Clark, Mary Higgins 03 - The Cradle Will Fall, p.1Mary Higgins Clark
Katie DeMaio's life was in deadly
peril—but she didn't know it. As Valley
County's assistant prosecutor,
she was busy investigating the mysterious
deaths of Vangie Lewis, a pretty,
young expectant mother, and Edna Burns,
receptionist at the maternity clinic at Westlake Hospital.
It was there that the esteemed Dr. Edgar Highley
was making medical history by helping
previously barren women achieve motherhood.
Vangie Lewis, for instance, had been
desperate to have a baby. Why, then, had she taken
her own life? It seemed unfathomable until,
one by one, clinic gave up its Westlake's maternity horrifying secrets.
IF HER mind had not been on the case she had won, Katie might
not have taken the curve so fast, but the intense satisfaction of the
guilty verdict was still absorbing her. It had been a close one.
Roy O'Connor was one of the top attorneys in New Jersey. The
defendant's confession had been suppressed by the court, a major
blow for the prosecution. But still she had convinced the jury that
Teddy Copeland had viciously murdered eighty-year-old Abigail
Rawlings during a robbery.
Miss Rawlings' sister, Margaret, was in court to hear the verdict.
"You were wonderful, Mrs. DeMaio," she'd said to Katie afterward.
"You look like a young college girl. I never would have
thought you could do it. But you proved every point; you made
them feel what he did to Abby." Her eyes filled with tears. "I keep
thinking how frightened Abby must have been. It would have been
awful if he'd gotten away with it"
"He didn't get away with it!" Katie said. The memory of that
reassurance distracted her now, made her press her foot harder
on the accelerator. As she rounded the curve, the car fishtailed on
the sleet-covered road.
"Oh . . . no!" She gripped the wheel frantically. The car raced
across the divider and spun completely around. She could see
She turned the wheel into the skid, but the car careened onto
the shoulder of the road, poised for an instant at the edge and
slammed down the embankment into the woods. Katie felt the
sickening crunch as metal tore into bark. Her body was flung
forward against the wheel, then backward. She raised her arms to
protect her face from the glass that exploded from the windshield.
Biting pain attacked her wrists and knees. Velvety blackness was
closing over her as she heard a siren in the distance.
The car door opening; a blast of cold air. "It's Katie DeMaio!"
A voice she knew. Tom Coughlin, that nice young cop. He had
testified at a trial last week. "She's unconscious."
She tried to protest, but her lips wouldn't form words. She
couldn't open her eyes.
"Looks like she's cut an artery."
Something tight was being pressed against her arm.
A different voice: "She may have internal injuries. Westlake's
right down the road. I'll call for an ambulance."
Hands lifting her onto a stretcher, a blanket covering her, sleet
pelting her face. She was being carried. An ambulance. Doors
opening and closing. If only she could make them understand. I
can hear you. I'm not unconscious.
Tom was giving her name. "Kathleen DeMaio, lives in Abbington.
She's an assistant prosecutor. Judge DeMaio's widow."
John's widow. A terrible sense of aloneness. The blackness was
starting to recede. A light was shining in her eyes. "She's coming
around. How old are you, Mrs. DeMaio?"
The question, so practical, so easy to answer. "Twenty-eight."
The tourniquet Tom had wrapped around her arm was being
removed. Her arm was being stitched. Needles of pain.
X rays. The emergency-room doctor. "You're fortunate, Mrs.
DeMaio. Some severe bruises but no fractures. I've ordered a
transfusion. Your blood count is very low. Don't be frightened."
"It's just—" She bit her lip, managed to stop herself before she
blurted out that terrible, childish fear of hospitals.
Tom asking, "Do you want us to call your sister?"
"No. Molly's just over the flu. They've all had it" Her voice
was so weak that Tom had to bend over to hear her.
"All right. Don't worry, Katie. I'll have your car hauled out"
She was wheeled into a curtained-off section of the emergency
room. Blood began dripping through a tube inserted into her right
arm. A nurse was smoothing her hair back from her forehead.
"You're going to be fine, Mrs. DeMaio. Why are you crying?"
"I'm not crying." But she was.
She was wheeled into a room. The nurse handed her a paper cup
of water and a pill. "This will help you rest, Mrs. DeMaio." It
must be a sleeping pill. Katie was sure it would give her nightmares.
The nurse turned off the light as she left.
