Home > Cradle and All

Cradle and All
James Patterson

Chapter 1

SUNDOWN HAD BLOODIED THE HORIZON over the uneven rooftops of South Boston. Birds were perched on every roof and seemed to be watching the girl walking slowly below

Kathleen Beavier made her way down a shadowy side street that was as alien to her as the faraway surface of the moon. Actually, she was here in Southie because it was so frozen, so obscure to her. She had on a fatigue jacket, long patterned skirt, and black combat-style boots - the urban streetwear look. The boots rubbed raw circles into her heels, but she welcomed the pain. It was a distraction from the unthinkable thing she had come to do.

This is so spooky, so unreal, so impossible, she thought.

The sixteen-year-old girl paused to catch her breath at the sparsely trafficked intersection of Dorchester and Broadway. She didn’t look as if she belonged here. She was too preppy, maybe too pretty. That was her plan, though. She’d never bump into anyone she knew in South Boston.

With badly shaking hands, she pushed her gold wirerimmed glasses back into her blond hair. She’d washed it earlier with Aveda shampoo and rinsed it with conditioner. It seemed so absurd and ridiculous to have worried about how her damn hair would look.

She squeezed her eyes shut and uttered a long, hopeless cry of confusion and despair.

Kathleen finally forced open her eyes. She blinked into the slashing red rays of the setting sun. Then she scanned her Rolex Lady Datejust wristwatch for the millionth time in the past hour.

God, no. It was already past

six. She was late for her doctor’s appointment.

She pushed forward into the ruins of Southie. Ahern’s funeral parlor loomed in her peripheral vision, then slipped away. She hurried past the crumbling St. Augustine’s parish church, past hole- in-the-wall bars, a boarded-up strip of two-storied row houses, a street person peeing against a wall covered with graffiti. She thought of an old rock song, “Aqualung,” by Jethro Tull.

She whipped herself forward, as she often did to protect herself against the New England cold. Tears ran from her eyes and dribbled down over her chin.

Hurry, hurry.

You have to do this terrible thing. You’ve come this far

It was already twenty after the hour when she finally turned the corner onto West Broadway. She instantly recognized the gray brick building wedged in between a twenty-four-hour Laundromat and a pawnshop.

This is the place. This.

. . hellhole.

The walls were smeared with lipstick-red and black graffiti:

Abortion

= Murder Abortion is the Unforgivable Sin. There was a glass door and beside it a tarnished brass plaque: WOMEN’S MEDICAL CENTER, it read.

Sorrow washed over her and she felt faint. She didn’t want to

go through with it. She wasn’t sure that she could. It was all terribly, horribly unfair.

Kathleen pressed her hand to the doorplate. The door opened into a reassuring reception room. Pastel-colored plastic chairs ringed the perimeter. Posters of sweet-faced mothers and chubby babies hung on the walls. Best of all, no one was here at this late hour.

Kathleen took a clipboard left out on a countertop. A sign instructed her to fill out the form as best she could.

Ensconced in a baby blue chair, she printed her medical history in block letters. Her hands were shaking harder now. Her foot, trapped in her trendy combat boot, wouldn’t stop tapping.

Kathleen probed her memory for something, anything, that would make sense of this. Nothing did! This can’t be happening to me! I shouldn’t be in the Women’s Medical Center

She had made out with boys, but damn it, damn it, damn it, she knew the difference between kissing and. . . fu**ing.

She’d never gone all the way with anyone. Never even wanted to. She was too old-fashioned about sex - or maybe just a prude, or maybe just a good girl - but she hadn’t done anything wrong. She’d never been touched down there by a boy. Wouldn’t she know it if she had? Of course she would.

So how could she be pregnant?

She couldn’t. It wasn’t physically possible. She was a good kid, the best. Everybody’s friend at school.

Kathleen Beavier was a virgin. She’d never had sexual intercourse.

But she was pregnant.

Chapter 2

A SUDDEN WAVE OF NAUSEA came over Kathleen and nearly knocked her to the floor. She felt dizzy and thought she might throw up in the waiting room.

“Get yourself together,” she muttered softly. You’re not the first one to go through this kind of thing. You won’t be the last, kiddo.

She glanced at the clock over the reception desk with no receptionist. It was nearly six-thirty. Where was the receptionist? More important, where was the doctor?

Kathleen wanted to run out of the women’s clinic, but she fought off the powerful instinct. She couldn’t sit here any longer! She couldn’t stand the waiting. Where was everybody?

