Home > When I Found You(10)

When I Found You(10)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

‘Have a seat,’ he said. ‘This will take several minutes.’

Meanwhile a female guard opened a door into the lobby, nodded at the woman with children, whom she seemed to know, and allowed them inside.

Nathan looked back at the officer behind the counter. Hopefully. To see if he could go in, too.

The man shook his head. ‘You’ll have to have a seat. As I say. This will take several minutes.’

‘It didn’t seem to take her several minutes,’ Nathan said. Not combatively. Just in such a way as to invite explanation.

‘I’m afraid your case will be more complicated. Much . . . more complicated.’

Nathan perched uncomfortably on the edge of the hard wooden bench the woman had just vacated. It was still warm from her bulk. Nathan had never understood how people could allow their bodies to get so large. Such a chaotic, uncontrolled existence.

Meanwhile the officer behind the desk picked up a phone and spoke into it quietly, in an obvious effort to keep his words from being overheard. But Nathan had always enjoyed unusually keen hearing.

‘Ring up the watch commander. Tell him we need the coroner investigator over here.’ A pause. Then, ‘Father, I think.’

Nathan ran the single troublesome word around in his head. Coroner. No one had died in this case.

Had they?

With a jolt like a baseball bat to his stomach it struck him that the infant, Baby Nathan Bates, who had been doing so much better last time Nathan called to check on his status, might have died.

He jumped immediately to his feet, and the officer looked up, surprised.

‘A payphone,’ Nathan said hastily. ‘Do you have a pay-phone here?’

‘Yeah, there’s one out front.’

He ran outside. The October air had taken on an even sharper nip. Nathan had been feeling in his bones that the first snow would fall soon.

He dug in his pocket for a dime, and called the emergency room of the hospital. He now held the number, memorized, in his head.

Dr Battaglia answered.

‘This is Nathan McCann,’ he said. Not even knowing what to say next. He could hear and feel his own pulse beating in his chest and neck and temples. It felt nearly impossible to breathe and talk at the same time.

‘He’s not here any more,’ the doctor said. Sounding all too calm about it. ‘Sorry to say this ends our correspondence, unless you find any more babies lying around in the future.’

Nathan saw the world grow brighter and more glaring at the periphery of his vision. He worried he might pass out. He tried to speak, but no words materialized.

‘Yeah,’ the doctor continued, ‘we handed him over to his grandma yesterday afternoon. Poor woman. She’s probably nearly fifty and she won’t get a good night’s sleep for at least a year. Babies are for the young.’

Nathan very consciously filled his lungs with air. ‘Then he’s not . . . he’s all right?’

‘Yeah, he’s doing great. Told you they could be strong little beggars. It’s like God wanted ’em to get born and there’s nothing going to stop them after that. He even had good color when I saw him last.’

‘Oh. Well. Thank you, doctor. You’ve been very kind.’

Nathan made his way slowly back into the lobby of the county jail, the muscles in his thighs feeling loose and liquid, like runny jelly.

He took his spot again on the bench, where he waited, thinking very little, for well over twenty minutes.

‘Detective Gross,’ a small man said.

Nathan rose and shook his hand.

Detective Gross was a young man, or at least appeared to be so. He didn’t look like he could be much over thirty, yet the hairline of his red head was surprisingly receded, giving his forehead a strange, angular look.

‘If you’ll follow me to my office. Sorry to say it’s a pretty long walk from here.’

Nathan followed him outdoors, then into an adjacent building. Followed him down dingy halls with high windows that seemed not to have been cleaned for years. Followed him into a small office with a baseball-sized hole in one of its dirty window panes, casting a distinct beam of light at an angle across the room. Nathan took a seat on the other side of the detective’s desk. He looked up at the window briefly, and thought of the recent bond measure to build a new jail. He had voted against it. Thinking himself far too overtaxed as it was.

He still had not spoken a word to this new man.

‘This is always the very hardest moment in my job. Hate it, really. Nobody likes this. Not one bit. But I’m the investigator assigned to the coroner’s division, and somebody has to do this, so here goes. I am dreadfully sorry to have to inform you that your daughter died sometime in the night last night.’

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