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       Clark, Mary Higgins 03 - The Cradle Will Fall, p.1

           Mary Higgins Clark
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Clark, Mary Higgins 03 - The Cradle Will Fall

  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

  headlights approaching.

  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

  being recognized.

  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

  blanket carefully.

  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

  had wal
ked even a few feet off the portico without a shoe, the sole

  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

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