“Let’s do this,” she said between clenched teeth. “No time like the present.”

She stood and walked to a pinewood door directly behind the reception desk. Kathleen took a deep breath, possibly the deepest of her life. She turned the metal handle, and the door opened.

She heard a soft, mellow voice coming from down the hail. Thank God someone is here after all.

She followed the sound.

“Hello,” Kathleen called out tentatively. “Hello? Anybody? I’m a patient. I’m Kathleen Beavier. Hello?”

The door at the far end of the hall was partially open, and Kathleen heard the pleasing voice inside. She slowly pushed the door open all the way.

“Hello?”

Something was wrong. It didn’t feel right to Kathleen. She felt she should leave, but it had taken her so much courage to come here in the first place.

The air was thick, almost viscous. There was a smell of alcohol. But something else, too? Kathleen put her hand to her mouth.

It took her a few seconds to take in the full, horrifying effect of what she saw.

A young, dark-haired woman was hanging from a hook high up on the wall. She wore a white medical coat. Her name tag read DR. HIGGINS. A cord was slipknotted crudely around her neck, which seemed stretched to at least twice its normal length.

The neck and face were congested a brutal dark red. There was petechial hemorrhaging in the eyes, which were frozen in fear. The woman’s brown hair cascaded over her shoulders.

Trembling, Kathleen reached out and touched the woman’s hand. It was still warm,, and damp. Dr Higgins. Her doctor.

This woman had just died!

In a panic, Kathleen jerked her hand away. She wanted to

but some force held her there. Something so powerful. So awful.

She saw a stethoscope coiled beside a pad of paper. On the pad was written Kathleen’s name.

“Oh, nooooooo!”

she screamed. There was a gathering in her stomach as fear and guilt and shame overpowered her in one sickening, wrenching movement.

At that instant, she realized she couldn’t stand being in this world anymore. The thought was so strange, so overwhelming, it was almost as if it weren’t her own.

A tray of instruments glittered near the pad of paper. Kathleen took up a sharp blade. It was ice- cold and menacing in her hand.

She heard a voice - but no one was there. The Voice was deep, commanding. You know what you have to do, Kathleen. We’ve talked about it. Go ahead, now. It’s the right thing.

In the space between the pink cuff of her Ralph Lauren oxford cloth shirt and the crease of her left wrist, she sliced. The skin parted.

See how easy it

is, Kathleen? It’s nothing, really. Just the natural order of things.

Then blood welled up and fell in large drops onto the floor. Tears flowed from her eyes and intermixed with the blood.

One more cut. Just to be sure.

The second cut was harder for her to do. The wristband of her watch covered the best place on her vein, and her left hand was already weak.

She sliced into the vein again.

She sank to her knees, as if in prayer.

Kathleen managed a third slash before everything jumped to black.

She fell unconscious beneath the feet of the hanging doctor, whose mouth now seemed frozen in a knowing smile.

Book One

THE INVESTIGATORS

Chapter 3

GIVEN EVERYTHING THAT HAS HAPPENED, it isn’t too much of a stretch to say that this is one of the most incredible stories ever, and the strangest I’ve ever encountered. The weirdest thing of all is that I am part of it. A big part.

I remember how my involvement began, remember every detail as if it happened just moments ago.

I was in my small, hopelessly cluttered, but comfortable office in the Back Bay section of Boston. I was staring off in the general direction of the Hancock and Prudential towers.

The door opened without so much as a tap, and an elderly

man stepped inside. He was wearing a gray pinstriped suit, a

white-on-white shirt, and a dark blue silk tie. He looked like a

successful Beacon Hill lawyer or a businessman.

I knew that he was neither; he was Cardinal John Rooney of the Archdiocese of Boston, one of the most important religious leaders in the world, and a friend of mine.

“Hello, Annie,” he said, “nice to see you, even under the circumstances.”

“Nice to be seen, Eminence,” I said, and I smiled as I rose

from my seat. “You didn’t have to get all duded up to see me, though. What circumstances?”

“Oh, but I did,” Rooney said. “I’m traveling incognito, you see. Because of the circumstances.”

“I see. Nice threads. Very high WASP, which all us Catholics aspire to. Be careful, some chippie might try to pick you up. Come in. Please, sit. It’s nearly six. Can I offer you something to drink, Eminence?”

“John’ will do for tonight, Anne. Scotch if you have it. An old man’s drink for an old man. Getting older in a hurry.”

