through his gut every time, especially if it was a woman or a kid.
He felt so sorry for the homeless that sometimes he secretly brought them blankets or food. He thought about how Keyla insisted on buying a hamburger combo meal and giving it to anyone they passed on the street holding a “Will work for food” sign. She would hand it to them with her warmest smile and say, “God loves you.” He was always the skeptic, believing that many of them just made a dishonest living that way, but Keyla said it was better to be cheated out of a few dollars than to let someone go hungry.
Keyla and her notions about God. He didn’t believe in God, but he never fought Keyla about her beliefs. Keyla was one of those gentle, kind people, whom he suspected would have been that way regardless of the non-existence of the deity she seemed to love so much.
The detectives and the coroner had finished their morbid work.
“Looks like another hypothermia boys. No sign of foul play. We’ll know more after the autopsy. Go ahead and load her up for the morgue.”
Dr. Moore’s voice was matter of fact, betraying no feeling. Sam wondered if his blood ran as cold as his iced over emotions. Maybe 25 years as a coroner did that to a man. Would it do the same to a police officer? Sam hoped it might, hoped that he could somehow become a law enforcement machine, mutely, stoically doing his duty. If he could have shut down his emotions, he would have done it after Keyla left, and he would never have felt anything again.
The body had been turned face up. Sam beamed the light over it again. The red sweater had been unbuttoned and Sam wanted to quickly look away, to grant her some dignity in death that she may have lost in life. His gaze became riveted on a spot just above her right breast. His senses reeled and his legs gave way. He fell to his knees beside her. There above her breast was a small scar, a raised, round memorial to childhood chickenpox. He moved the light to her face with trembling hands, causing the shadows to dance over features still beautiful even in the slate hue of death. The eyes were set and glazed but they were the same cornflower blue he had looked into a million times, in life, in memory and in dreams.
It was Keyla!
Horror took hold of his mind and a grief too crushing for expression possessed his heart. Quickly he removed his coat and wrapped it around her. Keyla hated to be cold. He sat numbly and silently beside her and held her stiffened hand. His mind went back to the night Pilar was born and the hours he spent holding Keyla’s hand and and having her squeeze his at each contraction until both his hands were numb. He thought of the funeral, where he not only held her hand but had to support her entire body weight as they walked to the tiny grave. If only, if only. Life didn’t consist of the ifs, but of the realities. Where was the reality of a God she trusted that day and where was he now?
“Officer, officer, are you all right? Do you know this woman?”
The ambulance attendant’s concerned question startled Sam.
“Yes, she’s my wife.”
“I’m really sorry. I won’t ask you any questions other than would you like to make burial arrangements after the autopsy? We’ll need you to formally identify the body at the morgue.” “Yeah, OK, I’ll make the arrangements.”
The attendant placed his hand on Sam’s shoulder,
“Guess whatever she left in that appliance box belongs to you now.”
Sam held tightly to her hand, finally he had found her, only to lose her now forever.
“Officer, we need to move her now. Could you give us her name, just for the record?”
“Her name is Keyla Andrews Reed, she’s 27 years old.”
Sam stood to his feet and watched as the paramedics shifted Keyla onto the stretcher. They prepared to zip up the body bag containing her remains.
“Officer would you like your coat back?”
"No, she hates the cold, just keep it around her.”
He watched in silence as they slid the stretcher into the ambulance and disappeared into the frozen night. He turned to the box that had been her makeshift home. In the far corner
there were a few cans of food and a pile of rags in the other corner. He’d just leave it for the other homeless people who were sure to be snooping around in the morning.
What was that noise? He stood still and listened for it again. Was it just his imagination? There it was again! A faint whining, coming from under the rags.
In the light from his flashlight he realized that the pile of rags was really a blanket topped by Keyla’s winter coat.
A puppy no doubt! Keyla was always taking in strays. He felt nauseated as he realized she had frozen to death while her one blanket and coat covered a stray animal.
Moving quietly toward the corner, so as not to startle the animal, he lifted the coat and blanket. He stepped back in disbelief as the breath rushed out of his lungs and his heart skipped a beat. There was no puppy under the blanket. It was a baby! Dressed only in a disposable diaper and shirt, he or she, was a plump baby who had obviously been eating well. The child appeared to be around four or five months old, with cornflower eyes and hair that fell in golden ringlets like Keyla’s
After another mournful whine, Sam realized that the baby must have been lying there for several hours with no food or a clean diaper. He found a small pack of diapers and realized when he changed the baby into a clean one, that he was a boy.
“And what’s your name buddy? You can’t tell me can you? Let’s just call you Andrew after your mom’s maiden name. You like that name? Andrew Samuel Reed. And we’ll call you Drew for short. How’s that Drew?”
Sam wondered why he was naming this child, but for now Sam was all that Drew had and Drew was all that Sam had left of Keyla. He closed the tabs on the diaper and looked around for a bottle and formula. There was none to be found among the meager supplies in the appliance box. Sam realized that Keyla must have been nursing this baby just as she had Pilar, besides, she obviously couldn’t afford formula.
“Well, Drew, a bottle will be a poor substitute but we’ll pick up some formula on the way home. I hope I can pick out one that you like little buddy.”
Sam wrapped the blanket securely around the plump cherubic body and headed for the patrol car. Why was he doing this? It was completely against police procedure and everything he knew he should do. He would call Social Services in the morning, it was so late and it was Christmas Eve. Somehow he couldn’t bear the thought of Keyla’s baby spending his first Christmas with a social worker or at the children’s home. He’d take care of Drew, just for tonight. After all, they shared a loss that no one else could ever share. Drew needed him tonight and maybe he needed Drew just as much. It was a lonely world, hard and cold. Just for tonight he could make it a little less so for one motherless baby boy. It was a last gesture of love for Keyla.
He laid Drew on the front seat of the patrol car. There was no car seat. He’d have to drive carefully. At least he didn’t have to worry about being stopped by the police. The first streaks of dawn were just beginning to lighten the gray morning. A sudden fear of going into a supermarket with the baby hit him but he couldn’t leave Drew in the car alone. He reached for his cell phone and dialed his mother.
Cecile’s voice was thick with sleep and tinged with irritation.
“Mom, it’s me. I need your help and please don’t ask any questions. I’ll explain later. I need you to go to the market and buy a baby bottle and some formula and get some disposable diapers too, size medium, I think.”
“Sam what in the world is this all about?”
“Mom, I told you I’ll explain later. Take the things to my house and I’ll meet you there. Please just do it.”
“Son I am getting too old to play games with you. I’ll see you there shortly and I hope you have a good explanation for getting me up before dawn.”
“I do. See you there.”
Sam stayed on his guard on the route home. He couldn’t afford to make the slightest mistake and be involved in any traffic mishap. The road home to his modest home in Brandermill never seemed so long before. There was a fender bender at the corner of Hull Street and Courthouse Road. He pretended not to see and hoped no one noticed him avoiding the congested traffic and slipping by on the shoulder. This was one night he couldn’t stop to do his duty as a cop at an accident scene. Let the Chesterfield force take care of it, they’d be there soon. If this had been in Richmond he could have been in real trouble.
He breathed a long sigh of relief as he finally pulled into the driveway beside his small Cape Cod home. He scooped Drew up into his arms and covered his face with the blanket to prevent the falling snow from startling him.
“Nana will be here soon little guy and you can eat. Now don’t cry until I get you into the house.”
Drew began to demonstrate the strength of his healthy lungs by a scream that Sam was sure would wake the neighbors. Mrs. Larson, the next-door neighbor, ran out onto her porch. Mrs. Larson would have made a fine police detective, as demonstrated by her ability to know everything about everybody in the neighborhood. She would have qualified as an equally first-rate news reporter. She must have been preparing to leave for work at the hospital when her curiosity was aroused by the scream. Sam watched in panic as she waded through the snow toward him.
“Sam, oh Sam, what was that sound? I could have sworn it was a baby’s cry!”
Cecile’s car turned into the driveway between them just as Mrs. Larson was almost close enough to see the bundle in his arms. Sam ran to his front door closing it quickly behind him, leaving Cecile to deal with Mrs. Larson. When he unwrapped the baby he saw a pacifier pinned to his shirt and managed to use it to quiet the unhappy child.
Helen Larson was not about to give up on her investigation. She continued her interrogation with Cecile.
“Cecile, did you hear that noise?
Sounded like a baby crying. I called to Sam but he ignored me. it’s not like him to act that way.”
“I’m sure it was nothing Helen. Sam probably had a rough night.”
Cecile had a confidence and calmness about her that was always reassuring and comforting to those around her who might have been agitated or upset.
“Well, if you find out what that noise was let me know. I have to get to the hospital. The emergency room will probably be full of wreck victims, drunks and sick kids.”
Cecile gave a sigh of relief as Helen trudged away. Walking in Sam’s large footprints, she managed to make it to the house without slipping on the ice. Inside she found Sam in the Kitchen rocking a bundle back and forth in his arms.
“Sam, I assume that bundle is a baby. What are you doing with a baby?”
“I’m taking care of him Mom.”
“ Yes I can see that and here are your diapers and formula, but where did this baby come from and why do you have it?
“Not it, him. He’s a boy. His name’s Drew.”
“OK, why do you have Drew?”
“Mom would you please fix him a bottle? I think he’s real hungry.”
Cecile pulled the bottle out of the bag, filled it with the formula, warmed it slightly in the microwave and gave it to Sam. Sam went into the living room and sat down in the recliner. He held Drew close to him and tried to get him to take the bottle. It seemed like a losing battle. The nipple was so large and different from the human one Drew was accustomed to. Finally he got a little taste of the milk and began to suck greedily.
“Starving weren’t you little guy. They’d probably hire you for a formula ad!”
Drew’s tiny pink fingers wrapped around Sam’s large callused ones. His pale blue eyes closed and he made contented little noises as his hunger began to be satisfied.
Cecile’s piercing, black eyes softened as she watched the baby, then narrowed again into impatience at Sam.
“Well, are you going to explain or am I supposed to guess?”
“Sit down Mom. I’ll explain but what I have to tell you is going to hurt. I found Keyla tonight.”
“What, oh Sam she’s been gone almost a year! Is she OK? Where is she? How did you find her? What’s this got to do with this baby?”
“Slow down Mom. I’ll tell you everything, just let me talk. Keyla’s dead. She froze to death under the bridge at 14th Street. She was homeless apparently and I found this baby under a blanket in the appliance box she had been living in.”
“Oh no Son. I have never given up hope that she would come back to us. That after she walked out of the hospital she would someday return to sanity and come home to us. Keyla was the most alive person I have ever known. I can’t imagine that life being gone. Poor Keyla, how awful to die alone that way.”
Tears began to glisten in Cecile’s dark eyes and then to cascade down her wrinkled cheeks. Soon she was audibly sobbing and it took some time for her to compose herself enough to carry on the conversation with Sam.
“So, this is her baby? Sam what are you thinking about, you can’t keep this child. We have to call Social Services, right away. You could be in serious trouble for bringing Drew here. And by the way how do you know his name?”
“I know what I did is against police procedure, but I just couldn’t send him to a bunch of strangers on Christmas Eve. He’s all that’s left of my Keyla. I had to take care of him. I don’t know what his real name is but I named him Andrew Samuel. He has to have a name. I thought Keyla would have liked the name Drew. I’ll call Social Services, but not today, not on Christmas. Drew is going to spend his first Christmas with family, Keyla would have wanted it this way.”
“Sam we both loved Keyla, but we have to face the fact that we aren’t really family to this child. We have no idea who his father is and Social Services is not going to let you keep him. They’ll put him into foster care preceding adoption arrangements. You know that as well as I do. You have worked too hard for the force and been too good a policeman to forget about your career and get in trouble over this.”
“Mom I know in my mind that you’re right, but my heart just can’t let go of him, not yet. Just give me a little time and please help me with Drew until I call Social Services.”
“OK, give him to me. Drew and I will go up to the guest room and get some rest. You go on to bed Son. We’ll figure this out later.”
Cecile took the precious burden into her arms. His eyes were closed in contented sleep. Cecile’s practical heart melted with compassion when she looked into the cherubic face and remembered the feel of Pilar in her arms. She rushed upstairs to the guest room, unwilling for Sam to see her cry again.
When Sam heard the guest room door close above him, he stumbled into his first floor bedroom. After locking the door securely behind him, he stretched out on the queen-sized bed. He thought of Keyla and the nights they had spent together in this room. His arms ached to hold her just one more time. Even though it had been over a year since she slept there, the faint fragrance of her perfume could still be detected. He turned face down on the bed, quickly pulling a pillow tightly over the back of his head. He howled like a dying animal into the mattress that muffled his repetitive calling of her name.
Sam awakened sometime later that day to the sound of Cecile talking to Drew as she fed him. Today was a day he dreaded to face. He knew he would have to go make a formal identification of Keyla’s body.
He showered and dressed slowly. The five o’clock shadow would just have to remain. He didn’t feel like shaving today. Cecile and Drew were absorbed in play when he slipped out the front door. An hour later he returned. Still trembling, he sank into the comfort of the recliner.
“Sam you’re as pale as a ghost, let me get you some hot coffee”
Cecile was always at her best when she had someone to fuss over. He took the dark, hot liquid gratefully and began to sip it slowly. He looked down at Drew, tired out from his morning of play, napping peacefully on a comforter spread out on the floor.
“I can’t do it Mom.”
“Can’t do what Son?”
“I can’t call Social Services. I don’t want to give Drew up.”
“Sam you’ve just come from the morgue. You’re too upset to make decisions now. You’re not thinking clearly. How can you possibly keep Drew? Someone will find out you have him and you’ll lose your job on the force, and then they’ll take him away from you anyway. You can’t keep a baby hidden long, especially with Helen living next door! Don’t you realize how impossible this is?”
“I’ll find a way. I’ll work a notice at the force and I’ll move away and make a new life for Drew and me. You can come too Mom and it will all work out somehow. Criminals do this sort of thing all the time.”
“Yes and that’s just what you’ll be, a criminal, if you take Drew and run. You could even be convicted of kidnapping if they catch you. You’re a good cop, I’ve always been proud of your honesty. Are you ready to throw all that away now? Do you want to live your life in fear, always looking back over your shoulder, always running?”
“Maybe there are some things more important than honor. All I know is that Keyla is gone, I’ve lost her forever and I’m not going to lose her baby. It doesn’t matter to me who his father is. He’s part of Keyla and that makes him part of me. Now you can help me, or I’ll do this on my own, but Drew is staying with me.”
Cecile knew her son. He was gentle and easy-going, but when he dug his heels in, no persuasion or force was going to move him. Arguments were over, she had to choose.
“I’ll do what I can to help. I have nothing to hold me here in Richmond since your Dad died. You matter more to me than anything Sam. I’ll come with you and Drew. But we need a foolproof plan and we need to move fast. Every day we’re here is dangerous. Several days later Cecile’s statement proved to be true .
Sam was preparing to leave for work. Cecile would be there any minute to take care of Drew. There was an insistent ringing of the doorbell. Sam rushed to the door before he could pull on his socks, fearful that the bell would wake Drew. He tried to keep Drew as contented and quiet as possible to avoid Helen or any of the other neighbors hearing his cries. Sam squinted as the sunlight poured past the figure in the open door. Holding his hand over his eyes like a visor he was able to recognize short, husky Detective Lucas Pauley. Detective Pauley reached into his pocket and produced his badge. He held it out for Sam to see.
“Officer Reed, I wonder if I might come in and ask you a few questions about your late wife. I understand that you were at the scene when her body was found.”
“Well Detective Pauley, it’s not a very good time for me, I was just getting ready to leave for work, maybe we could have this conversation at the station.”
“Oh, that won’t be necessary Officer Reed, this will only take a few minutes and you can be on your way.”
Sam was frantic inside, what if the doorbell had awakened Drew, what if he cried? Detective Pauley had to leave, now!
The sound of Cecile’s car pulling into the driveway drew the attention of both men.
“Sam is anything wrong? She asked when she recognized Detective Pauley.
“No Mom, everything is OK, go on in and get yourself a cup of coffee.”
As Cecile walked past him into the house, Sam turned to Detective Pauley.
“Do you mind if we have this conversation on the porch? Mom’s been really upset about Keyla’s death and it would be best if she doesn’t have to hear this.”
“Sure, we can talk out here.”
Detective Pauley was a soft-spoken Southern gentleman, but he was a shrewd
investigator. Sam would have to guard every word.
A small high-pitched wail came from Drew’s room.
Oh, God, please don’t let him hear it, Sam prayed to any deity that might be listening and could do anything about the disturbing situation he found himself in.
At the exact moment Drew’s cry was made, Detective Pauley’s cell phone rang.
“Yeah, this is Pauley. Yeah, I’m there right now. No, not yet. Are you sure? OK, I’ll talk to you at the station.”
Sam hoped relief hadn’t shown in his expression when the ringing phone drew Pauley’s attention from the baby’s cry.
“Officer Reed, I understand your wife had been missing for some time. Did you have any idea where she was?”
“No, I had looked everywhere for her, but with no luck. It was especially frightening because she wasn’t herself after our daughter died.”
“ I remember, let me offer my sympathy for the loss of both your daughter and your wife.”
“Thank you Detective.”
“Back to the night of your wife’s death. The detectives who investigated the scene said the only thing they saw in the appliance box was a pile of rags and a few cans of food. Did you notice anything else there, anything at all?”
“No, that was about it, some food, a blanket and an old coat.”
“And you didn’t see or hear anything unusual, like a baby’s cry or maybe even a baby?”
Sam’s hands began to tremble. He slipped them into his pockets. He hoped his voice wouldn’t tremble when he answered.
“ A baby, why are you asking about a baby?”
“Well, Officer Reed, it’s very difficult to have to tell you this but your wife’s autopsy showed that she was nursing a child and both breasts were badly infected. We believe that’s why she may have crawled out of the box that night to try to find a way to get some milk for her baby. If her baby was still alive and in that box, we may have a case of kidnapping on our hands. Are you absolutely sure you found no signs of a baby or evidence of one having been in the box?”
“I didn’t find anything. I’m a police officer. If I had found anything don’t you think I would have contacted the authorities?”
“Oh, I think you would have Sam, but you can understand why I have to ask these questions. You were the only one left at the scene after the coroner and detectives left and the body was removed. I’ll let you get to work now.”
Detective Pauley turned to leave. He crushed his cigar under his foot in the driveway, and then looked back over his shoulder.
“Sam, if you remember anything, contact me.”
Sam had been a cop long enough to know how criminals managed to change their identity. He began the process of procuring false identifications for Cecile, himself and Drew. All the money from his accounts had been withdrawn gradually over a matter of two months. He had given notice at work and everything seemed to be falling into place. Cecile kept the baby at her house to avoid problems with Sam’s neighbors and the police. Both her house and Sam’s were rented and their notices had been given to the landlords of the date they would vacate. The plane tickets were ready and both cars had already been sold. The furniture, except the bare necessities, had been stored in a self-storage under a false name; Sam could come back for it later. It felt peculiar to Sam, being on the opposite side of the law. He tried not to think about it and to work on finalizing their plans.
Finally the day came. There was nothing left to do but drive to the airport and board a plane to begin a new life. He took a cab to Cecile’s to pick up his mother and son. Before he could ring the bell, Cecile rushed to the door.
“Oh thank God you’re here Sam.”
Cecile’s gray hair that was usually flawlessly in place was uncombed and the color was drained from her face.
“What’s wrong? Are you all right”?
“It’s not me, it’s Drew. He’s running a fever of over 105 and I can’t get it to break. None of the usual things are working, fever medication, cool cloths. I even tried a cool tub bath. Sam, I’m scared. A child could die from a fever like this. I think we better get him to the hospital fast.”
“Mom, what if they start asking questions?”
“Sam, I don’t know, but we don’t have time to get on the plane and take him to the hospital when we get to Texas. I’m surprised he isn’t already having convulsions.”
Sam took one look at Drew and knew he had no choice. They had the cabby rush them to the emergency room. After seeing the condition the baby was in, the nurse took him back for treatment immediately. Cecile carried his limp little body back to the examining room,leaving Sam to give the usual information to the admitting clerk. The clerk who looked like a heavily, made up 18 year old, chewed her gum loudly and never looked at Sam’s face.
“Andrew Joseph Markam”
“Uh, six months”
“Date of birth?”
Sam managed to make it through more questions, giving the new identity for Drew and himself and a false address.
“Patient’s Social Security number?”
“I’m sorry I don’t have it with me and I’m too upset to remember.”
Sam surprised himself by how coolly he could lie under pressure. Until recently he had very little practice at it. He sat alone in the waiting room. Things seemed unusually quiet in the emergency room tonight. Thank goodness Helen Larson worked at a hospital on the other side of town. He hoped she was a better nurse than she was a neighbor. He hadn’t even told her he was moving. He smiled mischievously as he thought about her shock when she looked out her window in a few days and realized that someone else was living in his house.
A tall redhead wearing a white coat and stethoscope and calling for someone named Mr. Markam interrupted his thoughts of revenge. Suddenly his brain shifted gears.
“Markam, that’s me.”
“I’m Dr. Cole. Andrew is resting now and the fever is beginning to break. I’m not sure yet what is causing the problem. We need to do some blood work and possibly a spinal tap. I don’t want to alarm you Mr. Markam but we have seen several cases of meningitis lately and we will need to rule that possibility out before we make conclusive decisions about the best treatment for Andrew. Your mother is with him now and you may go in to see him. I’m having him admitted to pediatrics tonight and we’ll get started now on the needed tests. Do you have any concerns or questions?”
“Dr. Cole could you just do the tests now and let me take him home?”
“I’m sorry Mr. Markam, but it’s imperative that Andrew have medical care and intravenous fluids at least for tonight and maybe longer. I’ll arrange for a cot and you can stay with him if you wish. I noticed on his chart that you are from Texas. I’m sorry this happened so far from home and Andrew’s doctor, but I assure you this is a fine hospital and I’ll take good care of your little boy.”
Dr. Cole’s emerald eyes were compassionate and reassuring, but her attitude was unbending. Sam would have to leave Drew in her capable hands and hope that there were no further obstacles to their leaving for Texas in a few days.
“Sam why don’t you go get a motel room and try to rest, I’ll stay here on the cot in Drew’s room.” Cecile offered.
She was desperately concerned about her son. He had slept very little since finding Drew and had almost no appetite.
“Mom you know I can’t leave him, why don’t you get a room close by and come back in the morning?”
“No, I’ll just make myself comfortable in the waiting room and we can take turns watching over Drew. See you later Son.”
Drew looked so tiny and fragile as he slept in the hospital crib. Sam had just stretched out on the cot when Dr. Brianne Cole came in to check on her patient.
“Mr. Markam, I’m so sorry to wake you, but I’ll be staying here at the hospital tonight to keep an eye on Drew.”
“How’s he doing Doc and by the way, call me Sam.”
“Well, Sam, he’s resting comfortably now and the fever is much lower. We’ve completed the blood work and I’ve decided to wait until morning to do the spinal tap, just to give the little guy a few hours rest. You must be exhausted. Those hospital cots are pretty uncomfortable; I’ve spent a few nights on one to stay close to a patient. You could go get a room if you like, I’ll be here to look in on Drew all night.”
“Oh, no Doc, I couldn’t leave him. What if he woke up and was alone. He’s been through enough lately.”
“So you have custody of your son. I've always admired fathers who wanted to be there for their kids. It can’t be easy, with one this young.”
“His mother died recently. That’s why he’s with me. I guess I could never take her place, but I’m making sure Drew has a good life and a dad who is always there for him.”
“I’m so sorry about your wife. Drew is a lucky little boy to have a dad who loves him so much. I’m going down to the doctor’s lounge, but I’ll be back soon. Meanwhile try to get some sleep. Drew will probably sleep until morning.”
Sam turned off the bedside lamp and lay quietly, listening to Drew’s regular breathing. He dozed off, but woke again to continue his vigil. Cecile came in to take her shift keeping watch over the baby. Sam reluctantly left for the waiting room. He stretched out on the hard, leather sofa and waited for the changing of the guard.
Cecile was almost asleep when the third shift nurse came in to take Drew’s vital signs.
“Hello little boy, I hate to wake you.”
The nurse’s tone was kind and her manner gentle as she took care of Drew. She must have been aware of the other woman in the corner of the room. As she continued her work, she spoke to Cecile over her shoulder,
“What a precious little boy, you must be so proud of him.”
“Yes, I’m very proud of my grandson. And of my son for the way he cares for him.”
The nurse tucked the clean diaper around Drew’s chubby bottom and turned to continue the conversation with his grandmother.
“Grandchildren are wonderful aren’t they? . . . . . Cecile, what are you doing here? You don’t have any grandchildren, except Pilar! I knew I heard a baby in the driveway Christmas morning. What’s going on here?”
Cecile was horrified to recognize Helen Larson who had been transferred to the hospital just a week ago.
“Helen, please keep your voice down and don’t say anything about this to anyone. I’ll explain everything later.”
“Cecile, I would say you have some explaining to do to my supervisor right now. If you and Sam have done something wrong, I don’t intend to risk my career to help you with it.”
Helen turned and rushed out the door. Cecile had hoped she and Sam thought through all the possibilities and had answers for all of them. This was one they hadn’t contemplated. There was no way out. They couldn’t take Drew out of the hospital and Helen Larson knew who they were and that Drew couldn’t possibly belong to them.
Within an hour, hospital administration had discovered who Sam was and the fact that he had given them false information on the admitting forms. Social Services had sent over a caseworker to make sure that Sam and Cecile stayed away from Drew. Sam and his mom were being held by hospital security until the police arrived with the warrants. Two officers arrived to take them into custody. One of them was unknown to Sam, he was probably new on the force, but the other officer was Sam’s best friend, Andre Grantson.
“Sam, what’s going on here man? They got you for kidnapping.”
Andre’s usual white smile was missing and the warm brown skin of his forehead was wrinkled into a puzzled frown.
“It’s Keyla’s kid isn’t it?” Man, you knew better than to try this!”
Andre’s strong hand rested on Sam’s shoulder as he reached for the handcuffs with the other hand.
“Sam, I’m sorry, but I gotta put em on.”
Andre’s dark eyes filled with tears as he slipped the cuffs onto Sam’s wrists.
“It’s OK Andre, I know you have to. You just do what you gotta do. Just let Mom go, she knew nothing about what’s going on. I told her the kid was mine.”
“Andre, he did nothing of the kind, I’m in this with Sam, so you can use that other pair on me.”
Cecile’s chin jutted out in the determined expression Sam knew better than to challenge.
Andre’s partner placed cuffs on Cecile.
“Can we just see Drew before we go?” Sam asked.
“I’m sorry Sam, but you’re not allowed anywhere near the baby.”
That night in jail was one of the longest Sam had ever spent, rivaled only by the night Pilar died, the night after Keyla disappeared and the night he had found her frozen in the snow. Now he had lost it all, Pilar, Keyla, Drew and even his career as a policeman. He should have been grief stricken, but all he felt was numbness. A year ago he thought things could never get worse, he was wrong. Like the well-known slogan, “There’s always room for *Jello,” there’s always room for trouble.
Kurt Rockland straightened his gold-rimmed glasses and leaned back against the wall in his chair. He pushed a stray lock of black hair off his forehead. His steel grey eyes stared into Sam’s bronze one’s with a look that would have intimidated a lesser man.
“OK, start from the beginning and tell me everything, and tell me the truth. I’m not here to judge you; I’m here to defend you. If you want me to defend you, tell me the truth. If I find out you’re lying to me you can get yourself another lawyer. Understood?”
Sam liked Kurt Rockland. His bigger than life, Texas persona may have seemed strange to some Virginians but he was Sam’s kind of lawyer and his kind of friend, straightforward and no nonsense. He had known Kurt for years and seen his work in the courtroom. It never entered Sam’s mind to contact anyone but Kurt for help. Sam told him everything and Kurt listened.
“OK, Sam. The first thing we need to do is get you out on bail. Do you have any money?”
“A little; I could get a bondsman.”
“I’ll call one for you today. Bond’s pretty steep, 50 grand. Jessica Martin wants that Senate seat next year and she doesn’t care who she crucifies to get it. Convicting a cop of kidnapping would look good for her campaign. She’s been a damn good Commonwealth Attorney, more convictions than the last six of her predecessors. She’s got a good chance at that seat and she’ll win it by being ruthless. She doesn’t care about why you did it or how you feel, she just cares about winning, again. I’ve managed to keep Cecile out of jail at least until the trial. Martin’s not too interested in convicting a granny. She’s ruthless, but doesn’t want the public to think of her that way. Sam I’d like to tell you not to worry but since I demand the truth, I try to give it. It’s gonna be a tough fight and you may go to prison, but if you do it won’t be because I didn’t do everything I could to defend you. I’ll fight for you Sam, hell, I might run for Senate someday myself!”
The next few weeks Sam thought about Drew constantly. Where was he? Was he happy and well cared for? Did he miss Sam and Cecile?
He tried to stay busy to keep his mind off the impending trial. He and Andre worked out every night at the gym. Andre had a small fishing boat docked at Jordan Point Yacht Haven and they went fishing when it was warm enough. Sam loved to fish; it took his mind off everything but the river, the sky, and the slim possibility of catching a “Big one”.
Sam and Andre had docked the boat and climbed ashore to leave when Sam noticed a woman seated on the deck of a 45-foot yacht in the next slip.
“Andre, do you know her?”
“Yeah, I know her and you may wish you didn’t.”
“What do you mean? I don’t know her.”
“Man, you know her. That’s Jessica Martin, rich witch and soon to kick your butt in court, Commonwealth Attorney.”
“Andre, I’ve seen Jessica Martin plenty of times in court and that’s not her.”
“She don’t dress in court like she does at the river. I mean, only time you see
her she has on a business suit and all that hair is pulled back in a bun. If she showed that much leg in court she’d get prosecuted herself.”
Sam took another look at the woman seated with her back turned. Dressed in shorts and a tee shirt, her long, tanned legs were propped up on the rail. Pale, blonde hair cascaded to her waist in soft waves.
Well if he was sent to prison, at least a beautiful woman would be sending him!
Jessica slowly turned. For a brief moment her intense, violet eyes looked into Sam’s warm brown ones. If she recognized him, her eyes or body language didn’t betray her. She smiled the same seductive way she always did when her eyes met those of an attractive man, then she looked away. Sam felt strangely affected by those eyes and the smile she had flashed him.
The lady was beautiful, no doubt about that. He hadn’t been attracted to any woman since Keyla. How could he be stupid enough to feel a sudden urge to get closer to the one known as the coldest woman in Richmond? How could someone, who with just a glance had warmed his deadened heart, be true to her reputed coldness and ambition? Sam wondered and he was beginning to feel that the trial he had been dreading wouldn’t be so bad if it gave him a chance to look across a courtroom at Jessica Martin for several days or weeks.
The phone rang that evening at his apartment, it was Kurt.
