The Cradle Will Fall
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 defense attorneys in New Jersey. The defendant’s confession had been suppressed by the court, a major blow for the prosecution. But still she had managed to convince the jury that Teddy Copeland was the man who had viciously murdered eighty-year-old Abigail Rawlings during a robbery.
Miss Rawlings’ sister, Margaret, was in court to hear the verdict and afterward had come up to Katie. “You were wonderful, Mrs. DeMaio,” she’d said. “You look like a young college girl. I never would have thought you could, but when you talked, you proved every point; you made them feel what he did to Abby. What will happen now?”
“With his record, let’s hope the judge decides to send him to prison for the rest of his life,” Katie answered.
“Thank God,” Margaret Rawlings had said. Her eyes, already moist and faded with age, filled with tears. Quietly she brushed them away as she said, “I miss Abby so. There was just the two of us left. And I keep thinking how frightened she must have been. It would have been awful if he’d gotten away with it.”
“He didn’t get away with it!” The memory of that reassurance distracted Katie now, made her press her foot harder on the accelerator. The sudden increase in speed as she rounded the curve made the car fishtail on the sleet-covered road.
“Oh . . . no!” She gripped the wheel frantically. The county road was dark. The car raced across the divider and spun around. From the distance she saw headlights approaching.
She turned the wheel into the skid but could not control the car. It careened onto the shoulder of the road, but the shoulder too was a sheet of ice. Like a skier about to jump, the car poised for an instant at the edge of the shoulder, its wheels lifting as it slammed down the steep embankment into the wooded fields.
A dark shape loomed ahead: a tree. Katie felt the sickening crunch as metal tore into bark. The car shuddered. Her body was flung forward against the wheel, then slammed backward. She raised her arms in front of her face, trying to protect it from the splinters of flying glass that exploded from the windshield. Sharp, biting pain attacked her wrists and knees. The headlights and panel lights went out. Dark, velvety blackness was closing over her as from somewhere off in the distance she heard a siren.
The sound of the car door opening, a blast of cold air. “My God, it’s Katie DeMaio!”
A voice she knew. Tom Coughlin, that nice young cop. He testified at a trial last week.
She tried to protest, but her lips wouldn’t form words. She couldn’t open her eyes.
“The blood’s coming from her arm. Looks like she’s cut an artery.”
Her arm was being held; something tight was pressing against it.
A different voice: “She may have internal injuries, Tom. Westlake’s right down the road. I’ll call for an ambulance. You stay with her.”
Floating. Floating. I’m all right. It’s just that I can’t reach you.
Hands lifting her onto a stretcher; she felt a blanket covering her, sleet pelting her face.
She was being carried. A car was moving. No, it was 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. No, she’s not married. She’s a widow. 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. At last she could speak.
The tourniquet Tom had wrapped around her arm was being removed. Her arm was being stitched. She tried not to wince at the needles of pain.
X-rays. The emergency-room doctor. “You’re quite fortunate, Mrs. DeMaio. Some pretty severe bruises. No fractures. I’ve ordered a transfusion. Your blood count is pretty low. Don’t be frightened. You’ll be all right.”
“It’s just . . .” She bit her lip. She was coming back into focus and managed to stop herself before she blurted out that terrible, unreasoning, childish fear of hospitals.
Tom asking, “Do you want us to call your sister? They’re going to keep you here overnight.”
“No. Molly’s just over the flu. They’ve all had it.” Her voice sounded so weak. Tom had to bend over to hear her.
“All right, Katie. Don’t worry about anything. 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. Her head was clearing now.
Her left arm and knees hurt so much. Everything hurt. She was in a hospital. She was alone.
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.”
Katie was sure this must be a sleeping pill. She didn’t want it. It would give her nightmares. But it was so much easier not to argue.
The nurse turned off the light. Her footsteps made soft padding sounds as she left the room. The room was cold. The sheets were cold and coarse. Did hospital sheets always feel like this? Katie slid into sleep knowing the nightmare was inevitable.
But this time it took a different form. She was on a roller coaster. It kept climbing higher and higher, steeper and steeper, and she couldn’t get control of it. She was trying to get control. Then it went around a curve and off the tracks and it was falling. She woke up trembling just before it hit the ground.
Sleet rapped on the window. She pulled herself up unsteadily. The window was open a crack and making the shade rattle. That was why the room was so drafty. She’d close the window and raise the shade and then maybe she’d be able to sleep. In the morning she could go home. She hated hospitals.
Unsteadily she walked over to the window. The hospital gown they’d given her barely came to her knees. Her legs were cold. And that sleet. It was mixed with more rain now. She leaned against the windowsill, looked out.
The parking lot was turning into streams of gushing water.
Katie gripped the shade and stared down into the lot two stories below.
The trunk lid of a car was going up slowly. She was so dizzy now. She swayed, let go of the shade, and it snapped up. She grabbed the windowsill. She stared down into the trunk. Was something white floating down into it? A blanket? A large bundle?
She must be dreaming this, she thought, then Katie pushed her hand over her mouth to muffle the shriek that tore at her throat. She was staring down into the trunk of the car. 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.