I fixed the cardinal a scotch, then got a Samuel Adams out of the minifridge for myself.

“I’m honored. I think,” I added as I gave him his glass. “Here’s to - the circumstances of your visit,” I said and raised my beer.

“The perfect toast,” Rooney said and took a sip of his drink.

I have a rather complicated history with the Archdiocese of Boston, but most recently, I’ve worked several times with certain members as a private investigator. One case involved a teacher in Andover. She had been raped by a priest who taught at the same high school. Another case was about a fifteen-year-old who’d shot another boy in their church. None of the cases were happy experiences for either the cardinal or me.

“Do you believe in God, Anne?” Rooney asked as he sat back in one of my comfy, slightly tattered armchairs.

I thought it an odd question, almost impertinent. “Yes, I do. In my own, very unusual way”

“Do you believe in God the Father, Jesus, the Blessed Mother?” the cardinal went on. He was making this very strange meeting even stranger.

I blinked a few times. “Yes. In my way.”

Cardinal Rooney then asked, “As a private investigator, are you licensed to carry a gun?”

I opened my desk drawer and showed him one of Smith & Wesson’s finest. I didn’t feel obliged to tell him that I had never fired it.

“You’re hired,” he said and knocked back the rest of his drink. “Can you leave for Los Angeles tonight? There’s something there I think you should see, Anne.”

Chapter 4

I WILL NEVER FORGET LOS ANGELES and what I found there, what I felt there.

I had first seen the graphic pictures of the terrible disease on CNN, and then on every other TV network. I had watched, cringed in horror, as the children of Los Angeles burst upon Cedars-Sinai Medical Center by the carload, all with aching joints and fever, with symptoms that could kill within days.

When I arrived at Cedars, the scene was more intense than what I had seen on TV. It was so very different to be there in the midst of the suffering and horror. I wanted to turn away from it all, and maybe I should have. Maybe I should have run into the Hollywood Hills and never come out.

The sound of chaos and fear was well over a hundred decibels inside the fabled hospital, which had been turned into a confused mess. The shouting of the emergency-room nurses and doctors, and the wailing of their young patients, ricocheted sharply off beige tile walls.

It was so sad, so ominous. A portent of the future?

A curly-haired boy of four or so in yellow pj’s was waiting

to be intubated. I winked at him, and the boy managed to wink back. On another table, an adolescent girl was curled up in a fetal position around her stuffed sandy-haired bear. She was crying deep, heartrending sobs as doctors tried to straighten her contorted limbs. Other children were banked in a holding pattern along the perimeter of the room. Policemen, their radios squawking loudly, manned the doorways as best they could. They restrained desperate parents from their babies. The long linoleum hallway was packed wall to wall with feverish children tossing and turning on blankets laid across the bare floor.

Each room off the corridor had been turned into a dormitory of tragically sick kids. Their families seemed eerily related by the flimsy, blue paper gowns and the masks they all wore. Each new image was indelibly stamped into my mind, and then into my soul.

The doctor walking beside me was named Lewis Lavine, and he was the hospital’s director of pediatrics. He was tall and somewhat gawky, and his black pompadour made him look even taller, but I found him heroic in his own way Dr. Lavine had the presence of a rock in a sea of chaos. He was giving me the grand tour when clearly he had no time for it.

F he same deeply mysterious plague had just broken out in Boston. Before I left for L.A., I saw the devastation at St. Catherine’s, a very large hospital run by the Church. The archdiocese had sent me to L.A. on a fact-finding mission. I was their investigator.

“You know what it is, don’t you?” I asked Lavine as we walked hurriedly down the hall.

“Yes, of course,” he told me, but seemed reluctant to go further, to actually give a name to the horror. Then he spoke gravely. “It’s basically poliomyelitis, only this time the virus is faster, even deadlier, and it seems to have appeared out of nowhere.”

I nodded. “It’s the same in Boston. I talked for over an hour with Dr. Albert Sassoon at St. Catherine’s. He’s a terrific doctor, but he’s baffled, too. It’s polio - the second coming of the dreaded disease.”

Polio had once been a killer plague that attacked more than six hundred fifty thousand people, mostly children. It killed some twenty percent of the infected, receding from the rest like a lethal tide, leaving behind deformed limbs and crippled spines, bodies that would never heal. Dr. Salk’s and the Sabin vaccines had eradicated polio, ostensibly for good. There had been only a handful of cases in this country since 1957. But this present, mysterious epidemic had a much higher fatality rate than the polio of old.

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