Katie slid into sleep knowing a nightmare was inevitable. This
time it took a different form. She was on a roller coaster and she
couldn't control it. It kept climbing higher and higher, and then it
went off the tracks and it was falling. She woke up trembling just
before it hit the ground.
Sleet rapped on the window. She sat up. The window was open
a crack and the shade, which was pulled halfway down, was rattling.
She'd close the window and raise the shade. Then maybe
she'd be able to sleep.
Unsteadily she walked over to the window. The hospital gown
they'd given her barely came to her knees. Her legs were cold.
She leaned against the windowsill, looked out. Sleet was mixed
with rain now. The parking lot was running with streams of water.
Katie gripped the shade and stared down into the lot one story
below. The trunk lid of a car was going up slowly. She was so dizzy
now. She let go of the shade. It snapped up. Was something white
floating down into the trunk? A blanket? A large bundle?
She must be dreaming, she thought. Then she pushed her hand
over her mouth to muffle the shriek that tore at her throat. The
trunk light was on. Through the waves of sleet-filled rain that
slapped against the window, she watched the white substance
part As the trunk closed, she saw a face—the face of a woman
grotesque in the uncaring abandon of death.
THE alarm had awakened him promptly at two o'clock. He was
instantly alert. Getting up, he went over to the examining-room
sink, splashed cold water on his face, pulled his tie into a smooth
knot, combed his hair and put on his steel-rimmed glasses. His
socks were still wet when he took them off the radiator. Grimacing,
he pulled them on and slipped into his shoes. He reached for his
overcoat. It was soaked through.
He'd wear the old Burberry raincoat he kept in the closet. It was
unlined. He'd freeze, but it was the only thing to do. Besides, it
was so ordinary that if anyone saw him, there was less chance of
He hurried to the closet, put on the raincoat and hung up the
heavy wet chesterfield. He went over to the window and pulled
the shade back an inch. There were still enough cars in the parking
lot so that the absence of his own would hardly be noticed.
He bit his lip as he realized that the back of his car was silhouetted
by the light at the far side of the lot. He would have to walk in
the shadows of the other cars and get the body into the trunk as
quickly as possible.
It was time. Unlocking the medical supply closet, he bent down
and picked up the body. She had once weighed around one hundred
ten pounds, but she had gained a lot of weight during her
pregnancy. His muscles felt every ounce as he carried her to the
examining table. There he wrapped a blanket around her. Noiselessly
he opened the door to the parking lot. Grasping the trunk
key in two fingers, he moved to the table and picked up the dead
woman. Now for the twenty seconds that could destroy him.
Eighteen seconds later he was at the car. Sleet pelted his cheek;
the blanket-covered burden strained his arms. Shifting the weight,
he inserted his key into the trunk lock. The lid rose slowly. He
glanced up at the hospital windows. From the center room on the
second floor a shade snapped up. Was anyone looking out? Impatient
to have the blanketed figure out of his arms, he moved
too quickly. The instant his left hand let go of the blanket, the
wind blew it open, revealing her face. Wincing, he dropped the
body and slammed the trunk closed.
The trunk light had been on the face. Had anyone seen? He
looked up again at the window where the shade had been raised.
Was someone there? He couldn't be sure. Later he would have to
find out who was in that room.
Driving swiftly from the lot, he kept the headlights off until he
was well along the road. Incredible that this was his second trip to
Chapin River tonight. Suppose he hadn't been leaving the hospital
when Vangie Lewis burst out of Dr. Fukhito's office and hailed
him. Vangie had been close to hysteria as she limped down the
covered portico to him. "Doctor, I'm going to Minneapolis tomorrow.
I'm going to see the doctor I used to have, Dr. Emmet Salem.
Maybe I'll even stay there and let him deliver the baby."
If he had missed her, everything would have been ruined.
Instead he had persuaded her to come into the office with him,
talked to her, calmed her down, offered her a glass of water. At
the last minute she'd suspected. That beautiful, petulant face had
filled with fear.
And then the horror of knowing that even though he'd managed
to silence her, the chance of discovery was still so great. He had
locked her body in the medical supply closet and tried to think.
Her bright red Lincoln Continental had been the immediate
danger. It would surely have been noticed in the hospital parking
lot after visiting hours.
He knew she lived on Winding Brook Lane in Chapin River.
She'd told him that her husband, a United Airlines pilot, wasn't
due home until tomorrow. He'd leave her body in the closet while
he took her car and handbag to the house, to make it seem as
though she'd driven home. He'd dispose of the body later.