“Sam I tried to work out a deal for you with the Commonwealth, no dice. Martin says she’s not about to bargain. The charge of kidnapping and attempting to leave the state illegally with a minor stands. She plans to nail us to the wall, or the cross.”
“Thanks Kurt, I know you did what you could. I’m willing to take full responsibility for what I did and if I could get my hands on Drew I’d run with him today, as soon as I could get a plane ticket. Maybe Jessica Martin isn’t as formidable as she seems.”
“Don’t count on that Sam, she’s as tough as a cowboy’s rear end after a long cattle drive and smart as a coyote. I’d rather go up against almost anybody but her. Hard to believe, isn’t it, how anything that beautiful could have such a relentless drive? I mean, she looks so feminine and fragile, who’d ever guess? I heard Mark Laterly say he spent a whole, steamy weekend on the yacht with her. Monday morning she beat him in court and never bothered to speak to him afterwards. She’s the Ice Queen all right. We can’t expect any warmth or sympathy from her.”
“OK Kurt, we’ll see. I’ll meet you in court Tuesday. And Kurt, thanks for all you’re trying to do to help me.”
“Just doing my job Sam. But I have to admit I don’t want to see you pull time for following your heart above your reason. See you Tuesday.”
On Tuesday as he sat at the defense table with Kurt, Sam couldn’t help but watch Jessica Martin. She was dressed in a navy blue business suit with a white blouse, and wore solitaire pearl earrings and a single strand of pearls. Even with the drab professional clothing and her hair pulled back tightly into a bun, she was just about the most beautiful woman Sam had ever had the pleasure of staring at for several hours. Keyla had been beautiful, but in a different, more innocent way. Keyla was honest, all the way through. She was who she was and there was little of intrigue or surprise in their relationship. The tall blonde in the business suit intrigued him.
What would it be like to conquer a woman like her, to feel her arms wrap around him and those full, red lips surrender to his kisses? He wanted to conquer not only her body, but also her emotions. To capture not only her desire, but her respect as well.
He wondered how the pleasure of being with a woman again would feel. After Keyla left he was so numb, as if all his desires left with her. He never expected them to return this quickly and to be aroused so strongly by such an unlikely person as a domineering, cold Commonwealth Attorney! He was curious to know how cold she really was behind her professional, political mask. The memory of the way her violet eyes locked on his at the marina had haunted his thoughts and dreams. He silently made up his mind, that if he never had her, it wouldn’t be because he hadn’t tried!
He was jolted back to the reality of the courtroom as Jessica continued her accusations against him. How despicable he was as a policeman to ignore the law and kidnap a child. How he had deliberately planned to leave the state and attempted to keep the child illegally. She knew how to work a jury all right! He was looking more and more guilty to himself and surely to the jurors. It had been three days since the State began its case against him. It was Kurt’s turn now to try to save his neck.
“Your Honor, the defense calls Sam Reed.”
The elevated heels of Kurt’s cowboy boots clicked as he walked toward the witness stand. Sam thought he cut an impressive and unforgettable figure in his boots and Western, suede-accented, black suit. Judges had opposing reactions to Kurt. They either detested him or enjoyed his individualism and offbeat humor. Luckily for Sam, Judge Morris seemed to be one that even grinned at Kurt’s homespun comments. Kurt was quite a contrast to the thoroughly professional, openly aggressive Jessica Martin, but perhaps more effective in a less obvious way.
“Sam, could you tell us the events that led up to your taking the baby?”
“Objection, Your Honor, immaterial.”
Jessica wasn’t about to give any slack.
“But Your Honor, the defendant’s situation and frame of mind are most certainly relevant to his actions. These elements need to be understood. You can’t examine a horse with a blanket on it!”
Judge Morris camouflaged a grin behind his hand,
“Objection overruled, however Mr. Rockland, do not attempt to digress from the pertinent information.”
“I wouldn’t think of it Your Honor.”
Sam narrated his story amid the constant, vehement objections of the State’s attorney. Kurt was skillful in his questioning and managed to avoid most of the objections being sustained. The jury was beginning to get a clear picture of a man in emotional turmoil, who without criminal intent, made a bad decision. All too soon it was time for cross-examination. Jessica Martin stood to her feet and approached the witness stand. Her eyes were on the paper in her hand. She began her questioning without looking up.
“Mr. Reed isn’t it a fact that as a former police officer you are familiar with the law concerning kidnapping? And isn’t it also true that you knew exactly what you were doing the night you kidnapped the baby from the scene of his mother’s death? Perhaps you felt some perverse kind of thrill in breaking the law you were sworn to uphold.”
“Objection Your Honor! Speculation. Counselor is stating her theory as fact, a theory, I might add, that holds about as much water as a rusty radiator on a desert drive in August.”
Judge Morris covered his mouth with his hand, brought down his gavel with a loud thud to silence the laughter in the courtroom, and looked threateningly into Kurt’s steel gray eyes.
“Objection sustained. And counselor, remember this is a courtroom, not a comedy club.”
“Sorry Your Honor, just making a pertinent observation.”
“Well, Mr. Rockland, just make your observations a little less colorful.”
The questioning and accusations dragged on for what seemed like hours to Sam. He tried to avoid looking into his accuser’s violet eyes. It was maddening, wanting the woman who was taking such obvious pleasure in destroying him.
Several days later all the witnesses had testified. Jessica had even called Dr. Cole and tried to twist her testimony to reflect negligence on Sam’s part because Drew was sick. Dr. Cole had held her ground for truth and managed, when questioned by Kurt, to relay her impression of Sam as a caring, devoted father, unwilling to leave the baby alone for even a short time. After court that day she approached Kurt.
“I need to speak with you Mr. Rockland. I have information I think may help your client.”
Kurt motioned for Sam to come with Dr. Cole and him into a small conference room.
The next morning both sides were expected to rest and to make their final, closing remarks. When court convened Kurt made a surprising move.
“Your Honor, may I approach the bench?”
“Yes Mr. Rockland. Would both counselors approach the bench?”
“Your Honor, due to some new significant developments, important evidence for the defense will be forthcoming within two weeks. Defense asks for a continuance of two weeks in order to provide this vital evidence.”
Judge Morris frowned. He thought this one was almost finished.
“Objection Your Honor, counsel is grasping at straws and wasting this court’s valuable time.”
Jessica was being her usual objectionable self.
“Mr. Rockland, I’m going to grant your continuance, but you better produce what you are claiming or this court won’t look very favorably upon you.”
“Oh, don’t worry Your Honor. I intend to produce the evidence, wouldn’t want you looking at me like a hound dog at a rabbit.”
Two weeks later Sam once again sat at the defense table. It would all be over soon, life would go on, imprisoned or free.
“The defense calls Dr. Brianne Cole.”
Dr. Cole looked quite different dressed in a green silk jacket dress than she did in the standard white coat. Her copper hair fell to her shoulders and flipped slightly at the ends in a style reminiscent of the 60’s pictures Sam had seen of Cecile and her friends. Her emerald eyes looked toward Sam and her lips parted in a faint smile.
“Dr. would you please state your medical qualifications?”
“I’m a doctor of medicine, chief resident of pediatrics at Healing Hands Medical Center. I’ve been practicing medicine for five years.”
“Dr. Cole, would you take a look at this medical lab report and explain it’s contents to the court?”
“Objection Your Honor, counsel has failed to provide the relevancy of this report.”
Jessica continued to aggressively prosecute the case. Today she wore a more flattering dark purple suit that accented her eyes and fair skin. Sam couldn’t help but watch her every move.
“Your Honor, if the counsel for the Commonwealth wasn’t as anxious as a filly at her first race, I could get to the relevancy of the evidence.”
Kurt gave Jessica a quick wink, which served to infuriate and disorient her.
“Ms. Martin, I’m going to overrule your objection but will favorably entertain another one if counsel for the defense fails to provide relevancy soon.”
Kurt made a slight nod toward Judge Morris.
“Oh it’s coming Your Honor, quick as I can get some answers from this pretty, lady doctor. Dr. Cole, tell us please what this report is.”
“It’s the results of a blood test.”
“And what is the patient’s name on the results?”
“Actually there are three names, Samuel Reed, Keyla Reed and Andrew Reed”
“What do the results show?”
“This is a paternity DNA test that proves Sam Reed is the probable father of Andrew Reed within a 99.8 percent impossibility of exclusion.”
“In layman’s terms what does that mean?”
“It means that it is almost a complete certainty that Sam Reed is Andrew Reed’s biological father. A result this definite would be accepted proof of paternity in a court case.”
“Thank you doctor, you may step down. Your Honor, the defense moves for dismissal of all charges against the defendant. He did not kidnap his son, simply took him into his custody after his mother’s untimely death and provided a loving home for him.”
Judge Morris responded after a long pause,
“It is the judgment of the court that the charges should be dismissed. There is however the question of violation of police procedure which the Commonwealth may want to address at a later time. Case dismissed.”
Jessica walked toward Sam and Kurt.
“Counselor, I hope we don’t meet again any time soon. Sam, I’m almost glad you’re his father, even if I lost an important case. Here’s my card, call me.”
Sam looked down at the business card in his hand. Jessica Martin had actually asked him to call her, and those violet eyes promised more than a phone conversation!
Slowly he held the card out to her.
“Thanks, but I’ll be busy with my son and my friends.”
He and Kurt walked toward Brianne Cole. Sam took her hand and looked into her honest green eyes.
“Thanks for what you did for me. I just never thought about doing the math and realizing Andrew is mine. Now, let’s you, Kurt and me go to lunch. My treat.”
“Oh no,” Kurt objected, “ You better let me treat, Sam. After you pay my fees you’ll be more broke than a junk shop TV!”
Copyright 2001 La Belle Rouge
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|Reviewed by Elizabeth Price
|My heart was fully engaged in this bitter sweet story. I had done the math earlier than the defense attorney and so was really warmed by the ending. Bravo. Liz|
|Reviewed by Sandra Mushi
|La Belle, well penned compelling write!
|Reviewed by Tinka Boukes
|I enjoyed this read!!
|Reviewed by Carole Mathys
|A truly compelling story with a feel good ending...excellent Belle
|Reviewed by Karla Dorman, The StormSpinner
|Excellent, La Belle, you drew me in from the first word of this story and kept my attention until the last. Tautly penned, compelling reading; well done! The ending got me...
(((HUGS))) and love, Karla.
|Reviewed by Walt Hardester
|Very well done Belle. This reads like an episode of "CSI." With the happy ending of a "House."
I enjoyed this much.
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|Excellent story, Belle; brava!|