It had been unexpectedly easy. The houses in Chapin River
were placed far back from the road and reached by winding driveways.
He'd parked the car inside her garage.
The door from the garage to the den was unlocked. There were
lamps on throughout the house, probably on a timing device. He'd
hurried through the den and down the hall. The master bedroom
was the last one on the right. There were two other bedrooms, one
a nursery, with colorful elves and lambs on the wallpaper and an
obviously new crib and chest.
That was when he realized he might be able to make her death
look like a suicide. If she'd begun to furnish the nursery three
months before the baby was expected, the threatened loss of that
baby would provide a powerful motive. He would have to get her
body back here, put it on top of her own bed! It was dangerous,
but not as dangerous as dumping her body in the woods somewhere.
That would have meant an intensive police investigation.
He had left her handbag on the chaise longue in the master
bedroom and then walked the four miles back to the hospital.
There he skirted the main entrance and let himself into his office
through the door from the parking lot. It was just ten o'clock.
His coat and shoes and socks were soaked. He was shivering.
He realized it would be too dangerous to carry the body out until
there was a minimal chance of encountering anyone. He'd set the
alarm for two o'clock, then lain down on the examining table and
managed to sleep until the alarm went off.
Now for the second time that night he was pulling into Vangie's
driveway. Turn off the headlights; back the car up to the garage;
put on surgical gloves; open the garage door; open the trunk;
carry the wrapped form past the storage shelves to the inside door.
He stepped into the den. In a few minutes he'd be safe.
He hurried down the hall to the master bedroom and placed
the body on the bed, pulling the blanket free. In the adjoining
bathroom, he shook crystals of cyanide into the flowered blue
tumbler, added water and poured most of the contents down the
sink. He rinsed the sink carefully and returned to the bedroom.
Placing the glass next to the dead woman's hand, he allowed the
last drops of the mixture to spill on the spread. He folded the white
The body was sprawled face up on the bed, eyes staring, lips
contorted in an agony of protest. That was all right. Most suicides
changed their minds when it was too late.
Had he missed anything? No. Her handbag, with the keys, was
on the chaise; there was a residue of the cyanide in the glass. Coat
on or off? He'd leave it on. The less he handled her the better.
Shoes off or on? Would she have kicked them off?
He lifted the long caftan she was wearing and felt the blood
drain from his face. The swollen right foot wore a battered moccasin.
Her left foot was covered only by her stocking. The other
moccasin must have fallen off. Where? He ran from the bedroom,
searching, retracing his steps. The shoe was not in the house or
garage. Frantic, he ran out to his car and looked in the trunk. The
shoe was not there. It had probably come off when he was carrying
her in the parking lot.
Because of her swollen foot, she'd been wearing the moccasins
recently. He'd heard the receptionist joke with her about them.
He would have to go back and search the parking lot. Suppose
someone said, "Why, I saw her moccasin lying in the parking lot.
She must have lost it on her way home Monday night"? But if she
of her stocking would be badly soiled. The police would notice that
it was not.
Rushing back to the bedroom, he opened the door of the walk-in
closet. A jumble of women's shoes were scattered on the floor. Most
of them had impossibly high heels for a woman in her condition
to wear. Then he saw a pair of sensible low-heeled shoes, the kind
most pregnant women wore. They looked fairly new. Relieved, he
grabbed them. Hurrying to the bed, he pulled the one moccasin
from the dead woman's foot and placed the shoes on her feet. The
right one was tight, but he managed to lace it. Jamming the moccasin
into the wide, loose pocket of his raincoat, he picked up the
white blanket and strode quickly to the garage.
At the hospital parking lot, he drove to a far corner and parked
the car. Then he hurried to retrace his steps from the space
where he'd kept the car to the door of the office. The shoe might
have fallen off when he'd shifted the body to open the trunk.
Bending forward, he searched the ground, working his way closer
to the hospital.
Headlights came around the bend into the parking lot. A car
screeched to a halt. The driver, probably looking for the emergency
entrance, made a U-turn and raced out of the lot.
He had to get out of here. He fell forward as he tried to
straighten up. His hand slid across the slippery macadam. And
then he felt leather under his fingers. He had found the shoe.
Fifteen minutes later he was turning the key in the lock of his
Clark, Mary Higgins 03 - The Cradle Will Fall by Mary Higgins Clark / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes